Friday, July 27, 2012

Lost Shoe, Show Plans - 8 days To Go

This week got  off to a great start - Ben had Monday off, and Tuesday the trainer rode him and told me he had a great ride - which is awesome because that means at the very least I didn't ruin everything with my weekend of fun riding adventures.

On Wednesday, I was chatting with an old friend and we decided to plan to go to a local show that benefits a rescue group, Save a Forgotten Equine. This show is great because it offers English/Western, Dressage, Hunters/Jumpers, and Trail classes - and is very green horse friendly. So if you want to get your feet wet in a new discipline, the SAFE Show is the place to go. Also, its a 2 day show at a very popular horse venue- so it is also a great introduction for green horses to experience Donida  - a place they will likely be showing quite often in their careers.

And so, after we solidified our plans, I dutifully went online to register, pay my fees, and head out to the barn to see Ben. Turns out Ben had a busy day too - he and his buddy Finn decided to take a tour, or several, of their pasture, and completed the day by somehow each losing their left front shoes.


Ben loses out on a training day on Thursday too, farrier can't come out till Monday evening.

Which is great because I had the bright idea of signing us up for not only our Training Level tests (Saturday), but also the walk/trot division in the Hunters - complete with a ground poles course.

Have we ever practiced ground poles? Yes- but in a dressage-y kind of way - never between standards in a hunter-style course.

So today, while booted up, I set out our ground poles and stacked my cavelletti cubes as standards and we walked through them, together. Ben had no issue facing them head on - but it was when he saw the standards behind him that he had a mild reaction.

Next week we have to practice more than once.

Despite the stress of his lost shoe and not being able to ride this weekend, I am still excited for the show. I think he'll be a bit of a turkey - but better to be a turkey now than at a bigger show down the road.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Weekend of Fun Saddle Fitting

This weekend flew by so quickly. This weekend I decided to see if I could play with a couple of adjustable saddles on Ben, since I am having a bit of a hard time with my Isabell, and leaves dry spots on Ben's shoulders, no matter what gullet (wider or narrower) I use. A friend of mine has a Kent and Masters S series, and I have an original K & M - and between us we have gullets ranging from medium, medium/wide, & wide. I should be able to find a good combination, right? Well...

On Friday, Ben and I had a pretty decent arena workout -  I played with the S series model. It fit me much better than the Isabell - especially in the thigh, but didn't fit him great despite being adjustable. I got him all sorts of sweaty to see the pattern on his back. Definitely had dry spots - and they looked like bridging dry spots due to placement. And the saddle definitely had a noticeable bridge when i narrowed the gullet, but when i widened it the bridging appeared to go away - and still didnt have even contact on his back. Boo. May try one more gullet size just to have peace of mind- but I'm pretty sure this one is just the wrong shape overall.

Saturday - played more with saddles- this time revisiting my original Kent and Masters.  This one seemed to fit better except for that the pommel sits too high, despite the saddle looking wide enough in the wide gullet bar. I felt rocked backward in it. Going to also play with wider gullets to see if any of this is alleviated, but looking doubtful, which sucks! I was so hoping either my KM or my friend's KM would work! There is still hope- with the right gullet and perhaps a flocking adjustment... or maybe I'll just give up.

Sunday - Back to the Isabell. Ben noticeably happier. Grmbl. If only this thing fit me better, and if only it didnt leave dry spots on him. I did stumble upon a good little exercise for me - while at the walk, I pulled both legs away from the horse and held that for a few seconds, then let them back down. I did that a few times, and then at the trot, instead of trying to put my legs on the horse, I tried doing the same exercise, even while posting. It must've been a good stretch because riding in that saddle felt better, though still not ideal.

Sunday was also special because we got to do poles, rode in the arena with 2 others (the arena is small and so it simulates a warm up arena), and then we all went out on the track and did walk/trot sets out there, which was fun. All in all, a great day.

So - back to my saddle dilemma. Next steps: play a bit more with gullets on the KM to rule them out (or be happily surprised), possibly try a new generation Isabell, and the Albion lady is coming out on Sunday. LOVE Albions, always have- they just fit me like a perfect pair of shoes - not sure if there will be one for us, and if there is, lord help me because they are expensive.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Another Good Lesson & Progress- with Video!

