Friday, June 29, 2012

Dress Rehersal

This is stupid

Haha, poor Ben.  Yesterday afternoon I got my ride times, which then spurred me to start making my "to do/to pack" list for Saturday. While compiling this list, I realized I didn't have a plan for grooming. Its a schooling show, and a laid back one, but yet, I do still want to look somewhat clean and polished. Because, if all else fails, at least we'll look respectable, if even pretty.  At that point, a mild panic set in, and to quell my fears, I figured I'd run up to the barn after work, do all the necessary clipping and also attempt to braid Ben's mane.

Ben was a good sport for his first time, though he kept shooting me this look as if to say he looks like a sissy. He'll get used to it.

So today all I have to worry about is packing, running through my tests on foot, and giving him a quick bath and we'll be good to go. My ride times tomorrow are 11:31 and 1:06 and the weather is predicted to be questionable- off and on showers with T-storms in the afternoon. I think tomorrow i will braid him in the morning and then fix which braids need fixing when we get to the show grounds, rather than waiting to do it at the grounds, just in case he proves to be a little wiggly there.

My nerves are surprisingly calm right now- I think I am more focused on what I need to pack vs the actual show.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pre-show Jitters...installation 42% complete

Oh god, I have a show on Saturday.


Why do I do this to myself?

Because when I see others ride in a show, I get all inspired and think "oh hey I can do this too!" and "It'll be fun!"

And then once I finally send in my show entry, the dread starts to build in slow increments. And about 48 hours prior to my public demise, I start to realize what I've gotten myself into. I'm there.

Loading up and driving to the show I will be a bundle of nerves- at some point during the drive I will try to rehearse my test in my head and realize I can't even remember my name, nevermind a complicated set of moves at certain letters in a white box we call dressage. While grooming my arms will feel heavy and I'll want to faint. Walking up to the warm-up arena will feel like a death march.

Once I get on, provided that I am still alive, and that my horse behaves himself, I will start to feel better. I will remember that I am here for dressage, I'll remember my name and how to do simple math. The tests will slowly come back to me. My legs will still feel like jelly, but I will be alive.

Ben and I had our last lesson pre-show last night. It was great. Definitely had moments of resistance, but I feel really good about where we are and our task at hand. What I am most concerned about at this point is how he'll take going to a new place and being ridden in a strange arena with lots of different horses, for the first time.

Should be interesting!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I Workout

There is definitely something to this strength training thing. I have a little routine that I do 3-4 nights a week, and I really feel as though it is helping me feel much stronger in the saddle.

I do 3 basic exercises. I am sure there are more I can do-  but I am all about developing routine around a base set of exercises.

#1 Crunches on the balance ball.

#2 "Rows" using elastic stretchy band thingies.

#3 Hip Abduction

These 3 exercises alone have done SO much to strengthen my core. I still have a long ways to go, but I definitely feel the difference!

On another note- Ben's ride was great today. I switched him over to his new bridle and bit, and he loved it. Our work was pretty solid, and we ended quickly after lovely transitions. He's got tomorrow off, will be worked on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thurs or Friday...and then...drum roll please...Saturday is our big day.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Standardbred Bliss!

Best ride ever on Ben last night. Clearly because my trainer left some magic training dust on him - he was on his best behavior. The problem is that I know its not because of my riding. He was being good on autopilot, and I was just trying to not mess it up.

All the same, it was sooooo fun. We ran through elements of our upcoming training level tests, I actually got him down the centerline. His transitions were awesome, our canters were bloody fantastic. We cantered a lot. It was good for me to sit up there and just feel it, I feel like it made an impression on me- I now know how it feels for him to canter well and continuously, and now I can strive for that. Definitely was a mini-breakthrough.

When I got home I did my workout routine - the strengthening of my hips, back, shoulders and abs.  I was inspired by my ride, but mainly because I noticed that my legs have definitely lengthened- the 7th hole stretch isnt such a stretch anymore. It feels comfortable, and secure. At a walk. At the trot we have a ways to go.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Take Your Aids and Shove 'Em

Ahh the joys of the 4 yr old horse.

