Tuesday, July 30, 2013

As the Hoof Turns - Continuing Saga of Show Prep

My plan started out well- Wednesday, Thurs, and Friday morning last week went off without a hitch. But by Friday evening, everything turned on its head.

Ben has not been quite right - to the right. He's been awfully fussy, and just not willing to bend to the right, or travel straight. This has always been his tougher side, but workable. But over the past couple of weeks, instead of working out of it, he's getting more tense about it - stiffening, tightening, grinding his teeth. I thought maybe it was me, so when I had my trainer ride him, she also felt it and agreed that maybe he needs body work. She also suggested that I try giving him some bute, just to see if he got better or stayed the same. And if he is in pain, the anti-inflammatories might help him.

That was Friday morning. On Friday afternoon I pulled him out with the intention of going on a light walk-hack in the hunter set up.  I was currying the dust off his body and got to his rib cage on the right and in an instant he turned his head and tried to snap at me! Ben is the sweetest, most gentle animal on the planet - so obviously I was taken aback. So I started to gently palpate the area and he really was quite sore. Then I realized that the past couple of weeks, he's been turning his head to look at his side when I was brushing him- which I thought he was showing me he was itchy- which he often is and loves a good scritch. But obviously, what was a minor ouch has turned into a bigger one.

So the plan changed right then. Saturday he had off- but I also put him on some bute. Sunday he also got bute. By Sunday evening, I went out to see him and gently palpated his side- he did not react. So I did end up taking him for a light hack in the hunter tack. He still wasn't too keen to bend to the right, but I didn't press the issue- just made a mental note of it.

Yesterday my wonderful trainer was able to score me a last minute appt with her vet/chiro for this evening (Tuesday). Ben was even better yesterday, but still, not quite right- back to how he was about a week ago. His back is still stiff and he's taking really bouncy trot steps.

So I'm thinking the bute did help him, and he did get some turnout on the hill pasture yesterday which also probably helped him. However, I am very relieved to have the vet/chiro take a look, make adjustments, and tell me what he's got going on, and if he's okay to take to the show this weekend.

So a new plan is hatching. If Ben needs some time off, he'll get it. While it'll be a bummer for us to miss the biggest show of the year, his health and soundness is much more important. If that is the case, I'm toying with bringing my youngster. While I could probably get a vet's note to get a refund for Ben and not go at all, my friends are still going, and I hate to give up an opportunity to trailer one of my horses off the property. It could be a good experience for the little dude. If he behaves himself on Friday and Saturday, then maybe Sunday we'll do the Training level tests I'm already signed up for.

But here is to hoping the worst case scenario does not become reality. I'm hoping Ben gets the adjustment he needs and gets "all clear" tonight- even if we need to keep it lighter at the show this weekend. I guess we'll see...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lessons from C

Yesterday I had the opportunity to scribe for my saddle club's dressage show. It was  awesome because scribing counted for my volunteer hours for the year (check!). I learned a TON about riding dressage tests from the judge's point of view (check!). Basically, I got an 8 hour lesson in dressage.

So with that, here is what I learned:

1. My tests. I definitely know my tests now, LOL.

2. Show up on time. If you have a reader, make sure they are walking in when the last test ends as well. People do not appreciate you holding up the entire show.

3. No one takes kindly to harsh aids- jerking or kicking. You need to prepare your horse for transitions, people!

4. Death grip on the reins does not a fancy horse make.

5.  Accuracy counts for A LOT. If you have a so-so horse, you can really gain points for accuracy in your geometry and figures.

6. Correct bend accounts for A LOT.

7. Activity in all gaits counts for A LOT. Get those horses moving! A shuffling trot or ambling walk has no place in the dressage arena.

8. Read the tests. Look at where the coefficients are. Circles and Stretch at the lower level. Make sure you have good circles and stretches.

9. Read the tests. See how the movements are divided and lumped together for the score. This is something I didn't realize/ fully appreciate until I put pen to paper yesterday. You can gain points in areas you know your horse is stronger. But if you have a mistake, it doesn't mean you still can't do well in the other movements.

We saw some fancy horses, some school horses, and green horses. Experienced riders, trainers, and youth. You would think that the fancy horses stole the show, but they did not. They got the same scores- because they were getting dinged on the same directives. Almost everyone would cut corners. Or shrink their circles. Or not show stretch. Or miss the centerline. Almost every horse was slogging through the test at some point, lacking activity. These are the things, if you clean up and confirm, you can really use to pump up your score. Judges appreciate try.

