Monday, December 30, 2019

Versatility

In the last week Cupid and I went on a trail ride, had a great jumping session, and are back to work preparing for an upcoming dressage show!  He seems to enjoy this variety, and tends to be a little more energetic in the arena the day after a trail ride. 

These cute little butterflies recently appeared in our arena, and I've been looking forward to jumping them!  I was almost tempted to try it in my dressage saddle, but managed to resist the urge. :p  So yesterday I put on my jumping saddle.  After a nice warm up on the flat we picked up a canter and headed towards a small cross rail with some Christmas decorations.  Even though we haven't jumped in over a month Cupid stayed steady and hit it perfect.  We did the crossrail once more, then headed for the butterflies.  I wasn't sure if Cupid would get distracted, not only by the butterflies but I had draped his blanket (to cover him for the walk to the arena since it was raining) over one of the standards but he didn't waver or hesitate.  Which is a good thing because I don't think I was fully committed to keeping him straight and going forward.  But I felt a lot more confident afterwards, and we did a little course with the Christmas jump, to the coop, to the butterflies, and ending with a small square oxer.  We had decent lead changes through the trot, and hit all the jumps from a good distance, I was very happy with how it went!
Butterflies

Oxer and coop

Blurry shot of the Christmas jump
The trail ride was in the park we most frequently ride, Huddart.  The trail was a little slippery in a few spots, but overall it was less muddier then I expected and the creek was barely flowing.  But the trees were covered with a very vibrant green moss which did make the woods feel a bit magical.
Creek crossing

Our first few training rides were a bit rusty, but now we are back working almost where we were in November.  We've been doing a lot of transitions focusing on trying to stay round. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas!

I am back from vacation and Cupid and I are getting back to work.  We've had two light rides so far, and he was very well behaved.  We are going to trail ride tomorrow  if the weather cooperates, and we need to get back on a lesson schedule so we can start preparing for a show next month!

Friday, December 6, 2019

When to Say When

It was always my plan to give Cupid a break at the end of the year.  But when it felt like things were finally starting to click, plus the weather has been pretty reasonable (aside from some recent rain) I was struggling a bit with hitting pause.  I'm going to be gone for a week so the break was always going to coincide with my travel plans, but I was thinking of riding up to then.  We had a few really great lessons, but our last few rides were... just fine.  Cupid did everything I asked but just lacked a little sparkle.  He's also been a little more cuddly then usual, spending lots of time resting his head on me in the stall.  After riding him like that on Wednesday and Thursday, giving him time off now just feels right.  So in the next few weeks (aside from when I'm gone) I'll just be grooming him, handwalking and grazing if the weather's nice, and hopefully getting around to cleaning and conditioning my tack!
I also scheduled a few lessons for myself, so I can learn something new from a different horse and see how some of the things we are working on are supposed to feel like on a trained horse! 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Giving Thanks

Cupid and I have been having productive rides, but nothing really remarkable to share.  We did a bit of jumping yesterday, and after a few jumps got back into the rhythm of it.  I meant to post closer to Thanksgiving, but work has been keeping me very busy and I've been sick on top of it.  But I do want to express some gratitude for the many things I'm blessed with.

- To Cupid, my partner and best friend, who is willing to grow with me and continues to rise to the challenge when I keep asking more from him.

- To my wonderful, patient trainer who somehow hasn't given up on me yet, even after telling me the same thing a hundred times!


- To my wonderful and supportive family, for not resenting all the time I spend at the barn.

- To my job, for letting me afford this hobby and allowing me enough flexibility in my schedule to enjoy it!

- To all entire team who helps keep Cupid and me comfortable: barn manager, vet, farrier, saddle fitter, chiropractor (his and mine!), body workers.

- To my barn friends, and internet friends, who share this crazy passion and make it more fun.

- For all the progress Cupid and I have made in the past year, learning the ways of dressage.

- For me becoming not only more competent, but perhaps a little braver.

- That Cupid and I both managed to avoid any serious injuries or health issues.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Indian Summer

We've had a few chilly mornings when I was glad to be wearing fleece breeches, but overall it's been pretty warm.  Cupid was clipped in October, and it seems to be growing back much quicker then in previous years.  I've never had to clip him twice, but we'll see how long and cold this winter will be.
I guess there was a little overnight rain I didn't notice!

