Friday, September 23, 2011
Dressage must continue, but perhaps outside of lessons...
I've been on such a regular lesson schedule that I can't think of many times that I've really asked for correct dressage outside of the lesson. So of course that statement is all wrong! Dressage means training. So if I have a "dressage" standard for lessons, and a "non-dressage" standard for the rest of my riding, I'm not being demanding enough. So it is time to start expecting more from her, all the time. Second issue, is that because I am used to having the trainer coach me through my warm up and find that good quality trot, I don't always try to find it outside of the lesson. She's gotten us past some sticky spots, now we need to see if we can do it on our own! I still plan to keep going with the dressage lessons to introduce new things, but also plan to hold myself more accountable for practicing what we've learned at home.
Canter, canter, and canter some more...
The one thing I didn't feel like we'd prepared for entirely was canter conditioning rides. The last time we did canter sets the were only 4 minutes and it was in early July. She then had time off, and the optimal time for the cross country course was like 4 and half minutes. She may have been less likely to look for an easy way out of the situation if she had been fully prepared for the physical exertion. She also seems to need a little more practice focusing and managing situations at the canter. So we will now find a way to incorporate cantering into every trail ride. So far it has worked once. I had ponied Bear off of Lola for about a half hour of walking with short trot sets when we came across good sturdy tie posts at a picnic area. So Bear got tied (we'll call this his intro to ride and tie training) and Lola got cantered. First we just started with a few circles around the area, then cantered off down the trail each direction, we did a couple passes back and forth, turning around a little farther down the trail each time, until the timer sounded 4 minutes. If we can find a way to do this and more each time, we'll bump up her fitness significantly and introduce her to a whole variety of terrains and situations at the canter.
Practice makes perfect...
Although I may not have a chance to get out to that same course until the spring, I can take advantage of some local opportunities to jump in a show setting. We will be heading right back into the show arena on Sunday for another little H/J schooling show. That is IF the classes are on time! I'm going at it with a no commitment attitude this time. I'm texting a friend that will be there before I leave at 11am to be sure I won't have missed the jumping classes, and then I'm only staying a few hours. If we they don't get to the jumping classes, too bad, we'll school and go home without waiting. I can't imagine they'll run as far behind though. So I think I'll be able to get a few classes in. (Although I'm all burnt out on braiding and hunt coats for photo shoots, so we'll do this one casual.) Then there are a few opportunities for dressage schooling shows through October, including a derby where I can have my chance to correct that BN test in particular!
That's our plan! At the minimun, we'll have fun doing it!
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Lola and I went Beginner Novice last weekend at a horse trials. We had fun, we got some very valuable experience, and we got some GREAT pictures! I was amazed at some of the things that didn’t phase her. We were stabled about 10 feet from a stallion, and she couldn’t have cared less. Just like last time, she took a nap curled up in her shavings in the afternoon- totally relaxed with the show environment. We did get some fun pictures, and she felt great jumping! Nothing felt big at all, I was really surprised. I can see now that we really have just begun to tap into her jumping potential. We are getting better and better seeing our distances and taking the fences right in stride, it really is starting to feel “just right”. I was really proud of our warm ups for all three phases, and our easy ride the night before when we arrived.
She came out happy and interested, and really did well. I was surprised at how easy and fun she was to ride Friday night. We had two of the best canter departs yet, and such a light easy balanced canter I almost thought I had someone else’s horse! This was despite the fact that we were hacking around on the irrigated grass section of the cross country course (we don’t normally ride on grass much) and there were a ton of other riders crisscrossing all over the place. I was so please that I quit while we were ahead. I knew it would be tough with dressage since it is SO early! Sometimes it takes Lola a while in our dressage lessons to really lift her back and get into a big swinging trot, but we found it quickly Saturday morning. I had lunged her a bit in side reins to give a gentle warm-up for her muscles, and was sure to put an exercise rug on her since it was chilly. So when I hopped on she really felt great- responsive, willing, and eager to stretch into the contact. We had two great canter departs. Both the warm-ups before the two jumping phases went just as well- eager, attentive, relaxed and solid over the warm up fences, a cross rail, a vertical, and an oxer set at the max height for our course. I was so please with all that. If only I could have recreated it in the show rings! We did have moments of brilliance. We got 7’s on all the things that Lola does really well, the walk, free walk, and square halt.
