Thursday, August 29, 2013

Keepin Occupied Leads to an "AHA!" moment

Ben is on summer holiday- I have committed to him some extended R&R, no strenuous training rides for at least 2-3 weeks.

However, I realized that his summer break coincided with a saddle fit appointment that I had scheduled quite awhile ago with our local Albion rep (which to summarize: the Albion that works for Ben is a killer on my hips and I just can't do it. Not even a year later). Knowing how long it takes to get these things scheduled, I decided to keep the appointment and pull Ben out for a quick ride; you know, just to make sure he A) Sound of body and B) Sound of mind.

I will admit, I did cringe a bit at the thought of riding him again. Typically, when given a couple of days off, Ben always comes back to work a bit creaky, stiff, and a wee bit grumpy. It takes a bit of work to limber up, and then he's fine.

This time, he was a bit stiff- but VERY forward. It was pretty amazing. Normally I have to remind him about the concept of being in front of my leg. So that was a nice surprise! He was also quite comfortable to ride, which was another shock. I felt as though my body was relaxed into the saddle and able to absorb the movement he offered.

So maybe the couple of weeks off was a good thing. But there is something else that has been helping me. He's chesnut, 14.3hh, and cute as a freakin button:


This little guy is a 4 yr old grade Arab (can be registered HA) owned by a friend of mine. He came back from owners who let him develop some pretty crappy herd-bound habits. I've been tasked with working with him for the next 30 days. It has been pure bliss. He's had his moments - he has tried his tricks, we've had some discussions, but boy has he been a fun little project. The best part about him is that he's smaller, and despite his cute gaits, he's very smooth to ride. He has a fantastic canter, and a very smooth trot. The result of this has been a gentle relaxation of my muscles that have been in perma-fixed mode when riding Ben. I've known this, tried to fix it, and clearly it hadn't been getting done. But it appears as though the Ying to Ben's Yang is this little guy. I am eternally grateful for it!

So what is next for Ben? I'm going to keep him in partial-work mode, the work part being trail rides and light hacks. I really want to focus on getting him over some cross rails too- so we'll do some of that. Depending on our collective mood, we'll go from there.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Final Show of the Season Success

Did I Win?
On Saturday we went to our last (planned) show of the season at our local saddle club. There were quite a few horses there, but turnout for our division was small. In 2 of the classes I was the only competitor, and in 2 there was only 1 other person. I think the largest class we were in had 6 riders. So it is kind of funny to post a picture of Ben wearing all his blue ribbons- but they were won easily just given the size of the show. It's not a picture I'm very proud of, but it is still a fun picture all the same (plus his goofball face makes me smile every time!).

We did end up scratching out of Showmanship. The pattern was very advanced, and I did not feel as though we were prepped for it. Picking up a trot from a halt would've been hard, and then there was backing around a cone. The cones themselves were placed very close together, and Ben's stride is way too long to make a decent pattern out of that at this point in time.  Because in English we do showmanship in the bridle, I didn't want to be in a position where I was yanking on Ben's mouth, all because he wasn't prepared on what to execute.  The good news is that now I have an idea of other things we can work on in hand and will be ready next year should we find ourselves in the show pen again!

In the end we did win High Point for our division, and I think we may have even accumulated enough points to earn a year-end award. It is quite an accomplishment - each show we've been to this year we've either won High Point, or Reserve High Point, or in 1 case, both. I'm very, very proud of our track record.

Almost done...Just.Keep.Trotting!
When tired and not supple, head tilt happens
My favorite: Halting!
It has been a great year of doing something entirely different. Its been a long time since I did this type of showing, and it was really fun! It opened our world up a bit, and gave me a reason to do some new things with Ben, like groundwork prep for showmanship. Overall, it served a great purpose. Last year Ben could barely make it through 2 dressage tests - he lacked endurance in both mind and body. This year it was all about getting out there and getting through the long mornings of showing, doing something he finds relatively easy= walk/trot. Next year, should we do this again, Ben will no longer go into walk/trot classes. No, instead we will do the w/t/c classes, and build the stamina there. Not only would it be poor sportsmanship to continue at walk/trot, it would also serve no purpose for the horse.

