Thursday, May 28, 2015

ESDCTA Memorial Day Dressage: Video

So first of all you guys are so freaking loyal and awesome and I love you for all your comments that were like "that lady is crazy you and Tucker are awesome don't even worry about it xoxoxo."  Cause seriously it made me feel so much better about life.

And you know I have been on this kick of "hey let's look at the positives, there is stuff you're doing right all the time along with the stuff you're doing that's not right."  And I still support that viewpoint because there is literally nothing good that can come of tearing yourself down repeatedly.  

That said, I gave all three of the videos a hard look with a critical eye and I have to admit, McGrumpyPants is right.  The position transition is a really hard one, but I could certainly be sitting back and down more, and sometimes I do.  I think I get in the ring and I'm too busy thinking about other things and my body goes into default hunter mode and I forget all about sitting back and sitting down.  Which is understandable, sure, but looking at the videos as objectively as possible, she's right about my position and how it is affecting his way of going.

This is the video of Test 2 on Sunday morning - the one that got the most negative comments (with a score of 63.5).  As you'll see, I am way too far forward in my position (although I still think two-point is a bit of a stretch), and Tucker is at times unsteady in the bridle, but there are also parts here that I like. 

The opening halt didn't look as bad as it felt, but we kind of square danced into it.  Leg yields are good, trot lengthenings could happen a little sooner but they're not bad.  The walk work, while not perfect, is very good for us.  I can't see the stretchy walk too well, but I was happy with it at the time, and I like the tempo.

Left lead canter transition was a disaster - still needs work - but we do beautiful ones sometimes, so I know they will come.  The 15 meter canter circles look as good as they felt, and the canter lengthenings are pretty solid, other than me being way too forward.  His right lead canter transition is great, lengthening is good, and from what I can see it looks like I did show a transition back to working canter.  I don't love either canter-trot transition, they are pretty off balance, but his stretchy circle at the end is probably the best one he's done.  And, we finished with a lovely square halt.

So, although I totally understand what the judge was saying about my position - and I agree 100% that it needs fixing and it is probably why his transitions are not where they should be - overall I think this was a really good effort for us.  There's plenty of evidence of things we're still working on, but after seeing this, I no longer feel like I should sell Tucker to someone more capable and take up golf. 

Which is good, because... I don't really like golf.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

ESDCTA Memorial Day Dressage: The Tests

First Level Test 1: Saturday Morning

Amy mostly watched me do my warm up (so she could see what I normally do) but gave me some instruction when I needed it.  As I was on my way to the ring I realized I had no idea what the etiquette was at a rated show.  Do I tell the judge my number and what test I'm doing?  Say good morning?  Say nothing?  I asked Amy (which was probably the moment she realized this might be our first recognized show) and she said to just say good morning.  Then the judge asked my number and I felt like a noob immediately.  But, I saw that AHD cheerleading squad on the rail for me and, confidence restored, headed up the centerline.

Most of the first test went well.  On the good side:  Overall, it felt smooth.  His opening halt was good, not too distracted.  His trot work felt connected, especially after the canter work.  His canter lengthenings had a good upward transition, but again no real downward transition (mostly because I am a wimp and I was afraid he would break to trot). 

On the "needs improvement" side:  He came above the bit for the first half a step in both transitions before stepping into his nice canter.  I must be riding it differently in the ring, or not setting it up as carefully, so it's just going to take some practice and more show mileage.  He also wasn't as straight as he should be at times, and whacked into the fence once. I apparently do not learn from my mistakes until they happen repeatedly, which is not news.

The judges comments:  Basically, he wanted to see a little more of everything.  More of a difference in the transitions within gaits, more ground cover in the lengthening, more downward stretch in the stretchy trot and free walk.  This made sense to me, because while it was smooth, I didn't really push him. He also circled "Position and Seat" on the back of the test.  Hmm.  Yeah. Point taken. Workin' on it.

Amy's advice:  Stay farther away from the little white fence.  Tucker gets too claustrophobic when I ride too close to it, and I don't need to, so long as I show a difference between my circles and my corners. Also, she wanted me to "touch him" more in the ring - take some risks, not be afraid to maybe have a bobble or a little mistake, but overall start to work on "riding more" during the test.

First Level Test 2: Saturday Afternoon

In his warm up we worked on me riding him a little more - asking for more of a difference between collection and lengthening, and asking for a little more ground cover in the lengthening.  She also told me to collect him in between schooling my lengthenings, especially if he swapped off or got disorganized in one, rather than going from lengthening to working to lengthening again.  We finished the warm-up with stretchy trot circles and Amy told me to count to three in my head and he should be stretched out by 3, which I thought was a good way to look at it.

This was my first appearance before Judge McGrumpyPants.  The test was at 11:52 so when I rode past her I said good afternoon and she responded with a curt little "It's still morning."  Okay then.

The good stuff:  We did show more of a difference in the lengthenings and we did show a clearer transition between lengthened canter and working canter.  His left-to-right leg yield was flawless (at least in my book).  He was overall straighter, because I was concentrating on riding him the way I would if I were schooling.  And I thought his stretchy trot circle was great, for him.  He almost didn't come back to me in the canter-trot diagonal, and I had to pull on him a little, which wasn't pretty, but at least he didn't break out from underneath me, which has been a problem.

The bad:  It turns out I can't walk and chew gum at the same time.  I was concentrating SO hard on riding that I missed my letters, twice.  I was supposed to walk at C after my second leg yield, and I didn't remember until I was all the way around the corner.  I showed roughly three steps of medium walk.  And then, I did it again.  I was supposed to keep cantering past C and I forgot and trotted at C.  Apparently C was for Confused, or Clueless maybe.

The judge's comments:  We got a 4 on the medium walk, because I basically forgot to do it, which was right.  She made some comments about me using my seat instead of rein aids so that he doesn't stiffen through his topline.  Fair enough.