We looked great over the fences in stadium and aside from our two issues we had a completely respectable round. We were solid on the cross country fences- at least until we weren’t, but more on that later!
The bad…what I did wrong...
My nerves dominated the situation- every time. I was practically in tears of frustration by the time I went into my dressage test, so despite my attempts at deep breathing, I turned my warm up calm horse into a ball of nerves and our test was terrible. From the minute I walked over to the dressage arenas my emotions started snowballing. I never saw a ring steward, and instead stood by my ring waiting for my turn. I guess I knew deep down this was wrong, and it was making me nervous, but couldn’t figure out what else to do. Lola was suddenly tense which made me want to work on some trot circles to get her back together, but the more I tried the worse it got. Pretty soon I hear my number being called form at least a hundred feet away, the opposite direction from the arenas- I was apparently supposed to be in the ring NOW. Great. I had to trot over to the woman standing the middle of the field, get over to the farthest dressage arena, only to walk back down to my dressage arena where I had been waiting all the time. UGH! I was embarrassed, and mad at myself, and not being very patient with the spooking mare that had replaced the calm one I had been riding in the warm up arena!
Tense and sucked back-not what we've been working on in lessons!
I completely lost my ability to ride forward and manage the situation; I sort of sat there quietly hoping it would get better. About halfway down the first long side she spooked. I stopped thinking about pushing her forward and re-balancing her, so of course we didn’t find out relaxed swinging trot. That was our last lesson too! Push forward to energize in rhythm with the inside leg, and hold straight and balanced by half halting in rhythm with the outside leg. Did I do it? No. Without our good quality trot, we weren’t going to get a good quality canter. We got out leads (I guess that’s something!), but she really hated the wet grass. It was still very slick from the morning dew. She felt like she was convinced we’d slip at any moment in the canter. It was basically the same both directions. The worse part- I lost points for the shape of my circles! Even if she was breathing fire, I should have been able to ride an accurate figure! I mean come on! What I need to do is laugh at myself before I screw up; tell myself that I’m going to think it is really pathetic to see judges notes about poor circles when I’m done, so I better just pull myself together now and put a stop to that! I just need to find some good sports psychology tools to set myself up for success for the next test.
After dressage I put her up for a while, watched the higher level riders jump huge fences, and about the time Novice was set my stomach was up in my throat again. Despite our good warm up cantering around these brightly colored jumps got us both a little startled. We took the first jump fine, but on the bending line to our second fence I felt her suck back to spook at the jump. I should have ridden her strongly to the fence even if I had to trot it. I think I could have convinced her to take it! I was in survival mode though, so I played it cool. We stopped, I spanked her with my crop, let her look at the fence long and hard, took a really big deal breath, told myself we could do this, circled back and took it no problem. Terrible way to start a round! Not unexpected for a green horse, and I think I handled it well, but it gave us four faults and ate up a ton of time. The rest of the course went fairly well despite the fact that I couldn’t think of anything but “Don’t stop again!” She really didn’t feel like she was going to stop, but when you have a history of falling off at refusals like I do, the thought can become a bit of an obsession! Our second jumping fault was because I didn’t collect her to change a lead in time. We came off jump four on the wrong lead, trotted our change, and only picked up the right lead a few strides from jump five. We didn’t see our distance and took the rail down. End result was 8 jumping faults and 10 time faults for staring at that jump so long! I did feel fairly accomplished for finishing the round; the jumps were way scarier and more distracting than anything we’ve ever seen!