Ben and I had another good, fun lesson last night! A couple of friends took some short videos, and I am ever so grateful that they did. Watching videos of my riding is always interesting - on the one hand I am relieved because everything looks WAAAAY better than it feels. On the other hand its super embarrassing because we have so much to work on - mainly me. My left leg has a mind of its own. I have got to figure out a way to stretch and lengthen that sucker. It is so dang snatchy, and I cause the same set of problems on every horse I ride, Ben being no exception. I also sit much heavier on that side- goodness its amazing the horse can actually move somewhat decently.

I also can see in this video that I need to push him more with snappier aids, and then leave him alone. I get into this awful habit of not wanting to be "mean" and so I try to use these light, piddly requests. This is because I feel guilty asking him for more because I think I am doing it wrong, so therefore I should be nicer by asking with lighter aids. When I write it out, I know it makes no sense at all- but in the saddle the feeling is overwhelming!

After our normal warm up and trot work - Ben and I got to play with a fun little exercise: turn on the haunches and then step into canter. This was a new one for me, so I was trying to figure out the sequence timing of my aids, so its a little bobbly- but boy was it fun!

Here are a couple of videos. Progress has been made!


And then the fun  turn and canter exercise:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mixed Feeling Ride

Got back on Ben after his having Friday and Saturday off. I spent his days off at the Region V Arab Sport Horse show helping my friend/barn mate who was showing in dressage. I met some really wonderful, supportive gals - it was a lot of fun to be back at a big show, without having to ride!

Our ride was one of mixed feelings, for me. First of all, Ben has decided to be a little bit turdy when it comes to standing for the mounting block- mostly wanting to walk right off when you are mid-mount. He has been good for so long, this is a new thing. So of course now I'm wondering if something is bothering him - saddle fit. I know my Isabell isnt a great fit for him, but I'm not in a position exactly to splurge on something new. I need to re-evaluate the gullet and padding and see if there is anything I can do.

Once I survived mounting, we worked on me stretching my legs on hole #7, and getting a good, forward walk - all the time- without me nagging.

This was going pretty good - and then I tried trotting, and I just couldn't get my act together. Everything felt wonky. Ben felt lazy, I felt jostled, and I couldn't fix it. I felt like he was either heavy in the connection, or curled behind it, and no amount of leg was fixing anything.


At one point he just wanted to canter - and I thought about bringing him down - and then decided in a split second to let it go- let him canter. he needs the practice anyway, our trot work was crap,  lets do what he feels is better. So we cantered a fair bit. It was relaxed, enjoyable, mostly entirely 3-beat.

So we did that a bit- and I lightened my attitude a bit - because he really is trying, and he's so proud to do his walk-canter transitions.  We even went to the left, which is my scary and his nervous way.

I did eventually go back to trot work, and I succumbed to shortening my stirrups up by a hole. That made things better, a bit, but not really by way of connection. I just focused on my own equitation, trying to figure out why i move my lower leg so dang much.

So that's it in a nut shell. It wasn't a great ride- but no one fell off, no one was naughty, and we did smile and enjoy at least some of the ride together.

One more ride today, then trainer puts in a ride Tuesday, and my lesson is on Wednesday. Fun times!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Best Lesson Yet!

Yesterday was so warm, which meant the arena was going to be Pacific Northwest Standards of it was 80 degrees.

Ben was in good spirits having played with his friend Finn all day. Our ride started out pretty normal, or perhaps slightly better than normal. We worked really hard on bending left which is so hard- and a counter bend to the left when going right.

Then my trainer had this bright idea of us using poles. Hmm okay, I'll trot over some poles.

Silly, silly me. She didn't mean just trot over poles. Of course she didn't, that would've been too easy.

She meant trot over poles, pick up the canter for 1/2 the arena, back down to trot, go over poles, pick up the canter....rinse and repeat. Which sounds pretty simple...except for the fact in order to do this exercise with any kind of dignity you had better have your half halts, transitions, and everything else in order - or else you will miss it. Forces you to ride each movement. Damn.

