Monday, August 31, 2015

Stone Tavern Dressage: Bit of a Rough Start...

So, I made up a schedule the day before my show, as per usual.  I stuck to my schedule and left the barn 3 minutes ahead of schedule.  Not usual.  I was super proud of myself.  I should have known.

Got to the show, picked up my number, verified which rings were 1 and 3, and headed back to the trailer.  Feeling very organized, plenty of time before my first test.  Again, I should have known.

Then we dropped the ramp.  And moments later it became painfully clear to all involved that the butt bar had come undone during transport.  

Tucker stepped back, hit the end of his cross-tie, and panic-flailed until his halter broke.  I was in the front of the trailer helplessly shoe-less, in the middle of putting on my tall boots.  He backed himself down the ramp and we had a moment of eye contact as I followed him off.

Me:  "You're okay..." [inching slowly toward him]

Tucker:  "I'M NOT OKAY... OMG I'M SCARED I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO....  OH GOD MY INSTINCTS ARE TAKING OVER THIS IS TERRIBLE I'M A FLIGHT ANIMAL OH NO'S."

Me;  "HEADS UP LOOSE HORSE!!"

Tucker:  "OMG I CAN'T MAKE MY LEGS STOP MOVING EVERYTHING IS GOING BY SO FAST OMG WHAT IS THAT OMG WHERE AM I GOING OMG THIS IS SO DANGEROUS"

Me:  *jog slowly behind so as not to further scare him and pray he stops before he injures himself or others*

Loudspeaker:  "Heads up in the barn area, loose horse headed your way.  Loose horse in the barn area."

Tucker:  I NEED AN ADULT!  I NEED AN ADULT!  DOES SOMEONE HAVE A HALTER?  PLEASE PUT ME IN A STALL OR SOMETHING I'M ALL BY MYSELF I DON'T KNOW HOW I GOT HERE OMG THIS IS SO BAD"

Me:  *jogging and hyperventilating, relieved to see him cornered in a barn aisle*

Tucker:  "ARE YOU MY MOTHER?  OMG YOU'RE NOT MY MOTHER!  STRANGER DANGER!  WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?  I'VE MADE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE! I WANT TO GO HOME."

Me: *takes lead rope from kind stranger*  

Kind stranger:  "Well at least you don't have to lunge him now!"

Me:  "Haha, yes he's all warmed up now thank you."  *quietly dying inside*

Tucker:  "OMG WHAT HAPPENED I BLACKED OUT! THAT WAS SO SCARY WHERE THE HECK WERE YOU?  WHY DID YOU LET ME DO THAT?"

Me:  "It's okay buddy, you're okay..."  *tries to pat him*

Tucker:  "OMG PLEASE DON'T HIT ME I'M HEAD-SHY NOW"

Me:  Sigh....  

My warm-up was a hot mess.  He was a bundle of nervous energy and try as I might I could not get him to chill.  He had himself curled around my right leg like a pretzel, chin to his chest, and every time I tried to straighten him out or get him to go forward, he'd panic-flail and leap through the air like a giraffe shot with a blow dart.  I lost count of how many lead changes he did.  It was (a) embarrassing and (b) nerve-wracking.  Then a trainer started shouting at his student and Tucker stuck his tail between his legs and scooted across the warm up because he was being yelled at.  And I realized his poor little brain was just completely gone.  I moved to a quieter warm up area and thought I might be getting somewhere, but right before we went in the ring I tried to do a leg yield and he had a melt down.  

Needless to say, our first test wasn't pretty.  I told myself trotting around the ring that I was just going to be as tactful as possible to avoid him exploding, be subtle with my aids, and just be conservative.  I saw Amy do this once on a horse that gave her a huge spook just as she was heading into the ring.  So I had a little "What would Amy do?" pep talk with myself.  I remembered that Amy was very still and very quiet and gave her horse lots of little pats along the way. And I have to say, we got through it.  He felt like a twitchy powder keg and looked like he was about to stroke out, but we got through it.  

We did do a lovely line of fours in place of our one loop serpentine, unfortunately those aren't called for until Fourth Level.  Still, Tucker felt he should have been given some kind of extra credit for them.  I will say they felt like pretty damn great changes, so... there's that?

I could have predicted the comments.  "Stiff," "Tight through the back," "Needs to be more supple," "Short neck," "Overflexed," "Conservative," "Behind the vertical," "A bit tense."  We did get an 8.0 on our last halt.  Which might have been because the judge was just so happy to see we survived.  She commented "Steady ride!" on the back of my test, so I'm hoping it was clear that he was just completely on edge and I was doing the best I could not to upset him.  We ended up with a 61%, for third place out of four.  Not our best effort.  I was a little frustrated and a little worried about him... but I took him back to the trailer for some water and a break in the shade before our next test.

Which I'll tell you all about tomorrow.  Spoiler alert:

Please take me home now,
today has been super stressful I'm going to need a lot of cookies

Monday, August 17, 2015

Oops I Did It Again

Oops I did it again,
I forgot to blog, lost track of the days.
Oh baby, baby.
You think I will write, but try as I mi-iiiii-ight
I'm not that consistent.

