Monday, August 29, 2016

Into the Woods!

One of the perks of having moved up to my trainer's barn is that it sits right next to a very large tree farm with tons of trails - trails that are accessible simply by walking down the street- zero hauling required.

You would think that with that being the case, Ben and I would've been out there all summer long. That would've been really great...except that up until a week ago, I had no idea how to access said trails nor which ones to follow once in the tree farm. Kind of puts a damper on things - not really wanting to get lost out there!

We finally had a chance to get out there with someone who knew the "main loop." That was a perfect introduction. So yesterday, Ben and I took to the trails on our own. We explored some of the smaller off-shoot trails and generally had a blast clip-clopping under the blanket of trees.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Dream

I love talking to people about Ben. It is one of the best parts of taking him out in public. He is tall and handsome, with a big white brand on his neck. Without fail someone will always ask me how I got such a tall mustang. I get a kick out of that.

What I don't get a kick out of, is when folks ask me what he is because they couldn't figure it out, based on his movement. Yes, it is an opportunity to talk about Standardbreds. But it is always coming from the place of "Oh we thought he was a weird warmblood or something" Yes, weird. No, not a warmblood.

I harbor a secret dream - one in that Ben moves so "normally" that no one picks up on the fact that he's different. One in which we can walk, trot, and canter, and that no one gives him a passing glance due to the differences in his gaits.

I'm not sure that that day will ever come. But by God, we're working on it. We've been working hard over the last 10 months, and it is cool to watch the progress being made. I try to blog about it as often as I can, so I can look back and re-read those moments that were good, bad, and downright ugly. But nothing compares to SEEING the progress. I don't often get the chance to record rides, but last night I asked my trainer to video his canter work to the right, as he's learning a bit of collection. And so without further ado, I present to the blogosphere 3 videos of our 10 month progress of right-lead-canter:

November 27, 2015. Big arena (100x200) - cannot sit on his back, cannot do smaller than a 90 foot circle:

April 2, 2016.  5 months later - regulation dressage arena. I can sit on him, at least.


August 24, 2016.  60 ft indoor arena, which generally really works against Ben - he gets sucked onto those walls and generally goes much better outdoors. Nevertheless - I can sit, and I can ask him to collect and take jumpier steps.

Hopefully, by November 27, 2016, essentially 3 months from now, I will have new video to complete the year. And with a little luck, even more progress will be shown.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Small Victories

Things have been fairly quiet in our part of the world. Work, for me, has gotten a bit busier, thus keeping me away from the barn more than I'd like. For Ben, this has meant extended breaks of the 3-5 day variety. You all know by now how much I hate stringing multiple days off for this horse. Not much I can do about it right now, though.

We are making do. Our trainer was also on a long vacation, which meant that we got to work with her mom. I'll admit, I was terrified to work with someone else - I have this fear that anyone other than our trainer will tell us that we're not worthy. So while I could've just skated by for 2 weeks, I knew I had to overcome this fear. Fully clothed in my Big Girl Panties, off I went to my lesson.

As it turns out, it was a really great thing to do. #1, I got lots of compliments - which is the exact opposite of what I was expecting. I also got some direct feedback about my, uhmmm, wayward left arm, especially when it is serving as the outside rein. It has a mind of its own. But fresh eyes and a laser focus on it, and it got much better. Imagine that.

#2 We fixed the right canter. Ben has a habit of not connecting to my left outside rein (see wayward left arm comment above), but also doesn't much respond to my right leg. He will move off, sure, but he is not fully supple and gives me about, oh, 20% of a step in response to that leg. So, with me on top focused on my stupid left arm, our instructor worked with Ben's response to my right leg from the ground. That is, I put my leg on and he MUST step under. a real step. Turn on the forehand. She reinforced by following with a tap of the whip. So we'd get a few good steps on a 10 m circle, then I'd ask for a canter, and reinforce that feeling of him stepping under. And wow, did that ever help with the strike off and push in the canter. The steps got cleaner, the gait got more pure.

It was a quick, but intense lesson, maybe 25-30 minutes. But it has had lasting effects. Our canter has gotten even that much better. Now the canter to the left is feeling a bit left out, so we've been working on that side too.

The canter, while it is the hardest of all 3 gaits for Ben, is the most fun and enjoyable. Truth be told, I have to remind myself to put some work into the trot. I just don't like it as much, haha. And honestly, even those the purity of the gait is the worst in the canter, I do think Ben actually prefers the canter work over the trot...but maybe that is because of his rider ;)

Friday, August 19, 2016

More Show Pictures!

Pictures from the show are trickling in, and here are some of my favorites. These are all taken by Karen W. of Awakened Soul Photography.

I don't always do halter, but when I do I make sure they see everything :x



Monday, August 8, 2016

Analyze This - Facing the Fear of Reading My Tests

I will fully admit, I have a not-so-great habit when it comes to my dressage tests. I don't fully read and digest them. Sure, I'll look at the general scores, read the comments, but I always keep myself distanced from them. In my head I can hear myself saying, "yea yea, I know, I know." I speed read it and try to get it over with as quickly as possible.

