Monthly Archives: December 2013

Trying to find motivation!

It’s been unseasonably cold since November and I am a cold weather wimp. Plus my asthma has really been bad, despite monthly shots and daily medications. So my motivation to ride has been really low. All I want to do is curl up, nap and read books on my Kindle. But nobody is going to get to PSG or second level at recognized shows that way.

So today I took Faeryn for a lesson and I got some good homework for the coming month. Between vacations, education symposiums and shows, Marie will be out almost every weekend in January and February, so I’m on my own.

Faeryn needs to become more collected, and really shorten her front end, while coming more forward with the hind end so she can do the movements more easily. She has super flexible shoulders and would rather throw her front legs forward to propel herself, as opposed to stepping under. And she also needs to gain strength and also build the foundation for flying changes.

Lateral work, lateral work, lateral work. And transitions. And transitions within the lateral work. And canter walk transitions. These are our directives for the upcoming months.

We did shoulder in to head to the wall leg yield and transitions from trot to walk and walk to trot within the shoulder in. And simple changes along the long side. Mastering these and building strength should keep us busy.

My showing is definitely on hold until Faeryn is ready to go show second at recognized shows and Fling is ready to show PSG. However, I plan to hit the schooling show circuit hard this year with both of them, working out the bugs in preparation for recognized shows. I have no idea how long that will take, but I am not spending the money to go to a recognized show until I feel confident they’re ready.

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Terrific lesson today on Fling

Fling Debbie Clinic

I had not had a lesson in quite a while on Fling – due to drama in my life, Marie’s horse show schedule and the weather. Through it all, though, I have been plugging away at home with her, always with Prix St. Georges as my goal in the distance, and was feeling fairly optimistic about our progress. To be able to show PSG,  we have to solve a few problems and make progress in several areas.

Fling is an extremely smart horse. The smartest horse I’ve ever ridden in my 30+ years of having horses. But sometimes that gets in the way of training. Take flying changes. At their basic, flying changes are done when a horse changes direction at the canter, so the new ‘inside leg’ can lead. But at the highest levels, flying changes are done across the diagonal, in multiples of 4s, 3s, 2s and, ultimately, every stride, and not  just when you are changing direction. Fling, in her infinite wisdom, sees no point in doing flying changes if she is not changing direction. Plus her extreme high energy is another challenge – flying changes wind her up like nothing else. For the first few years we were working on flying changes, they made her so hot, once we did one, I couldn’t even work on anything else, because that’s all she could think about.

The other challenge to successfully showing PSG is the canter pirouettes. Fortunately, Fling has shown a talent for them – but, again, I have never ridden a correct canter pirouette on a trained horse, and being able to ‘feel’ when she is on the right track is always a challenge.\
But, even with all of that – the past month I felt we’d had a few small epiphanies.

First I  have been riding Fling in a way that gets her to keep her back up and rounded, which allows her to travel more uphill, and carry more weight on her haunches, which makes everything better. Secondly, I had an ‘out of the box’ idea for teaching fling the 3 and 4 tempe flying changes across the diagonal.

At this level, you can’t just ride a horse. You have to also be its trainer and try to figure out how the horse learns and sometimes tailor that to your specific horse. I joke that I have to train Fling ‘to the test.’  I cannot get Fling to do a flying change just anywhere. But she has learned where they are in the dressage tests and has learned to do them at those places.

For my out of the box thinking with the flying changes across the diagonal, first I started by doing simple changes (canter to halt, then pick up new lead from walk) along a fenceline (to keep her straight). I would canter three strides, halt, ask for new lead, then canter three strides, halt, ask for new lead. This is helping Fling to learn to anticipate that after three strides, she has to listen to my aids to halt. Getting Fling to halt from the canter is absolutely one of the toughest things to do. So, doing this, over and over again, reinforces in her minds he has to be obedient and do this. Also, doing it this way, it is easier to keep her straight. In flying changes, the more changes she does, the more crooked she gets. Here, she is controlled and I can keep her straighter.

