The good, the bad and the plan….

I took Fling to a recognized show last weekend for our ‘big’ Third Level debut. It was bad…crash and burn bad. First, on Saturday, she started yanking on my reins when I was riding her on the showgrounds, and doing that weird curling up thing she did a few years ago when it turned out to be her teeth needing a serious overhaul. I realized her teeth were due and called the dentist in FEBRUARY and he was booked up for almost a month – the only day available to get her done before the show as the Wednesday before the show – and that was too close to the show itself. She has a funky mouth architecture, and usually needs a week to recover from a dental appointment. So she had an appointment for the Tuesday after the show.  She was so bad on Saturday I really thought I would scratch her the next day.  

I got on Fling the next morning and she was better – no yanking the reins. However, she would occasionally ‘dive’ down and curl her neck up. Also,  the clean, calm flying changes she was pretty much nailing at home were nonexistant. We were back to leaping in the air and taking two strides to get the change. Still, I kept stuffing her with sugar. I think it helped with her teeth.  I got someone to call my test. The trot work did not feel horrible, but at one point she just dove down with her head and that is the classic’ my teeth hurt’ symptom from her. (And the judge commented “on the forehand.” – only time she’s gotten that comment in her entire life.) The changes were so bad it messed up other stuff too since it took me so long to get them.. I misheard the caller and halted at the wrong letter. -2 for off course for that.

My score was a 53. Lots of 3s and 4s – even for mediums that she was getting 7s for at second level. and for the first time in her life, a 6 on gaits. I was of course last in the class of 3. The high score was a 57. Comments from the judge basically were ‘needs more suppleness, and needs to engage inside hind for better collection and self carriage.” When I watched the video, I found out her comments were spot on.

 It took me a week to get up the courage to watch the video of my test. First off, she was not nearly forward enough. Marta is always telling me I ‘rush’ her, and I think in my effort to make sure not to rush her  – I just shut her down. Her trot was not at all the powerful, forward trot she normally has. She was also opening her mouth – a LOT. That is totally unlike her. I think that was due to her teeth. I had them done Tuesday, so she’s good to go now.

So, back to the drawing board. The plan is basics, basics, basics. Plus, she is sort of ‘blowing through my aids’ at the canter – when I half halt, she ignores me. I also realized, comparing her to Faxx and Faeryn – she is not nearly  as ‘off my seat’ as she needs to be. She was very off my seat at one point – but somewhere along the way we lost that. I’m riding her with entirely too much hand. As counterintuitive as it may seem, riding her in the double bridle gets her more on my seat aids and less on my hand aids. Even if I do not use the curb, the double just gets her a bit more elevated, and easier to ride from the seat. It’s been probably a year since I rode her in the double, so time to revisit that and start riding her in it a few times a week. We are now at the point that I have to _insist_ she listen to my aids. I’ll give her a few more days to “recover” from her dental float before I use the double, tho.

  I rode her this evening and made sure to push her more forward, but insist she carry herself more. I also worked a LOT on just basics – circles at trot and canter, asking her to step underneath herself more. I used a lot of inside leg and ‘checked’ her by letting go of the inside rein to make SURE she maintained the bend when I gave the inside rein. So, I know what I need to work on. Marta is supposed to come Friday. That will help for sure!

I also am getting mirrors for my arena. That will help me a lot. The toughest thing for me is to correlate what she FEELS like in real time, to what she LOOKS like. I am waiting for a bid from the guy who built our run-in shed. He will build the frame for them  — the mirrors themselves will come from Home Depot. They’re actually mirrored closet doors and will cost about $1400. Way cheaper than buying glass from a glass company. My friend Kathy used them and they’ve been up in her outdoor arena for about 3 years now and have held up fine – even through the hurricane. The plan is for 40 feet of mirrors on the short side. I am also having a major arena redo, to put in a good base and new footing. I originally put my arena in 7 years ago and it’s crowned too much, and large sections of the base have settled, leaving large deep spots. The plan is to have the dirt guy push all the sand off the arena, and put in new base, filling in the low spots in the process, and bringing uup the sides a bit so it’s not crowned quite so much. then I will bring in new sand -hopefully some sort of white sand – not just the ‘bank sand’ that I’ve always used before. I got a small sample of the sand in the outdoor arenas at Great SW Equestrian Center and gave it to my dirt guy and told him to try to find something like that for me.

 The mirrors will have to wait until the arena is done. I am calling the sand pit tomorrow and getting a quote on the cost of the base material – something called stabilized sand.  It is sand mixed with concrete and it actually ‘sets up’ like concrete, but is not as hard. The beauty of it is it will not require a lot of rolling/compacting like crushed concrete.  So, that’s good and will help keep the costs down a little. I have no idea how much this all is going to cost but I finally decided I’m not getting any younger, it’s not fair to ask my horses to struggle with uneven/poor footing, and we can afford to spend money on something I use every single day.

In other good things – Faeryn is coming along beautifully. I am really loving riding her. My friend Kathy says she is ‘my horse.’ And she really does feel like she was ‘built’ just for me. As much as I love Fling and appreciate how hard she works  Faeryn is definitely more supple and she moves a bit better than Fling. She will never be able to beat Fling’s sheer enthusiasm for her job, tho!  Faeryn has a good work ethic and is obedient, but she isn’t quite as ‘powerful’ as Fling. To create more ‘power,’ I have been doing small transitions within the gait. Her canter has improved immensely in the past six months. I have also started asking for small shoulder-in. The next step is to get her a bit more balanced to the hindquarters, and get her more ‘adjustable’ in every gait. She is going to a schooling show next Sat. to show First level again. And, a big trip for her coming up in a few weeks. She is going to a recognized show in Tyler, about a 5 hour trailer ride. I had originally entered Fling, but after our horrendous showing at the show last weekend, I emailed the show secretary and switched horses. This will be her first full weekend away from home – and she’ll get a real taste of ‘life as a show horse.’ She also has not spent this much time in a trailer since we evacuated for Hurricane Rita in 2005 when she was 2 months old and she made the trip with her mom, Lisa.

Faxx is also working well, although he will always be my ‘toughest’ ride just because he is bigger, moves bigger, and doesn’t always want to accept contact with the bit and be ‘through.’  In order to sit his huge trot, he absolutely has to be connected and through. However, his willingness to accept the bit has improved a ton. The only place it really shows up these days is the free walk. I can keep him connected and through for longer and longer periods of time now. That’s the biggest ‘hurdle’ to showing him First level, since it’s sitting trot.The actual work is not difficult for him at all. It’s just keeping him connected so I can sit his trot. That’s why, at recognized shows, we’re going to show Training Level again this year, but we’ll show First level at schooling shows — and next weekend will be his First level debut at a schooling show on Sunday.  Yes, I am a glutton for punishment – two schooling shows with two different horses in one weekend!

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