In an effort to ‘diagnose’ all the things that went wrong with our last show, I have been systematically evaluating everything that may have contributed.(Ok, maybe substitute ‘obsessing about’ for ‘diagnose’) Part of it was definitely teeth – she’s been better since her visit to the dentist. But I was still puzzled by the continuing feeling that she is vaguely downhill – especially during transitions, along with a comment about being on the forehand from the judge. Fling is not built uphill, but she consistently moves uphill – being on the forehand has not been an issue with her since the first day she had someone sit on her back. I’ve also noticed her downward transitions from canter to walk have almost felt like she was ‘diving’ downward. I started looking at her saddle, which hasn’t been adjusted in about three years. It seemed to fit her shoulders and back fine, but in studying it, it seemed it was sitting ‘downhill’ on her back. We have no real saddle fitters locally, but fortunately a local trainer has a guy come in about twice a year – and I found out he was going to be here Friday. I could not get Fling herself there, but have had good luck having minor fitting issues done using wither/back tracings and photos of the saddle on the horse. The saddler concurred with my hunch, added some stuffing to the front, and removed some from the cantle, and when I rode with it Friday night, I could tell a big difference.
It has been about six weeks since my last lesson with Marta – since I went to her place for a week. I knew that even with the teeth and saddle issue, something in how I was riding Fling was largely responsible for our performance. The question was, is her basic work that far off base? Or was it just a bad day? It was probably a wee bit optimistic for me to show third level for the first time at a recognized show without the benefit of help from my trainer – but Marta is not showing much these days – she is waiting for some of her training horses to get to FEI – to Marta, there’s not much point in showng at a lower level. 😉 I am very used to going to shows without a trainer and doing my own warmup – but, the difference being, Fling and I both are in ‘new territory’ here.
So, to our lesson. I was very anxious for a ‘diagnosis’ of our current work – which I have not been 100% happy with. As usual, Marta could have me make small adjustments that made a huge difference – and I was happy that all it took WAS some small adjustments to get “my” third level horse “back.” Basically, part of it was in my zeal to get her to bend more to the inside, I’ve been letting her hindquarters swing out. At this level, the horse has to be in perfect alignment. All the ‘energy’ was going ‘out the door’ and having her haunches out was also preventing her from really engaging her inside hind. I have to think about not just bending her, but also using my outside leg to think of a bit of haunches in. Suddenly I had my powerful little sportscar back — she felt very ‘dancy’ at the trot and was in good self-carriage, and we effortlessly did mediums with power and not just quickening. Half pass? no trouble…even at canter. Flying change? Yes m’am. Marta’s diagnosis? I’m not a bad rider. Yes, she really is ready for this level. No bad rider, no bad horse. Just a bad day/ride. Trainers really do have to be part psychiatrists. Their patients just don’t lie on a couch – they sit on a horse!
Next up was Faeryn. I have not taken a lesson on Faeryn in six months. She’s been working well, but I wanted a ‘check up’ since she is going to a large recognized show nex weekend. She was quite wound up at first- it was windy. Once I got her slowed down she worked well. We worked on leg yielding – Marta had me slow her waaaay down, and start out in a bit of shoulder fore. We did serpentines and Marta commented how great her gaits looked. Then we worked on lengthenings at trot and canter. Marta reminded me to ‘go for it’ at home while schooling – and again, set her up in shoulder fore first and then put my hands a bit forward and let her go during the lengthening…and sit down and slow her down with my core first before I use my hands when doing the downward. Her canter felt super. It was quite telling that Marta really didn’t change anything about Faeryn’s basic work like she did with Fling. We reallly just worked on schooling her through the new First level movements. If I keep with the plan, she should be schooling second level next year and showing First at recognized shows. She has a LONG way to go to be schooling second – much more collection needed — but she is on the right path. She is definitely the easiest horse to ride… she can bend easier than Fling because she’s not as short backed. Even tho she is not as good a mover as Faxx, she is more consistently ‘through’ and is very easy to sit. I often joke that Faeryn read the “Dressage 101” manual while in-utero – from the first time I climbed on her, she’s responded in ‘textbook’ fashion to every aid, and naturally seeks contact with the bit. She’s the type of horse that makes the trainer look good!
Before Marta came today I rode Faxx and he did very well. He and Faeryn got their teeth done Thursday, but he was less fussy than last week so that’s a good thing. (Faeryn had three baby teeth pulled! Of course “mom” kept them!)
They were cutting down trees on the property behind us and every once in awhile one would go crashing to the ground – it didn’t bother Faxx in the least. If it had been Faeryn she would have been spooking big time. I need to remember that even though Faxx moves really well, he also needs to bend and engage his inside hind. When I do that, even if he is being a bit fussy, it makes him more through and connected. I am getting better about getting him to do downards to halt using mostly my seat.
In other news, I am trying to decide what to do toward my arena overhaul, and I am waiting for a bid from the guy who is building the frames for my arena mirrors. Things move slow! I went to the dirt yard yesterday and talked to the guys about options for arena base, and looked and priced some materials. My arena drains very well – so well I am a bit leery about ‘messiing with it’ — but some of the base has settled and I have a large strip covering almost the entire length that’s way deep. I never put in a real ‘rock’ base when I built it – just had some lime tilled in with the topmost layer. Sections of it are very hard, since I am basically riding on the base now, since it hasn’t had new sand added in nearly 7 years. I originally had planned to strip everythiing off and bring in a real base – crushed concrete or limestone (about $6K for material alone for limestone, considereed to be the ideal material), have that compacted and then bring in new sand. I am tempted to do a first class redo on my round pen — limestone base and more sand (probably $1500) and do a more minimal arena rehab– have the sand scraped off to the base, bring in more base to ‘correct’ the low spots, have that rolled/compacted,get new sand and have railroad ties brought in to line the whole thing to alleviate erosion. The “sub base” needs to be fixed anyway, whether I add limesone to create a good base or not. If a minimal rehab does not work, I will have the round pen to work in during the worst of the wet winter weather, and can then do a total rehab next summer. A total redo, with limestone base, and railroad ties, would probably be close to $13K. A minimal redo may be closer to $4K. Building an arena is always a gamble – it’s as much an art as a science and it’s tough to find the right ‘artist’ for your project….