Friday, July 31, 2020

Roadside Assistance

Coming home from the show, one of the things I've most been fearing since getting a truck and trailer finally happened: engine trouble on the freeway while hauling!  We had been driving about 1.5 hours with the temperature hovering right around 100.  Cupid had his fans going, and I had A/C on.  I started noticing an odd smell coming from the A/C.  I checked the temperature gauge and it was normal, so I turned the A/C off and continued going but saw the temperature gauge quickly start to climb.  I drove just a bit further to see if there was an exit or at least a pull out or something, but not seeing anything I just pulled over onto the shoulder.  It was just wide enough that we were off the road and I could open my door and walk to the front to pop the hood as cars and semis zoomed by so fast and close the truck and trailer were rocking. 

OK so confession time .... despite my father being a car mechanic I don't really know that much about cars.  I can change a tire and have changed my own oil but that's about it.  So when I pop the hood I don't necessarily know what I'm supposed to look for.  But even I had some idea the car is overheating, check coolant levels - confirmed the reservoir was empty.  Checked pressure in hose - seemed low but ... ??? what do I know.  If I had not had Cupid in the trailer I would have called roadside assistance at this point, definitely not drive any more to prevent further damage, but I didn't think that was a great option with Cupid sitting there.
Luckily what I did have is plenty of water, since my trailer has a water tank.  So I used a water bottle to fill the reservoir.  It did not seem to be leaking. I checked the map and realized where I was - very close to a place we've shown before.  In fact it was the next exit, and I knew there was a gas station at that exit.  I pulled back onto the road and drove slowly towards the exit, keeping an eye on the temperature gauge which stayed at the halfway mark.  I bought several gallons coolant at the gas station and filled it.  But I didn't think to buy a funnel and made a bit of a mess pouring it, so then it was impossible to tell if it was leaking.  Whoops. 

I was still an hour from home, and knew I could not drive that far.  I considered my options - trying to arrange someone to come pick Cupid up, either from my barn or the trainer who was coaching me at the WE show who hadn't left yet and would be driving through that way in another hour or two.  But first I thought I'd try calling the place down the road where Cupid and I had shown before (Greenville Equestrian Center).  I got the barn owner's voicemail, which said if it's urgent send her a text.  So I quickly summarized are situation, letting her know I'm not a boarder but have been to her facility for shows and it was an emergency situation, could I please bring Cupid there for the night while I get my truck looked at.  She called me back right away, and said she was not at the barn but would call her staff and have a stall ready.  She was super nice, and gave me the name of her mechanic.

So with the car full of coolant I went down the road and Cupid got a nice cozy stall. He seemed no worst for the wear, rolling in his shavings before hitting his hay. 

Since it was Sunday late afternoon when the problems started, I waited until the next morning to call the recommended mechanic, who said they could look at the truck that day.  So I called my insurance company and had them tow the truck from the barn to the mechanic.  Luckily it was just a valve that needed replacing, not a total blown radiator, and seems fine now with that fix.

I haven't really looked into US Rider - I've heard mixed reviews.  But it's something to consider if I'm going to do more longer distance hauling.  I was really lucky that my breakdown happened where it did, and that Greenville was kind enough to put us up for the night.  And also that my repairs were not something very expensive!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Working Equitation General Tips

At my first working equitation clinic someone joked about how many different ways there are to get disqualified in working equitation.  Unfortunately I did see a few DQs this weekend, but was lucky enough to avoid it myself.  I read the rulebook before the show, and I also had a coach with me who walked the course with me and helped me navigate through the weekend.  So here are some general thoughts and tips to help me remember next time, and maybe help someone else.

- The Order of Go is not the same as a dressage ride time.  If the person before you is done, you have to go in right away and don't have the option to wait until your designated time.  So make sure you're ready and have a feel for how quickly they're moving through the order!

- If reining one-handed, you must use the same hand on the rein throughout your round!  I mentioned this before but it bears repeating.  Be sure you are paying attention as the bell you need to ring or cup you need to lift may be on the opposite side, requiring you to reach across your body. 

- You can also get DQ-ed if you go through an obstacle you haven't completed yet.  Pay particular attention to the more spaced out ones, like the two barrels with the bull in between them.  If there is something in the arena that is not part of your course (like for Intro if they have additional obstacles for the higher levels) then you can go through those.

- Obstacles may have markers (usually small cones) in front of them - if so you need to go through the marker otherwise you get DQ-ed.  If you are changing gait you would do it at/just before the marker.