Amy's comments:  She thought I rode it well (setting aside my inability to remember what I'm supposed to be doing), and thought this was the start of me beginning to "ride" more in the show ring. She liked the canter and thought he was much straighter this time around.  We talked about how to better improve his right-to-left leg yield, and keep his hind end from trailing - square off the turn a little (it's supposed to be half a ten meter circle, so not drastically), and keep my left leg on at the girth the whole time.

First Level Test 2 - Sunday Afternoon

Amy was on another horse during my warm-up because she showed right after me, so I was left to my own devices warming him up.  In hindsight, I think I did not warm him up the way I should have and fell back too much into my hunterland comfort zone.  Ethan told me after the fact that I did seem like I was leaning forward more in that warm up than I was the day before (let's give him credit for being brave enough to tell me that - risky move for a boyfriend).

Judge McGrumpyPants and I once again did not get off to a good start.  The girl who was following me thought she was next and started trotting around the outside of the ring just as I was about to, and I didn't know what to do, and assumed I must be the mistaken one (because that's how I am), but then the warm-up steward ran over and told her trainer I was next, and then the girl was all pissed off and rolled her eyes at me like it was my fault, and her trainer had this little laughing apology back and forth happening with the judge, and I just felt super awkward about life.  

So just as I was going past A, she blew her whistle.  I figured I'd have enough time to trot (forward) all the way around the ring.  For some reason I feel like someone told me at one point that I should walk past the judge's booth so that's what I did, and I said good afternoon, and she said "I already blew my whistle."  And I think I said thank you?  And then cantered down the rest of the way toward A to enter, which felt disorganized and rushed, and then tried to take a deep breath and not just jump the rail and gallop off into the woods never to be seen or heard from again.  [Side bar:  Can anyone tell me if I had enough time to trot all the way around?  Should I have just gone straight in?  What do???]

The opening halt was probably the worst one he's ever done.  He didn't want to stop, threw his head in the air and leaned against my hands.  I have no explanation for it other than I just didn't have him well balanced enough in my warm up, or the cantering was a mistake, or he wanted to punish me for being the most awkward person alive.  The rest of the test felt good to me, but what the heck do I know. The leg yields were better, I liked his canter work, he felt straight, and I thought I was able to show transitions up and down.  His stretchy circle and free walk were some of his best efforts yet. And, I remembered the test.

The judge's comments:  Well, what she said was "Athletic, energetic horse, will not [angry double underlines] learn to sit down [more angry lines] and flex his hind joints unless rider learns to sit back and use seat effectively [angry lines].  What I heard was, "Nice horse you've got there, too bad you CAN'T RIDE IT."  Then I opened the test and read "Rider in 2 point" as the comment on every, single, freaking, stupid, lousy, canter movement.  Not going to lie, I could feel tears burning my eyes when I read that.  I know I don't sit his canter like a dressage rider and I know I need to learn to sit back more, but... 2 point?  Really?  

I got back to our stalls and I could not wait to get the horse on the trailer and get the heck out of dodge so I could properly wallow and sulk and berate myself and lament my horrendous lack of skill and effectiveness.  Oh it was an ugly solo drive home.  I told myself I look like a monkey humping a football.  Out loud.  Alone.  I told myself I had no business at a recognized show and in fact should probably stop riding altogether.  

By the time I got back to the barn I was a little less suicidal and told my awesome barn manager Kelly all about it and we laughed, and I started to realize I was being ridiculous.  Then I pretty much went home and got in bed to sulk some more (I had given myself a terrible stomach ache by this point).  I told myself I could have the rest of the day to feel sorry for myself and then I had to get over it.  It is, after all, just a horse show.  There are bigger problems in life.

Now that I've had a few days - I realize that this judge was right, and I'm sort of sorry for calling her Judge McGrumpyPants. (Sort of.)  I do need to learn to use my seat instead of my reins.  He does need to learn to sit down.  I am, in fact, actively working on those exact things almost every time I ride, so this is not ground-breaking stuff.  I just have to keep working on it, that's all.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

ESDCTA Memorial Day Dressage: Recap

As you know, unless you really just look at the pretty pictures and bypass my inane ramblings when you visit this blog, this past weekend was our first USDF recognized dressage show.  We've done loads of A-circuit hunter shows but never even set foot at a rated dressage show - in fact, we've only done 6 schooling shows up to this point.  4 last year, 2 this year.  Basically this is me:

Things I came away from this show with:

1.  A rockin' farmer's tan.  Tan arms, white legs, can't lose.

2.  Some pretty sweet Amy Howard Dressage swag, hats for me and Ethan, which we promptly donned before trotting off to see Amy and Ultra Light in their fourth level test on Sunday morning (what a gorgeous horse - he is to die for).

3.  Satin!  Tucker and I made a fairly respectable showing, I'd say.  He was first in our first class on Saturday (so proud), fifth in the second class, and sixth for our test on Sunday (out of twelve).  Scores were all in the 60s:  67, 64, and 63.5.  Not record-breaking, but my goal was to have three tests in the 60's, and I was prepared not to be in the ribbons, so overall I'm happy with the results.

Sorry, this photo really could have been better.
4.  A little more experience.  What was freaking me out leading up to this was that I didn't even know all the things I didn't know.  Did you know that the horse has to have its number on the bridle or halter at all times when it's out of its stall?  I didn't.  First faux pas avoided.  At least now I feel like I kind of know the drill for next time.  

5.  A renewed appreciation for Tucker, who is most definitely a Show Horse.  He settled right in to his stall on Friday afternoon.  I tacked right up and he felt even better than he does at home.  On Saturday morning, every scrap of hay was gone, his water buckets were drained, and he was covered in shavings.  Such a good camper!  All weekend I could not have asked for a better attitude from him: he was willing, and relaxed, and a perfect gentleman to work around.  Love that guy.

