Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Event Recap: GHF Fall Classic 9/20/15

I must admit, I was a little more nervous than usual going into this show simply because I wanted to do better than last time, and I knew we were capable.

I had really short times between my dressage and stadium, and the course walk for my division would be happening 15 minutes before my dressage time (so while I was warming up) so right after getting to the show grounds I checked in and then immediately went up to the stadium arena to memorize the course by watching a few rides.

Course map
Fortunately it was pretty straightforward - basically just keep making a figure eight - so back down to the trailer parking I went to unload Maggie. I eventually got on for warm-up about half an hour before my dressage time. I'm still figuring warm-up out (seems like it's taking forever) and this time I was on the side of too much time. 

Could be stepping under more, but she's pretty relaxed.
Perhaps it's because we've been to this venue four times before now (eek - that many already?), but she was super relaxed the whole time. Relaxed enough, that once it came time to do our test, she was on the verge of lazy. I didn't work her the entire 30 minutes I was on prior to the test (we just walked around for a lot of it), but I probably could have gotten away with getting on 15 minutes before our ride. It's just so hard to gauge!

Who's got two thumbs and has learned to sit up straight at the canter? This kid!
Either way, I'll take too relaxed over too tense any day. However, the trade off is that impulsion suffered. I actually think this test was a pretty good representation of where we're at though. We're consistently inconsistent, I think. There are glimpses of nice stretching and stepping through punctuated by popping out of balance. Here's the test, complete with the comments:

We will be working on that whole 'consistency in the bridle' thing all winter, let me tell you! I really do think we're getting there - she's building the strength she needs though her back in order to carry herself more consistently.

I barely had any time to think too much about dressage once it was done, other than to be pleased at how relaxed she stayed and be happy we got the correct canter leads. It was back to the trailers for a really quick tack change and then up to stadium with just enough time to jump each warm-up fence once and then watch the two riders before me go.

Yep, pretty sure we left the rails up on all those!
I was super proud of how Maggie handled this course - she walked in and knew what her job was and was ready to go. We only had one slightly squirrelly moment at the approach to fence 5 when she took a little look at the flatbed trailer next to the ring and had the urge to shy to the left just before the fence, but I held that leg on and she didn't question me and went right over! Good girl!

No random rails down from tripping over ourselves this time! On to XC...

If you recall, I was primarily worried about getting her over fence 1 since that's where we picked up a refusal last time as a result of her being very stuck behind my leg out of the start box. I tried to hype her up a little bit by getting a little jigging action going on when we had one minute left before going. It worked and over we went! 

The chicken wing arms have returned, but I don't even care because we made it over!
Fence 2 and 3 both rode really well.

Cantering towards fence 2.

Fence 2

Fence 3
Fence 3 alternate view. Photo by Sophiea Bitel. Used with Permission.
Maggie got a little timid after fence 3 because we had to go past the big scary (empty) water jump so she broke into a trot.

POWER TROT. Photo by Sophiea Bitel. Used with permission.

We had to take a sharp right through a line of trees in order to line ourselves up with fence 4. Maggie got a little behind my leg at this point since we were trying to pick up a canter again, but I kept leg on and we made it over.

Fence 4
No pics going over fences 5, 6, and 7, but you can take a look at them on the course walk pics. 5 and 6 were on the downhill and rode really well, especially since I was concentrating on what my trainer said to me about letting the horse keep itself from not falling on it's face. Fence 7 was on the flat and Maggie was nice and and forward coming out of the downhill so no problems there either.

After fence 7 was that long uphill through the woods. Maggie wanted to drop back to the trot at this point and I let her. I took the opportunity to treat it as a little bit of a breather and give her tons of verbal praise and pats for being so brave.

Fence 8 was at the top of the hill, just out of the woods. I asked for the canter again as soon as we reached mostly level ground and we cantered through a relatively narrow gap between the tree line and a fence post before reaching 8. I think this was a good decision, because I think if I had asked for the canter after passing through that opening I may not have been able to get her forward enough in time to make it over the jump without her stalling out on me.

Fence 8
The last three fences (9, 10, and 11) she fell back behind my leg and we had somewhat sticky spots to all of them. I think fence 9 may have spooked her a little since it was so airy. She did try and take good look at the hay bales beneath it.

Fence 9
Again though, I was super focused on LEG ON. By golly, we were going to finish this course clear.

Long canter between 9 and 10.

Fence 10

Cheesin' and kickin' right before the last fence. Photo by Sophiea Bitel. Used with permission.

Fence 11 - last one! (My parents to the right!)

I was completely out of breath as I hopped off...I think more out of breath than Maggie actually was. It felt really good to jump around clean, though.

Maggie was already nice and cool by the time we got back to the trailers and she enjoyed some nice hand grazing after she was untacked and linimented up. Dan went off to check the scores while I was tending to her and reported back that we were in 5th place after dressage. In a class of 14 starters I was definitely satisfied with that! However, knowing that we jumped clear around both stadium and XC left it open for us to potentially move up...which we did!