We knew it was coming, just a matter of time.

Yesterday, my trainer came to the barn to give lessons, and due to some schedule additions, I opted to give my slot up to someone and have trainer ride Ben prior to the lessons starting. I was also able to make it up in time to see him go.

Initially I thought I should ride -but then I opted out because i havent seen him go, and given his recent naughty streak, I wanted to see what he'd throw at the trainer and how she dealt with it. I also wanted him to learn from the best- and well, that just isn't me.

The majority of the correcting was actually done at the walk. I told trainer what he was doing with me - twirling his head, being snarky about transitions, hard to keep together, feeling really behind my leg, etc. She said I was right, but that he wasn't just behind my leg, he was behind every aid. She said lots of young horses will start to test the aids, and that the best way to fix it is at the walk.

And so walk she did. Not just any walk. She made him accountable for walking with energy without her constantly nagging him with the leg (aka the opposite of what I am prone to doing). She also established a light but low contact. From there, she did transitions from walk to halt and halt up to walk. At first, Ben just wouldnt do it. Fussy into the down, and would go backwards when asked to walk from halt. A few leg corrections and suddenly he was much swingier, his halts were square with his legs underneath him. He stopped tossing his face everywhere, and settled.

Once she got 4 good ones, she proceeded with the trot and canter work, and it was beautiful. She worked on doing some small-to-large circles, transitions from walk to trot, trot to canter, walk to canter. He was totally on the aids and at attention yet relaxed and moving so beautifully. Once done with that, she went back to walk to see if she had him still. She did. So then she did some beginning lateral movements at the walk, just teaching him how to move his front end around in a turn-on- haunches.

After a long cool out on a loose rein, I took him to the washrack and hosed him down good, and also put some sore no more poultice on his legs, just as a little extra treatment.

It was amazing, and enlightening. I clearly have to get my ish together. But I feel like I am now empowered with new knowledge and I have gotten the reminder I  clearly needed.

Ben has the day off today but Friday we're back on. I do have to get him out of the arena a bit so hopefully the weather will cooperate!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Letting Myself off the Hook

So about 10 minutes after my last post I got a call from my trainer. Ben was fresh, but ended well. She says she thinks he's definitely feeling his 4 year old oats.

Bring it, kid.

Behind the Leg

Ben and I had an interesting ride last night.

It all started with a change of routine. Our normal tack up area was taken, so I opted to groom and tack up in his stall. From as long as I can remember, Ben gets a little nervous and squiggly when I do anything with him tied in his stall. I think he feels claustrophobic - it seems deeply ingrained, but definitely reminded me that I have to help him with this- because when we go to horse shows, he's not going to have the luxury of a spacious grooming bay.

Things of note- left hind shoe was missing. Great. Also, I realize we were fast approaching 8pm, and not only did I really want to go home and go to bed, our trainer was coming at 7am to ride. So in less than 12 hours, Ben was going to have to work really hard. That said, in my mind, this was going to be a quick 20 minute ride.

Uh huh.

Once I felt like I was all stretched out, I started the trot portion of our warm up. Things felt...not right. Was it the missing shoe? Lack of concentration? Bad riding? The desire to head twirl was at an all time high, and he was even a little bit grumpy again approaching that far door. I just kept keepin on, doing circles and bends and hoped he'd quit. He kind of did, but something still just didnt feel right. Our transitions both up and down sucked, bending sucked, moving sucked - everything felt so difficult. He wanted to either curl on the bridle or twirl his head - basically anything but keep a steady contact.

At this point, I just said to myself, eff it. I'm not sure what possessed me, but I decided to try cantering. First to the right. Our first transition blew. Our second one was better.  But there was still something not right. I just kept trying. I looked up, booted him into it, and got an even better canter. The quality of canter was getting with the better transitions. Finally I got something decent. Switched directions, and tried again, from a walk. We got a fantastic one. We did it again, and got it.

