Sunday, December 31, 2017

Healthy Habits

Cupid has been working hard towards building a proper training level dressage frame.  Since I see him every day it's hard for me to notice the physical changes, but he is developing his topline.  After I ride I tried to give him a little neck massage, and after a pretty good lesson I felt a knot in his neck, a few inches below the poll.  I contacted our chiropractor, who unfortunately is unavailable but she recommended a body worker for massage and also suggested I do stretches with Cupid.  He seemed to struggle with the carrot stretches, especially to the left side - but it is hard to get him standing square so that didn't help. 

Cupid's massage lasted over an hour.  He was a little fidgety to start, but seemed to really like it when she worked on his back and hind end. 

For Christmas I got him a Back on Track fleece blanket; he tends to feel stiff and slow to warm up when it's cold and I am hoping this might help him with that, as well as hopefully just general muscle soreness.
We hadn't jumped since his sore foot, but I thought we were ready our lesson yesterday.  Unfortunately Cupid was struggling with the footing, so we ended up sticking with just poles on the ground.  They had just removed most of the jumps so there were a few spots that hadn't been dragged in a while, and either skipped watering or did it lighter than usual so it was very dry.  Although Cupid's attitude was quite good, he just didn't seem comfortable and stumbled a few times.  He is just weirdly sensitive to footing; he doesn't like it too loose or deep, or if there are spots that are drier or just different.  The upside with the footing was I got a loveliest, perfect hunter pleasure trot. 

We had a lot of trouble picking up the left lead canter.  We got it the first time by starting with a right lead canter, and doing a trot change on the diagonal but after that couldn't seem to.  We tried it on a circle, making it a little smaller then leg yielding out before I ask for the canter. My trainer suggested I let him counter canter half a lap and then ask for a trot change in a corner, and it worked once but after that he was happy to keep counter cantering. 

My trainer told me to try getting the canter from the walk.  I wasn't sure I could do it since I felt he was a little behind the leg, but I started with a few walk-trot transitions to wake him up a little, then asked walk-canter and got it.  We still couldn't get the left lead, but I was still a little pleased that we got the walk-canter at all. 

I felt like my aids aren't clear enough for him to distinguish I wanted left lead; Cupid thought he was doing the correct things by just cantering.  I need to work on making my legs more effective.  There was a few times he broke from the canter to trot, which I shouldn't allow and is just him being lazy, but I think I need to be patient with the left lead.  I think a few lessons riding on a lunge line will help me

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Trail Ride in Woodside

Since I had the week off from work, I arranged a trail ride with my friend.  Cupid had a minor abscess/foot soreness earlier in the week, but with an epsom soak and few days of rest and packing with Magic Cushion, he seemed good to go.

The day before I fed him off the back of the trailer, and we had no problem loading.  He was a little alert when I got him off the trailer, but stood nicely while I tacked him up.  He seemed a little anxious as we set out.  We were still alone, as we were going to meet our friend up the road.  He didn't like a neon sign shaped as a person and skittered by it.  We also had a little trouble passing by a few chickens!  They were on the other side of the road, but Cupid stopped and stared, and hesitated before passing them.  I'm not sure he's seen chickens before, but the place I got him from did have peacocks running loose!  I knew he must be nervous because he didn't try to stop and eat grass. 
Ready to hit the trail

Once we hooked up with our friend he settled down, and was good the rest of the ride.  We crossed several little bridges, without batting an eye.  We also crossed a dry creek bed with a lot of big stones, and a truck and tractor doing some road maintenance.  We walked through Huddart Park, and came out and back around through the Woodside trail system.  These are along residential roads, and we passed a few other riders, horses in paddocks, people walking dogs, cars, and a lot of bicyclists without incident.  Then we saw a pasture with over a dozen deer, and I silently wished they don't stampede!  The deer were all walking our direction, and Cupid had his ears up, but luckily the deer did not start to run so we were able to walk by quietly.

When we got back to the trailer and I dismounted I noticed my knees hurt, which usually means I was carrying a lot of tension.  Luckily Cupid did not feed off my tension.  He was actually quite good, so I need to relax myself more, to help further relax him.  Though I think both Cupid and I have made a lot of progress this year being braver in new places.  When we started out and Cupid was anxious I made sure I wasn't holding the reins too short, and kept my legs on (lightly).  Hopefully we can get a few more trail rides in before winter really hits.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!  I'm looking forward to a week off from work, especially since the weather is relatively good.  A bit chilly, but no rain.  We did have a little overnight rain earlier this week, enough that the pasture got a little muddy and I guess Cupid felt it because he seems to have a bit of an abscess.

