Monthly Archives: December 2010

Past and future goals

So, it’s New Year’s Eve, that traditional time for taking a look back at the year that was, and thinking about the year to come. I don’t really “do” New Year’s resolutions.  But I do make goals.

“A goal, unless it’s written down, is just a wish.”

 I don’t know who said that, but I wholeheartedly agree. Of course, sometimes actually writing down a goal can be a little scary. When it’s written down, it suddenly becomes something that could bite you in the butt in 365 days the future, no? Suddenly, you’re ‘accountable’ for achieving or not achieving it.

Being the ‘equi-nerd’ that I am, I write down goals each year for each of my horses. It is very rare for me to achieve all of my goals – sometimes only half of them are realized. Does that mean I am doing a lousy job with my horses? Or does it mean I dream big? Believe me, it’s not like I have “make the Olympic team” as one of my goals. 😉

I’ll share a few of my goals, both realized and unrealized, for 2010.

For Fling, as it has been for a few years, my goal was to earn my Bronze medal. Finally. That did not happen  – again. . I did at least actually GET to a recognized show and showed Third, even tho it was pretty much a disaster – but, I actually was CLOSER to my goal than I’d ever been, since I did at least show.  None of my goals for Fling were realized, as they all involved showing. But that is OK because we are defintely closer to our goal of the Bronze than we were this time last year.

Faxx fared a bit better on the goal realization tally. One of my goals was to place in the top 20 nationally in the USDF Amateur standings. Yes, that actually was a goal. And probably a pretty lofty one, since there are more than 200 horse/rider teams that usually qualify for awards at Training Level amateur. And probably 1500 or more that show at Training Level, although only a fraction show enough to earn the eight minimum scores to qualify for year-end awards.

And we actually achieved that goal. Just barely – as he placed 20th. His median was a 69% and I was very proud of that – especially considering we got very few lessons last year. So I can put a nice check mark next to that goal.

Another of my goals was to show him First level at schooling shows, and we did that, too, scoring very well, as a matter of fact.

Another goal was to win multiple championships at the Arabian/Half Arabian Sport Horse Regional Championships. Well, we did win multiple championships,but they were not in dressage, as I’d hoped. He won three championships at the show, but one was in sporthorse in hand, and two were in sport horse under saddle. He earned a Reserve Champion in dressage and a few top fives. So I guess you could call that a ‘draw.’

I also wanted to win the USDF All Breed Championship for Half Arabian Training Level Amateur, and it looked like it was going to happen until about the last week of the competition year, and someone nosed us out and we ended up in second. But I am OK with that, as it was more important to me to place in the top 20 nationally in the ‘all breed’ amateur standings.

I also wanted to finish his Legion of Supreme Honor, and he did that very early in the show year. Another nice check mark. So Faxx did pretty darn good last year.

I had less lofty goals for Faeryn, but she surprised me by achieving things I had not even had as a goal. I never thought she would score a 71% at a recognized show, or win championships at recognized shows, but she did both of those last year. She has been living in the ‘shadow’ (literally and figuratively) of her taller, flashier, more charismatic brother almost her whole life. But last year she showed me she has what it takes to be very competitive, and in some ways is much more consistent a performer than Faxx, especially under pressure. I wanted to get her to enough shows to qualify for All Breed Awards, and we did that. She had her minimum 8 scores, so had no ‘drop’ scores. Since she was scared to death at her first show and underperformed (61 and a 63) that hurt her median and her chances to achieve one of my goals – to place in the Oldenburg NA All Breed Awards. She did not place i the Training Level Amateur standings, but she was 4th in the Vintage Cup (old farts!) standings.

I wanted to get her out and show first level at schooling shows, and be schooling second level movements by the end of this year.  She did quite well at schooling shows at first level, even tho she went to just a few shows. She is schooling some second level movements – but none at canter just yet.

I also wanted her to win a year end award from HDS and that remains to be seen. I do not think she has a chance to win at the recognized show division – Faxx will beat her out and I don’t think her median is high enough for Reserve Championship.  But there is hope in the schooling show division.

So, not too bad for goal-fulfillment for 2010.

What’s on the plate for 2011?

Of course, the most obvious – the Bronze for Fling. I also would like to show her Fourth Level by the end of the year. I think that is doable. I don’t really care if we show Fourth in schooling or recognized shows. Just as long we’re moving forward.