I then brought him back to do trot work, and it was SOOO much better. All of his head twisting, poor transitions, were gone. I could sit up and post easily. Everything felt right. I then realized what I had been "go" button. He was behind the leg, behind my aids. Something I did in the canter work fixed it.

With that I ended our session, and he had a long cool out walk. I brought him to the wash rack, cold hosed his legs, and put him up for the night. As I type this he's probably working his butt off, but will have the next 36 hours to rest up before our lesson.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Back in the Saddle x2

With his eye all healed up, yesterday marked Ben's return to work.

He was so relaxed for grooming and tacking. Normally he's a bit on edge when there are loud noises happening behind him, but not on Sunday! The tractor was grooming the arena  and Ben didn't care at all.

Once on his back, he was also quiet as a mouse. He did want to act naughty 1 time by the far gate, but it wasn't anything huge. He has this habit, and has always had this habit, or twirling his head. He does it in the pasture, in his stall, while longeing, and also under saddle. It always starts with him tugging on the left rein. It takes a lot of concentration from me to not tug back, but to just resist, and depending on what we're doing- ask for bend or to put him on my outside rein more. And as a creature of habit, he loves to do this when approaching the far gate. I have to be on my game, and am perfectly capable of preventing it, but sometimes, when my mind goes off into la-la land trying to concentrate on my position, he gets his twirl on.

This is what happened on Sunday while we were warming up. I was busy trying to focus on feeling how open my hips and shoulders were, and just holding the rein in my fist. I started to feel the tug on that left rein indicating his desire to twirl, and in reaction i closed my first and booted him with my left leg.

Thats when he gave me young-horse sass and a half hearted jump in the air. Once he came back down I put him on a bend, did a few circles and then worked on transitions.

It wasn't anything ground breaking, but i did realize that i can prevent the whole thing from happening if i just give him something to do. He does it when I don't plan every stride.

But otherwise we had some really great walk/trot transitions both up and down, in both directions. I even cantered him!

During this whole time my friend was riding her very green mare along with us. She has asked me to ride her horse, and this seemed as good a time as any. It was so fun to ride a different horse, a much smoother horse, even though she's very green. I can say that in the short time that I've focused on strengthening my core, my seat has improved dramatically. Ben makes it feel like I've barely moved the needle, but on an easy moving horse- the change in my riding is very apparent. Ben is making me be a better rider!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Last 3 days

Not much is going on in Ben's world this week. His eye is healing nicely. Thursday and Friday he got longed, and today was his first day back out in turnout.

Given this little intermission, I was able to go watch a real show down at Donida. It was so inspiring yet so depressing. While on the one hand I wanted to rush to the barn and ride, I also realize how far we have to go before we will look respectable in public.

Tomorrow we're back at it, and boy do we have some work to do.

Oh yea and I guess I should turn in my entry for the June 30th schooling show...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Recovery Day 1 - Groundwork

Ben is on stall rest for 4 days while his eye is being treated. That means that I have to get my butt out there and get the dude some hand walking time.

Last night I did just that. The weather was so junky- we started off walking the barn's wrap around driveway, and I had interested in walking him on the track - alas, the weather was just too gross to bear. It was that spitty heavy drizzle that makes it hard to even keep your eyes open.

So after 15 minutes of that, we went back into the arena.

In order to keep things interesting, I did more in-hand type work - walk/halts, backing up, and then moving parts of his body over laterally. We then worked on trotting in hand - which was kind of funny, but also enlightening.

Ben has a long stride and really can't adjust to a slow trot. I've felt this under saddle, and have felt like my half - halts were going unnoticed, so I assumed I was doing them wrong.  My trotting in hand definitely revealed that #1 Ben doesnt know how to trot slowly (either by physical limitation) on his own, and #2 he's not tuned in to me, at all, even on the ground.

