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 always. But I am liking where this is going - this boy has been so fun lately!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Working on Adjustability

Ben's training ride went well. I wasn't there to see it, but I got a text reporting that he felt great- a little stuck to the wall on the right and thus ensuing rhythm problems - but easily addressed. Counter canter and 15m circles and ending with a super trot.

Phew. I hadn't ruined my horse.

So since then, I've had a couple of lessons. Our main goal has been, and will continue to be, adjustability & suppleness through the body. We've begun to get serious about schooling the lateral movements - specifically shoulder fore, shoulder in, haunches in. Amazing how hard it is but also how much better the ride gets once we do these things! Right now it is at the walk, with a little bit of shoulder fore in the trot. Ben still gets a bit confused and will resort to pacing- his legs and body can get a bit jumbled from time to time. But he's definitely giving it his all (as he always does!) and progress is being made.

The canter is continuing to develop. Working on adjustability here too- I can get a baby lengthening and some leg yields - shallow loops are our friends :) Ben has actually shown a bit of aptitude to having changes - there have been a couple of moments in my lessons when working on the canter that he's offered them. We're not ready to go there just yet- we definitely need to confirm a few more things, but I'm wondering if by summer/fall we have something. How cool would that be?!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Don't Poke the Bear

Things have been going well at the new barn. We're currently taking weekly lessons and walking away with lots of homework.

A couple of weeks ago we had a "step up" lesson as I like to call them - one where our trainer introduces something new and thus gives us something to work on all week (month, year, etc). That lesson was all about sharpening the response to the aids- both in the up transition but also the down. Ben LOVES to trail his hindquarters, and getting him to step under himself is always a challenge. He loves to be strung out. Yesterday was the day my trainer told me to shorten my rein and ask him to carry himself higher. Boy was that hard, and while we had glimmers of goodness, it felt really new and uncomfortable for both of us! While I always knew my reins were a little long, I was comfortable and so was Ben. However, keeping my reins long was inhibiting our progress.

The crisp transitions - wowsa those were also pretty tough. Apparently Ben and I ride together like we're on some leisurely Sunday trail - we'll get to it when we get to it. Haha - both of us had to wake up and smell the coffee. For Ben, asking for that immediacy immediately brought forth a reaction, but it was the pace. We did get a couple of great up transitions from halt to trot, but a lot of them were halt to mish-mosh of pace/trot/canter. However, we ended on a great note and had a nice long cool out on a beautiful day. I thought all was well.

All was not well. Apparently we rocked Ben's world and he was not okay with it. The next few rides were a complete cluster. Ben had somehow forgotten to do anything that required being in a saddle, bridle, and with a rider on board. He was spooky, looky, tense, and reverted to pacing at just about any request. So, my plans to practice our new "stuff" quickly went out the door. I gave him a few days off. The days I did ride I kept it light - walking, turns, a couple transitions - all on a super loose rein. Zero expectations.

Thinking I just destroyed any and all progress over the last few years, I humbly told my trainer what was going on. As it worked out, I was going on a business trip and she offered to put a ride on him. I gulped and said yes, kind of nervous what the outcome of that would be.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


First weekday sunset ride- Spring is on the way!
It has only been a couple of weeks since my last post, but so much has happened in Ben's world! All good things, too!
I made the decision to move Ben up to my trainer's barn, which he moved to at the end of January. Having horses spread across 2 barns is not something I manage well, consistently. I've tried it in the past, and for the last 8 months tried it again, to no avail. With my commute to work, getting to both horses in a single evening just isn't feasible - alternating horses also gets tricky with schedules at both barns, trying to fit in a non-horse day for myself - it just wasn't happening. Additionally, Ben and I were not getting the instruction we so need. So, though more expensive, it was the right decision. The barn is pretty quiet, we get weekly lessons, and have both indoor, outdoor, and trails up in the tree farm. They also have awesome mud-free paddocks with open stalls, so turnout happens every day. Ben is super happy with this arrangement! I am super happy too being able to see and ride both horses in a single visit. Success!
Just prior to the move, I had our vet come out and take a look at him to make sure he was fit and able to increase his workload. Because nothing seemed to be visibly off, we used a neat tool called the Lameness Locator that could detect perhaps what the eye cannot see. Ben's results were reviewed by 2 vets, both came to the same conclusion that Ben is a very even, non-lame dude. So at this point he has gotten the green light to be pushed along both fitness wise and skills wise. We've added Adequan into the regimen, but for now, there is no reason or indication that we should be looking at any further diagnostics.
With that healthy check up and a couple of days to situate at the new barn, Ben and I jumped right into our new world. I could write a whole post about all the things I love about my trainer's indoor arena, but the top 3 are: mirrors, poles, and size. Having great big huge mirrors are wonderful, and infinitely helpful when riding on your own. I had no idea what I was missing! Instant feedback without having to rely on a grounds person or reviewing video whenever I was lucky enough to get some recorded. The other awesome thing is that trot and canter poles are always set up. They are super heavy and do not budge, even when a certain Standardbred knocks them. And finally - size. The place we were boarding had a really nice sized indoor for the area. This arena, though, is a full 20x60 arena. I definitely am finding the extra length to be great, and the accurate sizes have definitely helped me in shaping our 20, 15, 10 m circles. I always had to sort of guess what sizes, and while I was fairly accurate, I wasn't precise.
And so here we are, a couple of weeks into our new world, and loving it :) More to come!