Faxx and Faeryn should both be showing second level in schooling shows by the end of next year. I am not sure I am going to show either of them in recognized shows next year.

I am quite burnt out from ‘going and doing’ and not having enough time HOME, to get caught up, do projects around the farm, take more lessons, or just do as I pleased.  Most of my vacation time last year, when not horse showing, involved remodeling projects on my condo, my ‘pink’ house (www.alvinhouse.com) or my arena. I had far too little ‘fun’ last year.

I am seriously thinking about skipping Arab Regional Championships this year, too, to save money and vacation time.Money toward training and possibly a new trailer, and vacation time toward being able to ride in more clinics. I also have ditched my plans to show Faxx at the Arabian Sporthorse National Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park next September. It’s a lot of money, and even more critical, a lot of vacation time, and after his mini meltdown at the USDF Championships, I do not think he is ready, mentally, for the pressure yet. He is young. We have time.

If I spent this much time and effort thinking about my ‘real’ job, I would be president of the company.

But then I probably wouldn’t have time to ride. 😉

Happy New Year everyone.

 

 

 

Canter revelations and other things

I rode Faeryn and Fling on Sunday, having given myself (and the ponies) Christmas Day off. Well, actually between cooking and hosting Christmas dinner, I didn’t have the time OR energy to ride. But I am sure the ponies did not really care about WHY they got the day off.

I rode Faeryn first and tried to think about what I’d discovered the previous time I rode. I have been having a tough time getting her to listen and respond to half halts at the canter. At the trot, I can’t say that she has a “classic” response to the half halt – she really responds more from ‘whoa’ aids from my core than from the rein itself per se. But, I can get her to ‘rebalance’ and shift her weight to her haunches. At the canter, that subtle aid does not work to get a true half halt, and using the reins to half halt was not working either. To be able to develop a more collected canter, she has to learn to halt halt. I could get sort of a ‘muddied’ version of the half halt – but not the classic, instant re-balancing and release that I was seeking. This both bugged and puzzled me for the past month.  I knew from my sessions with both Marie and Debbie that she is not straight enough – that is her biggest challenge. Debbie pointed out that she’s ‘broken’ at the shoulder. So for the past few weeks I’ve ridden her with the goal of keeping her straight(er) on the outside rein – and at the same time, encouraging her right hind to work harder. (And on a side note, it’s amusing and interesting to note how hard she and Fling BOTH will work to get me OFF my right seatbone. I have been habitually sitting more/leaning left, which has led to weakness on the right hind in both of them.And NEITHER of them wants me sitting on that right seatbone, making that right hind work harder!)

Last week when I rode Faeryn, during canter to the left, for the first time ever, I got one half halt that went ‘through’ and she responded in the classic way – with shortening of the frame, coming up a bit in the withers and stepping under. It was nirvana! It was at the end of the ride and I actually praised her to the skies, gave her a peppermint and quit right there.

And I had a revelation somewhere in the next 24 hours – DUH – she is not responding to the half halt because she CAN’T respond to the half halt when she’s not completely straight….energy flows through a straight line – it can’t flow if there’s not a straight line for it to travel – just like water cannot flow through a hose with a kink in it.

So, obviously, the answer is – first, get her straight. Sometimes that’s not so simple to figure out, but I think we’re getting there. I am not sure if it’s just the process, or it’s just me – but the canter is always the hardest gait for me to ‘get’ with my horses.

Fling was up next and I decided ahead of time to really try and get her warmed up a little quicker so I could spend more time at the canter – specifically flying changes. Fling takes longer to warm up than my other two – or maybe it’s just that I do a more ‘exercises’ with her during warm up – lots of lateral work at walk, including shoulder-in, half pass and haunches in each direction. And lately I’ve been doing leg yield at the walk along the rail – with her head facing the fenceline, moving almost perpendicular to the fence, to work on strengthening her right hind – so I only do that one direction.  She got all wound up because some people came down the street on horseback! OMG!! Why is it that my horses see people riding horses at home and at shows all the time, but when they see horses coming down the street they act like they are total aliens!  It took awhile to get her to focus on me again (basically when the horses were out of sight!) and then I started canter work.  Still not 100% happy with the canter work. It doesn’t feel quite through to me, even when it is very collected. However, I got two really good flying changes on the center line — as in , one flying change, go a few strides, and another flying change – and they were quite good.