Turns out it was a fabulous exercise for me because I couldn't dwell on what was going well or not so welll, because if I stopped riding and started dwelling, I'd miss my next move.

This exercise was particularly good for Ben because it gets him to soften his back, lift his knees, and be a nice horse to ride. His canter improved by 1,000%

Our left canters were a bit shakey- I dont know why I didn't expect this, but I had a bit of anxiety asking for the left lead canter- perhaps because the last time I did that I became an arena dart.

At the end we were playing with our walk-canter transitions, and really, having me figure out the timing. Our transitions to the right were so much better- but everything is better to the right.

To the left, we got it, but my nerves= mistiming = Ben's already crappy direction gets worse.

A friend caught some of it on video. Nevermind those gals talking smack about my beautiful standardbred ;) They are all actually good friends and love poking fun at my decision to adopt this big lug. Any we all know they are just jealous ;) haha

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Beautiful Evening to Go Back to Work

Yesterday I finally got back on Ben. It was hot, the arena was so dang muggy, and I didn't want to do much. He was definitely more nervous than usual - could be because this was his first ride after 4 glorious days off and/or our last ride was obviously less than stellar.

I had made plans with a fellow boarder to go on a hack outside, so while we waited for them, I warmed him up - he felt clunky, kinda snarky, evasive, head twirly...hmm note all the negative terms I'm using here. So I decided to school  him on basic things like stepping up into the contact at the walk, walk/trot transitions. I once I did that then things got better. But it wasn't exactly the best ride of our lives.

Once our friends were ready, we set off for a long hack on the track. Oh it was so  beautiful out there- the sun was setting, there was a nice cool breeze.  On our way to the track we had to pass the BBQ grill that was set out there clearly for a picnic dinner. it was on, and oh my, it was absolutely terrifying. We had about 15 feet berth. At first Ben just wasn't going to go past the shiny but smelly hot burning thing. So we just sat there, let him take it in. And then I started urging him to walk forward. That was just the ticket. Soon he walked by without any issue, and then we had to wait for his friend to do the same thing.

Once on the track we just walked and walked, chatting and taking in the beautiful evening. Ben was great out there- he was definitely a good support horse for his friend, who had never been out there.  He was a bit clumsy - he loves to look around and put his head up, sniff the air, and take these idiotly small choppy steps at walk - and ultimately trips over the ground. At one point I had to put him to work a bit at a trot just to get him out of that crappy walk.

I think it was a good ease back into work. We'll see what the trainer says today, and how my lesson goes tomorrow.

Monday, July 9, 2012

All Good Things Come to an End

Riders, you know the feeling. You have an awesome ride- whether it be in a lesson, at a show, or even on the trail. The euphoric feeling of having conquered this thing called horse back riding- you freaking did it. Ain't nothin gonna get you down now...

Oh wait, yes there is....

This was me, with Ben. After his show he had all of Sunday to rest, but was back to work on Monday, Tuesday, and then Wednesday to accomodate the holiday week and training schedule. Then, he had a much deserved scheduled break from Thursday- Sunday.

Monday the trainer took it easy on him- working on some finer things rather than focusing on the physically demanding work. Tuesday he had a medium workout.

By all reports, he was in fine working form and happy as a clam.

Wednesday morning I had a lesson scheduled.

Everything was going pretty routine, until we started our canter work. But even then, our canter work was going fine too. Until during one canter Ben wanted to counter bend so my trainer told me to bend him back. Which I did - and the addition of my leg was not well received. Ben bucked pretty hard- but in addition to a buck he also did a little twisty number that wrenched my saddle to the right.

I hung on to his neck from K to F, trying to get my saddle back  enough to get my balance. But at some point you just know you just have to fall. Dammit.

So hit the dirt I did.

I was unharmed, just a little pissed off. Dusted myself off, got back on. Ben was visibly shaken. He was nervous, and it took a long while for him to relax. Mind you, I probably wasn't helping things because I was angry.