After Cupid's shoe got pulled, I did a CleanTrax soak followed by Animalintex wrap three days and he looked good.  Then it was another day before the shoer came out to replace his shoe.  I had been planning a trail ride on Veteran's Day, but that had to be cancelled so I cleaned my trailer instead.  And lost my phone in the process, so spent the next two hours walking around the property, retracing my steps and looking for the phone.  I gave up, but found it the next day, underneath the trailer next to mine!

Our first few rides back were not great, Cupid was just kind of distracted especially in the outdoor arena.  Luckily he was much better during our lesson today (just some minor staring at, and trying to shy away from, a chair several times as we passed it), it probably helped that there was another horse in the arena.

We ended up having a fantastic lesson!  The contact and roundness have gotten so much more consistent.  I still use the billet strap to secure my outside hand.  Hopefully that will help create muscle memory.  We played a little with trot lengthenings, first on a short diagonal but we were losing roundness so we did them on a circle instead, going between a bit of shoulder in to the lengthenings.  They were a bit too quick at first, so I tried to really focus on slowing my posting down.  In the canter we transitioned between a working and medium(ish).

We ended with leg yields.  They felt a little weak today; Cupid was ignoring my leg a bit and I was overbending him.  So we broke it up into moving off the leg, then straightening, kind of stairstepping down the long side.  They still weren't the best we've done, but overall the transitions and everything else were right up there, my trainer and I were both really happy.

We're going to keep working for a few more weeks, then I plan to give Cupid a few weeks off before we start readying for a show in late January.  I'll be kind of bummed if the nice weather continues during our break, then gets nasty right after!  But I'll be gone for a week anyways, and I don't want it too close to the show. 

I think he had hay in his mouth when I bridled him, but we'll just pretend it's good foam!


Monday, November 11, 2019

Back to Square One

I thought the pads had been working beautifully for Cupid and foot problems were a thing of the past, but alas last week I found him with abscess-type symptoms.  It was especially surprising because it hasn't rained at all.  I had to call the shoer to pull the shoe and pad so I can treat it.  After a few days of CleanTrax he seems fine now, so we just have to wait for our shoer to come back and replace the shoe and pad. 
I'm still undecided on whether to keep the pads on over winter or not.  If he keeps getting abscesses regardless then we'll probably take them off. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Difference in Opinion

Cupid and I were at a dressage show last weekend.  We showed T2 and T3 both Saturday and Sunday, but unfortunately they did not have stabling available so we had to trailer a little over an hour each day.  After doing two days of the Nick K. clinic recently I was feeling a little more confident about this.  But my ride times were early Saturday morning, and Sunday afternoon - I much would have preferred the other way around so I have more time to get Cupid settled the first day!

I debated whether I should lunge Cupid when I got there on Saturday, and decided against it.  Instead I let him eat hay at the trailer a bit, and got on him about half an hour before our first ride.  And then instead of trying to tire him out in the warmup ring, I tried to put him on the outside rein.  Yeah what a novel concept :p  We started out walking, instead of just moseying on a long rein I was thinking stretching down.  Then we shortened the reins and I asked him to come on the bit.  Then we did a long trot set, mostly with me trying to plant my outside hand by his saddle pad and applying inside leg.  We did just a bit of cantering each direction.  We finished with some transitions and a bit more stretching. 

Then we headed to the show ring, and put in what I felt was our best test to date.  The contact/roundness was still a little inconsistent, it came and went a few times, but Cupid was definitely less giraffe-y then previously, and I thought our transitions were quite smooth.  I came out of it feeling great! 