Tomorrow is the deadline for sending my entry to the HDS January show and I’m getting cold feet. And if I do enter – do I do one day? Or both days?  The hardest thing for my horses about showing is being locked in a stall for two days. They all hate it and instead of making them more brillliant, they get flatter due to boredom and probably lack of sleep!  Plus, personally, after one day of showing, I am usually ‘over it’ even if I’ve done really well. On the other hand, part of me thinks at this point I just need to get out and show her at third until I am completely bored with it.

Merry Christmas everyone!

I am cooking a complete Christmas dinner for family and friends coming tomorrow – but I still made time to ride Fling. I’ve ‘studied’ the comments on my two tests from last weekend and been working on things that we didn’t do as well.   It’s a real sign of how ‘moldable’ horses are when the “hard” direction and the “easy” direction keep flip flopping!  My right turn on the haunches had been giving me all kinds of grief – Fling just kept stepping out of it and wanting to ‘spin’ around.  One session working on it with Debbie and I go a better understanding of the root cause. So we’ve been working on it. and now the right TOH is better than the left. And I have the proof from my test scores!  And in a similar vein, a month ago our canter half pass was a problem – but at the show I did much better on my canter half passes than my trot half passes. The comment on the trot half passes was that her haunches were trailing.  I think I am overcompensating since in my lessons before the show her haunches have been leading! LOL!

Last night I rode Faeryn and I think I am coming closer to getting her canter fixed. It’s a combination of me sitting more evenly on my seatbones — I have been sitting way too much to the left — plus insisting she use her right hind and step under more, and through that stepping under with the hind, she’s straighter and more connected to the outside rein. During our ride, an ambulance came down our street. We live on a dead end street and that’s a first. I was riding Faeryn in the field and Faxx and Fling went galloping away from the ambulance, while I kept Faeryn from bolting by pulling her head around so she could only go in a circle — while gesturing franticallly to the ambulance driver to please turn off the siren! (Our property is on the corner and fronts the street on two sides, so he had a LOT of road to travel before getting very far away from us!)  Fortunately the driver understood and silenced the siren – otherwise he may have had to stop and pick me up too!

If you’re reading this Christmas Eve and want to know when Santa will arrive in your town, check the NORAD Santa tracker: http://www.noradsanta.org/en/index.html

And speaking of Santa – I better get those cookies and milk out and get to bed!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

 

The last schooling show the year, and an ’embarassing’ score

I took Fling to the annual “Dickens on the Sand” schooling show today. FYI, “Dickens on the Strand” is a holiday event in Galveston, and the name of the show is a ‘pun’ on that event!  I dragged out my red saddle pad, found my Christmas turtleneck and my blinking Christmas light necklace. I tried to rig some reindeer antlers on the crown piece of Fling’s bridle, but every time she moved her ears, they hit the antlers and I figured that would probably distract her – she would endure it and soldier on – that’s the kind of gal she is – but figured Third level is hard enough without any ‘handicaps.’ 😉 

I entered Third level Test 1 and Third level Test 3. It was a beautiful day – perfect temperature and blue skies..

I quickly discovered that it is quite different warming up for a third level test in a crowded arena than it is at home! Successfully schooling half pass and flying changes while trying to dodge ‘traffic’ is a skill in itself. One that I have not fully mastered yet! Fortunately my first ride was the first ride after lunch, and halfway through my warm-up, the arena cleared out and I had plenty of room to work. Fling was fussy about taking contact at the walk – it’s something she’s started doing the last few months. The best way to handle it is to go ahead and trot and work on getting her connected. I tend to want to get her ‘perfect’ at the walk before moving onto the trot, but that’s not always the best way to work. So I have discovered.  I really didn’t feel like we were quite ready when it was my turn in the arena, but I never feel ready!

It was a pretty clean test – no huge mistakes and she even got both her changes fairly well! I thought the canter half passes were fairly good – those have come a LONG way.  I had someone call my tests  – good thing – I get so focused on riding the test, I sometimes forget what comes next!  I really hate riding through the entire test at home – I don’t know why, but it’s not something I like to do. I ride parts of the test, and will ride through either the trot portion or the canter portion. But the whole thing – all the way through? I have a definite aversion to it! lol!  

One of the toughest things about riding third level tests, start to finish,  for me, is keeping my reins short enough! There’s not enough time between all the movements to mess with shortening my reins so I have to really work at keeping them short – even if it means I have to move my hands forward a little to give her _enough_ rein, that’s better than ending up with my hands in my lap trying to half halt!

