Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Trying Something Different

Guys, we're totally knocking our 2016 goals out of the park. Yesterday we decided to do this:

l know, we're basically doing the Grand Prix
Yes he did actually "jump" it a few times, but then mostly just trotted/hopped over. Interesting thing is that regardless of direction, he wanted to land to the left each time. However, the quality of his right lead canter improved whereas his left was so-so...and it is usually the other way 'round.

I hope to do more of this over time - trainer and I both agreed, it was quite helpful...and fun!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Balance, Lift, Straight

So we're back in full swing. My hip is still being a bit persnickety but with lots of stretches (and advil) it is much better than it was.

The last couple of lessons we've been playing around with some new-ish things - again more attempts at shoulder fore/in at trot. Walk is no problem he can easily do shoulder in on either side, and can even switch it on the long side. Trot rocks his little brain. But I'm happy to say that we can mostly kinda sorta do it. Let's put it this way, I see us doing a respectable shoulder in at the trot by the fall, vs in 200 years.

Other things we're working on are CLEAR  and crisp up and down transitions. Emphasize clear. Ben has gotten much better at reacting to my aids, however, sometimes he's all jumbles in the up and down.

We've also been working on creating a bit of spring to his trot, and his canter. The trot we've been doing lots of half halts and going in and out of a passage-like trot. It is hard work - he wants to go long and flat and we're saying no, smaller steps underneath you and vertical. Lift the knees, dude! It is hard work so we don't do it a lot, a progressive build of a few steps in and out a few times per ride.

The canter work is coming along as well. Controlling the shoulders has seemed to really help with the quality of canter. And by that it is getting him to really square up and be aligned. So to the left there is a lot of working square turns (remember we do this in trot too!) , cantering a square instead of a circle. otherwise he wants to fall onto the left shoulder. To the right it is a lot of inside leg outside rein, and much much shorter sets of canter - 5-15 strides and down. Clear downs, clear ups.

I can tell you, it is hard - oh my abs and back) but it is FUN!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Month of Non-Horse Changes

Wow, a whole month has gone by since my last entry. Yikes. Not a lot has been going on with Ben - other than getting a bit of a break while I took care of this:

In addition to being completely swamped with moving/prepping/cleaning/yardwork/cleaning/etc, my hip has decided to scream, rather loudly, that something is wrong. I've been ignoring it, but my last couple attempts at riding did not end well. Sigh. I've been trying to stretch it out and do what I can to manage the pain, but dang it, nothing is really working.  Stubborn as I am (and also lacking time to go to my GP to get my Massage referral & then an appointment with her - I know it is muscular as I've had xrays and nothing is wrong with the joint), I am pressing on. I just don't have time in my schedule to muck about with the health care system.

Yesterday I tried riding Ben again, after doing some concentrated yoga type stretches, incorporating a few more to the mix. THAT helped. Not perfect, and I pretty much lost feeling in my left foot for awhile when riding, but it wasn't too bad, and this morning, I do not feel worse for wear.

The good news is that my time out of the saddle has meant my trainer has ridden Ben more. Which means he feels lovely, haha. I did all of our canter work to start because trying to collect and post his trot with my hip just wasn't happening. His refreshed jumpy canter (thanks, trainer!) really helped loosen things up making the trot work tolerable.

Can't really say I'm having fun riding, and the reality is I'm pretty distracted with this new house and my hip, but we press on. I'll get back to it soon. Not sure what our next adventure will be since my second distraction is my mare and getting her to her first recognized shows in June & July. I might even try riding her in July if the first June show goes well, and if I can somehow fix my hip.

Monday, April 11, 2016

We Did It!

What a weekend! Ben tried for a last ditch effort to get out of going to the show - on Friday afternoon he pulled a shoe. Never fear, our fabulous farriers came out on Saturday morning and got it tacked on - sorry buddy, oldest trick in the book!

Losing the shoe though did mean that Ben had the dreaded 2 days off... which really sucks because he was going to get a training ride on Friday. He also had to stay in for the farriers, so no turn out. And then he was on a trailer for a couple of hours. And then stalled. Ugh, I was dreading having to put the ride on him. And at first, yes, it was rough. The time off coupled with deeper-than-ideal footing, which Ben never does well in, the warm up was icky. But once we got outside and had a lesson it got better.

The next day, the warm up again was rough, but a little better than the day prior. When headed out to go to our first test, the poor boy thought we were done and was quite shocked when we made the turn to head to the arena, LOL. I could feel his enthusiasm drop a little- and then to make matters worse, he caught sight of, gasp, spectators. The funny thing about Ben is that he never gets naughty, nor does he spook when he is scared. Ben gets very, very sticky. And true to form, he ground to a halt to take it in. The entire first test he never really got over it. He lacked confidence and thus was pretty much behind my leg the entire time. No real extensions, no stretching, just a robotic test in tension, with grinding galore. Ick.

So as icky as it was, I knew we could do better, though I wasn't much excited to actually do it. The 2nd test was 2 hours later, so time for some recovery. However, I  thought of scratching. I figured I'd do a real quick warm up and if he was still struggling then I'd not push it. But then my trainer suggested I don't warm up at all in the deeper footing, and rather go take him for a walk outside, and even go in one of the outdoors down below. So we went down there and turns out that was an excellent idea.

Ben warmed up great. He was in really good spirits so I decided to give Test #2 a try, which was 1-1 again. I'm glad I did. He did SO well...with exception of breaking the canter on the first left lead, and then bucking when I put him back into it, haha. Everything else was great. I got actual lengthenings, a stretchy trot, and nice canter work. His 1/2 circles were lovely and through. Everything felt a million times better.