And so I go into this week with renewed inspiration, and a laundry list of things to focus on.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Getting Over Myself - The Plan

Okay, enough whining from me, my vent is over. Time to buckle down and plan to make the most of the next 10 days. Okay, so here is the plan. Strapped on the big girl pants and ready to rock.

  • Wednesday 7/24= Ride
  • Thursday 7/25= Lesson
  • Friday 7/26= Trainer ride AM, PM "hunter" ride (try out the borrowed saddle)
  • Saturday 7/27= OFF
  • Sunday 7/28 = Ride - trails? Maybe...
  •  Monday 7/29= Ride
  •  Tuesday7/30= OFF
  • Wednesday 7/31= Ride or Lesson
  • Thurs 8/1= AM Training Ride? PM Ride or Lesson
  • Friday 8/2= AM Training Ride? Haul down to show, evening hack around facility
  • Saturday 8/3= Show hunters (4 w/t classes)
  • Sunday 8/4= Show Dressage T2 & T3, and a handful of flat hunt seat classes
  • Monday= OFF
  • Tuesday= OFF
  • Wednesday = Ride/lesson
  • Thursday= Ride/lesson
  • Friday= Ride
  • Saturday= W/T show
  •  Sunday= Rejoice that its over!
Okay phew, already feeling better that I have a plan. I'm also feeling better that I'm able to snag some time from my trainer. I have no idea if the training rides/lessons will happen beyond what is scheduled for this week. I'm holding out hope, though, and will adjust  our schedule as necessary to make it work.

Our ride last night, generally speaking, was better than Monday's - however, some things have gotten sloppy- mainly transitions. So we did a ton of them. The other thing that worries me is the right lead canter. It tends to ebb and flow in terms of quality, but lately we're more on an "ebb" than "flow". Everything about it sucks- the transition he throws his head, he's leaning into my leg, pushing his inside shoulder in, almost looks counter-bent, and when I try to correct it, he just wants to go faster because he's losing his balance.

Part of the issue, I think, is that he's been VERY spooky going to the right in our indoor arena. There is one scary end/corner, and he definitely changes as he approaches it. I could care less about it because his spooks are not a big deal - what is annoying though is that he loses the suppleness, and wants to go around counter-bent...just in case the monster shows its face. 

I'm relieved to have a lesson scheduled for tonight. Maybe with instruction I can crack this. And then Friday's ride in the borrowed saddle will be outside.

Last night I also pulled out some poles - made one "fence" (pole on the ground between 2 blocks), and another flat pole just on the ground.  I used them for trotting over and cantering. I will say- cantering over the pole really did help, once he got the hang of it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Overcoming Obstacles

10 Days to go before Ben and I head off to our biggest show of the year, and I couldn't be more stressed. Well, maybe I COULD be, but I'm barely keeping it together with what I've got to handle right now.

There is nothing majorly wrong in my life - I'm just experiencing the typical stress of trying to fit it all in, and do it all well, and I'm failing, miserably.  When I get like this I can see with a bit more clarity things that are preventing me from getting done what needs doing.

1. My commute sucks lately. I am clocking 3-4+ hours in the car, round trip, per day. Basically I leave at 6 am, and I'm home at 9-9:30 at night. So I give myself about 20-30 minutes before I have to go to bed  and seriously be thinking about sleep.

2. It's been warmer out, and I just don't sleep well when it is warm.

3. The barn situation has me down and out a bit. Don't get me wrong, they get great care. However, a couple of things have been serious road blocks over the last few weeks. I don't really want to delve into them publicly, but basically, the place as great as it is to board, has been a bit harder to ride at. It just isn't being treated as an active riding facility (and primarily it is not a riding facility) - so I feel like I am climbing an uphill battle. There have been times I get to the barn and I can't ride for one reason or another. Some time it has been due to things that are clear safety and health issues, and other times it has been just some event (parties, farrier) in the way. My biggest frustration is that I'm already cramped for time, and the limited time I DO have to get things done up there, has been getting squeezed by things outside of my control.