We had about 45 minutes before our second test.  We went back to the trailer, I took Cupid's bridle off and loosened his girth and gave him some water and let him eat a little.  Since he was being so good I got back on about 15 minutes before our second test.  We walked for a few minutes, then again trotted working on roundness, and finished with some walk-trot transitions (no cantering at all).  The second test good as well, though the serpentines probably need a little more bend / showing change of bend.  But I was really happy with Cupid!!
Looking like a dressage horse!
And then I was very surprised to see our scores, 57% and 54.5% respectively!  I honestly expected 63/64.  Most of the comments were "needs down stretch."  And we got a 4 in submission, which seemed very harsh to me.  I think we got that when Cupid bucked.  We've gotten better scores with clearly worst tests.  I don't think it's just my imagination, there were some scores in the upper 60s but a lot more in the 50s and low 60s, which is fairly unusual for this series.  There was a kid on a cute pony riding Intro A who got 55.  Granted I didn't see her test, but I saw her in warmup and she looked like she was at least meeting the requirements of Intro.  I'm not trying to complain, but I was left feeling a little confused like is my feel of what I should be doing this far off.

So after the disappointing scores, then losing power Saturday evening (and not getting it back for about 48 hours), and gusting winds on Sunday I had a bit of a pity party and debated whether I should even bother going back the next day.  But I snapped out of it and got Cupid ready.  Since it was already a reasonable hour, plus with the wind and traffic lights being out because of the stupid power outage I left extra early.  Turns out there wasn't much traffic so we got to the show about 2 hours before my first ride time.  During the lunch break I took Cupid over to the show ring and hand walked him around, trying to gauge how distracted he was by the wind.  He seemed fine, though I wasn't sure that was still be the case when I got on him!  The ring steward told me there were a bunch of scratches so I could go earlier if I wanted.

I warmed up similar to the day before.  The warm up is in the covered arena, and I tried not to get distracted by the wind noise or looking outside seeing the wind getting stronger and stronger.  There was one other horse and rider in the arena with me, and I heard her say she's scratching.  I was starting to wonder if I would be crazy to try it.  But... I was there so what the heck.

I ended up riding my two tests back to back.  They were both fine - not quite as smooth as the previous day I thought, but it was just the things we're still working on the wind didn't really faze Cupid at all!  We had one little hiccup in our second test, where Cupid kicked under himself in the canter transition then swapped leads, and a few moments with a little head twisting.  But I was still really happy with him for keeping it together. 

Again I was a bit surprised by our scores - a little over over 62% and 60% respectively!  I was expecting upper 50s for sure.  I think the judge maybe gave some extra points just for showing up.  So it kind of made up for the previous day, but again, it did leave me a little confused not knowing what the actual expectation is, or wondering if my feel is just off.  Part of me is disappointed we weren't able to finish the year at First level, but we've made a lot of progress and I'm excited to continue this dressage journey.

When it's gusting 50mph and your competition decides to stay home
Canter still needs work, but I'm sitting up a bit better
Not all good though, lol
And that's a wrap, at least for rated shows in 2019

Monday, October 21, 2019

Thoroughbred Show

Not sure if I should share this news yet because I don't want to jinx it / embarrass myself if it doesn't come together, but ... I'm forming a planning committee to hopefully organize a thoroughbred show in Northern California!

There is a big event in Southern California I was hoping to go to.  I pretty much talked myself into going this year.  And I was okay with it being 5+ hours away... except it's in December, and involves driving across the Grapevine - a steep, unpredictable mountain pass that is often closed or backed up due to weather or traffic.  And then, it's a two day event but all the classes I was interested in are on Sunday - so 1) I would probably only do dressage, and 2) it's harder to justify going down there just to show one day.  So instead I decided to look into hosting a show closer to me, where I would have more input over the schedule, lol. (Even though I won't get to actually enter myself)

I'm not taking this endeavor lightly, and have only begun to scratch the surface of all that needs happen to get it done.  A few people have already volunteered to help organize, through an OTTB page on Facebook.  As I was messaging someone I realized I had an old unread message I never saw.  From someone who owns Cupid's half-sister!  I already thought that was pretty cool, and then I realized I recognized that person's name as the organizer of a Lucinda Green clinic I audited several years ago.  So, someone who owns an OTTB + has organization experience - I asked her to join the planning and she agreed! :)

I have all sorts of ideas.  In addition to the show itself I would love to get some guest speakers to lecture on topics such as nutrition/feeding the OTTB/ulcer prevention, and hoof care (another big topic with OTTBs!).  I also thought it would be good to do a clinic on Friday before the show - if we could get someone who does hunter derbies I think that would be popular and also dressage.