The first test we scored 59% and deserved it, maybe even less to be honest. He came in 4th out of 7. The 2nd test was a 63.5% MUCH better. Ben came in 2nd, out of 6 in the class.

Elated, over the moon. 1st show in 2 years, at a new level for us, too.

No other shows planned for yet. Few other things on my plate in the next couple of months, but if another opportunity comes up, we might just go for it!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Last week I sent in our entry for this schooling show - choosing 1-1, after having run through it a bit with my trainer. We actually did a pretty decent job, so I felt pretty good about it. Total excitement.

Then Saturday came. Ben had 2 days off. That ride, just like the Saturday prior, was not fun. He was sluggish, stuck, chompy and just icky. Any ask was greeted with tension and running. Of course my husband was there and got a few quick videos. I will say that as compared to the videos from back in December, Ben looks loads better, as a pair we definitely look more powerful and put together. But GAH oh my eyes - I can see on the videos all the moments of ick, which is what I was feeling under saddle. There were a few good moments - don't get me wrong. We had a good canter, a good leg yield and a good extended trot. But the majority of it wasn't great at all. I found a spot where I got some relatively passable work and ended it there.

I walked away from it feeling horrible, feeling bad for Ben, and then the dread/ buyers-remorse for having entered us in this show at 1st level. Images of being the laughing stock of the show were swirling in my mind. The embarrassment of having the audacity to bring a Standardbred to a dressage show, and at 1st level no less. The embarrassment for my trainer who said I should do it. And then poor Ben - am I asking for too much? Maybe I'm not looking at things clearly and he really should just not be made to do this work? Quit now, quit now, quit now.

I knew I couldn't actually quit or bail on the show. Sunday turned out to be a lovely sunny day, so I went out to try again. My goal was to be as light and soft as possible. I also had a theory running through my mind, based on this little pattern I'm seeing with my dear gelding. 1 day off= good. 2 days off=icky. Knowing that last week my second ride was loads better, I opted to go for it.

And I'm glad I did. Everything was thousands of times better. He was forward, engaged, happy. We worked on adding some shoulder-in at walk and shoulder-fore at trot. The trot is really hard for him - his legs get jumbled and he gets pacey. However, we did get a few good strides, with lots of praise. Everything else- the canters, the trots, the circles, all were great.

So I left the barn feeling much better than the day prior- a bit redeemed, and dreading this coming weekend a bit less ;) I think we'll still stick out like sore thumbs as compared to all the fancy horses that will be showing with us, but I'm not going to care about that. This is about developing us, and not comparing us to the "competition." And so, a few more rides this week, 1 day to rest, and Sunday here we come!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

So this is happening...

Sitting in this mailbox is an entry form for a dressage schooling show happening in April...with Ben's name on it! And to make matters even more exciting...we will be doing the 1-1 test! Whoa!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tack Adjustments = Results

Things have been going well in Ben's world. Not much to report, but a couple of tack changes have taken place over the past couple of weeks. #1 was that a fitter was coming to our barn so I had his saddle looked at - we did a much needed reflock and some adjustments to the panels to make the channel wider. WOW did this ever change Ben's trot! The saddle is quite stable, it feels great as it is moulding to his back. May need to make a few tweaks in a month or so, but the change is palpable.

The other tack change is a change of bit. Yes I know, another one. Ben has been, by far, the hardest horse I've ever had to bit. Most horses I've come across have been fine with a plain snaffle- single or double jointed- eggbutt, D or loose ring. Super easy stuff, costing no more than $50. My arab mare is schooling 2nd and 3rd in a $35 Smith Worthington loose ring- bless her.

Ben, however, has a collection of tried-chewed-failed. He is a natural chewer/inspector - he will always test if something can go in his mouth, and if it fits, it gets chewed. His bit is no different. I'm pretty sure I've blogged off and on about our trials and tribulations. He gets so fixated on the thing in his mouth he cannot focus on anything else. Not in a panicky way, but think of trying to pull a child away from being mesmerized by their TV show kind of way. 

Most recently I had settled on a Myler wide & low ported eggbutt. It worked great for awhile. For the first time Ben was pushing onto the bit, not trying to suck back and chew it to smithereens. The chewing-to-grinding habit had lessened to the point of barely ever happening. Yay! I felt like we were finally able to address some training issues. And we did.

And then new ones came up. Sigh. Ben went from being tucked behind the bit & my leg to leaning on my hands quite heavily. Addressing as a training issue was working - to a point. But also, I felt like we had this really dull, heavy connection rather than a live, active, soft one. So, in another effort, enter in the Neue Schule Verbindend snaffle. Dressage Extensions has 14 day trials for their 12 mm bit. Sign me up.

Immediately I felt as if the connection was softer,  clearer, and more adjustable. Ben wasn't sneaking behind, nor was he pulling. Much easier to adjust, we had better flexions and bends. Between that and his saddle adjustments, wow the trot work has soared.

The canter, however, has suffered a wee bit. Prior to the bit change I thought we were getting somewhere with the canter- but with the new bit it seems like the confidence & ability to lean on the bit has degraded the quality of canter. At least initially. However, the past couple of rides have gone smashingly well, and I feel like we are close to where we were in the old bit.

So - the result is an overall net positive - with some things to work on...as always. But I am liking where this is going - this boy has been so fun lately!