So we worked on it. I lengthened my stride to meet him half way. He'd definitely respond to the pressure on the lead rope- he'd be a jumble of pace-to-trot-to quit. Hmmm. The more I worked on it, the better he got - and by the end, he could trot with me. We went around the arena and did 20 m circles, and on both sides. I was huffing and puffing, but it was good exercise.

We also worked on standing still. Funny things I noticed- when asked to do nothing, Ben's mind wanders. He gets mouthy, wants to explore his environment, and then realizes how itchy he is. He simply could not stand still without wanting to scratch himself, or nose something. So we worked on actively standing still - at attention. It was hard for him, but a good exercise.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


So yesterday I was waffling as to whether or not to ride Ben after our weekend extravaganza. On the one hand I wanted to give him a day off before the trainer's ride and my lesson - because Sunday did go a bit longer than I had expected (thanks to his behavior). I was feeling a bit guilty about it, and really looking forward didn't want to be souring my young horse, who is only 4, after all. But then, the more I thought about it, well,  he has 22 hours in a day to do as he pleases. And really, if he did work hard (and he wasn't even all that sweaty), he could use a long walk light trot to loosen up those muscles.

Plus I really wanted to try to canter a bit, just to be able to tell my trainer I did it, just like she told me to (although I am pretty sure she meant canter during every ride...but oh well).

I had the plan all figured out. I'd get out to the barn, take him for a long walk, do some real quick trot work, and then focus on canter - get it a few circles on both reins, and then let it be - maybe go back out for a long walk on the track.

Perfect plan, right?

When I got to the barn I pulled him out of his stall, and saw his eye was swollen shut, and everything around it wet with tears. Crapola. I've seen this movie before- in fact, I'm pretty sure all of my horses have hurt their eye at one time or another.

Some people wonder if this type of this constitutes an emergency vet call.  I say it does- especially if you have a young horse in work. Yes, he might've just bonked his head, gotten a piece of dirt in there. But he could've also had a piece of something in there, or he could've done serious damage to the eye- only to make it worse. If left untreated, that can scar up and cause sight problems. So, the call was made.

Vet came out, sedated him, inspected his eye, could not find any debris. He then did the contrast dye stuff that turns the eye a bright green - which will also show any scratches caused to the eye - the green dye sticks right to it. Low and behold, Ben did have a corneal ulcer- aka a scratched eye.

He's on pain/antinflammatories for the next 5 days, he's got some eye medicine, is sportin a fly mask, and my checkbook is a little lighter.

Work resumes on Friday/ Saturday, and in the meantime we're going to bond while hand-walking.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Not Your Average Ride

Wow, today was a doozy. I went to the barn expecting to get a short ride in before the usual Sunday lessons start. What ended up happening was nothing short of exhausting.

To start off, a gal I ride with on occasion was there and asked if I wanted to go out on the track. Of course I do! We also decided it would be a fine day to set up some trotting poles- you know, get the children nice and tired and then our walk around the track will be a breeze.

Its the thought that counts, right?

So, I fetched Ben from his pasture (thank you for being so good to catch, buddy!), tacked him up, and proceeded to do my long stirrup warm up. My friend was already well into schooling, so she was basically just waiting for us. I will say that this was my best day yet with the longer stirrups - I didn't feel as though my hips were going to split open at any moment.

I shortened my stirrups, popped through the poles a few times, and then off we went into the wild.

Things did not go nearly as smoothly or quietly as they did before. For one, all the horses were turned out, and their paddocks flank the track. Additionally, I decided, probably stupidly, to try going in the opposite direction from what we did on Wednesday. That meant we got to walk alongside all the horse paddocks and then had to walk away from them as the track curved. Ben was pretty sure he'd rather stay by the paddocks, and that everything on the curve was spooky. He got a little "up" but also grew roots. I waited him out, and nudged him on. His buddy was equally spooky.

We had a couple more incidents just like that but on the opposite side- one big spook at lord knows what. All he did though was look, shiver, and halt. Good boy.