Wish me luck!!


Friday, October 18, 2019

Nick Karazissis Clinic

Cupid and I spent two days in a hunt seat equitation clinic with Nick Karazissis!  This was actually the second and third day of a three day clinic, but I could not make the first day.

I signed up for the beginner jumping group (up to 2'), and on my first day we were a group of 6 horses and riders.  We walked around for a few minutes, then Nick had us line up and asked the other riders what they learned yesterday, and asked me what my goals are.  I said my main goal was relaxation as we both get tense being away from home.

We spent the first hour on flatwork.  And I was a bit surprised that it wasn't really different from my dressage lessons - just because this was an equitation clinic didn't mean that Cupid could walk around with his nose sticking in the air.  We started with just walk-halt-walk transitions.  Then halt and back up, with the goal being to shift the weight to the hind end.  Nick wanted me to slow it way down, almost doing half steps.  "slow down the front end and get him pushing off his hind."  Slowing down was pretty much our theme of the day. 

 In the trot work we went between a slow sitting trot and faster posting trot.  Here it differed from my dressage lessons because Nick wanted the trot super slow when we were sitting - which does make sitting a lot easier but felt like cheating!

I was a bit nervous cantering in a group - even though I've shared an arena with people many times Cupid and I have never done a group lesson or rail class where everyone is cantering!  Cupid was going a bit faster then the other horses, but was otherwise behaving.  Nick said I need to work on keeping my legs from sliding back.  And when we were in half seat he actually told me to get my elbows more forward, which is a rarity for me!

Nick was not a fan of my Myler combo bit.  I had the reins on the bottom ring, he asked me to try moving them to the top, and suggested I should use double reins. 

We all trotted over some poles.  Then one at a time cantered though a grid of poles halting straight after.  The focus was on a square turn, straightness, and the striding.  We finished with raising the poles to small jumps in the grid, still with the square turn and halt after. 

I left the first day feeling pretty good.  Nick said Cupid and I have talent just need to put the pieces together!

No pictures during the clinic, so I took a selfie after

I was excited to continue progress on the second day, and Cupid did start out more relaxed.  (Which was part of the learning experience, since we have a two day show coming up I figured this would be good practice!)  The flatwork portion was fairly similar to the first day, just a bit shorter.

Nick again suggested double reins (and also took away my whip and spurs), and I borrowed a curb rein to try.  Cupid hated it!  He's never really reacted to an equipment change, and maybe it was me because I haven't used double reins in years.  Even after we took them off he was a little agitated, so I took a little time away from the group to regroup while they started jumping.  We trotted some circles and figure eights, then rejoined the group.

We did more work in the grid.  For Cupid and me the focus was on not overbending in the opening circle (think about pointing his nose to the outside), not bulging out in the turn, and then maintaining a steady pace through, and stay straight halting at the rail. 

Overall I thought the clinic was a good experience.  The double rein was a miss, and I didn't necessarily agree with Nick's impression that I am a bit overhorsed at times (Cupid is quite good as long as I'm riding well, just not when I'm curling up on his neck!), but I don't blame him.  He doesn't know Cupid or me, and was just going off of what he saw on that particular (two) day(s).  He was actually quite patient and did also have many positive things to say.  He also said that Cupid seems to really like jumping. 

Making faces :p

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Sitting Trot Woes

Since everything else has been going pretty good, my trainer decided we need to work more on the sitting trot.  Which I'm just the worst at!  We haven't done too much of it, initially because Cupid was young/green, then we just had so many other things to work on, then right after we started a little bit he had his back problem.  So I've gotten out of it for a long time.  I know the key is to stay relaxed; the harder you try to sit still the worse it gets.  I tried to cheat and get Cupid to do a little shuffle-y trot but of course my trainer stopped that pretty quick.

Like most thoroughbreds, Cupid doesn't have the smoothest gaits.  But no excuses.  I still remember the one and only time Cupid was working round and sitting was just easy, so I know we can do it.  There may be another lunge line lesson in my near future!

Otherwise things have been going well.  I was looking forward to going to an "Intro to Cattle Work" clinic this weekend, but unfortunately the clinic was cancelled.  :(  Maybe it's for the best, I have no idea how Cupid would have reacted.  He's been totally fine riding along cow pastures, but I'm not sure what he would think of sharing the arena with cows!  But we do have a hunter/eq clinic next week, so something to look forward to.