Cross country on Sunday found us well warmed up despite a frantic half-hour hunt for my medical arm band! I never did find it, but I had a spare copy of the insert and borrow another rider’s band. Not the best way to keep my emotions steady! So as Lola walked calmly around the start box, I tried to use deep breathing techniques to talk myself out of the anxiety attack that was creeping on! I can't help but insert the picture here. The camera doesn't lie, you can see my lips puffing the air out as I try by best to breath and think positive thoughts.
Leaving the starting box I gave her a good pat and we look ready.
We cantered into the first jump, a log that I think was a good size height for the course, which I was afraid of despite having jumped it before, because it was the first.
We stayed steady, we jumped it beautifully, we cantered on! Perfect control, at least for the moment. We came around the bend and took the easy and small second log only to have the golf cart collecting score sheets from the division that had just ended come zipping directly at us on our left. Lola spooked to the right, and just as we straightened out she saw the jump judge for the third jump off to the right. She stopped dead. We were no where near the jump, so it didn’t count as a refusal, but I certainly didn’t have time to slowly introduce her to every scary item out there! I really had to laugh at her at this point. We weren’t having problems with the jumps, we were having problems with getting between them! When the jump judge finally asked if it would be better if she stood up, the light bulb went on in Lola’s head- it was only a person! We got passed the third log cantered to the up bank and as we approached I asked the judge to talk to her, and we had no problems. We then had the two logs on a long bending line as the fifth and sixth jumps- no problem. We made it through the trees to a sharp turn to the seventh jump- no problem. We trotted our down bank (eighth) and cantered on to our last log on the “tree side” of the course- no problem. When trying to cross the arena she spooked first at the foxes on the right, then the jump poles on the ground on the left, I laughed again and carried on.
So far nothing had been very bad, although she felt a little like a pin ball as her attention bounced from one scary object to another she had never spooked hard (like something that would unseat me) and she never dreamed of bolting off. She just wasn’t confident. Once across the arena we had a down slope to the dry creek bed the bank on the other side with the log right at the edge. It went better than I expected and we finally came to the fun part! But ten jumps into the course meant we reaching the end of my fitness limit. Do you smell the trouble brewing?
We headed towards the big roll-top but Lola wasn’t looking at it. There were more people off to her right and we ended up with a run-out to the left since she was looking at them all the way. We circled around and jumped it fine the second approach.
I’m pretty sure that’s when I stopped breathing. Not that I passed out, but I do have a tendency to get nervous and hyper-focused, and not breath normally. Run outs, especially from a horse that just doesn't refuse normally, do that to me! By the time we made it across the field to the little white house that would have been jump twelve Lola was frazzled by a huge group of people sitting off to the right (I spoke to several riders who said their horses also spooked there) and I was mentally checked out. So when she simply spooked off to the left again on our approach, I did the worst thing possible- I regressed into the teenager who pointed horses at fences and didn’t do much else but hope and lean forward thinking the horse would catch them as they jumped. I didn’t ride the fence like the others, with my legs wrapped, squeezing in the rhythm of the stride and my shoulders up and balanced. I chose the "hope and lean" approach! I can laugh at myself now, I mean really, you’d think I’d have at least grabbed mane, or spanked her with the crop, or told her to get over the fence in my most convincing voice! I should have done all three! I didn’t do any of them. What was I thinking?
I don’t know what I was thinking, but the next second I was getting up off the ground, collecting my horse and thinking, “This means I don’t get to finish!”, if I really wanted to finish, I should have made a plan before that second attempt! But if your feet are on the ground in your cross country ride, its too late to start planning! I was so disappointed we didn’t get to the water because I am quite proud of how well we’ve schooled the water. I was also very sad that my mother was set up on that side of the field to video jumps 11-15 since they were the cool looking ones, and I didn't make it passed 12. Then it hit me, I FELL OFF! Oh my, that hurts the pride! What a stupid thing to do! This was not the kind of refusal that should have unseated me at all. I said earlier that I have a history of falling off at refusals, this is from spending most of my teenage years jumping without lessons. I haven’t fallen off in front of a fence for almost 10 years. I am too OLD to fall off! So I am none to pleased to reset that counter. Like the sign indicating days without accidents on a work site… 4 days since last fall from a refusal, just looks shockingly bad.