We made it round, and my friend had had enough excitement- her pony was a little spookier than my guy -so we headed back to the barn. Ben, already habit forming, thought we were done when we got back on the grounds. I decided to change the plan and walk around the barn back to the indoor arena, and walk him in there a bit, just so he'd not expect the track walk routine.

Once in there another friend of mine was just getting on her very green horse, while she was doing her ground work, I gave Ben a break while we watched another horse longe. When that horse was done, my friend got on her mare. She has been having problems making her go forward consistently- the mare will balk a little. So instead of setting her up for that, I had her follow me around the arena at a walk and trot, which turned out to be a great excercise for the mare.

Ben wasn't exactly thrilled with my idea. As it turns out, he decided that far gate through which we exit to ride out to the track was calling his name. He definitely got stickier and a little sour himself. So we rode through it - he even kicked out at my leg a couple of times! That just made me a little irritated than I normally get, so I made him go over the poles again too, which we hadn't made much use of prior to anyway.

In a way I think I probably brought this on with doing too much in one day - but it was also good to see what happens to his ethic when he's tired or thinks he's done. I don't want to make a habit of riding a young horse too much, but I also don't want him to think he goes for a set period of time and can be a jerk if we ride over that limit.

In the end he worked out of it- once I had him soft, changing directions at a trot, doing 20 m circles (all with our friend following us), I called it good.

So - once again no cantering today. Tomorrow, cantering will come tomorrow...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Bumper Bowlin- err, Dressage

I set out today to resolve an issue I've been having. While we can do a 20 m circle, a 10 m circle, getting our collective self down the centerline in our arena is ridiculously tough. IF we can actually make a turn, we end up somewhere between center and the far quarterline. Not good.

So I had the brilliant idea to set up a  wide run way, well, at least 2 poles length, to attempt a visual for me to see if I could at least aim us closer to the center.

At the walk- no problem, we hit that sucker dead on. At the trot, everything is faster, more strung out, my timing sucks, and well, we're lucky if we make it. But we did. And one time we had quite a nice line. I plan to do this excercise tomorrow.

We also worked on transitions. Our upward transitions were nicer.

I also rode the entire time with my stirrups on 7 and 6. I felt like my pelvis was going to crack open at any moment, but it got better towards the end of the ride.

No canter, no outside ride...tomorrow is another day.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Catssage, USDF's Etrak, and a Thousand Other Ways in Which to Psyche Myself Out

Have I mentioned yet that I'm planning on taking Ben to his very first dressage show on June 30th? As it turns out, my barn manager has offered to haul 8 horses down (thats 2 round trip trips for her) to a local saddle club. I've been to this place a handful of times, and the shows are always quiet and perfect for first time outings.

Nevertheless, I have found ways in which to psyche myself out. In consultation with the trainer, I am (right now) going to ride Training 1 & 2. Of course that means I've found a reason to completely obsess over memorizing both tests, and have gone so far as to lay out a dressage court in my living room.

In addition to walking the tests over, and over (and over and over and over), I've also begun watching an endless number of Training 1 & 2 videos on youtube. Watching other beautiful, or not so beautiful tests prompted a few questions - of which I started researching on USDF and USEF. Then, it happened. I somehow stumbled upon USDF's new site, E-trak. Chock full of free materials on how to make correct geometry, 50 ways to get eliminated in your test, and most importantly, judged rides WITH commentary.

 Listening to a judge commentate a ride was probably not the right thing for me to hear. Suddenly, I started comparing my own riding skills (or lack thereof) to those riders in the video, and somehow have deduced that I completely suck. All I can picture is the judge shaking her head and saying "well here is one that should've stayed back in Intro." Okay, Little Voice In my Head- you win. I'm not worthy of Training Level. I won't let you down, we'll do it your way - Intro power!

It has taken approximately, oh, all day, for my friend and riding partner to convince me otherwise.  She made very valid points - the main one being  that our trainer, also a judge, would likely have told me to enter into Intro if she believed that I belonged there. Hmm, pesky details.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Ladder of Progress

Knocked me off its rungs last night.