This face.  So adorbs.
6.  Lots of very helpful training and showing advice from Amy.  I am so, so, so grateful she offered to let us stable with her and coached me for the weekend.  Not only was it great hanging out with her crew (who are all awesome, btw), but I came away knowing some big things I need to do differently in my tests, and lots of little small things I need to work on in general, which I'll delve into more deeply in my next post.

Sadly, I am about to explain how I forgot to walk at A.  Whoops.
7.  Braiding experience.  My hunter braids were always great, especially my tails.  My button braids/dutch braids are a whole different ball game.  This weekend I got some good braiding practice in and I think I'm getting the hang of it and he looked pretty darn snazzy.

8.  More assurance that our ulcer prevention plan is working.  In the past, the away shows seemed to be a big trigger for stomach upset.  This time he did not show any signs of discomfort, no change in behavior, no drop in appetite, so assuming that continues to be the case this coming week, I think I have things under control with the daily double-dose of U-Gard, pre- and probiotics, low NSC grain, alfalfa and beet pulp, and omeprazole paste every time he leaves the property.  

9.  Perspective. I had a (temporary) meltdown featuring that phrase in the Rider's Anthem that we've all said at some point, say it with me now: "I'M RUINING MY HORSE."  Long story short, we got a tougher judge on Sunday, who said some things about my riding that were pretty negative - while also complimenting what a nice horse I have. Which, naturally, I interpreted as, "Your horse would be great if he didn't have to put up with that MONKEY on his back."  I permitted myself a full day of wallowing, lamenting my horrendous riding, resigning myself to trail riding for the rest of our days.  Alone.  So no one has to see my hideous form on horseback.  Now that I've had a couple of days to think on it, I've gained some perspective and resolved to try harder to fix the things I've been working on (and admitted that Tucker is not ruined, nor will he be even if I never learn to sit his canter).

10.  New friends, and old friends!  Amy's group of clients who were there are all super nice, super supportive of each other, lots of fun, and (best of all) really liked Tucker (what's not to like?).  It gave me such a boost to see the whole AHD crowd on the sidelines every time I went in for a test.  We also ran into old friends - both from previous barns.  I'm so used to knowing tons of people at hunter shows, it's weird to go to a show and feel like I don't know anyone.  But I do know some people!  Ishtar was one of Tucker's favorites and I have been missing him and the other horses from our old barn, so it was especially nice to visit with him (and his humans!), scratch his itches and give him some love.
Ishtar thinks cider is delicious.
All in all - great weekend.  I learned a lot, had plenty of fun, saw some beautiful horses, did not embarrass myself, had some good rides, and got some feedback that I probably needed to hear.  More on that feedback tomorrow....

Friday, May 22, 2015

Help for Nepal

So in lieu of what I was going to post today, which was angsty and kind of obnoxiously chock-full of first world problems that included me worrying about when I would find time to get to the liquor store (relax, crisis has been averted), I would like to address a much more substantial need and ask for your help.

My friend Beth is living in Nepal, running Giving Asha, which is a non-profit based in Kathmandu, dedicated to improving the quality of life of economically and socially marginalized women and children in Nepal.  

Beth teaching.
Beth is one of those good-to-her-core kind of souls, caring, giving, altruistic, funny and smart. We became friends mostly because we were once in love with the same dog. (The nice thing about dogs is that two people can love them at the same time without ever creating one of those triangular human relationships that turn ugly real quick.)  Anyway, ever since way-back-when in the Sticky days (that was the dog's name, she had ears that stuck up and her paws smelled like fritos and she was the snuggliest creature and had the happiest yip you've ever heard), Beth has been going to Nepal to teach children and help the community in general.  She has been collecting books to bring with her for as long as I've known her (which is now well over ten years).

Beth is afraid of horses.  Which is funny, because many people in her life in the States own horses and she is probably around them a lot more often than most people who are afraid of them.  There was once a small white pony that she "didn't mind" though.  Despite her feelings on equines, however, Beth has reached out to her horse-loving friends to ask that we consider helping out as the community rebuilds after the earthquake.  Since most of the school buildings were destroyed, they desperately need a way to get reading and learning materials to the children, so that at least some parts of these kids' lives can keep on going as normal.  

Enter the humble and noble donkey!  

I think this might be a mule, actually. But you get the idea.
(I told you, I will convince you all to love these creatures as much as I do.)  Donkeys and mules can get to places other vehicles can't, and bring mobile libraries to children in temporary communities. The best part about these mobile libraries is that they are waterproof, which means they can continue to be transported during monsoon season, which I believe is approaching, and as you can imagine will bring a host of other problems to a region where many families are currently living in tents and other temporary shelters.

Last month I made a small donation, but my little contribution went directly to purchase rice for families whose homes and food supplies were destroyed, not just into some amorphous relief fund, which made me feel good.

Sacks of rice packed for transport.
This month, hopefully with your help, we can support a mobile library or two.  These libraries cost $55, so we aren't talking big bucks here.  Please consider skipping a latte or two this month and helping out this cause.  I promise it's worth it.

Donations can be made through Giving Asha's website, using paypal or a credit card.  Thanks guys.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"I Need a Glass of Wine and a Cupcake"

These were the words I uttered as I started untacking.  After a series of great rides, last night we had kind of a bad one.  It seemed like no matter what I did, Tucker just would not stay off my left rein.  I had moments where my left fingers were actually throbbing.  I tried everything I could think of - leg yields, haunches in, spiral circles, counter-canter. The only thing that seemed to work was the counter-canter (tracking right, holding the left lead), so we did lots of that.  The plus side is that his counter-canter, which I haven't worked on in a while, felt amazing and balanced.