That song will now be stuck in all of your heads all day.  You're welcome.

If it makes you feel any better, four different people in real life have texted me in the last week or so alone to tell me that they never see me and try to make plans... which I've scheduled for November. Not kidding.  So don't take it personally.  Between work being kind of crazy, and a bunch of family mandatory attendance events parties, and trying to do as much as I can on the new house, and keeping the horse in some sort of a regular program, time to write is kind of limited.

Anyone else take pics of their horse every time they grab them from turnout?
Anyway, I have to give you a detailed report of my lesson on Wednesday, which was eye-opening. We spent the whole lesson trying to get Tucker more consistent in the contact at the trot.  I've been feeling lately like the canter is getting better and better but the trot is regressing.  It's just not as steady or as forward as it was at one point, he's still not reaching for the bridle, and the contact feels really inconsistent with moments where he's behind the vertical.

I bounced around a few theories. (1) I may be neglecting his trot work.  I've been concentrating on transitions within the gait at the canter, halts, and doing a lot of my lateral work at the walk.  (2) I've been trying to learn to sit his trot, so all my shifting and squirming and bouncing (sorry horse) may be making his back tight or just leading to poor quality trot work. (3)  Connection in the trot has always been an issue, but this is the first lesson where we've focused solely on that, so it might just seem worse because we're exposing some big weaknesses.

I think I may have landed on a better theory though.  In my rides since my lesson, I have scrapped my usual long rein stretchy warm-up, in favor of 20-30 minutes of marching and lateral work asking him to go forward and get in the bridle at the walk before I move up to trot and canter.  I think that stretchy long rein stuff works in the cooler weather when he comes out with energy but needs to loosen up.  In the heat of the summer he comes out with all the nervous energy of a potato.  So long and low warm up equates to shuffling lazy beast who is allergic to everything resembling work.

I just can't resist.
So, when I start off that way, I make the objective very clear:  go forward into the bridle.  At the walk I have more control over my upper body and my hands, and I can be steadier and more deliberate with my aids. And if we walk for a while, he still has plenty of time to warm his muscles up.  I keep asking at the walk until I feel like he's consistently taking both reins, not leaning into the left rein and dropping the right.

Then we move up to the trot with a real connection, and for the most part so far he seems to stay there.  He's more forward, and our transitions within the gaits are smoother.  Since he's actually connected, I can work on straightening his neck and keeping him from coming above the bridle or over-bending in the leg yields without everything falling apart.  It feels like a breakthrough!

I don't have much riding time scheduled this week because of more family and work stuff, but that should give me a chance to catch up on my posts.  Or I'll just give you more Britney lyrics, I haven't decided yet....

I mean really.  He's the cutest.
(Also note Murphy-dog photo bomb)

Friday, August 7, 2015

It's Friday Already?

Things I planned to post this week:

- Another Riverview trail ride
- A video from my last horse show
- A review of Equibox Equestrian monograms
- A recap of my lesson
- An update on the house

Things I did not post this week:

- All of the above.

BLOGGER FAIL.  I'm the worst.  The good news is, these posts are all half written/awaiting media, so next week should be a much better week around here. Also, my lesson was rescheduled for next Wednesday due to my more-hectic-than-usual schedule this week, so I'll have an Amy lesson to tell you about and I know how much everyone enjoys those.

Sneak preview:

Squeeeeeee!
While I haven't been blogging because my week was a bit more hectic than usual, I did squeeze in two pretty awesome rides.  On Tuesday night we worked on getting a consistent connection in the walk trot and canter.  The canter has been getting better and better, but I felt like we were losing a little bit of ground in the walk work (literally and figuratively), and the trot connection comes and goes. So I just started playing around with that and seeing if we could figure out a way to get him to stay in both reins all the time.  With mixed success.

Who doesn't love a blurry cell phone ear shot?
Last night I had a fantastic ride under the lights in our outdoor. We did a whole bunch of lateral work and halt exercises, and then worked on our counter canter, our collected canter and our medium canter. He was focused and willing and did some really, really good work. Some leaping too, but I'm starting to realize that just means we're getting somewhere. His canter has been a lot rounder in general these days, which means it's easier for me to sit in to. And once I'm comfortably sitting I can think about weighting my inside stirrup and lifting my shoulders and carrying my hands and all those other moving pieces.

This is the slobber of a very hard-working dressage beast :)
Lastly, thank you so much for all your kind, sweet, wonderful, caring comments on my last post. Sometimes, when you are feeling crazy/sad/doomed/pathetic, the best possible thing you can here is "omg me too!"  It is nice to know I'm not the only one who gets on my horse like "I'm a mess I can't deal everything is terrible," and the horse is like "just take a deep breath and let's go for a walk and I'll make you feel better about life instantly because I'm the best thing ever." 

You guys are the greatest internet stranger friends a girl could ever ask for, and I so appreciate each and every one of you who keeps clicking these links, even though all I know about some of you is your IP address.  (Mwahahaha.)

Have a great weekend!