This is not great. After all, I've paid for the judge to watch my test, you would think I'd be more interested in what they had to say. So, this past week I changed my tactic. I decided to turn my tests into data points. So I took all 4 tests and transcribed them in Excel. Movements, scores, and comments.

My 2016 1-1 tests transcribed

I have 3 scores at 1-1 and 1 at 1-2. So I took a look at the tests and on a second tab, grouped all the common movements together (for example: entry, final salute, stretchy circle L/R, 15m canter circle L/R, etc). I color coded the scores. I pulled together averages.

similar movements, compared

What I found was interesting. I knew, without doing this exercise, my weakest area  (canter, especially everything to the right). But what I didn't realize was where I could easily clean up/pick up better scores. For example, we have a great final centerline/salute. Our entry is sometimes really good, or really bad. Never in the middle. But my highest scoring movement is the 10m 1/2 circle to the right, as well as our trot lengthening to the right. I would have never guessed that. In general, the score I receive the most is 6.5, followed by 6, and then 7. If I had to guess I would've thought it 5.5, 6, 6.5, in that order.

This exercise, while time consuming, really helped me. My test riding needs some serious work. I hardly ever do it. In fact, prior to this show, I never actually strung together 1-1 and 1-2 while practicing. Sure, I've done elements of it, but never all  together - which is a totally different beast.

It makes me want to get out there and keep trying. Now I have a clearer picture of what is going on, I feel like we can most certainly do better.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Champion Reigns

 Ben and I are still recovering from our 3 day showcation. In fact, yesterday he pulled a shoe so as to ensure he'd get a couple extra days of R&R.
I've been struggling on what to write, and how to write this blog post. I think it is because last weekend has left me with a mix of emotions, the experience was so many things, I'm having trouble forming a solid opinion on the show. And if I am super honest, it hasn't left me with this feeling of overwhelming success. So I am going to take the time to write about the great and not-so-great things that happened, to see where the chips ultimately fall.
The Great:
  • There were 230 horse and rider pairs at the show. Ben, as a the sole Standardbred, held his own in every class we entered, many of which were 15+ horses deep.
  • Ben was declared Rescue Horse High-Point Champion for the weekend.
  • He won his halter class, eq classes and his 1st level dressage class.
  • Both of his dressage scores were over 60% (62.6, 62.7), again at 1st Level.
  • We talked to MANY competitors and spectators about his brand and breed, even the English show judge.
  • He did the canter classes, and even Advanced English Pleasure.
  • We got a good laugh doing the costume class.
Photo by Angela Farnsworth
The Not-So-Great:
  • Nerves. From the moment he stepped on the trailer, to the end of the show, Ben was a bundle of nerves.
  • He did not haul well, nor handle well - he felt trapped and the opposite of relaxed.
  • He could not relax and stand still for longer than 45 seconds.
  • Tension = gait problems, especially the canter. Tension means he loses the ability to lift his back and articulate his joints, the canter gets flat and lateral looking.
  • Tension=grinding on the bit, a lot.
2016 High Point Rescue Horse Champion
Ribbons and wins are not everything. Had he won all that he did and was his normal chilled-out self, I would've been pleased. But a big part of me is bummed that my guy seemingly didn't have as good a time as I wished he did, or that he used to have. I do think his nerves were a combination/perfect storm of things, all of which I am responsible for fixing. I feel bad, pangs of guilt, for having him participate. On the other hand, I think participating is just what he needed, and that a huge part of his problem was that he hasn't been off his quiet farm in months. He just isn't used to going out like he was years ago.

I guess I am also holding on to my hope that he would've felt amazing given all the work we've been doing. That the quality of his gaits would've been proven and shone through. All our hard work paid off. And that didn't necessarily happen. He had moments of greatness, but it wasn't consistent, and certainly not in the way he has been at home.

This weekend has left me with the feeling that we have SO much more work to do, but also with that lingering question about the value of doing the work. Is it worth it? I know I love riding and developing Ben, it is hugely rewarding to me. But is it torturous to him? Is he just entertaining me because he's a good guy with a huge heart who never says no? Am I taking advantage of that? Should I just leave him be, perhaps find a way to give him an easier job?

Ultimately I cannot based my decision on 1 show. It could very well be that he simply has lost a bit of his mojo due to not getting off the farm in months. It could very well be that given more opportunities, he will return to his normal self. In terms of the work, it is not like he sees me and runs the other way. He is my buddy and will follow me anywhere (which is why I feel guilty about possibly taking advantage of that), and do anything I ask. He doesn't give me snark about it. He always tries, and resistance is passive and not explosive.

So what to do. I think I need to keep trying. In my head I have a "deadline" or a check-in point of Spring 2017. So between now and then, what would happen if we keep chipping away at it and get to a few more shows, maybe even a clinic or two - anything to get off the farm and into new territory. That would essentially mark just about a year of earnestly doing work, and a good milestone point to look both back and forward. In the meantime, I will keep on trying, and writing about it.