I reminded myself as I nursed my injured pride (and pulled the grass out of the top of my boot) that if I had wanted to win I would have bought a broke horse. I have always wanted to event, having never competed in it, I could have made it easy and bought a horse with experience. But I’ve never owned a horse that I haven’t had to create almost from scratch; it almost feels like cheating! I didn’t take the easy route, I’ve trained my own, and part of bringing a horse along is taking the bad days along with the good. I was pleased that at least Lola did not learn that galloping away from her rider was a good idea! She stuck with me like a good and patient horse.
The ugly... ugly braids and ugly truth!
My biggest disappointment of the weekend was not how Lola had done, or how we had placed, but how I had ridden her. I am honest enough with my abilities to know that I can’t do this without the advice of experts, and so I’ve found myself some very good trainers to help me put the pieces together in our lessons. Without them around, I’m left to try to put together what we’ve learned. The truth is that I’m responsible for any short comings in our ride! That’s a ugly truth to face. I’m not a professional, and although I can give this horse the best I can, I will make mistakes. It does help to look at how far we have come over the last year and a half! Everything that she knows I’ve taught her, so it also stands to reason, everything that she doesn’t know, I have to teach her! We’ve got a few plans for the next week… like cantering out in the open while still staying focused!
Our ugly braids were better than last weekend’s, but still ugly! Oh well, some things you just have to mess up a few times before you get them right! That’s our theme for the weekend. Now that we’ve messed it up once, maybe we can come back and nail it the next time!
Monday, September 12, 2011
I thought I'd share the video from our 3rd time on course- like I said in the first post on the show, we did the same course for each class. This was Equitation over Fences. We took 1st place! (Out of two riders...) It felt good to nail a course with really tough turns. I think the lines were just a tad too long, we had a hard time getting them. We got the four and five strides here, but you can see the second fence in the line is jumped pretty long.We chipped on the three stride line. Not surprising, I guess, since we had such a tight turn before fence number 5, and not much momentum. Over all she was a lovely easy ride, but you can see me getting left behind a bit... I was getting tired and a little bit of heat stroke with that coat!
I pulled a few of the good pics, in no particular order!
Sunday, September 11, 2011
So to prove to myself we could do this (and why couldn't we after schooling all the BN size cross country jumps last weekend with ease?) we set out for the show. My goals were: 1) braid her, 2) successfully make it through the courses, 3) feel good about approaching and jumping 2'6" fences, 4) not break the bank doing it!
1) Braiding, check! Not fantastic, but I got through it in under an hour! Her mane is SO thick that the regular 20-22 braids ended up being WAY to thick! They looked all wrong, and yet I looked at them admiringly all day! Sticking straight up off her neck, they some how gave her a draft horse look that I thought was just adorable. As hunter braids they were atrocious. I was trying to go for the dressage button braids look, but failed there too. I also was trying to just do it with two rubber bands per braid, but one shake knocked half them out, and two more rubber bands were needed to fix them. I think I'll go back to the yarn hunter/braid method I grew up with, especially with the thickness I think that will add the structure needed to keep them straight, especially if I want to braid the night before!