We also had a, um, "moment."  I was trying to work on straightness at the canter, on a circle tracking right.  He did his leaping thing, which doesn't surprise me, but then midway through his leaping he realized two horses were leaving the ring, so decided to mix it up and run backwards/sideways.  You know, variety is the spice of life, and all.  

Wouldn't have been that big a deal except that we have a metal trash can where we store jump cups alongside the ring, and Tucker almost side passed right over top of it.  I had a vision of him knocking it over, scaring the &%*! out of himself, and killing everyone.  All our lives flashed before my eyes. Thankfully I had the good sense at that point to drop the reins, lean forward and cluck.  Not the prettiest move, but sometimes you just have to Hail Mary yourself out of a jam.

So, to review, we had a horse show on the 9th, a lesson the second week of the month, and a horse show this weekend.  It's kind of been all dressage, all the time.  In fairness, we did take the boys to Baldpate and I've done some trail riding at home in between.  But now that I'm looking back, I haven't let him jump around a course since last month.  Which means all my ring work, even though I work on different things each day, has been dressage stuff.  I've basically been feeding him brussels sprouts every meal.  (Sorry, I'm sure some of you love brussels sprouts.  You know what I mean.)  I think he may have just had it up to here last night.  ("Here" is really high when you're a Tucker.)

In an effort to tell myself that I have not destroyed our chances of a successful show this weekend, he has today off (which was planned) and on Friday when I go to the Horse Park I'm going to make the ride as pleasant for him as possible, focus on the stuff he's good at, let him do lots of stretching, and just ratchet back what I'm asking for at the canter a little.  Not that I'm going to let him be as crooked as he wants, but I feel like I need to make it a ride he enjoys.

Thankfully, my bad ride notwithstanding, it was a great night, because my barn is awesome.  It was one of our barnmate's birthdays, so this happened.

And we found out that the Riverview Wine and Pony Club's affinity for Sauvignon Blanc extends to some of the ponies, as well.

After all, nothing erases the memory of a not-so-great ride like a glass of wine and a cupcake.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

First Things First, a Donkey Playing Frisbee

I try to make sure that I share cute donkey videos whenever I find them, because it is my goal for all the world to love and cherish mini donks the way that I do.  So, first things first:

Yup, I taught Jethro how to play frisbee! I think he may be part dog...
Posted by The Moody Mare on Friday, October 24, 2014
[Need to be signed in to facebook to view.]

In more Tucker-related news, I've had great rides since my lesson.  The sign of a great teacher, I think, is that you can hear their voice in your head as you work through and try to figure it out.  As I've mentioned, I don't get stuff right away.  I've never been a natural.  At anything.  (Except maybe drinking?  Does that count?)

Last night I wanted to work on that transition from working canter to collected canter, and if that went well, transition from lengthened canter back to working canter.  Overall it was a success.  I warmed up at the trot making my goal "short reins" (despite several protests - Tucker thinks short reins are terrible - they give me way too much control).  Amazingly, when your reins are the right length, your position is better, your horse is straighter, your leg yields are easier, and your transitions are cleaner.  Who knew?

I practiced moving his wither to the inside using my left knee and thigh at the trot, tracking right, and when I felt like I could turn off the rail across the ring using only that aid, without moving my left hand or trying to neck rein him (repeat after me: there's no neck reining in dressage), we moved up to the canter.  I had to work at the canter at using my left thigh without standing in my stirrups, which is harder than it sounds, but overall, straight horse.  I worked on three to four collected canter strides at a time, on the circle.  When that went well, I worked on collected strides on the long side of the ring.  

When I moved the exercise up to doing lengthening/working canter transitions, Tucker decided he would show me how these things are done and did five (yes, five) lead changes down the long side of the arena.  
Lengthening while staying straight is really hard!  Collecting is stupid!  Look what I can do that is so much better than either of the things you want me to do!  This is what dressage horses DO, I've SEEN it!  These are called tempis, just go with it! 
It took some doing, but I convinced him that while I was incredibly impressed, I'm not nearly an advanced enough rider to handle that kind of stuff, so could he please just stay straight and lengthen his canter and then come back to a working canter?  [I held off from telling him he looked absolutely ridiculous, and tempis do not typically involve being able to see a bell boot on either side of one's ear.]  I did lots of more subtle transitions within the canter until I felt like I had control of what lead we were on, and then asked for the full lengthening again, and it went well.  

We worked on our walk pirouettes tracking left to prepare for the left lead canter and I think we are starting to get it, although I really wish I had a mirror to practice in front of.  The left lead canter itself was excellent.  I practiced giving my left rein for a stride to see if we fell apart or whether he was actually straight, and I think it's improving.  And the collected canter strides (only three or four at a time, for now) felt really good, hopefully they looked good too.

All in all, very happy with our ride and I feel ready for our show.  Particularly impressed that first Goose (his bromance) and then Beejay (his turnout buddy) left the ring and Tucker kept right on working.  Like an adult.  Because that's what he is.  That's right.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Away Show Packing List

You guys.  My first USDF show is in three days.  It's the excitement of Christmas and the anxiety of the first day of high school all rolled into one.  I am simultaneously really looking forward to this weekend and panicking that I'm going to embarrass myself, my horse, my boyfriend, my trainer, and possibly my country.

Well of course he wears a helmet.
I have fallen back upon the only thing I know that comforts me, which is making lists.  And I started making a list in a note on my ipad, but then realized a blog post is just as good as anyplace to make said list, so just in case, I don't know, you need something to help you fall asleep tonight, or perhaps you'd like to use this as a reference someday, (or perhaps because I'm kind of busy and don't have time to do a real post,) here is my list. 