Gah, I hate when that happens, and it always does, just when you are cocky enough to think it can't ever happen again.

Last night was lesson night. I was so happy with Ben's progress over the last few days, I just couldn't wait to show my trainer our work. Yes, dear trainer, I'm not just a slug in the saddle, I am teachable. I can learn. I can make things go better.

Hmm, well, to say the lesson was a disaster would be an overstatement. The truth is, it was still a good ride, but it just wasn't AS good as I had had on Sunday and Monday. So I was a little bummed about that, but then again, as my barn mate told me, Its better to have crappy rides while under the keen eye of a trainer, because you can then fix things on the spot. This is true, though, had I ridden better, I doubt those things would've been around at all.

Looking back, my head just wasn't in the game. I was more focused on wondering why things werent going as well as they had days prior, instead of buckling down and riding the horse I had in front of me. And the reality is, when your head is in the clouds you miss time, misjudge, and miss opportunity.

The good parts: better walk, better trot transitions, better circles.
The bad parts: shitty canter departs, shitty canter downward transitions, and loss of connection, shitty half halts.

The good news is that we still got done what was needed, and I can say that all of our faults were entirely my fault, which means, if I can somehow get myself together, we can actually have good rides.

I was also reminded that I need to be schooling him over poles, and that I cannot ignore the canter...because in fact, not working on something makes it worse, as evidenced by my lesson. Grrr, fine.

After the lesson we did have a milestone achievement: we cooled out on the race track. Ben had only been out there a couple of times which was about a year ago. I've been wanting (and my trainer has been hounding me) to get him out there, in the bigger space, and start working him. That's all well and good - but I didn't want to take him out the first time alone. So as it turned out, it stopped raining, and I was able to take him out there with a barn mate who also wanted to get her horse out.

Ben was a complete and utter slug. He clearly feels as if he has nowhere to be, and you may as well slow down and enjoy the scenery. If he knew he was on a racetrack he computed that to showing his rider that he had no desire for speed. I actually loved it- he was a solid citizen out there, he had a super small skin-shiver type spook at some barking dogs next door, and that was it. Good boy!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Closer to Center

Oh my Goodness, I am a blogging machine. I have this desire to get everything I am thinking, feeling, witnessing, written down so I can go back to it later on when shit falls apart again. With horses, this moment is inevitable - just a matter of when.

But for now, I bask in the glory of having a wonderfully sweet, comfortable, soft, standardbred gelding. Yes, I said comfortable.

My eyes are all big and dewy. Its love, plain and simple.

Last night was a short, but great ride. I love that I can get to the barn, fetch my trusty (yes, very trusty) steed, groom, tack up and be on his back in no time at all. I guess I am used to having green horses who can't be caught, stand for grooming or tacking, must have groundwork before getting on - etc- the whole process is time consuming, and the actual ride is quite short. I like this version much, much better.

I started out doing my long-hole #7 walk warm up, and even that is getting better. I focused on letting go of all my tight muscles, while asking Ben to stretch down into loose contact, no more giraffe's at the barn. I think that rule has gone a long way in fixing some things about him too. I'm not forcing him to do anything, but I just done want him sticking his head up and twirling his head around like he loves to do. He can have all the rein he wants, he just has to be at level or stretching down.

Shortened back up to hole #5 and began our trot work - the softest warm up we've had to date. It was lovely really. We were sharing the arena with one other rider, so I was forced to do more circling. I realized that I don't mix it up nearly as much. No thinking part of my brain is turned on when I'm riding, unless it has to be - like when I am sharing the arena. I tend to get into a paralyzed numb state during which all I can compute are simple concepts like manipulating a body part - not to say the proper execution of moving that body part happens in a timely or correct manner.

But ah yes, with my brain tuned in a bit more, my body feeling loose, Ben feeling quite comfortable, we rode around. I worked on our transitions both up and down - using the television concept my trainer imparted on me last week. You know what, that shit works. Every time I think about "changing the channel" our transitions get better.