4. One thing I will talk about is the lack of pasture turn out. It's not anyone's doing- just the fact of moving to a new place, but the timing couldn't be worse. My barn manager is trying to fix up the pastures, fencing, etc. Which means right now the horses cannot go out there. They have stalls w/ paddocks and also get time in the arenas/sand lots, but gone are the days that they are exercising themselves on the big hill. The big hillside, during the short month Ben was on it, was working wonders for him. It was that extra bit of conditioning he needed.And of course, right at the heart of show season, when I need him to be in tip-top shape, it gets taken away. Right at the time when I could use a little help in keeping him conditioned. Just bad timing. I completely understand the need to fix the pastures, and I appreciate the effort to do so. I just wish it didn't coincide when I needed it the most.

5. Trainer time-out. Of course, the other thing to have happened in July was taking a training break. All this time both of my horses have been in partial training...2 training rides plus 1 lesson a week. This has been great for me, especially on the days my schedule goes haywire. But show season is upon us, and my trainer was very upfront with her limited ability to drive down to ride. Again, totally natural...but totally a bummer.

6. Saddle fit. Saddles, oh saddles, how I both love and hate you. Fitter cannot come out to fix my custom saddle until later August, nor adjust the flocking in the Isabell- there is a tight spot that she can alleviate for Ben. Obviously there is no time to break it in and use it for my last 2 shows of the year. I hate it that I'm riding Ben in something that isnt quite right. And yet, I haven't found that magic bullet. I keep picking up used saddles as they come in from the local shops, and I feel as though I am getting closer..but we're not quite there yet.

7. Regular summer, non-horsey things that just get in the way and make life even more of a challenge. Happy hours, picnics, bbq's, dinners, etc. The list is a mile long, and I say "No" to most of it. But it makes me feel horrible inside. At some point I should actually pay attention to people outside my little equestrian world.

8. Horse #2. I've mentioned him here before. He's a young half-Arab, who was just started under saddle in February. He's flightly, very much a drama queen. He's terrified of our new indoor arena, and wash rack. Working with him is a major time-suck. And yet, I have to fit him in. Sure, I could let him be until next year...and then what? Next year I am kicking myself...why didn't I desensitize him before I needed to really focus on his under-saddle work? Why didn't I just put in the time he needs to gain his confidence? Ugh.

Normally I'd be cool about this stuff. Normally I am a very patient person, and just let things happen as they come, and deal with them accordingly. But not right now, not when I have a deadline to meet, and not when I am going to be publicly shamed. The biggest stressor is that in 11 days I am riding my first 2 dressage tests of the year in front of an S judge for the first time. I'm feeling VERY unprepared, and getting moreso by the day.

Why is this so stressful? My horse is young. 5, in fact. I was confident, given how well he had been doing, that we could put in a couple of decent dressage tests. But that is with all the conditioning and prepatory work to make it happen. He's *just* getting it, with a lot of outside help. And if he doesn't? Normally, I'd chalk it up to him being young, not being prepared. Which is all very true. My young horse needs to be prepared. But that is not what people will see. They have no idea what has happened over the last few weeks. What they will see is the bright white brand on his neck, shake their heads and whisper "ohh, its because he's a Standardbred."

NO NO NO. It is NOT because he is a Standardbred!

The negative person in me sees everything falling apart, and everything we've worked towards slipping away, right when it is most important that we be on our game. The fighter in me says "to heck with all this complaining, just work harder!" But I just can't find the time to actually work harder. The whiner in me says I may as well just forget doing all that I wanted to do at my 2 day show- I should just forget about the dressage test and focus on doing walk/trot open classes. I should just do what is easier, but it is likely now that he won't be conditioned enough to do much more than that anyway.

But I have to take all of that and just meet it head on. I still have 10 days. I've got to make the most of this 10 days. But I have some real obstacles coming up over the next week and a half, and I'm not entirely sure how to overcome them. I wish I could just explain to my non-horsey husband and work people all the work involved to make this show weekend happen. Its like signing up to run a marathon and not training the 10 days prior. So no, I can't stay late and I can't do happy hour. And I can't do dinner, either. Careers and relationships be damned. And the net result is that I'm sucking at everything, rather than being mostly good at most things.

Is it all really worth it? For what? To chase a few ribbons? To prove there was improvement? Do I need to do this to prove to myself that we're somewhat worthy? To prove that my horse is worthy of his legs, and worthy of being called a horse, and not some abomination of a breed called the Standardbed?

