Friday, November 4, 2016

No, Not Dead or Disappeared- Just A Bit Banged Up

Sigh. Just when you think you are prepared for life, it throws you a curveball and messes everything up. Back in September, shortly after the clinic, I was rear-ended on the freeway on my way to work in the morning. Thank goodness for my Subaru, I really believe it saved me from being more hurt than I am. I am a bit banged up and have had to take a bit of time off from the horses to allow my body to properly heal. Some days are better than others, but such is the course of things. I am told to expect a lengthy road to recovery. And so I will take it as it comes.

All that to say, I had to hand over the reins to my trainer. I'm lucky to have her and she's been doing an a great job with him. His counter canter is getting confirmed and his trot work is amazing. He is looking strong, muscular...and hairy...oh boy is he hairy. The next order of business is a body clip.

Not much else to report other than that. I just haven't been out to the barn much. The accident has definitely impacted my physical abilities but has also taken its toll mentally - I'm not too keen to get back on the freeway even if it means going to visit my horse. I will do it when I must, but it is not a fun thing for me, nor do I take it lightly. I suspect over time that too will get better, but for now, I'm allowing myself recover in all ways.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Believe - Clinic Report w/ Video!

Working on our jump in the canter
Leading Up

Ben and I participated in our very first dressage clinic this weekend. Honestly, I was dreading the event and super stressed about it. Initially when I signed up I thought it would be a great experience. Then, not 2 days later, I found out that not only would I be traveling, I'd also be stuck in meetings from 9-5 each day in the office (on top of my day job (read: working at night as well to keep up)), which is a cool 2 hour commute to the barn many days of the week. This meant that my riding time would be limited to only the weekends. That is no way to prepare for riding in a clinic. Add on to that getting a respiratory virus during my work travels - I was really setting myself up for success [insert sarcasm].

With the help of my trainer Ben is keeping fit and ready to work. But me, I'm the weak link here. My body, specifically my hips, seize up when not put to work in the saddle. Day 1 after a long break (specifically one that included sitting in a conference room chair for 8+ hours) is hell - regardless of how much off-horse walking/stretching/exercising I do.

You might be asking yourself why on earth I didn't cancel. Canceling is not an option once you commit. Sure, you can "cancel" but don't expect your money to be returned.

Day 1

True to form, when I first mounted, my both of my hips screamed and immediately cramped. Thank heavens no one was actually near the arena, because I had to contort myself in the saddle in such a way so as to prevent myself from screaming. It was really something, and definitely the first time I experienced both cramping at the same time. But luckily/thankfully, after a couple of minutes of deep breaths both passed and I was able to let my legs hang down and relax. A few more minutes of letting Ben's walk loosen them up, I was doing much better.

The clinician came down to the arena, hooked me up to her communication radio thingie, and we got to work. She already knew the backstory on Ben, and was ready to help us. We started with some in hand work,  with her working the reins, me using my seat/legs. The point was to get Ben to accept the outside rein without pushing through it, while I asked him to step under himself. It was hard, but so helpful.

Then when we got to riding, my gosh. I had to hold Ben on a much stronger contact that I generally ever do on my own, but boy did it force the issue of really listening to my leg and pushing onto the bit, and then the contact got much much nicer. He showed me that if I am persistent, he can in fact carry himself.

The canter work, WOW. The boy is really figuring out his jump. We worked a lot on the jump, and getting it on a smaller circle - which seems to really help.  It was a ton of work and we were both sweating buckets, but it was so worth it. There is SO much more in there just waiting come out - the clinician said now it is just a matter of time for him to blossom.

Day 2

I began in much better form for this lesson. My body did NOT cramp up and felt pretty limber in general (okay so I was a little sore from the previous day's ride, but it was the good kind!). Ben felt tired but otherwise okay. We started with some in-hand work again, but this time with the rein-back. Once we got a nice soft rein-back, we were released on our own to do transitions from walk to halt, immediate rein back, halt, walk or trot out. We mixed it up with plain old halts as well, so Ben never knew what was coming.

That work really got Ben rocked back and starting to sit. The resulting canter work was amazing. His jump got super big. Not perfect, but he was really trying to sort it out, I could feel him trying super hard, and I was simply supporting and encouraging it.

He tired quickly and from there we transitioned back to trot work. The result was a big uphill trot with him carrying himself in a much nicer position.

He got lots of praise from both myself and the clinician, who said she has a lot of respect for us as a pair. She said while this is not easy, it is achievable and now it is just a matter of time.

I am SO proud of Ben, just thinking about all that he has achieved and how much of himself he gives to me brings tears to my eyes.

If you made it this far, here is a video of snippets of our ride. Go Ben!!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Into the Woods!

One of the perks of having moved up to my trainer's barn is that it sits right next to a very large tree farm with tons of trails - trails that are accessible simply by walking down the street- zero hauling required.

You would think that with that being the case, Ben and I would've been out there all summer long. That would've been really great...except that up until a week ago, I had no idea how to access said trails nor which ones to follow once in the tree farm. Kind of puts a damper on things - not really wanting to get lost out there!

We finally had a chance to get out there with someone who knew the "main loop." That was a perfect introduction. So yesterday, Ben and I took to the trails on our own. We explored some of the smaller off-shoot trails and generally had a blast clip-clopping under the blanket of trees.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Dream

I love talking to people about Ben. It is one of the best parts of taking him out in public. He is tall and handsome, with a big white brand on his neck. Without fail someone will always ask me how I got such a tall mustang. I get a kick out of that.