- You plan your own route between the obstacles, bearing in mind the above you want it to flow smooth (not too many unnecessary changes of bend) and approach each obstacle as straight as you can.  At Intro you have to trot between each obstacle, so if the obstacles are close make sure you have room for a few trot steps.  You can add circles (just don't go through any uncompleted obstacles!), which you see especially at higher levels where you need to canter, and be on the correct lead.

- You can ask to move how the pole is sitting in the barrel before you start your round - it was suggested to me that it's easiest to have the pole leaning away from me.

- The cloverleaf pattern is not the same as how you run barrels.  At Intro you can trot or walk - doing it well at the trot gets you the best scores.  You want the loops to be the same size around each barrel - so consider both your turning radius as well as anything around the barrels that you need to navigate by. 

- For the slalom (line of poles you weave through, they are each 6 meters apart), you need to start with the number on your right side so going to the left of the first pole.  At Intro you are required to trot.  For this one you don't want to do loops around the poles, just a change of bend after your leg passes the pole ideally with a step or two leg yield.
- Ah my old nemesis, the gate!  You want to approach it straight on as you transition to the walk, then turn parallel to it as you unlatch it.  Then you want to push it away from you, and can slide your hand along the top as you maneuver your horse through.  Then push hindquarters over and back up to close and latch - easier said than done!  My coach suggested I work on making sure Cupid is very comfortable putting his feet very close to standards / gates to help us get it next time.
- The "pen" - you need to go around it both directions, and can go either direction first unless the course map specifies otherwise.  At Intro you do it at the walk, and the judge looks for a nice bend through the horse's body.  Once you complete the first direction you come out and ideally turn on the haunches to change direction.
- The bridge is straight forward.  At Intro you have to walk over it, so a smooth down transition and calmly over the bridge at a nice round, forward walk.

Summer Fun Working Equitation Show, Day 2

My goals for day 2 were to get 5% better on my dressage test, and to get the gate in Ease of Handling.  I was feeling a bit more relaxed, and hoped Cupid would be too!

I put Cupid on the lunge line to see if he needed to work anything out, but he didn't seem to have any excess energy.  Since our test doesn't have any canter, I didn't canter in my warm up either.  I was a bit worried that Cupid will anticipate a canter during the test, since up to now he's always had one, and sometimes he just tries to be too "helpful"!

Cupid was still tenser then at home, but it definitely felt better than the previous day.  Our geometry was better, I tried to bend him more through our circles, and our halt and rein back seemed easier too.  I was optimistic we reached our goal - and we ended up getting almost 8% better so I was really happy with that!  (Even though our score was still under 60, we were 2nd in our division!)
We had several hours before our Ease of Handling.  I took Cupid on a few walks and let him graze, the rest of the time he seemed content hanging out in his stall.  I didn't do much warm up, having already ridden earlier plus with the heat.  We just practiced some transitions, and moving the haunches for the gate.  The obstacles were the same as the previous day, just in a different order.

The first two obstacles were the 3 barrels with the cloverleaf pattern and the picking up the pole / spearing the ring / returning the pole.  Those went well - I still chose to do the 2nd one at the walk.  The third obstacle was the "jump" which at Intro is just a pole on the ground between the standards.  For some reason Cupid got really revved up over it, and landed in a canter tossing his head a bit.  I'm sorry to say it threw me off a bit and made me tense, at the worst possible time because the next obstacle was the gate.  This time I made sure to open the gate towards me, but it got away from me again, and swung all the way open.  I struggled with it a few moments, then looked at the judge and asked if I could take a zero.  So I was pretty disappointed I didn't meet my goal, and even though the rest of the test was fine I felt like overall I actually did worst then the previous day and was feeling really disappointed about that.

I was surprised to see afterwards that I ended up getting about 1.5% higher then the previous day!  Even for the jump, we just got a 5 with the comment "broke gait" - I was expecting no higher than a 4 and some comment about total loss of control, lol.  And the last obstacle was the "cup" - which has you trot up and stop between two vertical poles, with a cup on one of the poles and you pick up the cup and move it to the other pole.  So basically it's just a trot - halt - trot transition, and we got an 8 on it, yay, I didn't even realize we ended it on such a nice note!