  • In Tack Trunk:
    • Grooming bucket
      • Brushes/curries
      • Hoof pick
      • Hoof oil
      • Show sheen
      • Braiding spray
      • Fly Spray
      • Alcohol (rubbing, not drinking, although that's coming too)
      • Sore No More
    • Bath bucket
      • Shampoo
      • Quiksilver
      • Sponge
      • Curry
      • Sweat scrape
    • Fly sheet
    • Cooler
    • Stable sheet
    • 3 Saddle pads
    • Bell boots
    • Polos
    • Heidi boots
    • Helmet
      • Gloves
    • In Tray
      • Hairnets
      • Bobby pins
      • Sewing kit
      • Band-aids etc.
      • Sunscreen/lip balm
      • Sticky stuff for boots
    • Tack cleaning stuff
    • Braiding stuff
    • Basic first aid (for horse)
    • Whip 
  • In Trailer
    • Stuff for stall
      • Feed tub
      • 2 water buckets with snaps
      • 6 bags shavings
    • Feed
      • 5 baggies with grain, rice bran, smartpaks
      • 1 baggie with 3 scoops beet pulp (dry)
      • 4 scoops alfalfa cubes (in bucket with lid)
      • 2 hay bales
      • 2 small buckets
    • Racks etc.
      • Blanket rack
      • Bridle rack
      • Saddle rack
      • Halter hook for stall door
      • Extra double end snaps
    • Tack Bags
      • Bridle
      • Girth
      • Saddle
      • Thinline pad
      • Tall boots and spurs
  • On Horse
    • Show halter
    • Shipping wraps
    • Pull-on bell boots
  • In Truck
    • Garment bag
      • 2 sets show clothes
      • Show jacket
      • Belts
    • Duffle Bag
      • Jeans
      • Polos
      • Jackets/fleeces
      • PJs
      • Socks/underwear
      • Wellies
      • Flip flops
    • Boyfriend (on list so I don't forget him - mostly kidding)

Oh yeah folks.  I put underwear on the list.  Because, you know, I might forget to bring it.  And then I'd have to ride in white breeches with NO UNDERWEAR.  Just so you know where my head's at right now.

In related news, this is kind of adorable.

Do you think she'd come over and help me pack on Thursday night?

Friday, May 15, 2015

May Lesson: A Canter Is a Cure for Every Evil

Wednesday night we had our May lesson with Amy Howard and I think it might have been our best one yet.  Much knowledge was dropped upon us.  Which I'm going to spill back out for all of you, so brace yourselves.  (There's really good stuff in here I promise.)

Amy asked for my list and I told her we need to work on shoulder-in and haunches-in to the left, and the downward transition from lengthened to working canter - which became the major focus. Whenever I ask him to come back, I get a downward transition to trot, so in the test I just let him coast back to his working canter.  Which the judges notice (duh), and comment on.  And in my head I'm thinking, "Do you want me to break to trot? Because that's how you get breaks to trot."  

Tucker and I ran through our usual warm up, which Amy said she had no complaints about, that he looked really swingy and the leg yields looked great.  (Nice.)  She watched his canter and concluded I'm not getting that downward transition because he isn't straight.  Also, she explained that the only way to teach him that a canter-trot transition is not what I'm asking for is to let him make the mistake and correct him - and that it won't get fixed by avoiding the problem (there's a life lesson in there too but that's probably a different blog).  

I'm going to try to repeat her explanation here because it's a good one and you guys will like it.  You ask the horse to collect, and if he breaks you immediately send him forward and be clear that that's not what you wanted.  And you ask again, half halt, and don't support him - trust that he's going to keep cantering, and wait to correct him until he actually makes the mistake.  Eventually, the horse is going to have a choice to make - when you ask him to collect, he has to decide either break to trot, or collect his canter. And the smart ones (which obviously Tucker is, see wunderkind definition) will learn that what you want in that moment is collection, and make the choice to collect.

Just look at that smart cookie.
Before we get there, though, we have to tackle the straightness issue.  I'm about to get hyper-technical here, so if that's not your thing this won't be your favorite post.  So, first we put him on a fifteen to ten meter circle to the left, and worked on the following:
  • Open right (outside) rein
  • Think of my left leg as a pole that the horse turns around
  • My left leg should point down to the ground like an arrow (keep weight in left stirrup)
  • Left leg stays on at the girth asking him to give through his rib cage
  • Use the right leg farther back to ask him to "tuck" his right hind in
  • Envision pushing the horse's tail to the inside - as though his tail is being pulled in on a string
  • Stay centered, not too much weight in the right stirrup, not shifting hips to the outside
  • Look at the horse's outside ear
  • Softer on the left rein, don't let him lean or brace against it
  • Then, for the collection: soft wrists, stretch tall, sit, half halts on outside rein -- firmer than I think they need to be
So that's a whole lot of things to think about all at once, but he did get straight eventually.  He did some leaping - he does this crazy move where he comes way up with his front end and strikes out with his front feet like he's trying to punch someone in the face.  Thankfully, Amy reassured me that [the amazing, beautiful, super talented upper level horse in her barn] does the same thing sometimes. They just get all this energy and don't know what to do with it, and sitting down is really hard so it comes spilling out the front. Which made me feel way better about my giant marlin.

We worked on walk pirouettes without my stirrups next, to get me sitting in the middle of him and using my leg aids without doing weird unhelpful twisty things.  I don't know how to do a walk pirouette so we'll be working on this as well, but it's basically left bend, haunches-in, and then turn the shoulders around the hind end to the inside without losing the haunches-in.  We actually did that a couple of times correctly but, yeah, new skill means much practice is required before it clicks for me. But basically, the feeling I have in the walk pirouette is what I need in the left lead canter.