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Working Eq Test Ride Clinic with Ali Kermeen

This weekend Cupid and I did a working equitation test ride clinic.  I signed up for the Novice A test, which is very straightforward with shallow loops at the trot, picking up the canter on a 20m circle, and changing rein on a free walk.  The main differences between it and a regular dressage Training level test are that the halts are straight from/to a trot, and there is a reinback.

I thought we had a pretty good warm up.  Cupid was a little disturbed by a chair balancing on top of a mounting block outside the arena - which I mean who does that?  I mostly just avoided that end of the arena so we can focus on bending and trying to get round.  I was riding in my dressage-legal bit, not the Myler combo which I think does encourage Cupid to drop his nose a bit.  But he was listening, and bending and both up and down transitions were prompt.

We headed into the arena, and in typical fashion threw down a mostly accurate but tense test.  Afterwards Ali asked me what I thought about it.  I rattled off a few things I thought could use improvement - the first loop was a bit big, I had immobility both before and after the reinback because I couldn't remember where it goes (before is correct, then step straight into a walk), and my second canter to trot transition was late.  Ali said she wasn't concerned with that, and we need to just focus on relaxation.

The first thing she did is shorten my stirrups, so my hips can move more easily and I have a better base of support.  She had me rock forward and back and asked where I can feel my seatbones.  We started walking, and she told me to follow Cupid's movement but basically leave him alone.  Don't try to make his walk bigger, just focus on following with my hips, sitting upright without arching my lower back, and bending my elbows ("capital L, not little l!")  The other emphasis was on turning my upper body ("headlights") the direction I want Cupid to go - obviously something basic I know but forget sometimes when I'm thinking of a hundred other things!

Then more of the same at the trot.  Of course at the trot I do additional weird things with my body, like raising one shoulder or collapsing through my side.  Aside from a few reminders to have him more on my outside rein, the focus was more on me and my position; as long as Cupid was relaxed and maintaining a steady rhythm I left him alone.  Was he on the bit - no - but Ali said this is still more correct, and he is lifting and swinging through his back much better even with his nose poking out then when he's tense and his whole neck is braced up.  She also basically said once I was more secure in my seat and steady in my contact the rest will come.

We took a bit of a break, working on the reinback a few minutes.  Ali shared a different technique, using a gentle backwards motion with my heels.  It took Cupid a minute to figure it out, but then it seemed to work pretty good! 

The canter work was also mostly focusing on my position.  The transitions into and out of it were good, aside from one time when Cupid kind of squealed and leapt into it.  Even though I still worry about picking up the left lead, he's been very consistent with it (I think the pads on his feet are really helping!) 

I really enjoyed the clinic, and Ali's practical yet relaxed teaching style.  I was quite happy with how Cupid went, and that we could have a good experience being at a somewhat new place.  

Monday, September 30, 2019

Warmup Day, Woodside Schooling Show

There was a hunter/jumper schooling show near me last weekend, and though I wasn't feeling ready to show I hauled Cupid over on Friday when they had the rings open (setup with a complete set of jumps same as for the show) for warm up rounds! 

In years past you would buy a ticket for each round - it was not judged you just went once around the posted course.  I was expecting the same, but they changed the format to where multiple people could be in the arena and you had 5 minutes to school the jumps.  There was a course posted, but you don't have to follow it.  There are some advantages and disadvantages to each.  I was worried it would be chaotic, but I ended up having the entire arena to myself.
Show arena open for practice.

I started out with a quick lunge.  Cupid was well behaved, cantering quietly and coming back down when I asked.  We did have a quick training session on the way to the lunging area though when he balked passing by what I assume is material for a new arena they're building.  Curiosity got the better of him though, and he wanted to investigate.
The only picture I took of Cupid there!
After lunging I got on and we went to the warm up arena, which was immediately adjacent to the show arena.  We started with our usual flatwork, and I tried to remember to sit up straight and have my outside hand by my saddle pad.  It was going well but I was a bit nervous knowing jumping was coming up so we started with just a pole on the ground.  We trotted over it, fairly quietly at first but after several passes Cupid did start to jump over it so I tried to fight the urge to lean forward, which I know is the opposite of what I should be doing!