It was a fun weekend, doing something a little different.  I was hoping it would give Cupid and me the chance to try a new setting, and ride in front of the judge without quite the pressure of a dressage show that would go on our USDF "permanent record."  Even though I was initially a bit disappointed when we finished on Sunday, on further reflection we just had a bad moment in an overall okay round, and took away a few things we can continue working on. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Summer Fun Working Equitation Show, Day 1

Last weekend Cupid and I completed our first B rated working equitation ("WE") show!  It was about 2.5 hours away, at a facility I have never been to.  After much internal debate, realizing the benefit of getting there a day early to school, I nevertheless decided to drive in early on Saturday.  It's hard being away when you have a 1.5 year old(!)  Luckily our drive was uneventful and we got there with enough time not to rush, even though once I got to the giant sprawling showgrounds I had no idea where to go.  Eventually I found the right barn and where to park my trailer.  I unloaded Cupid and took him for a short walk, then let him settle in his stall briefly before we had to tack up for our dressage test. 
Enjoying some grass after a long trailer ride
The warm up for dressage was in the arena with all the obstacles already set up, so it was good to get a bit of a peek at them (you could go around, but not actually over the obstacles.) 


The dressage test for the Introductory division does not have any canter.  But it does have 5 meter half-circles at the walk, one each direction.  It tests your accuracy because you trot across the short diagonal, transition to the walk at B while simultaneously coming off the rail in a diagonal line to the quarterline, and then turn back onto the rail where you walk straight ahead to B then angle out to the quarterline again and turn the other direction (diagram below, courtesy of Kelli Paulson from WE Nebraska).  Then you pick up the trot again and halt at C, then rein back 3-5 steps.  Cupid and I haven't practiced the rein back a whole lot, though we did it several times in the past week as part of our prep.  Cupid's head comes up a bit, but at least we were fairly straight.
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Cupid and I have been getting low 60s doing straight dressage (and usually the canter work is the toughest part, which we didn't have to do today), and I thought thought that WE might look more at functionality and precision.  So I was really shocked, and disappointed, when I got a 51 - but it was actually right in the middle of our division because all the amateurs were in the 50s.  WE judges pretty strictly!  Most of the comments were related to being above the bit. 

Our "Ease of Handling" (or obstacle) round was in the afternoon so we had several hours to relax.  Or suffer in the 100 degree heat.  Luckily the barn was well ventilated and it didn't feel too bad inside.  But with the heat, and having ridden once already I kept my warm up fairly brief.  For the Intro division you need to trot in between obstacles.  For some of the obstacles you have to do them at the trot (like the slalom, or weaving through poles), some you have to walk (like the bridge or the pen), and others you can choose whether you want to walk or trot (like spearing the ring).  Some of the obstacles require you to hold the reins in one hand while maneuvering the obstacle with your other, and one of the technical rules require you to always use the same hand for your reins.  Most people hold the reins in their left hand.  So they can get tricky by putting the cup you need to pick up or the bell you need to ring on the left side, meaning you need to reach over with your right hand otherwise that is an automatic elimination!  I saw someone get eliminated on the bell (you walk between two poles on the ground up to a bell, halt, ring the bell, and back out) - which was unfortunate for them but helped me remember to make sure to use my right hand!
The Ease of Handling arena
The one obstacle we totally bombed was opening and going through the gate, and then closing it behind us.  I made the mistake of backing Cupid up and opening the gate towards us, then couldn't hold onto it.  We got a 0 for that one.  Otherwise no major errors, and overall I was happy with how it went.  Cupid was good going over the bridge, and around the pen - which meant walking between a white picket fence around a roping dummy steer and a wall of white shavings bags.  The judge said we should have shown more bend, but I was happy Cupid wasn't distracted by it!  We also lost points for our circles apparently not being even sizes in both the figure eight, and "drums" which is a cloverleaf around 3 barrels, both of which I did at the trot.  We got a 50.3%, which granted is not spectacular but good enough for 3rd, which meant we were Reserve Champion for our division!

Good boy Cupid!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Obstacles in Our Way

I am a person who likes doing things a certain way, and generally does not like change.  As you can imagine, that last few months have not been the most pleasant for me.  And just when I thought we might resume a bit of normalcy, a horse at our boarding stable presented with some suspicious symptoms so our barn was locked down for 3 weeks, no taking the horses anywhere.  (Cupid was not affected, but we did daily temperature checks to be sure.)  Of course we were entered into a show in the midst of this, our first since January.  Plans that had to be tossed out the window, yet again. 

I know horse shows are not that important in the greater scheme of things, but it was still a disappointment.  I just feel like it's so easy for something to go wrong with your own horse - injury, training problems, etc that I try to seize the opportunities when I can so it was a bummer when we had been training well and felt ready to go.  But that's 2020 for you.  And since I had cleared the day, I ended up volunteering at the show instead, so I feel good about doing that.