What I don't get a kick out of, is when folks ask me what he is because they couldn't figure it out, based on his movement. Yes, it is an opportunity to talk about Standardbreds. But it is always coming from the place of "Oh we thought he was a weird warmblood or something" Yes, weird. No, not a warmblood.

I harbor a secret dream - one in that Ben moves so "normally" that no one picks up on the fact that he's different. One in which we can walk, trot, and canter, and that no one gives him a passing glance due to the differences in his gaits.

I'm not sure that that day will ever come. But by God, we're working on it. We've been working hard over the last 10 months, and it is cool to watch the progress being made. I try to blog about it as often as I can, so I can look back and re-read those moments that were good, bad, and downright ugly. But nothing compares to SEEING the progress. I don't often get the chance to record rides, but last night I asked my trainer to video his canter work to the right, as he's learning a bit of collection. And so without further ado, I present to the blogosphere 3 videos of our 10 month progress of right-lead-canter:

November 27, 2015. Big arena (100x200) - cannot sit on his back, cannot do smaller than a 90 foot circle:

April 2, 2016.  5 months later - regulation dressage arena. I can sit on him, at least.


August 24, 2016.  60 ft indoor arena, which generally really works against Ben - he gets sucked onto those walls and generally goes much better outdoors. Nevertheless - I can sit, and I can ask him to collect and take jumpier steps.

Hopefully, by November 27, 2016, essentially 3 months from now, I will have new video to complete the year. And with a little luck, even more progress will be shown.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Small Victories

Things have been fairly quiet in our part of the world. Work, for me, has gotten a bit busier, thus keeping me away from the barn more than I'd like. For Ben, this has meant extended breaks of the 3-5 day variety. You all know by now how much I hate stringing multiple days off for this horse. Not much I can do about it right now, though.

We are making do. Our trainer was also on a long vacation, which meant that we got to work with her mom. I'll admit, I was terrified to work with someone else - I have this fear that anyone other than our trainer will tell us that we're not worthy. So while I could've just skated by for 2 weeks, I knew I had to overcome this fear. Fully clothed in my Big Girl Panties, off I went to my lesson.

As it turns out, it was a really great thing to do. #1, I got lots of compliments - which is the exact opposite of what I was expecting. I also got some direct feedback about my, uhmmm, wayward left arm, especially when it is serving as the outside rein. It has a mind of its own. But fresh eyes and a laser focus on it, and it got much better. Imagine that.

#2 We fixed the right canter. Ben has a habit of not connecting to my left outside rein (see wayward left arm comment above), but also doesn't much respond to my right leg. He will move off, sure, but he is not fully supple and gives me about, oh, 20% of a step in response to that leg. So, with me on top focused on my stupid left arm, our instructor worked with Ben's response to my right leg from the ground. That is, I put my leg on and he MUST step under. a real step. Turn on the forehand. She reinforced by following with a tap of the whip. So we'd get a few good steps on a 10 m circle, then I'd ask for a canter, and reinforce that feeling of him stepping under. And wow, did that ever help with the strike off and push in the canter. The steps got cleaner, the gait got more pure.

It was a quick, but intense lesson, maybe 25-30 minutes. But it has had lasting effects. Our canter has gotten even that much better. Now the canter to the left is feeling a bit left out, so we've been working on that side too.

The canter, while it is the hardest of all 3 gaits for Ben, is the most fun and enjoyable. Truth be told, I have to remind myself to put some work into the trot. I just don't like it as much, haha. And honestly, even those the purity of the gait is the worst in the canter, I do think Ben actually prefers the canter work over the trot...but maybe that is because of his rider ;)

Friday, August 19, 2016

More Show Pictures!

Pictures from the show are trickling in, and here are some of my favorites. These are all taken by Karen W. of Awakened Soul Photography.

I don't always do halter, but when I do I make sure they see everything :x



Monday, August 8, 2016

Analyze This - Facing the Fear of Reading My Tests

I will fully admit, I have a not-so-great habit when it comes to my dressage tests. I don't fully read and digest them. Sure, I'll look at the general scores, read the comments, but I always keep myself distanced from them. In my head I can hear myself saying, "yea yea, I know, I know." I speed read it and try to get it over with as quickly as possible.

This is not great. After all, I've paid for the judge to watch my test, you would think I'd be more interested in what they had to say. So, this past week I changed my tactic. I decided to turn my tests into data points. So I took all 4 tests and transcribed them in Excel. Movements, scores, and comments.

My 2016 1-1 tests transcribed

I have 3 scores at 1-1 and 1 at 1-2. So I took a look at the tests and on a second tab, grouped all the common movements together (for example: entry, final salute, stretchy circle L/R, 15m canter circle L/R, etc). I color coded the scores. I pulled together averages.

similar movements, compared

What I found was interesting. I knew, without doing this exercise, my weakest area  (canter, especially everything to the right). But what I didn't realize was where I could easily clean up/pick up better scores. For example, we have a great final centerline/salute. Our entry is sometimes really good, or really bad. Never in the middle. But my highest scoring movement is the 10m 1/2 circle to the right, as well as our trot lengthening to the right. I would have never guessed that. In general, the score I receive the most is 6.5, followed by 6, and then 7. If I had to guess I would've thought it 5.5, 6, 6.5, in that order.

This exercise, while time consuming, really helped me. My test riding needs some serious work. I hardly ever do it. In fact, prior to this show, I never actually strung together 1-1 and 1-2 while practicing. Sure, I've done elements of it, but never all  together - which is a totally different beast.

It makes me want to get out there and keep trying. Now I have a clearer picture of what is going on, I feel like we can most certainly do better.