I forced us to trot over a little log and cross rail in the warm up, though I knew I was not riding my best starting to crawl up Cupid's neck.  At this point I wasn't sure I even wanted to go into the show arena, and thought maybe that was a good note to end it on. 

We took a little walk around outside the arena, around the show grounds which helped me to relax again.  The show arena was still empty so I decided to go in, and told myself since I'm here I might as well at least school around the jumps.  We trotted around, letting Cupid see the judge's booth, flower boxes, and pass by the spectator tent that was flapping in the wind.  (It seems like it is always windy at the horse park!!)  Cupid was being good so I decided to trot the smallest jump, which was the little log at the front of the arena.  That went well, he landed quietly and I got him back into a trot and we trotted the next smallest jump, one of the verticals with a gate and flower box.  We ended up not doing the entire course, but jumped sections of it at a time and went over most of the jumps except one of the outside lines which looked like it was set a bit higher. 

We didn't end there, another ring was set up with a poles course (and also empty).  We trotted it through, then cantered around working on a steady rhythm and our trot changes.  It might have been better to start there, but that ring was initially set with jumps and had other people in it.  Plus then I may have decided to end on a good note and not actually jump at all, so I guess it worked out well in the end!

I was very happy with Cupid; he was very good despite me occasionally riding like a little monkey up his neck (which usually meant a long spot and a rare pulled rail, my fault entirely.)  And though he's never really hesitated with flower boxes, we don't do them very often so it was good for me to see again that it is not a problem for him.  I was very happy I did it, it was the perfect opportunity for me to be able to take my time and work up my bravery.  But I was even more happy I didn't think I was ready to enter the actual show, because I realize I'm not!  But if I keep working on making correct riding my new normal hopefully I will be able to do it even when I'm nervous. 


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

See vs Feel

Cupid has been feeling really good, as I said I've been really happy with our progress, but I wanted to see it with my own eyes and got my trainer to take some clips during our lesson today.  (Ack, that roof is a little dizzying!)

Trotwork - much improved!  Cupid's nose is still a bit above the vertical, but it's getting there and I like how will he is stepping under himself.  My arms are still a bit straight but it's actually an improvement.




Canter - it feels a lot better but looking at the clips his nose is still up much more then I thought.  You can't tell from this gif, but one improvement I noticed is much better separation in his hind legs.  I'm also going to give myself props for sitting up a bit better (though of course still room for further improvement!)


Yesterday we did some jumping.  Again Cupid was being very good so I decided to up the interest factor a bit, and we jumped the wood coops and I added some blocks under a vertical - both of which Cupid jumped without hesitation.  Our canter has gotten so much better it seems like the right takeoff spots just come up naturally! 




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: https://youtu.be/VMAewZrgXZM


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..

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

In a Rut

I've felt like I've been stuck in a bit of a rut lately.  We've been working on the same things for so long, and though have made some progress it's just been so slow.  Like I've been trying to focus on soft elbows for like 2 years, and it sometimes feels better but then when I see a picture or video it doesn't look better at all.  Then after Cupid's back finally seemed better he had a bit of on and off - not lameness but a bit of a short-stridedness I think we can attribute to a minor abscess.

We went to a show, and it was tense and horrible.  On the bright side our canter transitions were pretty good... all four of them (in a test that's only supposed to have two....)  Our worst score to date, I kind of just want to move on and not think about it.  But Cupid did earn himself a trip to another show this weekend, and possible the next and then a few more outings next month so he hopefully realizes it's no big deal.  Last year after going to several shows, at least one a month, he was doing really well we just haven't been able to go with any consistency this year.

And then yesterday we literally fell into a rut.  Well didn't fall, thankfully but kind of stumbled through it.  We were just doing a little bareback hack around the property, and part of the trail was a little overgrown so I didn't see the erosion until we were over it.  Luckily Cupid kept his balance and got through okay.