Red ribbon baby!
We ended up in second and in addition to the beautiful red stain, we got some little prizes: a GHF tote bag and a towel (or as Dan accurately put it, a Maggie-slobber-wiper).

I'll be the first to point out that even though we jumped clear, my position and effectiveness as a rider is full of flaws. I completely reverted to the fetal position over most every jump on the course, pivoted at the knees, and totally forgot about moving my elbows like my trainer told me. I did remember to keep leg on, though, and that got us through. Still, I think it's a really good note to end on for the season and I know exactly what we need to work on over the winter!

I've also got to give a huge shout out to my husband, Dan - thanks to him I have pictures of 8 out of 11 fences on XC, plus full videos of dressage and stadium. His iPhone health app says he ran 4 miles that day! Also, notice in the picture below that we're missing our bridle tag as we head over to dressage warm-up. Yeah, he pointed it out before I even realized it and then ran back to the trailer to get it! Champion horse hubby, right here.

Love it <3. Photo by Sophiea Bitel. Used with Permission.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Course Preview: GHF Fall Classic 9/20/15

I'm putting this together this morning because I woke up early and couldn't fall back asleep because it's show day! My ride times are pretty late: 1:30 for dressage and 2:06 for stadium followed by XC, so as I write this I don't even need to be at the barn for another hour.

My husband, Dan, joined me on this course walk so I'd like to introduce you all to Course Walks with Dan! Now I know nothing can really compare to the infamous Course Walks with Bobby, but we had fun running around and jumping all the things together.

So here we go with the Fall 2015 Elementary course:

The start is in the same place as it was for the Spring Classic. Again, not too far from the start flags and on a very slight uphill. 

This is where we ran into problems with the spring course since I wasn't able to get her in front of my leg in time and we garnered a refusal. As for the fence itself, it's the same log, but instead of scary pink flowers at the base it has lovely fall decor on either side. Maybe Maggie will find that more welcoming?

After fence 1 we proceed uphill to a gap in the fence, then downhill to fence 2 which will require us to swing to the right a bit in order to come at it straight.

After fence 2 we have to make a somewhat sharp left turn to fence 3. This could be difficult because we'll be facing the scoring booth and trailers as we go over fence 2, so I'll need to be sure that I'm looking to the left as we go over the fence.

Fence 3 itself is pretty straightforward. We jumped this going the other direction in the spring.

Dan likes to look at planes.
Then we proceed alongside the water complex and turn right to our next fence in the next field.

I'll need swing right immediately after coming through this opening in order to get to fence 4 straight.

Looking pensive at fence 4.
After fence 4 then we slop downhill for the next couple fences

And then, because we're actually 5 years old, we decided to play Monty Python.

Invisible coconuts.
Fence 6 is a straightforward coop still on the downhill

If I can do it, so can Maggie, right?
A wide left turn the brings us to fence 7 on flat ground. After this fence then we go into the woods for a nice long uphill.

I forgot to get a picture of the big long uphill because I got distracted by Dan jumping this enormous ditch over to the right. 

Holy crap.

We reach the top of the uphill and fence 8 sits behind that small tree and fence rails. We'll squeeze past the fence rail to the right in order to approach 8 head on.

We turn left after 8 and have plenty of room to approach fence 9, after which we pass through a gap in the fence bookended by the giant old Intermediate and Advanced tables.

After we go through the gap int he fence and enter the next field we'll go a little to the left to straighten out to fence 10.

Fence 10, the second to last fence, is probably the largest on this course. At the Spring Classic this fence was the last one and I thought it was really scary looking, but Maggie didn't even hesitate so I'm not really concerned about it this time.

And then the last fence with the finish flags just beyond it!

Not gonna lie, my stomach is all bubbly right now. I really want to put in a nice dressage test. I think stadium should be fine and then our biggest metaphorical hurdle will be getting over the first XC fence! Here we go!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Two Lessons in One Week? Madness!

Don't get used to it's a bit of a last hurrah before the final event of the season and before I'll barely be able to afford a lesson a month. I had previously set up an XC lesson for Tuesday and then as my calendar for the weekend unfolded I realized the only time I could fit in a dressage lesson was Monday, so back to back lessons it was!

I have no dressage pictures, so enjoy this beautiful XC field.
We'll start with dressage: Silly Maggie got spooked by the lesson going on in the indoor as we walked past it and was high stepping and snorting as I lead her to the mounting block, so I knew we might be in for an interesting ride. She was definitely tense and a little challenging, but it wasn't too bad. 

Since she was a little full of it at the start, we picked up the canter pretty quickly and Trainer had me practice going up in a half seat, asking her to move out and lengthen her stride (which she readily did since she was jazzed up), and then bring her back to a working canter by sitting back in the saddle, sitting tall, and slowing my seat. A good exercise for tuning her into my seat.