I had about an hour between my tests, so I took Fling back to the trailer and gave her some cookies and a few bites of  hay.  I didn’t even go check my score – I really prefer to wait until I’m completely done to find out! LOL!

In my Third 3 ride, we had some trouble with the flying changes – which are done out of the half pass. Those are usually more reliable than doing them across the short diagonal, as in Third 1. She was very late for the first change, and a little late for the second change. But her half pass at canter was very good – in fact, they were actually a little too steep, as we kept arriving at our ‘destination’ a few  strides early!

Her final halt was great – she went straight from collected trot to a perfectly square halt and really ‘sat’ as she came into it! I was very happy with her and took her back to the trailer to untack and enjoy her ‘hay buffet’ while I socialized a bit and checked my scores. I had NO idea what sort of scores I would get. Since I’ve never seen us work on video, and I haven’t really watched any third level rides at shows, I really have no concept of what a good third level test looks or feels like! Plus I am my harshest critic and am usually pleasantly surprised by my scores!

I had to l look twice at the scores – I wondered if I was looking at the wrong line when I saw a 75%!! Nope. I got a 75% on my first ride! It was almost embarassing! Now, I must say this judge is known for being quite generous. However, the last time Fling and I showed Third level under her -one of the few times I’ve shown third level – I got scores of 65 and 63. So I’ve definitely improved. There were also other people in my class and I won both my classes.  I got a 71.6 on my second ride!!

So, the closing date for the HDS January show is Dec. 29. I have to decide if I think I am ready for the ‘big time.’

And my sweet horse, who stood patiently tied to the trailer munching her hay while I was checking scores and talking to friends, gave  the softest, sweetest little nicker when I walked up to her. And I proceeded to stuff her with peppermints and “stud muffins,”  a particuarly luscious horse treat she got as a Christmas gift from a friend!

The ‘portability’ of training and progress

I have been working on keeping my seat and my body more ‘neutral’ during canter on Fling,and to a lesser degree, Faeryn. I was hampering her ability to truly collect at the canter because my seat was saying ‘go’ while the rest of me was telling her to collect. Her canter work – collection and self-carriage – has gotten much better. As a result, her canter half pass has gotten much better as well.  Part of that is due to the more collected canter, but it’s also due to me riding the half pass better. In my last session with Debbie, she told me to keep my inside leg relaxed and not clamped against her, and to align my shoulders with Fling’s shoulders. And also to use more inside rein to keep her bent, and to half halt on the inside rein if needed.  I also have to really think about sitting more evenly on my seatbones.

So today I rode Faxx for the first time in several weeks. Since my arena is unrideable, I have been riding Faeryn and Fling in the pasture, but I am not quite comfortable yet riding Faxx in the pasture. I have no lights yet in my round pen, and since Faxx needs to be lunged before being ridden (only because he’s cold backed, not because he is naughty or needs to be ‘tired out’ before riding) I don’t really have enough daylight during the week to do that.  I hate lunging and I really hate lunging with side reins even more – just takes too long. But I have discovered that lunging him with side reins makes him much more responsive once I get on him. And even though it’d been a while since I did ride him, you wouldn’t have known it by the way he rode. But, riding in a round pen can really be telling. It was very obvious, since all I could do was a large circle or a small circle – that he does not bend as well to the right. The first thing I did was to reallly think about sitting more on my right seatbone, since I really tend to sit more to the left.  And I worked on sending him forward at the canter, and bringing him back to an almost collected canter, and then sending him forward again. He felt great. I tried a few canter/walk transitions – he’s not strong enough quite  yet for that – and since it’d been awile since he’s been ridden, I did not want to overface him when he’s not in super shape yet. But he was definitelly getting the idea, and he only trotted two or so steps before coming to walk. We had better luck with walk to canter – that’s easy for him.

So, even when I take a lesson on one horse, all of my horses generally benefit, since most riders – myself included – tend to have the same issues with every horse they ride.

I blow off the schooling show championships, and my “homework” for Faeryn

I had qualified and signed Faeryn up to compete in the Houston Dressage Society schooling show championshps which were Sunday. Of course life has been c-r-a-zy lately  – like Christmas was not enough — I have new tenants moving into my pink farm house (www.alvinhouse.com) and have to get that ready. And then, new tenant offered to remodel the bathroom for an incredibly good price. He does super work – I have seen examples, and it really did need it, with a tired old ugly fiberglass tub/surround and beat up vanity – all dating from before I bought the house in 1995. The only catch is, he had to do it before they moved in next weekend, since there’s only one bathtub/shower in the house, and he had other jobs lined up this week. Which meant that I had to drop everything and shop for and choose tub/surround tile/floor tile/new vanity/faucets in about 48 hours. Which I did. 