But nevertheless, we rode it out, got our transitions, our bends, and ended on a good note.

My neck was pretty sore that day - spent the day icing, taking ibuprophen, but also enjoying the 4th. The next day was even worse, but manageable. I didn't really move much. 

I'm doing fine now, most of the pain is gone. Though last night I tried to do my crunches and that was just too much. So we're still off of those for now. I've been able to do lots of walking and even got in a run. Riding resumes today- Ben and I are going for a little hack.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Show Day Part 3: The Tests

And so, with a quiet, tired horse, a quick warm up under our belt, it was time to conquer Training Level Test 1.

Enter the arena  for our quick tour around the dressage court, say hi to the judges, wait for our bell, and off we go, entering at A.  All of that went on without a hitch - turns out our 5 mile walking tour of the grounds paid off- Ben wasn't scared of anything.

Enter at A - were we completely center? ehh, not so much. Halt, salute, trot off- lovely transition...approaching C to turn left....and Ben says "WTF is that? A BOX? With PEOPLE IN IT?" Naughty he was not, but stop and stare he did. I gave him a moment and then urged him on, and we continued our test.

Transitions in all the right spots...our circles were kinda circular, more like 25 m on one side and 15 on the other. Stretchy circle was stretchy...and then I picked up the reins and forgot to add some juice, so we started walking long before A, where we were to begin our medium walk.

There was nothing medium about our walk. I wasn't about to give him a really strong aid while on display, so amble on we went.

Everything else went alright - didn't exactly hit the mark down the centerline on the way to the finish either.

Shortly after wards I got my first test results, and the judge said something about his hind end falling out, and him needing more impulsion. She questioned his movement - which when he is tired can look lateral. So I took that to heart and bumped him up a bit for Test 2.

Much of the same problems in T1 haunted us in T2. But honestly, I didn't care. I was having a blast. Ben was being such a good boy, and that was all that mattered.

Our scores landed us in the middle of the pack. T1 we got a 6th place, and our score was 55.4% I believe. That was out of 13 horses. T2 we got a score of 54.6% which got us 4th place, out of 11 or 12. Lots of room to improve, but not a bad start. All of the scores were quite low that day, even the winning scores were low 60's for training level.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Show Day Part 2: The Warm Up

So after a long morning of controlling the beast, it was time to tack up and head to the warm up arena.

I was getting a bit nervous - after watching Ben's antics on the ground, did I really want to experience all of that in the saddle? Uhhh no, of course I didn't.

But I did.

And much to my surprise- the moment the tack went on, Ben's perspective on showing changed. He became the cool, easy going dude I know and love.

So up to the arena we went, and I climbed aboard. The first thing I noticed was how incredibly tired he felt. Must've been all that walking and wigging out for 2 hours.

I didn't do much by way of warm up - a little bit of trot, a little bit of canter, a little bit of transition work and making turns down the center line.

And then, we were ready...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Show Day Part 1

What a day yesterday! Lots of photos and video was taken - not sure when I'll get my paws on it though!

Everyone at our barn did great, and we had a wonderful time. The weather held out for the most part- and no one melted :)

The day started off on time - which is amazing. We got to the grounds by 7:20am, and were able to walk around the property plus around the arena. Ben was a bundle of nerves. As soon as he stepped off the trailer I had a 17 hh fire breathing chicken. We walked up to the arena, and he was very clearly herd bound, and scared of everything around him. But, we kept walking, stopping, taking it all in, and spooking in place. The wonderful show staff helped me desensitize him to all the common spooky noises- the loud noisy gravel, the bell at the judges booth, things clanging on the metal rails, etc. He soon settled and we were able to continue our walk to go in and out of the gates, into the warm up arena, back to the show arena, etc. He started to settle when we walked, but just didn't have it in him to stand still.

So we walked, and walked, and walked. He started to be able to stand more, but was still fidgety. A few times he did lose his cookies - mostly when strange horses came close - he'd buck in place and a couple of times popped up in front. He got scolded for those.

After awhile, though, he just stopped. He quieted down.

Then it was time to go back to the trailer to get tacked up...