We have a bit of a heat wave this week.  Today I just hand walked Cupid and let him graze.  We are supposed to have a lesson tomorrow, though I offered to my trainer that we could go on a trail ride instead since it's her last week off before she resumes classes, and we somehow haven't managed to do a trail ride all summer!
First world problems so I'll quit my whining now =)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Horse Eating Chairs

It's hard to imagine any other sport or activity could be near as humbling as riding.  Cupid is normally very easy going, but every so often he just gets in a mood where it feels like we're pretty much back at square one.  We've had two rides in the past two weeks where I had to throw the lesson plan out the window and spend the entirety of the ride just trying to get Cupid to relax and go around the arena without spooking. 

On both days something "scary" happened before I even got on (related to maintenance work on the property).  Both times I started with a little in hand work to try to get Cupid's focus.  But it wasn't enough when I got on, he would not stay straight on the long side between F and M.  So we would start on a 20 meter circle by A, which was fine.  But going down the rail as soon as we approach B Cupid was start shying off the rail - so we do a 10 meter circle before B, cut across the arena throwing in another small circle, until that was going smoothly.  Gradually we'd go a bit further down the arena, and after about half an hour we can more or less go all the way around, as long as I used a lot of inside leg to keep Cupid on the rail.
OMG it's going to eat me!!
I don't get nervous anymore when Cupid gets like this, because he doesn't try to get me off or run away or anything, but it's just annoying!  I want him to have his attention on me, inside the arena regardless of what is going on outside.  Especially if it's just a chair or mounting block by the side of the arena, which is pretty much always there and he's seen hundreds of times!!!  I guess this indicates that I am not really inspiring confidence and he is not really seeing me as the leader, so that is something I need to work on.  And, the answer is always more leg. 
Who me, misbehave?  Never!
So sweet and innocent
Not helping, when everything is obscured in fog and deer lurk nearby
On a lighter note, part of my original plan today I wanted to work on my arms with the Equicube a bit, but quickly realized that is probably not the best idea.  I can't reach the fence railing from the dressage court, and was too lazy to dismount so after pondering it for a moment I decided to just chuck the 4 lb cube from off Cupid's back.  He didn't blink at that!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Double Header

We've slowly been increasing the length and work intensity of our rides, but I haven't ridden Cupid two consecutive days since he first came up sore.  I was a little hesitant, not wanting to overdo it, but went ahead and scheduled a trail ride for Saturday and lesson on Sunday. 

We decided to ride in the sculpture gardens since that is a relatively easy ride, good footing and mostly just gentle slopes.  It was pretty hot out, and Cupid was a little bothered by flies tossing his head and not wanting to stand.  He was a little bratty about closing gates.  The first one I ended up having my friend do, the second one we kept at it until we got it even though Cupid was not really helping.  We'll have to work on that.  Aside from the gates he was very good, and not bothered by any of the art. 

Gently rolling hills
Frankenstein
Art installation
I want to try my western saddle again, but making sure Cupid's back is okay first before I try a new saddle.  So in the meantime we usually use the jumping saddle for trails (with longer stirrups).  I have a little saddle bag I clip to the dee rings, in which I usually carry a bottle of water, a few horse treats, and my cell phone.  I know the best practice is probably to carry the phone on my person in case I get separated from Cupid, but unless usually don't unless I have a zippered pocket.  I like to wear denim riding breeches (these ones are Irideon and very comfortable), and my Ariat terrain short boots. I normally wear a tshirt, but wisely decided to wear a long sleeved sun shirt with zip up collar to avoid sunburn. 

English trail pony
I was worried Cupid would be sore or tired the next day, but he actually had slightly above-average energy and felt great!  Instead of lunging I started with hand walking Cupid and doing some in-hand exercises to loosen him up.  Then I got on him and we started with a little walking with my feet out of the stirrups to lengthen my leg, and some shallow serpentines to get Cupid bending.  We picked up the trot as our trainer arrived, and most of the lesson was (yet again) working on improving contact especially on the outside rein.  (which I let "bounce in the wind" as my trainer says, lol)  We tend to overbend through the neck a bit going right, and not bend enough going left.  Other things I'm still working on are sitting upright instead of leaning forward, especially at the canter, and not crossing my left hand over the neck.