Despite the great year, I am POOPED, and I'm kind of glad it is over, at least for a short period of time. I feel like we both need a break - to get out on the trails, maybe start jumping a bit. Ben is going to have the next couple weeks off to just rest and enjoy the summer. And I need to focus a bit on my job, it is crunch time again. Hopefully we'll both come back to it refreshed and ready to do something new :)

And of course I'll be blogging about it!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Did This Really Happen? 2013 SAFE Benefit Show Results

Aren't we cute playing pretend-hunters (with dressage braids =))
What a weekend!! I am exhausted, sun-drunk, and sore. But, as always, it was totally worth it!

We arrived late on Friday evening due to horrific traffic. We had enough time to get the horses settled, our tack stall organized, and set up camp. By the time all that happened, there was no time for riding.

I had a fitful night's rest, and woke up early to feed, water, and braid Ben. Our first classes were in the Hunter/Jumper arena - doing the Trot poles division. The last time Ben saw a course was last year at the same show.When I brought him down to the arena to warm up, he was calm and easy going. We walked through the jump standards, over some poles, and were getting ready to pick up our trot and canter, when a group of 3 horses came in. No big deal, I had hardly paid attention to it. Ben, however, was struck with a dumb-fit and began to lose his cookies over the sight of 3 new horses. He started to squeal, shake his head, pop up in front and go backwards in circles. All I could do was keep him under control. I got him halted, let him take it in, and asked for forwards again, and got the same results. I suddenly realized maybe we were going to have an awful show after all. This went on for a good 10 minutes- the show staff even sent 2 of the jump crew over to block the other entrance in the event Ben escalated. However, after 10 minutes of this, he calmed down and was ready to work. So we picked up our trot and canter and got properly warmed up.  However, his nerves were still there, and presented themselves as grinding on the bit- very embarrassing, and has always been a bad habit of his.

So we entered our first class, Not-to-Jump, and my goal was to make it around as smoothly as possible, with no shenanigans. The class was very large. As they called the places, and were getting down to 3rd-2nd-1st, I was sure we were out of the running. Imagine my shock when they announced us as the first place winner! From there, we got a 5th in our next class (some naughtiness returned), a 4th in our 1st trot pole course (hitting too many poles), and a 2nd in our Trot Pole Eq class.

After a couple hours rest back at the barn, I decided to bring Ben to the Trails course and attempt it in-hand. He has never seen a trails course before. Backing through an L,  weaving between poles, going over a blue and yellow bridge, Car Wash, Pool noodles sticking out- all of this was new to him. I thought for sure he'd be scared of SOMETHING there. But it took him all of a minute or 2 to go through the entire course- never batting an eye. So I tacked him up and rode through it, and he repeated his performance. What a good boy Ben! We took 1st place in both classes.

The next day was the English Open show. I made the decision to scratch our dressage tests due to Ben's chiro issues - I just didn't think it was fair to ask him to be all bendy and supple, and knowing he was struggling with it there was no point in being judged for a half-assed test. So with that, I signed us up for all the halter, walk, and walk/trot classes we needed to get us closer to high point. I even signed us up for 2 WTC classes, but knowing those were late in the day, I didn't have much hope of actually riding in them.

The day had ups and downs- he won his Halter-Hunter type class,and then bombed his Halter-Rescue class - waaay too fidgety, dropped his you-know-what in the lineup. Under saddle, his walk-trot transition disappeared. He was struggling with this earlier in the week, and it came back to bite us. It seemed like we'd either get 1st or 2nd or 5th - nothing really in-between. When he was good, he was REALLY good. And when he wasn't, he just wasn't. In one class he was going very well and a bucket fell behind us, just as we passed the rail, which sent him scooting forward. The crowd gasped, but he was under control and went right back to work. That got us a 4th, but I was proud of him for not losing his cookies over that! Afterwards the judge came over and told me I rode that quite well!

But over all, he did well, though I could feel that same stiffness to the right, despite his being forward. Ultimately I chose to scratch the 2 w/t/c classes in the afternoon.

So that's it, right? Semi-success. Lots of blues, some reds, and a few whites and light blues. As it turns out, we ended up winning 3 awards: English High Point 30 & Over, Rescue Horse Champion, and Reserve Grand Champion for the show. 3 complete surprises! Well done, Ben!