Monday, June 8, 2015

Dressage Lesson or Triceps Workout?

We had a dressage lesson on Friday and I have no media from it at all except for this:

Fixed it. (I had shut it in my car door a couple months ago.)
And this:

Standard Dover fly bonnet is waaay to small for Maggie Mule Ears.
Anyway, the lesson. I brought my dressage test from the GHF 2-Phase  to my instructor and we went over my scores, which she assured me were good. 6.5's, 7's, and one really isn't bad at all, but I expressed my dissatisfaction with them by telling her "I know we can do better, though" to which she replied, "Everyone can always do better in dressage!" I suppose that's true, yes...

Instructor wanted to focus this lesson on submission. We tend to have comments on our tests along the lines of "needs more consistent contact" and "needs more relaxation". Fortunately (I guess?) we usually have the same problem during lessons as we do during tests with Maggie being "looky". When I say "looky" I mean something catches her attention and she wants to look at it, thus taking her attention off me and how she's using herself. Basically this:

If you look on the back of the dressage test at the collective marks, submission is defined as "acceptance of steady contact, attention, and confidence".

Yup. That sounds exactly like what we need. Oh, and counts for double on the USDF tests!

So the goal of this lesson was to try and get Maggie to commit and submit. (That's not a bad manta actually: Commit and Submit.) My trainer wanted me to set my upper arms and NOT MOVE THEM; I could only soften with my hands and wrists. The idea was to keep Maggie on a strong contact so that she had no other choice than to give to the reins, hopefully keeping her more focused. After about 2 laps of the arena my triceps were absolutely burning from trying to keep her together. We could get a few strides of really nice committed trot, tracking up and working over her back, and then...

Ohhh Maggie...

So I used a lot of rein this lesson. Sometimes it seemed effective in holding her attention, sometimes not at all. Neither my instructor nor I could figure out if anything was really making a consistent difference. For this lesson, Maggie was consistently getting distracted on the long side parallel to a wooded area and she would always try to turn her head and look into the woods. My instructor had me try overriding her before the turn onto that long side, giving lots of half-halts with the inside rein in hopes of catching and keeping her attention before she could get distracted, but she could still always find a way to drop her inside shoulder and look to the outside.

We ended the lesson with attempting to work with side-reins on the lunge line, but my instructor didn't have short enough side reins for Maggie's tiny bendy neck! Oh well...I did still get a mini lesson on how to lunge with side reins. My homework is to work her with the side reins with the same idea of trying to get her to relax into the reins and focus. So....I guess I probably need some pony sized side-reins.

Has anyone else ever dealt with an A.D.D. horse? Is it something that they essentially just need to grow out of or is there anything you have found to help them focus?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Footing Frustrations

I come to you today to rant about my riding ring situation again. This time it's about the footing. I've never really been a huge footing snob - I understand it's importance for safety reasons, but I've also always been a make-do-with-what-you-have equestrian, which often means riding in imperfect footing. However, the riding ring at my barn is really making me nervous at the moment.

Let me back up for just a second...

Last fall the property owners started building a new house way in the back of the lot. It wouldn't affect the barn at all except for the fact that they had to put a new water line in and this required tearing up the ground in our riding area, which is located between one of the barns and the future house. This wasn't a big problem during the late fall, since it was the end of the show season and I was giving Maggie some time off. But boy, have they taken their sweet time putting the ring back together.

Here's the ring in March, just as the snow was almost gone:

Once a trench, now a...pile?

Ok, fine. It's was only March at this point and the weather was still crappy enough that I was riding in the indoor next door.

But here's the ring in late April:

A little better, but ehhhh....

It improved slightly more in the middle of May to the point at which we could at least do something. My friends at the barn did some light rides in our ring while I was still renting the rings at the farm next door. Even though our ring is now "rideable" it's still in pretty poor condition, even by my standards. Over the past week, we've each collectively spent several hours simply rock-picking the area.

I'm pretty sure that Massachusetts' number one crop is rocks - we really have barely made a dent in removing them. They just...keep...coming. Sure, our ring was far from perfect before they dug that trench, but it's like they've since disturbed a relentless underground rock-spawning monster.

It's out to get us.
We hooked up our ghetto drag (which is a price of chain link fence attached to a price of wood attached to some rope attached to my friend's Subaru) and had a grand time kicking up dust and attempting to level it out a bit. 

It almost made it look like a real ring...

...unless you looked at the ground too close...

I'm still really worried about all those darn rocks though. I'm giving it a couple rides this week to feel it out - we just had two days of rain so perhaps that has help it a little - but I'm wondering if I'm going to have to rent the rings next door for the rest of the summer. 

I don't want Maggie to get laid up from a stone bruise, but the extra $120 a month to rent the rings next door puts quite a damper on my bank account. I can swing it in the winter because I'm not paying for any shows, but if I start paying for it in the summer too then I think that something else will have to give; either shows or lessons. 

I don't want to give up too many lessons because, well, I want to learn how to ride better and I feel like we're really making some progress. I don't want to give up the shows we have planned either because that's what the lessons are working towards and I enjoy them. However, if Maggie goes lame from stepping on a rock then we can't exactly enjoy either of those things, now can we? It's just kind of a Catch-22 I guess. 

So I'm just not sure what to do. For the record, Maggie is barefoot and has rock hard feet. The farrier loves them. Knock on wood, she's never bruised them before. For now I think I'll see how it goes in our ring...and keep rock picking whenever I have a free minute (ha). 