The canter felt good, and the transitions were good since Cupid was pretty keen to go.  We ended with some transitions between walk and trot, focusing on getting rounder in the walk and maintaining it through the transition.

I was feeling pretty optimistic after the lesson that Cupid is feeling back to normal, knock on wood!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Looks Can Be Deceiving - Myler Combination Bit

I've tried several bits on Cupid over the years, and didn't feel much difference - Cupid didn't hate any of them and is always as good as I ride him to.  Granted they were all pretty basic - plain snaffle, snaffle with rollers, oval link, and level 1 and 2 Mylers.  When my trainer suggested we try a combination bit I admit I was skeptical.  It looks like a lot going on, and Cupid doesn't really get strong so I didn't feel like I needed "more bit."  But I read a bit more about them, and was intrigued enough to give it a try.

How Dale Myler explains is: a simple snaffle (reins or headstall not fixed in position on the bit), might put pressure on the tongue and bars of the mouth, let's say 50/50.  The combination bit will start with pressure on the nose, curb, and poll, 33/33/33, until it rotates to where the mouthpiece touches the stop and then the tongue and bar pressure also comes into play, so 20% in each area.  So the pressure on the mouth is actually less.  He also says it makes sense to horses because their early training is in a halter, where the pressure is on the nose and poll not mouth. 

I waited until my lesson last weekend for our first ride in it.  Tip: I needed to swap out bridles for something smaller because I was already on the top hole and the combo bit has a longer purchase compared to even my big D ring.  I was trying to ride as normally as possible though I think I was a little hesitant still, but Cupid was fine.  Better than fine; for the first time ever, I could actually feel a difference as he was more responsive!  I especially felt it in our down transitions, Cupid was quick to respond and his head wasn't coming up!

Obviously this is not a legal bit for dressage, but I think it will be a good bit to play around with.  And possibly give me a little extra confidence once we get back to jumping again!



Level 1 mouthpiece

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Rider Fitness

My job has me sitting in front of a computer all day and on top of that I spend almost two hours in the car most days.  My motivations are to be a more effective rider, and let's face it I want to look... if not good at least not bad. I'm back to my pre-pregnancy weight, and my strength and flexibility seem about the same but my endurance isn't quite there yet.  Even though it's hard to make the time, I still make it a priority to be somewhat active and healthy.

Exercise

I've been running since I was 15 and have been a regular gym-goer since college.  I did some marathons in my mid-20s (PR 3:45), and a few 50k trail runs in my early 30s.  Even though I consider myself primarily a long-distance runner, I've won my division of our company 5k twice (PR 21:20)!  I was also into cycling for a while (though I don't currently own a bike), and proud to have completed a century ride.

I don't like high intensity workouts.  I'd rather just jog along listening to music for an hour or more then do a few sprints.  Or 15-20 reps with a light weight instead of a few at max weight.  But I do try to force myself on occasion!

Here is my typical week:

Monday - 60 minute yoga class, plus run 2-4 miles before or after
Tuesday - 30 minute conditioning class (planks, crunches, hand weights, bosu, sometimes with cardio intervals but thankfully usually not), followed by 30-60 minutes cardio on the treadmill, stairstepper, or elliptical
Wednesday - 60 minutes jogging
Thursday - 30 minute conditioning class (same as Tuesday), followed by 30-60 minutes cardio on the treadmill, stairstepper, or elliptical
Friday - 30 minute conditioning class (same as Tuesday), followed by 30 minute stretch class, followed by 60 minute spin class
Saturday/Sunday - either nothing, or hiking, or pushing baby in stroller on paved trail for 60-90 minutes

Diet

I try to keep it reasonable, but I'm not at all strict about it.  I have a pretty big sweet tooth and eat way too much sugar.  But my better half is on a low carb diet so dinner is usually meat (generally salmon, chicken or pork chop) and vegetables.  Actually we pretty much only have healthy food at home but there is always crap in the office and I don't turn it down.

Wellness

I see a chiropractor about once a month.  It's mainly preventative, I don't have any chronic issues just the typical office worker hunch. 

I get a massage a few times a year, not regularly unfortunately.

One recent change I made was to swap out my chair at work for one with no arm rests, because I'm always leaning on my left side. 

Here's what I'm working with