Friday, May 20, 2011

Horse trials (turned Combined Training) recap!

Somehow a whole week has passed and I haven't even posted on our enormous success! Been busy I guess...also been waiting on pics from a certain volunteer photographer named Dad!
Overall the weekend was a huge success. We had to come in after work on Friday, so not schooling happened Friday. We'd been busy packing, so not much work happened that week prior anyway. We did have a jump lesson the Monday before that was great. Then a dressage lesson that salvaged a cranky horse and rider and managed to get to a break through. But we weren't as prepared as we could have been.

Dressage was pretty dismal, we got a 40.6, which was not exactly catastrophic, it was not at all living up to our potential. A few things contributed to that. I didn't leave enough warm up time. She lunged nicely, was relaxed, and looked ready to work. Then I had about 10 minutes to actually ride warm up: not enough time to work through the resistant and distracted mind to the supple submissive horse that is in there. Plus we warmed up on the grass field next the cross country jumps: wrong frame of mind. Then my frame of mind was just pissy and not helping: I deemed it hopeless before we ever stepped into the arena. I was mad at myslef that we prepared to have a mediocre test because of poor planning, and mad that I hadn't pushed the trainer (the one being paid coaching fees to warm us up for success) to do things my way. I think I would have been better off on my own.

We did get some good pics after though! Cutie!

Good news from it, we did improve on the walk and free walk, both items that I had specifically worked on! I screwed up the second 20 meter circle because I spaced and went deep in that first corner. I suppose that sounds like bad news, but it means I automatically improve my score next time JUST by following directions!
After the weekend I started thinking through her frustrating resistance and I've begun to wonder if tack was contributing to it. I bought a new bridle specifically for dressage, and it wasn't fitting quite right. The nose band is too small for her rather large (yet pretty) head. So the cavesson is sitting a little lower than ideal. It could be that the brow band is also slightly too small. She was shaking her ear a few times, maybe that is too tight and pinching. I also bought a new bit to go with said bridle. I bought the same type of bit (French link eggbutt) but a different brand which means it is just slightly different. Could make a difference I guess. So now we'll start experimenting what made the difference. Was it me? The setting? The tack?

I ask all these questions because she came out to warm up for cross country like a whole new horse! Refer to pic above- I look tense, she looks chill. She was relaxed with a big nice trot stride instead of her nervous pitter-patter, and we had just about the best canter warm up ever! Was it just simply that I wasn't nervous? Or did the bridle change make a difference too?

Its a shame this next one is not in focus, it is the best of the whole weekend! Of course she doesn't know to be anxious in the start box, so it isn't surprising that she is standing quietly, but man does she look awesome! Looks more like a halt at x than starting box for cross country!

A little background on the show... Due to a bad weather forecast they completely swapped the schedule around. We did dressage first thing on Saturday followed by cross country at noon. The idea being that is it rained a bit on Sunday we'd have a better chance of getting through the stadium rounds.

Cross country went great. The jumps were all super easy.

We had schooled the up-down bumps and the bank the weekend before, so nothing was a surprise.

The logs were all easy. I didn't get lost! Only problems was it was much harder to hit the optimum time than I thought! We were trotting mostly since it was set at a 275m pace.

We cantered away from a few jumps, but in general took extra long approaches thinking we'd come in too fast. Well, approaching jump 9 of 11 I realized we had only thirty seconds left! Yikes! We ended up with 3.6 in time faults for being just a bit over optimum time. That's, again, my fault, and something that better planning can change. Lola was nice and forward, but happy and relaxed the whole way through. We had some really good cantering on course which is a confidence builder for her. I felt amazing afterward! Lola looked please as well.

She was so pleased with herself that she took a big old nap afterward! I was hanging out by her stall a few hours later and she decided to just sprawled out on her side and sleep. Its great that she can still get some zzz's in the middle of the busy show grounds! Considering this was her first time staying over night at a show, I was impressed that she really didn't care! This was her cute clean self BEFORE napping in her shavings!

Saturday night the rain started, and man did it pour! By the time I got up to feed Sunday morning at 6am, there was a lake in the paddock next to Lola's. She was dripping wet on her head and neck, but with a warm dry body under her blanket she didn't seem to care. It didn't take long for the show organizer to come around to spread the news that we would be calling off the stadium portion and calling the show a combined training event. I walked past the arena to get coffee and the enormous lakes that had formed over night made be extra glad it was called off. Even if it had stopped raining (which it didn't) the arena was so wet and sloppy that I would not have felt good about riding.

Instead we packed up in the rain. Nothing more miserable than stripping a paddock of soaking wet shavings in the pouring rain! We were all in a rush to get horses loaded to dry trailers and get out, but we had to pull trailers out to the road to load because the grass was so wet by then. This created more waiting, and then a frantic flurry once it was your turn. I had to wait 20 minutes until I got down the road to get changed into dry clothes and pick up some hot breakfast. I don't think I've every been that wet for that long in my life! Bleh.

Really despite all that, the weekend was a huge success. Oh yeah, I finished 3rd in the Senior Elementary Division! She has come so far. I just am floored by the amount of unhappy horses at shows. Constant refusals, bucking, bolting, or even general pissyness are all indicators your horse doesn't like his job! Really, if what you're doing isn't working, change it, change you, change your trainer, or change his job. Don't just keep trying like it will just magically work one day! I am so pleased that Lola is really truly enjoying what she is doing. I understand that we can all have an occasional bad day, but I had a feeling these horses were really over-faced and with under prepared riders. Lola is growing more and more confident in herself and me every time we do something like this. It is such a great feeling!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Schooling cross country was a HUGE success!