What would you guys do?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Groton House Farm 2-Phase 2015

On Saturday we had our first eventing-type outing of the season: The Groton House Farm Combined Test. We entered the Elementary division (Intro B, 2' jump height) which is the same as we did last year. For reference, last year we scored a 34.4 in dressage and then had two refusals in stadium (which many competitors did) for a final score of 46.4 which put us in 3rd place (out of 7).

Now, on to this year. First and perhaps most importantly, Maggie rocked her new hairstyle:

Paint horse problem: need two different color bands...I forgot to get white. I still think it looked quite good though and I saw a couple bay horses with white bands, so I guess that's a thing anyway? I used only rubber bands and they still held up well throughout the entire day. I could try sewing them in next time and get a little less of a sticky-upy effect, but I was still pleased.

I love that two-tone braid.
Now, about the actual show.

It was hot. REALLY hot for just the end of May. It was somewhere between 81- 85 degrees. I hadn't ridden Maggie the day before (as planned), but I wasn't worried about her being out of control because the heat tends to tone her down. We had a 2:12 PM ride time, which made for a bit of a late day, but it was nice to not have to get up early to bathe and braid. I checked her back first thing when I got to the barn and she was fine!

We got to the show about an hour before our ride time and I got on and gave us about 40 minutes for warm-up, since I still wasn't sure what to expect with her. I walked her around in the warmup field for a minute before trotting circles and figure eights and I could instantly tell that we were just going to be...average. 

She wasn't being bad at all, but she also wasn't completely focused on me. Focus has always been a little bit of a struggle for Maggie during shows and frequently during lessons as well. She's not usually spooky, just "looky". She'll be plugging along nicely on the bit and then something else will catch her eye and she'll take her attention off me for a second to look at whatever it was. It takes a half-halt (usually with the inside rein) to get her back listening to me.  

I swear I focused on sitting back more than this during the actual test.
Unfortunately, we had a camera malfunction during the actual test so we didn't get video :( I was admittedly upset about this at first and was a little cranky with my husband for it (sorry Dan!), but then I thought about it for a second and nothing neither spectacular nor terrible happened during the test so it really wasn't a big deal. All of the judge's comments we things I've seen before: needs better bend, needs better balance on outside rein, needs better energy. It definitely wasn't to the best of our abilities, but we certainly didn't flub it like I feared we could have. 

If anyone has any recommendations regarding how to get Maggie to stop snatching the reins from me when I start to let them out for the free walk please, please let me know!

Despite the very mediocre feeling of the test it still put me in 3rd in my division.

Jumping was running behind so we had about an hour and a half to sit around and chill (in the blazing sun) until I put the jumping tack on and leisurely made our way back over. I was the last person in my division to go, so I figured I would walk the course first and then still have plenty of time to pop over some warmup jumps before it was my turn. As I started to walk the course the jumps were still set at BN height and you know what? It looked totally do-able. Comfortable even. As they dropped the fences down to Elementary height they started to look tiny. I think we're ready for a move-up at least when it comes to 2-phases!

(there weren't actually any oxers in the Elementary division)
I then relieved my husband of horse-holding duty, got on Maggie, and took her over to the warmup jumps. She was pumped and starting jigging. We picked up the canter and all I could feel was POWER. She jumped right into a strong canter to begin with but then when I turned her toward the warmup vertical and she locked on to it I seriously thought she might pull my arms out of socket. 

Holy horse. My pony has turned into a freight train over fences!

I only took her over each warmup fence once and tried to get her to slow and listen to me more, with mild success with each new jumping effort. This is exactly what my jumping instructor was talking about during my first lesson with her  - now that she knows that her job is to get from point A to point B by going over the obstacle (and doing so with gusto), she needs to slow down and listen to me so that she becomes adjustable. Even as freight-trainy as she she was being though, I could help but smile at how much enthusiasm Maggie had. She really has some a long way from having to spook and refuse at each fence before going over it! 

That's her serious face - that's my happy face.
I was able to watch almost all the rounds before mine. Last year, fence 1 was exceptionally spooky and many competitors across all the divisions took refusals right there. A healthy handful, including a few in my division, were even eliminated at the first jump. Maggie thought it was spooky too and we picked up two refusals before getting over it the third time and jumping clear the rest of the way. 

This year though, they had remedied that situation and fence 1 faced towards the in-gate instead of away from it. This year the course flowed very nicely and no one was having that kind of trouble. Here's video of my round: (please excuse the shakiness at the beginning - Dan was trying to brush a daddy long legs off himself)

Like the warmup, she felt like a freight train cantering through that course. As we circled half the ring before coming to the first jump she was trying to lock on to each fence we passed and I essentially had to say, "No, not that one!" "Not that one either!" I came out very pleased with her, but thinking that perhaps trying out a slow-twist full-cheek wouldn't be a bad idea. However, watching the video back I don't really think it looks too rushed or out of control. I know I've noticed this before; it feeling really fast, but then looking fine on video. I'm not really sure what to think/ do about that, though obviously working on her being adjustable and waiting for me to tell her how fast to be going is certainly on the menu. We also clearly need to work on getting the correct lead out of the jump, there's a whole lot of cantering on the wrong lead going on here!

So a clear round meant that I kept my 3rd place and came home with a yellow ribbon from the GHF 2-Phase for a second year. And funnily enough too, as I was writing this post I looked back at last years scores and got a 34.4 that year too! So much for progress...?

Next on the schedule is a 3-Phase at the same venue toward the end of June. Bring on the XC! (but first some XC schooling will be in order...

Obligatory post-brain curly mane pic. I will never get over this.