2) Jump courses, well, sort of a check. We started with two Hunter Hack courses to warm up, one walk-trot only, the other a regular canter version. We breezed through those, but had a chip before the first fence when cantering. This is typical of Lola warming up, and it was kind of nice to get it out of the way! Then came the jumping classes... the course was ridiculous! It was the same course for all four classes- Low Hunter, Mid Hunter, Equitation over Fences, and Jumpers (with a jump off course as well). This worked fine for me, I hate memorizing different courses. It also gave me a shot at perfecting the course by doing it several times. This wouldn't have been necessary if it had been a standard hunter course, you know: line along the long side, line down the diagonal... any variation of that creates wide sweeping corners and straight and inviting lines. The course created for the show was certainly not a hunter course, it was either a very challenging equitation/jumper course or simply a terrible designed course! I will not be the judge of that. I found it extremely challenging, which is good, because I can bet the jumper course next weekend will be easier! Here's the course:
You tell me how to jump that!!! There is ONE nice turn! The rest are almost roll-backs! You can see in the video that the first time coming from jump 4 to 5 I completely missed it, and even after circling didn't get a straight approach. Yikes! So I was glad to get to try it again. This is what I sort of was trying for. My squiggly lines drawn in Paint are probably straighter and more correct than my ride was!We just fully jumped #4 at a diagonal, which she was totally game for, Lola kept landing on the left lead, so we would just trot the sharp turn and pick up the canter before the fence which worked fine. The other turns though we just couldn't get tight enough and we ended up coming at most of the jumps at an angle, coming into a line without being straight wasn't ideal. So we had three tries to sort out the course, and we certainly improved each time. We've got pictures and videos to go through, so I'll post those soon.
3) Jump 2'6" courses, FAIL! This had been an all day, "neighborhood" kind of show. The kind where the horses are ridden in almost every class available in the 46 class schedule, and you are almost guaranteed to see someone fall off. I never saw anyone come off, but there were several moments that made you cringe. The courses were meant to be: 18 inch cross rails for Hunter Hack, 2' for low hunters, 2'6" for Mid-hunters and Eq, and up to 3' for jumpers. When it came time to move the fences up, the judge opted to leave them at 2', saying that the horses were tired. I'm a chicken, and the turns were hard, so I really was a tiny bit relieved. But the thing was almost all the riders either left the arena crying/refused to go in for the course (because they shouldn't be jumping courses yet based on the nerve-wracking Hunter Hack performance) or scratched (because their horses were being "naughty" but probably just exhausted). So there were three of us jumping courses. Lola and a big grey had only come for these classes and hadn't been riding at all. But the third was a dear patient gelding who HAD been ridden in classes all day, and I was told had only been jumping for 5 weeks. So I was relieved for the pair that the jumps stayed low. So I didn't get that extra six inches of scary. It probably won't matter. It's more of a mental thing, because I know that she's capable, and we've done it before, just not in a show.
4) Not breaking the bank, check, but with a sacrifice. The classes were a whopping $4.95, so at the end of the day I'd paid less than $30. I also won four out of six classes which meant I went home with a feed scoop, a plastic "horse shaver" thingy, a mane/tail comb, and a shedding block. All very useful things! The problem was that because it was a cheap and low key show, they were running THREE HOURS BEHIND!!!! They published that jumping wouldn't start until after 1pm. I showed up at noon to be sure to be ready in case they did start then. They were already behind, and estimated a 3pm start. I don't think we got to jumping until 4:30. Lola didn't mind! She got to hand graze for about three hours, so long that she stopped eating to watch the show!
My husband (groom) and parents (camera crew) were a bit bored with the whole deal, they put on a brave face! At least after we found some shade.
And I was left thinking that it would have been a whole lot easier to braid and dress in show gear for a lesson if I wanted video of us at a show! But that wasn't the point, the point was to overcome my show nerves, and I did. But boy what a waste of a day! All that waiting when I have so much to do!