Lola and I went out to school a bit on the cross country course at Eventful Acres on Saturday. This gave us a chance to get used to the place, get an idea of what we're up against, and see how the drive would be for next Friday.

We went with the barn that I started taking jumping lessons at, so it was me and a pack of 8-14 year old girls jumping much bigger than me! My fiance made fun of me, but I'm ok taking it slow with my greenie-beanie horse. While all the girls jumped more than we did their horses also had moments of being quite naughty, one bolted off, one kept doing the spook-spin-buck trick, one didn't want to go down the bank and showed off her rear-spin trick, and the super-star pony rolled in the first water feature (a lovely color of black with floating green algae) leaving the youngest rider forced to do a swan dive into the water! Lola, on the other hand, was an absolute star. None of these kids horses were unsafe by any means, and I was so impressed with the riders. I was still quite happy to be riding a horse that was happy in her work and eager to impress, even when trying her best to figure out where her feet go.

We schooled over tiny logs for the most part, but had fun jumping up and down banks for the first time, we had a tricky little fence that required us to go down a steep bank to cross a creek, trot up the other bank to jump a beginner novice sized log. Tricky since Lola is naturally suspicious of water. This was actually a problem for all of the horses, so we weren't the only ones that tip-toed in the first time through. She was a champ though, and she really improved each time through. This was the second water that we had schooled through.

The first time around we had to follow another horse in, but after that we started walking in with only a bit of hesitation and then trotted out. By the last water we schooled she was trotting through so nicely that I even picked up the canter and she cantered right through! I was so proud!

We cooled down by doing a some free walking to medium walk transitions in the arena where the dressage test will be set up. The whole day was such a huge success!

I feel like we're going to do really well next weekend, and I just can't wait!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Balancing act: Forehand vs haunches, side to side, work vs R & R

Our primary training focus right now is balance. Well, I guess really it is balance and rhythm, since those always go hand in hand.

Lola has been getting so good about not leaning on her forehand and plowing along, but we still have to address this when we venture out of the 20 meter circle. We’re working on not getting to heavy in front before and after fences. “No, Lola, plowing through the gymnastic is not correct!” Also we’ve been working on not losing balance or speeding up going down hill. We’ve got just the slightest slope to the jumping arena, and although you don’t see it, you can feel it.

Then we have the side to side balance. Lola, like most horses, isn’t the same on both sides. She tends to, if left to her own accord, over bend her neck to the right and pop her left shoulder, thus taking her to the outside when going on a circle to the right. She drifts left. So of course, going to the left she again drifts left, but this means she’s falling into the circle with a straight-ish to counter bent neck. We’re constantly working new exercises to help her warm up out of this, and develop the muscles to work more correctly through her body.

We’ve mastered these, at least passably, at the walk and trot, but the canter is the new focus. This means we’re doing many of these same exercises, but now they can be absolutely exhausting. She has certainly built up a lot of strength in the canter, and she can lift her back and take nice big relaxed strides, but when you add in work that pushes her to use that inside hind leg more and more, and bend enough to pick up the inside should instead of leaning on it, it means a ton more work!

So we come to the third balancing act. How much work can my little mare handle? More work when she’s already sore and tired doesn’t encourage her to work harder, it encourages her to cheat and avoid working. Working in the arena, whether it is dressage or jumping, can be both physically and mentally hard on a horse, you have to push past the spot where they’re comfortable, in both fitness and training, to reach the next step. So how do we keep pushing her forward without pushing too hard? I try to balance this with variety.

Lately we’ve been very regular with lessons, one jumping and one dressage a week. These days we’re pushed to work much harder than we would on our own. This is good for both of us. The days that we’re working really hard are guaranteed to be very correct work. Usually that means that she’ll be a little sore, so I limit us to one other jump schooling later that week, always at a really relaxed tone, and much shorter. I want to work on what we can do correctly and comfortably. We do at least one other dressage school in the week to work on the little bits of wisdom that we can remember from the information packed dressage lesson. This should leave three “flex” days. Sometimes I just can’t get out at all, so one or two of these maybe full days off. But really Lola does best with work, so we find ways to make work into rest and relaxation.

On an ideal week her flex days would be: 1) Lunging in the surcingle and Vienna reins- this is a complete workout on its own, and gives her back a break from saddles and my weight, plus it lets her work on stretching down and lifting and swinging through her back. (I do still lunge before riding as a warm up, but it is different with the more steady side rein, and our focus is to have a relaxed warm up to prepare for the ride). 2) Hand walking down the road- a little mental work encountering new things, but physically stress free, and encourages a marching, swinging, over-tracking walk. 3) Trail riding at the lake- this is our long conditioning ride each week, usually an hour and a half. Physically this means mainly walking, some hill trotting, working about ten minutes on a twenty meter circle on the beach in order to pick up the canter then canter down the beach a tiny bit. Training wise we’re trotting over whatever driftwood we find, crossing numerous streams without leaping wildly over them, crossing ditches, going up and down steps, and keeping control in an open and busy environment.

The routine has been working marvelously. The hand walking I can do on lunch break, and it means that I at least get 45 minutes of exercise too! Lunging can happen at lunch as well, so that helps to free up some evenings to actually see my fiancĂ©! Trail riding is a much bigger time commitment, but it is never very hard to convince myself to do it. With the weather so nice, I’m literally sprinting out the office door to get out to the barn! Here’s a little of why….

The trees are green…

The sun is shining, which makes the lake look so inviting…

The wild flowers our out in full bloom…

My little red mare has turned into an AWESOME trail horse! We did our Sunday ride with the reins at the buckle. She was relaxed, confident, and conscious of where she placed her feet, even on a completely loose rein. I think we must be balancing training and fun pretty well, because we're on a roll!