Then we went back to the right, which is Tucker's easier lead but my harder direction because of the aforementioned weird unhelpful twisty things I do.  So, to the right, I need to do this:

  • Open/direct left rein, hand to hip (no neck reining!)
  • Use left thigh/knee to push him in
  • Concentrate on pushing the horse in from the wither (but with the left leg, not rein)
  • "Counterbend," which will actually get the horse straight because he's overbent to begin with
  • Keep my sternum up/chest open
  • Eyes up - looking out at the horse's outside ear and not staring down at him
  • Right shoulder back
  • Lower his head/neck like there's a carrot on a stick but maintain the rest (this is super hard for him)
  • Collect with half halts, soft wrists, and has to be a moment of release in each stride so it's not just pulling on my outside rein

Tucker thinks this straightness stuff is for the BIRDS and got a little rude and barge-y for a bit - but the key here is to keep him straight so he never actually gets his left shoulder all the way out and braces against my left rein and I have no leverage.  Once I got my left hand out of my belt buckle and actually used my left leg for something and sat UP, things got a whole lot better.

We worked on picking up each lead on the straight line, just inside the track, so I could see in the mirror how straight (or not) we were.  We had some beautiful transitions to the counter-canter.  Just in case that was what we wanted, which it wasn't.  

Then we worked on the straightness and collection on a small circle, lengthening/medium canter down the long side, and back to collection on a small circle again.  The goal was to get the collection back within one circle, which we did not quite accomplish.  We did, however, get some really beautiful canter work out of him when I managed to mostly do all the things in those bulleted lists. Tucker broke to trot many times, and got corrected many times. I'm not sure he had the lightbulb moment we are hoping for yet - but we'll keep working on it.

On a macro level - for the past five months we have been working on opening up his stride, and now it's time for him to learn to compress that energy.  Before, since he had no forward energy, he was behind the bit and stuck.  We've fixed that problem, so now it's time for the next step.

Tucker is still exhausted.  I am still sore through my entire rib cage, front and back, but I think that's actually a good sign.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Who Put That There

As promised, because I have no shame.  I present:



I have  friend who tells me to "be lovely" every time I go in the ring.  How's that for lovely?  I felt like it was best to present it to you on a loop for optimum comedic effect.  It gets better each time for me.  It reminds me a lot of this one (warning, keep scrolling if foul language offends you).

I'm a firm believer that you have to laugh at yourself, because you'd cry your eyes out if you didn't.

In other news, my posting is getting more upright.  You'll recall I did a whole study on it (or it may have bored you so much that you've blocked it out).

Compare the stills on the down-beat:

Noticeably better right?  I think so.  I'm now turning my focus to not twisting left.  Which has been something I've seen myself do in photos since the short stirrup days... so that one's going to take a while.  And in case you haven't had enough media, here's a bonus video of me posting like I'm not headed into a hunter hack class:

Sorry, I don't have a whole video of the test this time to show you.  You guys will just have to wait until after Memorial Day!  I know, the suspense is killing you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Show Photos: Finding the Positives

So, first things first... look at these amazing people who came to see me horse show!  We had a huge crowd.  I am so very grateful to have such great people in my life, who are willing to give up a couple of hours of precious weekend time to see me trot and canter around in circles.  Seriously, thank you.  You all make me feel so loved.

L to R:  Steve, Dee, Mr. and Mrs. H, Taz, Ethan, Alyssa, Colleen, and Michelle.
Forget the Dallas Cowboys.  I have the best cheer leaders in the world.  
And there is just nothing cuter than hearing your non-horsey friends explaining to other non-horsey friends afterward what "dressage" is and what a "horse show" is like.  (You did a pretty decent job Steve).  Sorry there was no concession stand that day kids.  Next time I'll make sure there's beer in the trailer, at least.

Before I go further, a word about seeing pictures of yourself riding.  I've seen this multiple times over the past week alone: people absolutely recoil in disgust and horror at pictures or videos of themselves riding.  It really doesn't seem to matter whether the person looks great or terrible, the response is the same.  Why is this?  Are we all too hard on ourselves?  Are we all as painfully insecure as teenagers?  Is there just too much to keep track of when we're up there, so we forget about shortening our reins or sitting up straight or that dang right elbow for a bit, and the camera always manages to catch that moment in time?  What gives here?

Who ya gonna call? Weight Watchers!
I'm going to attempt to point out only the things I like about these photos, although the stuff I'd fix is obvious to me, as an exercise in forcing myself not to be so critical.  I am also going to resist the urge to complain about what appears to be a beer gut situation when I don't sit up straight (although I have a new reason to fix my position and it's called VANITY).  

I am further not going to mention a striking resemblance between me and either of these guys. 

This is from our warm-up trot, and he looks nice and relaxed and shows the beginning of a decent stretch tracking left, which is his harder side to stretch down:

This is a nice balanced canter, my shoulders are square and he is between my hands and taking both reins:

Here, I am sitting up and opening my chest, and my seat is in the saddle.  [Urge to critique the rest of it is very strong here, but I am not going to do it.]

Opening center line.  I'm looking up, my shoulders are square, there is a straight line from elbow to bit, and the horse looks straight.

I'm sitting up and looking between his ears, rather than to the inside.  He looks pretty well balanced and straight here as well, with what I think is the right amount of bend for a 15 meter circle.

This is in the canter extension.  He is really sitting down and has a nice jump in his canter here, and I have a good feel of my right rein.

Here, I'm sitting down and I don't seem to have too much weight in my stirrups.  Tucker looks absolutely adorable.

Lastly, this one might be frame-worthy.  Tucker and I are just so in love with this guy.  Where would we be without him?

Thank you very, very much to Ethan's mom for coming to see us, being incredibly supportive of everything we do, and taking such beautiful photos of my boy(s).

[Note:  It was really hard to bite my tongue while writing this and not point out all the stuff I didn't like about my riding in these photos.  But I'm glad I forced myself to find a few things I'm doing right in each of them.  You should try it next time you see a photo or video of your riding!]