Another revelation I had while sharing the arena- I could carry on a conversation while trotting. THAT, my friends, is new for me on this horse. Not only do I have enough control of my horse to produce recognizable speech vs caveman-esque grunts and noises, I have enough wind to do so. How awesome is that?!

After our playing with transitions we attempted getting down the centerline again. Still not quite there, but closer, by a few feet. We can also halt squarely and trot off.

At this point, the hay truck came down our driveway with a few ton of lovely alfalfa - covered in scary blue tarps. Normally this is not a big deal as our hay barn is quite a ways from the arena...but this particular hay was getting stored close to the arena. While we were waiting for them to back in and position themselves, my friend and I rode around the arena in pairs at walk and trot, and made plans to do a Pas de Deux. Ben thought working in pairs was the most fun ever, as long as he had the outside track. The inside track is just too small for him in our arena.

I definitely feel like something about the pair of us has changed, for the better. No doubt we have a ton of work to do. But we're getting closer...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Moving the Needle By a Few Degrees

After 6 solid says of work including 1 lesson and 1 training ride, Ben had a much deserved 2 days off during which he got new shoes and lots of turnout time both in a large paddock and pasture.

On Saturday, I drove down to a local schooling show and got to see some pro's school their greenies. That was interesting. I also got to watch some ammy rides at intro, but did not stay for training level. I got to see those pro's interact with their students, too. The whole morning was inspiring, but also left me feeling very grateful to have the trainer that I have.

Sunday rolled on in and that meant it was time to get back to work for Team BenAlly. I fussed all morning trying to piece together a better bridle for him because I was noticing that he has started to get a hard lump on his face, right where the stupid flash attachment  goes. Its never put on tight, but the flash is not built onto his bridle, and i think the extra connector piece is causing a problem. In the end I settled on his dover crown piece and padded noseband, Piper's sparkly blue Pink Equine browband, and my thinline reins. The whole thing fit much better. But now that I think about it, I may try the Jeffries crown piece since it has more padding. I dont think the matching noseband would fit him, but he might like that squishy padding behind his ears.

After I was done fussing with the bridle, I went about fussing with the saddle. I had to change the gullet plate on my Isabelle, which proved to be a challenge because the screws are older. So it was a two person job, but we got it done.

Okay, finally fetched the horse from his paddock - he was covered from head to hoof in dried mud. Tons of grooming later, my arms burning, we finally headed to the arena.

After a long warm up on hole #7 (stirrups) - during which I made sure to keep him at an active, but loose rein walk with his head stretching down and not giraffing about. He loves to do the giraffe impersonation - but he gets very choppy and trips, and ultimately much sulkier about contact. So new game plan is to never allow him to do it.

Once I felt like my left side stretched about as far as it could, I put my stirrups back on hole #5, got an active walk on contact, and then started doing trot work. I was focusing mostly on activating my hips, which hurts like hell to start, but also looking up, and not down at my horse.

Everything is getting easier. It could be because his last ride was done by our trainer, so there was still some magic pro aura left on the horse. But despite that, I felt like my riding was better.

Because things were going so well, I decided to try to ride Training Level Test 1...mostly to memorize it, but also to see where our big problem areas are.

Over all, it was ugly - but no one died. My biggest issue in our small walled-in arena is getting Ben down the centerline - we were missing by about 10 feet or more. Our arena is exactly 60 feet wide, but ends rather abruptly with straight walls. This makes the arena much smaller, and hard to ride on a large boat-shaped horse.

The good news is that I do know the test, and we were able to do a lot of the movements- including the stretchy circle. But we do have a lot to work on. I am not one to ride a test over and over, but I will run through it once or twice a week just to see where we are, and to make sure my brain is functioning correctly.

During our cool down I put my stirrups back down on #7, and continued with our walk-exercise of stretching low not high. I also focused more on my position, and even worked a little bit on that loose trot - and felt really good that I could actually stay with my horse in the long stirrups.