Bonus lesson learned: I am pitifully out of shape. Since I was sick and had to have the trainer ride her for the last jumping lesson, I really have only jumped twice since getting back from the honeymoon. Both times we were just schooling. Mainly we jumped one fence, talked, jumped it again, talked, jumped three in a row, then talked. Having to hold us together while cantering 8 fences was like a sprint! I still am not back in full health from the cold, so that is partially to blame, but I realized I haven't worked out since the beginning of August. A solid month without cardio can take the breath out of you! I was puffing after each course. The last class was jumpers. I hadn't planned to do it because of the height, but since they weren't going to raise the fences, and there were only three of us anyway, I was talked into it. I was SO ready to be done. If I had been thinking I would have taken off the wool hunt coat and collar, and rolled up the long sleeves on my show shirt, but I wasn't. There had been a nice breeze, and it certainly had cooled down, but it still had been in the mid-nineties with very un-California like humidity. I'm clearly making excuses for a reason! I cantered up to the first fence feeling strong, and then just stopped riding. Being the fourth time I'd done the course I guess I just decided I'd be a passenger! She chipped, and I didn't support, so she took down the rail. Completely my fault. It was a terrible ride! My first thought was, oh fine, I quit. Then I realized that I couldn't quit on that note I need to ride forward!!! So we took the next line right in stride, with a brilliant 5 stride in between. And then I thought, what is the point? I decided not to finish. The course just got harder from there, we had done a great job of it the last time through, and I didn't think I could give her the ride she deserved this time. Why ruin the good feeling of our last ride with a weak attempt to better it? So I decided not to finish. It wasn't until I got back into a tank top that I realized I would have done better if I had cooled off before jumping that last course. The other girls were riding in polo shirts. I just couldn't bring myself to ride in a polo after spending all that time braiding! I could have let that slide for the jumpers class though. So more fitness for me, and I hope to give stronger ride next time for my lovely mare.
All in all, we had a positive experience. We really hit a few fences perfect! It felt marvelous. I am holding on to that mental image, reliving the feeling so that I have it stored away for mental preparation next week. I was impressed with her willingness despite our crocked approaches and challenging turns. She was wonderful for the flat portion of Hunter Hack too! I'm feeling good about next week!
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
So far we are schooling quite well at this level, but it will be nice to prove to ourselves we can really do it all in the same weekend with the pressure of show grounds! Again, I'm new to actually competing in eventing, so this will as much a learning experience for me as at will be for her. I'm just so grateful that she's such a willing partner in all this!
With a little time off for the wedding we're now trying to make the most of the two weeks before the HT. Last week we had our first jumping lesson in weeks, and unfortunately I was too weak and sick to ride it! I managed to make it through work (most of the day) and haul Lola out to the trainer, and I even managed to get on and warm her up at the walk. That was all I had in me though, and the trainer gave her a schooling ride instead of giving me a lesson. It worked fine, she still got worked, and I got a chance to see her jump.
Then Saturday we went to school the cross country course so that we'd get a chance to see what's coming at the event. We had only schooled Elementary last time we were there, so it was all new to us this time around. She was so brave through all of it! We came to the biggest of the BN fences, a roll top at the max height of 2'7", and I thought she was going to stop, and honestly I probably just stopped riding figuring we'd just need to circle back. My brave little mare was true and honest and DIDN'T stop! Of course I wasn't expecting it and lost a stirrup and had to grab mane! Silly me, not expecting a jump when I've pointed her at a jump! She had a similar reaction to the scary bench, the little white house, and the coop after the water. She slowed to look at it because it was new, but she jumped it anyway. I feel so good that the day of the event we'll jump everything! I trust that she'll jump even if she's really giving it the eyeball, and I trust that with the smaller fences she's fine trotting in (which she'll still choose to do if she's uncomfortable with the strides coming in).
Sunday was our dressage lesson, and despite the fact that we were both tired and I know that I was a little sore, she did wonderfully, best yet! We started working through our test, and really working on getting her attention and submission back immediately rather than let a distraction cause her to stay above the bit for half the arena! That won't do in the test, and is more likely to happen with the distractions of the show grounds (and my nerves).
I've feeling really excited about our progress. Now I just want to keep her engaged and in shape for the next two weeks! We've got a long trail ride planned for tonight, a dressage lesson mid-week, some trot-canter conditioning sets planned somewhere in there, and a little hunter/jumper show as practice on Saturday.
Two more full weeks and then maybe I can relax a bit and focus on being a newlywed!!!