So when my alarm went off Sunday a.m. at 5:15, I had a fairly long debate with myself. I finally decided there was a lot I could do in those 6 hours it would take me to  haul her there, unload, show and come home that would, in the long run, make my life more sane than just competing in a schooling show championship. I had a pang of regret later that morning when ‘my’ ride time rolled around – but only momentarily. I have bigger fish to fry at the moment, I think.

Debbie actually got on and rode Faeryn during our session Saturday. She is only the second person besides me to ride her and Faeryn was not always a happy camper about it. In fact, I think it’s the only time I’ve ever seen Faeryn with her ears pinned under saddle. Debbie thought she was lazy, but I know that is not the case. I think it was a combination of being confused by a different (and better!) rider, and also it was unseasonably warm and she was sweating pretty good almost from the get-go.

Debbie’s diagnosis, as I mentioned earlier is that I am ‘pumping’ at the canter with her, too, although it does not seem as obvious to me as with Fling. Also, she is not wanting to use her right hind, which is a problem for Fling too, and all stems from me sitting more left and collapsing my left hip. The ‘cure’ is to ride with a whip and lightly tap, tap, tap to activate the hind leg, do more ‘strengthing’ exercises for the right hind, and to sit more on my right seatbone. ALSO, Debbie said I have to be willing to let her make a mistake. As in, when I am cantering and ask for her to collect – I need to quit ‘helping’ her so much and driving her – if she breaks when I ask her to collect – just bring her immediately back to canter to show she’s made a mistake. If I keep driving her forward to keep her from breaking, she will never learn to collect because I am driving her too much, and she will never develop self-carriage.

I was too busy to ride her Monday, plus I wanted to ride Fling. But I was anxious to ‘try out’ this new homework on Faeryn since I did not get to ride her long after Debbie was done on Sat. . I was really not convinced I WAS ‘pumping’ at the canter. But, when I rode her, I realized I was, but not nearly as much as with Fling. I have to REALLY concentrate to NOT pump at the canter, it’s become such a habit. I almost have to get in a ‘zen’ state, so to speak and concentrate on just SITTING and really FEELING the horse moving underneath me. I have found that if I cannot feel the horse moving underneath me – independently of me – I am moving too much.

I almost immediately understood what Debbie was saying. I sat and did nothing – and waited until Faeryn was about to break – and then did a minor correction. A few times when I asked her to collect a bit more, she did break, but instead of coming to walk or just trotting on like I usually would do  – I put her right back into canter. Only by letting her make mistakes can I teach her what she is supposed to do.

A breakthrough lesson

Debbie Bowman was here this weekend and I rode Fling twice and Faeryn once. More about Faeryn in another post –

Had a real breaktrhough in my canter work with Fling. I developed a bad habit of ‘pumping’ at the canter and it’s been very difficult to stop. When I ‘pump,’ I drive her down with my seat, and the pumping is also a direct conflict when asking her to collect, since I’m continually telling her to ‘go’ with my seat.

We worked hard on me just ‘sitting like a sack of potatoes.’  I’ve been working on this on my own since the last clinic – but today I was much more succesful at it and was able to get Fling to almost canter ‘on the spot’ in both directions. As a result of having her more collected – my canter half pass was much, much improved. Because i was not ‘chasing’ her with my seat, she was more collected and not running through my aids at the canter. Trot half pass was super. In the ‘on the spot’ canter I felt like I could ask for a canter pirouette and would actually get it. I also did a few flying changes – one was late behind which is unusual for her, but the other one was pretty good. I was just happy because it has always been tough for me to get good changes away from home. Hopefully that will become a thing of the past.

Because of my bad habit of collapsing my hip on the left (I even catch myself doing this while DRIVING) BOTH horses are stiff to the right and reluctant to carry weight on the right hind. So we worked on that, too, and when I got Fling more ‘honestly’ stepping into the right hind, all the pieces really felt together and she felt so much more connected and through. The quality of her canter has been the biggest obstacle to us being ready to show Third level at a recognized show. I felt like we made a huge leap toward being ready to show Third level and actually be competitive.