Why do I look back on these moments of pure stress and think "Wow that was fun, let's do it again!"

Monday, July 15, 2013

2nd Show in the Books

Walk Trot Reserve Champions!
Another great weekend of showing! Each one of us in our group got either High Point or Reserve High Point in a division - go us! LOL

Ben was great- he's such a steady guy this year. Well, except in Showmanship, during which I was wanting to strangle him. He was fine for the warm up - the practicing went really well too. The pattern was easy. But of course he turned into a complete Fidget. Chomp chomp chomp on the bit, swinging his hind quarters both during his inspection and also in line. So so naughty - and he totally knows better.

But he quickly redeemed himself undersaddle, winning a blue in our first Eq class - never thought I'd win a 1st place in an equitation class on this horse, LOL. But then our second Eq class I completely blew - I own it, and I laugh about it. I'm not sure where I was exactly, but it wasn't at the horse show, and definitely was not paying attention. We were asked to halt - which we did. Then change direction- which we did a great turn on the haunch....and instead of staying halted, I just walked on like I was doing the right thing. Haha, and then I realize what a do-do head I was, and halted...right when they asked for the riders to walk on. Fabulous. So out of 7 I got 4th. Next time I'll be awake and pay attention.

Then our next class I performed my second dumb move of the day and screwed up our advanced Eq pattern, haha - for no apparent reason other than me being really out of it. Apparently I needed more caffeine or something.

But from there on out- we nailed our WT pleasure classes with 2 first places, out of 8 riders in the open class!

And unlike the last show where we ran out of energy, I felt like we had enough to continue on with the next 2: Advanced W/T Pleasure and WTC for WT Open. Ben had enough juice, sorta, to do the classes, but didn't really have enough energy to do the tasks requested of him- like extended and collected trot. He put his all out there for extended trot, but then couldn't bring it back, which has always been his trouble spot. But I was proud of him for getting to where we could actually make it into the class! We pulled a 3rd out of 3.  And then our final class we did place 1st out of 2. His canter was crappy, lacking in just about everything - but his transitions were good and the other gal picked up the wrong lead. He was pretty pooped by then, but again, glad we were able to do it rather than scratch.

I did end up scratching the Trails class- which we were supposed to do after our morning of English classes. Ben was legitimately tired, and I just didn't want to set us up to have an argument should he decide something in the trails course was scary. So i decided to end on a good note and appreciate all I got out of him.

It wasn't enough for High Point this time around, but we still managed to get Reserve Champion. And we continue to get a ton of compliments - this time a sea of little girls came up to us and asked me what breed he was. So I got to talk to them about Standardbreds - and they all said "He's soooooo beautiful, I would love to have him!" In a sea of paint/qh/mustang/arabs, Ben sure stands out. I think he really likes the attention- I can feel him turn it on and up in the show ring. Maybe I have a budding Show Diva on my hands!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Getting Back To It

Sorry for the absence - was out of the country for a week on a beautiful, relaxing vacation. Ben did not get a full vacation himself - trainer rode a couple of times as did his other rider.

Upon getting home, I decided to give my new saddle another assessment. As it turns out- I believe the problem is that it is too wide. So while it starts in the right place, upward it creeps until its resting on top of his shoulders. I am not hopeful creative padding with help with this- but I am going to try while I wait for my appt with my local saddle fitter. There is definitely room for more flocking, so hopefully she can tweak it to make it useable! But for now, it is sidelined until further notice, and we're back to the good old Isabell.

On Saturday we're going to our second show. Hoping the temps stay cooler and do not climb high. So far The Weather Channel is calling for Sun and 73...which would be perfect!

Ben all in all is doing great. We're currently schooling the usual - adding in simple changes, and overall trying to develop a more balanced, quality canter for longer periods of time. The things helping the most with this are leg yields-to-canter and the simple changes. Now that we have a much longer arena, we're also doing a lot of serpentine & change of bend exercises. And as always: transitions! His trot-to-canter transition is doing much better - and the aid for it is becoming much less invisible- balance him on the aids and move the hip- voila- canter! Not 100% of the time but we're definitely getting better.

This week I am going to introduce canter poles as an exercise, as well as going back to some trot poles. I'll be honest, they are a pain to set up and take down, so as a whole our group has been awfully lazy about setting these up! But I do think they will be helpful and so I'm going to kick my own butt to get it done.