Next we ran through the test (BN A) once and immediately identified the area that needed the most work: the downward canter-trot transition coming off the right lead between M and B and the trot leading into the final turn down the center line. Maggie gets tense and strung out coming out of that canter which then means the trot after it is sloppy and I don't have her on my aids enough to get an accurate turn down the center line (we overshoot, as evident in our last test).

What we ended up figuring out was that in my efforts to keep Maggie cantering until M (she really really, wants to drop back to a trot in the corner after C) I'm egging her on too late and then asking for the downward transition too soon, thus a messy and rushed transition. I need to add more leg sooner rather than later (like before or at C instead of after it) in order to help keep her going enough to reach M.

After we practiced this a few times I thought about it and said to my instructor, "You know, I think if I just can't keep her going though I'd rather that she break early rather than late. A late transition is just going to end up rushed and then it's going to mess up the whole trot and center line afterwards. But if she breaks early then at least I have a nicer more relaxed trot to work with."

To which my instructor replied, "YES - that is exactly right! If you have the option of making a transition early or late, always go with early - it will result in better scores for the next movements." So I thought that was a really useful tidbit of information - and I was pretty proud to have made that conclusion on my own as well! Something must be clicking.

The next day, I trucked out to the Myopia Schooling Field to meet up with the other trainer. Thanks to some last minute electrical work by my husband, he got the brake box all hooked up and tested the night before and ready to roll for Tuesday. I really can't thank him enough for his work on it, especially because this turned out to be a really excellent, confidence-building lesson full of good things for me to work on.

Successful maiden voyage!
We started out trotting and cantering in two-point in an area of the field with a little slope before we moved on to an 18" log and then strung some 2' and 2'3" fences together. Here are my biggest takeaways from the lesson: 
  • Probably the most essential thing when riding XC is for the horse to respond to your leg when you ask it to go. Maggie is a little lazy and doesn't really respond well to me asking her for more yet. The biggest takeaway from this lesson is that I need to work on getting Maggie to respond instantaneously when I put my leg on - and it's going to require practicing it a lot and being firm with her, but we'll get there.
  • When cantering downhill don't be afraid to let her go a little more so she can find her own balance. Most horses don't want to fall on their face, so if you stop trying to balance for them they'll balance themselves.
  • I need to be less restrictive with the reins as we approach fences. Particularly when jumping uphill, I don't need to be hanging on her face trying to balance her on her hind end as much - it just gets in the way of the jump. She wanted to see me moving my arms a lot more as we approached a fence and even said to think about flapping my arms like chicken wing, though that would be a little least it would keep my arms from locking back!
  • I also need to be less restrictive with the reins in general. For one, I need to do some two-point work so that I don't have to rebalance myself with the reins (bad bad). I was able to get a good feel for the kind of forward, but controlled canter/gallop that is appropriate for XC. Breaking news: It's different than a show jumping canter (shocking, I know). It was more forward than I had initially thought/ realized, but as the same time it was controlled and fluid. I'm really glad I got to feel it and now I know what to aim for. Balancing on the reins inhibits that nice forwardness.
  • Trainer discovered my very real and very bad habit of jumping ahead and gave me a lecture (a friendly one) about how it unbalances the horse over the jump and makes it harder for them, which I already know and it's easier said than done, but I'm really glad I now have someone to get on me about it. One jump we tried was a small brush box on a slight uphill approach. It was after our first pass over this fence that I earned the lecture about jumping ahead. I mentioned to her that I think I'm subconsciously really afraid of getting left behind and popped off over a jump and she said that made sense judging by the way I ride. She assured me though that it's actually really hard to get left behind and basically you won't unless you either are on a horse that just totally takes you by surprise and jumps when you're not expecting it or you totally mess up really badly - which is actually kind of hard to do to that degree. So that was reassuring and the next time over that fence I did my best to wait it out and indeed I felt that we got a smoother jump out of it.
The offending jump is the smaller one on the right. We were to jump that then take a left and make a loop to go over the rolltop to the left of the bush in the same direction.
I left the lesson feeling really happy and like I learned a lot - this is the first true lesson I've ever had over XC obstacles before. Sure, I been schooling with friends much more knowledgeable and experienced that myself and I've had my fair share of arena-bound lessons in the past, but I've never actually had a trainer on the ground with me for XC so I've never really worked on these different principles. It was a great experience and I'm really looking able to doing it again sometime! Might not be a  while though, since it's the end of the season and you know, money and stuff. But I'm really lucky to live in an area with some really awesome places to ride too.

I'm getting really pumped for the event on Sunday. Provisional start times got posted and I barely have a half an our between dressage and stadium so that'll be a quick tack change, but I'm sure it will work out. I'm feeling really good, but I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much. I know we can do great at dressage if we're relaxed and I know we can jump clear if we're forward - it just all has to come together! Isn't that always the trick though?