Monday, May 11, 2015

May 9, 2015 at DVHA, First-1 and First-2

This weekend we went to our last schooling show as one final prep for our first rated show later this month.  Tucker was, of course, fantastic.  I didn't have time to upload all the photos, but I promise tomorrow I'll do a photo dump, thanks to Ethan's mom who came and took some lovely photos.  

Did you say horse show?  Let's go I'm ready.
On the first test, he scored a 69.8.  Overall this test felt "good," and most of our movements scored 7.0's, but I'd say it was a little lackluster.  Like we hadn't finished our coffee or something.  In both trot lengthenings I pushed him forward and he went, "meh, this is good."  And I tried to make it happen by posting higher which actually I think was just awkward for everyone. 

Both canter transitions, however, were very good.  His left lead got a "prompt" comment and his right lead got a "nice jump into canter."  Praise the lord, we are actually improving our canter transitions. Sadly, when I pushed him for the lengthening in the canter he was like "yeah I'll think about it, try me later."  We got  the comment "good try." OUCH.

Takeaway lesson here is that I need to do what I did in between the tests - which is open him up and let him "gallop" (haha, it's not even close to a gallop) in my warm up, and then put him back together, and then do my trot lengthenings, before going into the ring.  Which probably means getting on about ten minutes earlier.  I was going with the theory that usually at home twenty minutes into the ride he feels great, so I should warm up for twenty minutes at the show, but we all know they are different at the show.  Mine apparently is about as laid back as Jimmy Buffett on a catamaran after a pitcher of margaritas.  Which is nice, but not ideal for a dressage score.

We also had a "WHO PUT THAT THERE" moment where he trotted right into the little white fence coming around a turn.  I think I actually said "WTF" under my breath.  And the extreme irony is that just before it happened I was feeling really impressed with us for riding all the way into the corner.  And then we rode INTO the corner.  Tucker needs to learn not to take me so literally.  Thankfully for you guys, there is hilarious video evidence of this.  (Which I will share, because I have no shame.)

Pretty canter.  Which I am slightly closer to sitting.
I liked the second test a lot. Our score was a 71.4, which is our highest score to date, and he felt really, really good.  My proudest moment - we got an 8.0 on our right lead canter transition.  In this test you come across the diagonal, trot at X, and then have to pick up the right lead as you hit the rail at F. Totally felt like we nailed it too.  I was so pleased with him.

She said our leg yields were "lovely" and "so fluid," and I just about burst with pride because those are new moves for us and sometimes I still feel iffy about them.  I am so glad I saw this picture (below) though because now I know why the right-to-left feels so awkward.  I am keeping my right elbow in (congrats on that, self), but I'm also shoving my right shoulder at him while simultaneously dropping my left shoulder, which doesn't even seem possible to do all that at once. Seriously, try it in your chairs right now.  I am a freak.

This horse is just so pretty, and I'm 100% biased.
But just look at that look of concentration!  He is doing that lip thing he used to do when jumping really well, so now we know he is serious about this dressage stuff.  

Dis my game face.
Seriously though, the big man really did have his game face on.  Right as we went in for our second test, this little chestnut horse showed up in warm up ring next to us and would NOT SHUT UP.  This thing screamed every time he took a breath, and I am not exaggerating.  And as we trotted toward A, I saw there was a particularly boisterous young horse on the lunge line broncing and bouncing around and answering the screamer, and I all I could think was "FML, this is going to be a train wreck."  But we trotted down that centerline and Tucker was like "MOM.  I am a PROFESSIONAL.  I am NOT going to be distracted by any of that.  PUH-LEASE."  Sometimes they surprise you in a good way.

Oh and the judge said he has plenty of potential for moving up the levels and has three lovely gaits (three!  that includes the walk!), and in my head I jumped off my horse, ran over and hugged her, and then did a victory lap around the dressage court flailing my arms around while the crowd went wild. But really I just patted him and tried not to tear up because I'm a sap and he's like my kid and awshucksI'mjustsoproud.  

Extra bonus points for the fact that I did not embarrass myself
in front of our trainer, Amy Howard, who was there with her clients.
Such a good big brown horse.  He earned himself a huge stack of golden oreos.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Sweetest of Birthday Wishes

When I arrived at the barn after Tucker's birthday, there was a special surprise waiting on his door.


"Stop taking photos and open the bag lady"
(Wait did he just call me a bag lady?)

And a card!

But who could this be from?

Don't judge his handwriting.  He's only 6.

Is that not just the cutest thing you've ever seen?

Admit it.  You smiled.  You might have rolled your eyes too, but you smiled.

I love that guy.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Opposite of a Plan

So you guys remember how things went pear-shaped real fast the last time I got on with a plan right?

I've been trying to avoid that lately.  I've been getting on with no plan, telling myself we're going to just fly by the seat of our pants, see where the wind takes us, do what feels right.  

Sometimes that leads to wine and bareback rides.

Sometimes that leads to actual, productive, effective work sessions.  Who knew?

On Tuesday I didn't have time for a long ride because margaritas, but we had a nice, short school, and I worked on getting a quick reaction off my leg.  We did transitions between the gaits and then worked on extensions at the trot and canter.  He was super.  And this had the unplanned bonus of meaning that I don't need to school my extensions anymore this week to prep for my show, which is good, since I felt like they get slightly flat if he begins to expect them and move up before I prepare.

Last night, there were a few people in the outdoor ring so I headed to the indoor, which has no jumps and was empty, in case I decided to run through parts of my tests.  I started off long and low and focused on my posting, pulling my shoulders back with each down-beat.  There's a lovely moment in this video around 0:30 where Laura Graves effortlessly goes from posting to sitting because her posting is so upright, and I tried to keep that image in my head.  I think it might have actually been effective (!) because when I picked up my reins he felt super light and straight in the contact.