We are scheduled to do a working equitation show this weekend.  We did a clinic and schooling show 2 years ago so we're totally ready to do a rated show, right?!  Our rein back and opening gates still needs a little work, but overall I think Cupid will do well and it will be fun.  Aside from the heat expected where we're going... 100 both days. 

Yesterday I set up some stuff to practice.  I made a rope gate between two jump standards, poles to back up between, and pylons for weaving through.  One nice thing about working equitation is that there is a fairly short list of possible obstacles, and several of those are just bending around something.  I messed up the slalom thinking they needed to be 4 meters apart...which we cannot trot through for the life of us.  And it's one of the few obstacles that requires you to trot.  I was relieved afterwards when I looked it up and saw it is actually 6 meters, which I think we should be able to do.
Pylons
After we were done with the practice I needed to put everything away, and decided why not do it on horseback.  So I went over to the pylons and leaned down and grabbed one.  Cupid was a bit hesitant about having it swinging by his side but walked along.  I set it down in the corner and headed back to get the second one, and this time Cupid just seemed a bit curious.  We took it over where we put the first one, and headed back to get another one.  This time Cupid set off straight to where we took the others - he figured out the task at hand and seemed pretty pleased with himself! 
Rope Gate
Today we went on a trail ride in Runnymede Sculpture Garden.  Cupid was very good walking by a balloon on the street, and passing by a few flocks of wild turkeys.  We also went through two gates, and while we did not do a great job I gave Cupid treats for completing them and hopefully he is starting to get the idea.
Balloon up ahead - Cupid walked by no problem
So to recap, we've faced several obstacles, both planned and unplanned.  While the unplanned ones are not always fun, we're making it through and further solidifying our partnership!

Monday, June 29, 2020

New Grass Jumping Field!

Since we were unable to leave the property for so long, my coach and barn manager got together and created a new little grass jumping field to play on!  This was a largely unused flat area in the back of the property.  It used to be a jumping field years and years ago, then was maintained as a lunging area for a while, but mostly just sitting there the past few years.  I'm not sure what exactly they did, but it was somehow packed down and rolled out.  It is still not totally even, and we have to remain vigilant for gopher holes, but the horses seem to be handling it well.
The lunged Cupid before I rode on it, both to make sure he was not too excited and also to see how he handled the terrain.  (Which I was nicely asked not to do again, but no regrets.  And I did constantly move my circle to not cause a wear path.)  He was fine at first, but did show off some of his athleticism when I sent him over the wall and coop!  So that did make me a little nervous, but I trotted and cantered him around, then trotted over some poles, and ended going over the cross rail and caveletti a few times which Cupid was really good about.

The second time we went there we jumped the cross rail and the line of stumps.  I thought for a moment that Cupid was running off with me after the cross rail, heading back to the barn, but then I realized that I had kind of just stopped riding him.  When I sat up and asked him to turn he did willingly. 

I think this will help me build my confidence.  The more good experiences we have the easier it will get.  It's there so I can use it whenever I feel up to it.  And if I get there and "chicken out" I don't have to feel bad like if I went through all the trouble of trailering him somewhere to school and also had to pay a day fee to do so! 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

All Ears On Me

A big emphasis in our last few lessons has making sure I have Cupid's attention.  When we are in our outdoor, a lot of the time he is just distracted, and it's obvious.  But when we're in the covered arena he is always so well behaved, I didn't even realize that he is still quite easily distracted.  Even though he is not spooking or being wiggly, he isn't fully focused on me.  My trainer said I need to always be able to get his ear on me - so if his ears are forward I ask with a little squeeze on the inside rein and if he doesn't flick an ear back at me we do a small circle to get his attention.  At first we did a lot of circles - but after a few rides he usually flicks his ear on me just with the squeeze.  This is helping me ride more proactively, and hopefully will help us in more difficult environments like when we are at a show.

We did a good exercise at the end of the arena where I rode one half of a circle regularly, but rode the corners as corners, going deep.  My coach is always saying to use my corners to set us up so we really worked on that.  She said think of almost a shoulder fore a few steps before the corner.  We did it first at the trot, then the canter.  We also practiced coming through the corner and then going across the diagonal.
I watched back my video of today's lesson, and loved Cupid's energy and how he was stepping under himself.  The quality of his trot has definitely improved, as has his balance at the canter.  Our canter transitions felt good too.  (However, I didn't love his face still above the vertical most of the time...)