We had a lesson yesterday.  When I led him out the stall I thought he was walking a little off, but then he seemed okay.  He felt great when I rode him, except we struggled a little getting the left lead.  I packed his feet with Magic Cushion, just in case they were bothering him a bit.  We were in the outdoor ring, and had a few distracted moments but it's getting better. 

Then today just from what I saw in his stall I suspected he was off.  Sure enough, soon as I led him out it was clear.  I soaked his foot and wrapped his legs, and kept him in his stall.  He seemed a little better already after the soaking, I think this will resolve itself pretty quickly. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Gratuitous Praise

Cupid and I have primarily been working on firming up the basics.  Forwardness, stepping through, and lifting his back for him, and correct seat, lengthening my legs, and keeping my hands closed and soft steady contact for me, and prompt transitions for both of us.  We are trying to ride in the outdoor dressage ring at least once a week (while the weather allows us), and jump once a week.  Overall it feels like things are going well, and it's hard to feel a difference day to day but over time we are making progress.

I am a little worried Cupid might have stomach/ulcer issues, and/or some body soreness.  He has been a little girthy lately.  He used to be great if I tightened on the left and just a little glance back when I tightened on the right side, but now he kind of glares at me either side.  Also after one of our rides I was giving him a little neck massage and felt a big knot, a few inches below his poll.  I could move it side to side, and it kind of clicked into place.  I called the chiropractor, but unfortunately she is traveling and won't be able to see him a few weeks.  She recommended a few massage therapist I've been trying to get a hold of, it looks like one might be able to come out next week. 

We had a funny moment during a lesson where we had been trotting for a few minutes, and Cupid started groaning.  I call it his old man noises.  At first I kind of laughed at him, he was moving nicely and listening to me so I wasn't concerned.  But then he became even more dramatic.  It felt like he was letting me know that he thought we had been trotting an awful long time, and I should appreciate his effort.  So I started patting him extra heartily and saying "good boy!"  Immediately his ears pricked up and he kept trotting with a little extra pep in his step and neck a little rounder, like he was really proud of himself.  He just wanted me to acknowledge how hard he was working!  So now I try to make sure I do praise him more when he's good, and let him know I appreciate him.  It seems to make him happy.

Our last jump lesson felt really good.  We haven't jumped since the show, about two weeks, and I felt a little rusty the first few warm up jumps.  But Cupid was being perfect, so I was soon able to relax.  We built up a gymnastic exercise.  First just a crossrail, one stride to a pole, and halt after.  Our halt was much better this time then the last time we did jump to halt.  We ended with a crossrail, one stride to a crossrail, one stride to a vertical.  I was very happy with how relaxed Cupid was, and it allowed me to focus on myself.  My main focus was on not letting my leg swing back.  I also worked on my release, and sitting up after each jump.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Black Friday Purchases

Cupid and I have pretty much stuck to walk-trot work since the show because he has a scrape on his leg that seems minor but has felt a little warm and was a little swollen some mornings though that seemed to go away with movement.  And he has been moving out quite nicely, so my trainer and I decided to keep it shorter and no cantering but continue working.  We are making progress and getting a lot closer to being on the bit.  I feel myself improving too; my elbows are not quite so rigid (though I do still go to a leading rein sometimes, or cross my hand over the neck, and my right wrist still likes to rotate down), and I'm sitting up better.  A minor adjustment to my seat - tilting my pelvis forward a touch to not have so much weight in the seatbones - has seemed to make Cupid noticeably happier.  We haven't had any balky transitions into the trot, knock on wood.  It feels like I have to disengage my waist a bit when I do this - so the pelvis is tilted forward but my upper body is upright and it was weird at first but has helped me with the sitting trot immensely.  I think that disengagement is where I need to absorb the bounce in the trot.

I also tried to do the majority of a walk around the property day in two point.  After reviewing my photos and video from the show, I realized I need to work on sinking into my heels so that's my newest goal.

Here are some of my purchases from black Friday:

Dura-Tech Wool Blend Quarter Sheet

Even though I live in California, the place I board Cupid gets pretty cold.  Cupid is noticeably slower to warm up when the temperature drops, and some days I can't feel my hands or feet!  So I thought a quarter sheet might be nice for those days.  Plus I was thinking of it for winter shows we can wear it for warm up if its raining.  I decided to go for wool instead of fleece for a little extra weight as it can get pretty windy.  SStack had these nice wool blend sheets at a very good price.  Of course since I got mine the weather has warmed up again, so I've only used it once but so far I'm impressed.  I just had it under my leg and it felt warmer than without. 