Since he felt really good right off the bat, we practiced some leg yields at the beginning of the ride (which I normally don't do).  The left to right was excellent, the right to left only so-so, but got better as I did them throughout the ride. As I worked I randomly added in some of the stuff from my tests, like the reverse turns, centerlines, stretchy circles, and stretchy walks, not in any particular order.

Instead of working on 15 meter circles and extended canter, I did ~ 10 meter circles at the beginning, middle, and end of each longside at the canter.  Always good to keep the big man on his toes.  I could feel him thinking, "well now... this is different, human."  It made the canter much more balanced, kind of squared off his shoulders and forced him to sit up a little so he didn't just travel down the longside with his haunches wherever he felt like putting them. All around a really nice ride, and a nice twilight walk around the fields when we were done.

I've left the haunches-in alone for the past couple of rides because I seem to be pissing him off with them, and I suspect I may be asking incorrectly.  For now I am trying to accomplish the same thing (bringing his haunches in/underneath him) with small circles at the trot and canter, and I'm going to ask for some help with them in my next lesson.

And speaking of lessons, to recap, here are the things I've been working on since my last lesson:

- 10 m circles to the right, bringing girth in without losing bend (check).
- Alignment in right to left leg yield (check).
- Right lead canter transition (improving).
- Haunches-in left (tabled).
- Timing of inside leg in left lead canter transition (better).
- "Revving the engine" without increasing speed or stride length in left canter (check).
- Shorter reins (sometimes).
- Open shoulders (sometimes?).
- Shallow zig-zag leg yield (working on it).
- Shallow canter serpentine (these are actually going better than expected).

Tonight is a day off, Friday is a light hack, and Saturday is a schooling show.  Dress rehearsal for our first USDF show later this month (I'm counting down like it's Christmas).

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"But You Just Sit There!"

The next time someone says this to you (and believe me, they will, someone just said it to me recently and things almost got awkward), or for that matter, any of the following:

1.  It's not a real sport;
2.  The horse does all the work;
3.  I rode a horse once and it just followed the horse in front of it;
4.  Why do you still need lessons?;
5.  Don't little kids ride horses?

... just show them this.

This is a video the Auburn Tigers released, apparently their athletes try out each others' fields once in a while.  Freakin' awesome.  I just want to send it to everyone I know who thinks it looks soooooo easy. (Also, side note, I have always wanted to do a touchdown dance.  I might do one at my next show instead of the final salute.)

Also, this:

One of the things we talk about on the blogs a lot is dealing with setbacks, dealing with very non-linear progressions, and dealing with failure, because horses do not understand our goals and have off days and horrible days and sometimes stellar days like the rest of us.  We talk about our confidence, our skills or lack thereof, our frustrations, and many times have to force ourselves to acknowledge when we do something right, for once.

This sport isn't easy.  That's part of why we love it.   But I think it's about time we all recognize how much we kick some serious ass.  Yeah I said it.  Did you see that footballer go down?  He lost a freakin' shoe! A shoe, people!  The fact that we make these 1400 lb power houses do anything at all is basically amazing, not to mention the fact that sometimes we actually look good doing it.  Seriously folks, we rock. 

You go on with your bad selves, bloggers and readers.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Boys' First Spring Outing: Baldpate Mountain

The weather is absolutely amazing in New Jersey right now, the kind of warm sunny springtime weather that makes you want to call out sick happy to be alive.

On Saturday, Ethan and I took the boys and our dog Taz to Baldpate Mountain in Hopewell Township, which Dom had recommended last time we saw her, but we had yet to see for ourselves.  

The first little loop that we did is the Copper Hill Trail (in orange on this map, starting from the horse trailer parking area).  It wasn't really an ideal horse trail and had a fairly steep hill that probably hit the limit of Tucker's mountain goat-like abilities (he grunted and huffed and puffed his way up, but was surprisingly sure-footed about it) but it was a short enough trail that it wasn't a big deal.  And probably good exercise for a certain under-utilized hind end!

Next we followed the Ridge Trail, and it was perfect for horses: nice and wide, good footing throughout, and beautiful scenery.  We didn't have time to do the whole thing because we had a party that afternoon, but it was a great ride nonetheless.  I would definitely go back and try to see the whole trail.

The horses (and Taz, of course) were absolutely perfect.  Tucker did not spook at anything and spent pretty much the whole time on the buckle, other than a little bit of impatient dancing when we first got on and Ethan had to look at the trail map.  Mooch was perfect, happy to calmly walk the whole trail despite being a very fit Paso.  I love that we have two very different, but equally fancy in their own right, show horses who are also happy to serve as reliable trail horses on their off weekends.  Not too many people can do that.  

My family
Tucker is basically in love with Mooch.  When he saw him on the trailer he literally dragged me up the ramp.  We're going somewhere fun I just know it!  He lets Mooch rub his face on his chest when he gets itchy. They are just too cute together.

Love you little bro
I'm not much of a kid person but these little girls were so freakin' excited about seeing horses it was kind of cute.  One of them said "I've never been this close to a horse before!"  They thought Tucker was a girl, but I'll forgive them.  He's pretty.

Just going to munch on this bush while mom is distracted...
And, in an unprecedented show of bravery, Tucker offered to take the lead several times.  Most of the time we keep Mooch in front because both boys are happier that way, but for some reason we kept having to re-position them because Tucker would end up ahead.  Is he becoming brave in his old age?

Such a perfect day.  The boys were definitely the best they've ever been, so I'm guessing they enjoyed it as much as we did.  Can every day be like this?

My three favorite boys
My most favoritest bestest cutest caboose dog 
Check out the designated horse trailer parking area!  This is a great place to bring the horses.  Very equine friendly!

The prettiest Paso I know