HDR Anatomic Girth
Cupid has slightly big shoulders and a forward girth groove, so sometimes it's hard to get his saddle placed properly.  I've thought of trying an anatomic girth for a while, but kept putting off the expense.  I have a Total Saddle Fit girth for dressage and was thinking of getting their jumping one, but decided to try HDR's cheaper version, which as an added bonus I think matches my HDR bridle and breastplate/martingale.  I ordered the same size as my current girth, 48".  It is a bit shorter, but I don't know if my old girth has stretched out.  Regardless, it currently fits on the first hole on one side and second on the other, so I think with a little use will be good.  I've only used it for one light right so far, but no complaints.  For my personally, I can't tell the difference between this and a more expensive version (though I'm assuming there probably are quality differences), so I'm happy with this purchase so far.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Spring Down Equestrian Center Schooling Show

The last few months our primary focus was on dressage and flatwork, but the last 2 weeks we got a little jumping in.  And wouldn't you know, most of that flatwork translates to jumping as well.  Cupid has been very relaxed (lazy even) jumping, our connection is better, and I've been feeling more secure both physically and mentally.  I had tentatively been looking at the last H/J schooling show of the year, and two days before decided I'll go for it.

Cupid was perfect loading, no hesitation.  I have been giving him a dose of Gastroguard before trailering.  It was about half an hour drive to the show.  We got there and I went to check in, signing up for the first class which is a 18" warm up hunter (trotting allowed).  I realized, to my dismay, that there was no separate warm up arena and we had just missed the designated warm up time!  I was panicing a little.  There was the gate area, which was crowded with horses and people, and most of the rest of the place looked paved.  I settled for a little dirt patch next to the trailer parking where we could at least walk a little, though not trot.  So I just started walking circles, getting Cupid to bend.  We did some rectangles with a little shoulder in.  At first Cupid was a little nervous, and whinnied a few times, but I felt him start to settle after about 10 minutes.  I asked my trainer if it would be unfair to make him go in the ring, and she said since the jumps were pretty small it would be fine. So we decided to still do the class.

We entered the arena and trotted up a long side and did an opening circle, then headed to the first fence on the diagonal.  It had flowers sticking out the top, I felt Cupid hesitate a few strides out but he continued on and over it smooth.  Left hand turn to two jumps on the other diagonal.  Right hand turn to two jumps on the long side.  Continue around and right to 2 jumps on a short diagonal.  Then left turn to the final jump on the other long side.  Though I had hoped to canter the entire course, we ended up trotting it except between the combinations, since Cupid felt a little quick and distracted.  Or maybe I was just not confident because of the lack of warm up!  But overall I was happy with him.  To my surprise we ended up in 5th, I think there were about a dozen entries!  My trainer said we had a good takeoff and hit the center of each jump, and Cupid actually makes an effort and lifts his knees even over small jumps.  Plus there were several refusals, I didn't notice until after I finished that one of the jumps had a big inflatable Santa by the standard!
He looks pretty pleased with himself

Oops, I need to put my weight in my heels!!
 The second class was over the same course, and I thought it would go even better.  Unfortunately for some reason Cupid seemed more distracted.  We ended up mostly trotting again, a few times he landed in a canter that felt too fast to me.  He actually put his head down and propped a little after one of the jumps, I'm not sure if I did something on approach that annoyed him!  And he had a little spook approaching the judge's booth, but I think maybe the judge couldn't really see that from her vantage.  We ended up in 6th, so I think the judge really liked Cupid because it felt uneven to me.  But this did confirm my belief that Cupid can probably make a cute little hunter, he just needs a little more seasoning so he relaxes.
Luckily I didn't notice Santa until afterwards, otherwise I probably would have been looking down at it!

We stayed for the next warm up round.  The ring was very chaotic, and between all the horses and jumps I could barely find a place to circle.  But we trotted and cantered a little, and at the end Cupid was trotting softly with his neck arched in good hack form.  After the warm up session we hung out by the gate for a little bit.  Cupid must have been tired because he pretty much took a nap!  Earlier he was very unhappy having to stand.  I decided to call it a day on that.  I was very happy with Cupid, and myself for being able to roll with it, and be able to go into a place we've never been before and complete our course even without a sufficient warm up, and not getting anxious even when Cupid felt too quick.  We've made a lot of progress, and I'm excited for the next year/season!