So, I got to Marie’s today and told her about my ‘out of the box’ plan for Fling. She suggested also trying it across the diagonal, since, in the test, that is where they will be done. So after warming her up, I did one series down the long side of her arena, and then I did it across the arena, and she stayed pretty straight. Good girl. Marie thinks this will work!  It has to be totally ingrained her in mind that she LISTENS to me and doesn’t get excited and just charge off during the movement before I move to actually asking for the flying changes.

We did that a few times, and then moved on to canter pirouette work. Marie cautioned to NEVER just stop after you’ve schooled your horse in the pirouette – canter a few strides forward and then come to walk or take a break. You don’t want them stopping on you in the show ring. (Although truthfully that’s NEVER Fling’s problem! LOL!)

We started with a circle at canter and asked for transitions into and out of collected canter and ‘pirouette canter’ which is the most collected canter possible.  Marie reminded me not to just get her hind legs slow – she needs to move the hind legs quickly, but with shorter steps, so even though the canter itself is slow and super collected, the hind legs must NOT be slow. Once she was listening and doing that well, then I asked for the right canter pirouette by sitting heavily on the right seatbone   – you have to feel like you are ‘leading’ them to the right with your right seatbone, and your outside leg a bit ahead of the girth. The problem I’ve been having at home is that I feel like her shoulders are not really moving well enough to prescribe the small circle necessary, keeping her hind legs moving in an even smaller circle. Marie watched me and told me to use less outside rein and more outside knee. Ah hah! I had not been using my upper leg at all – only my lower leg and spur. Once I added the knee, the pirouette improved dramatically both directions.  I stopped and gave Fling a big hug after a particularly good one and we stopped there!! Fling got much praise and peppermints and I am feeling more confident about being ready to show PSG in 2014 – as I told Marie, I don’t expect to be ready before summer, but “I can see PSG from here!”

Our show year fizzles to an end….

Well, the fates were not with me for Faeryn and me. I decided at the last minute to qualify her for the schooling show championships. I got one score in November and planned to get my second at a show in December. Then, around Thanksgiving, all heck broke loose in my life. My 89-year-old dad started falling regularly at their independent living facility, and I think I went over there every day during the four day break to pick him up. Then I got sick. And the weather was awful – cold, wet and miserable – for about two weeks in a row. Then the weather was so bad the schooling show in December was cancelled, so I was unable to qualify. All in all, it’s just as well, since my dad fell again a few weeks ago and hurt himself, and spent a week in the hospital and now he is in a short term rehab facility to try and get him strong enough to go back to their apartment at the independent living facility. He has gotten so weak he can’t even get himself from bed to the bathroom. Unfortunately, if he does not get strong enough to transport himself from his bed to scooter and from scooter to bath, he will have to move to a nursing home. I am sure I got my ‘horse genes’ from him, and he was my champion in getting my first horse at 13, so I am giving him lots of pep talks and praying hard he gets better. He’s 89.

Faeryn goes to a schooling show

Houston Dressage Society has a schooling show championship every year in December. I hadn’t even been to a schooling show this year, except one early in the year to test Fling at Fourth level.

After our rotten Regional performance, I decided to show her at second level to try and qualify her for our schooling show championships. And mind you, I decided to try and qualify her at a point where we have exactly three shows left in which to qualify. And she needs two scores from two different judges to qualify.

So Nov. 10 we traveled to a farm close by and rode Second Level Test 1 and Second Level Test 2. I had not ridden completely through either of them, and I didn’t even really know Second 2 at all. They always have callers available at this show, which is one reason I like going to them. But, because I know they will have a caller, I am very bad about learning the test beforehand. We did ok on Second 1 – I knew the trot work and was pretty familiar with the canter work. Test 2 was a total crapshoot! LOL! I looked at it beforehand, but in no way did I really know it nearly as well as I should.

I thought out first ride was just ok, and really didn’t think our second ride would score in the 60s. I only needed one 57% out of both the rides, since only one of them would count toward qualifying. Amazingly, I got a 64% on the first test and a 62 on the second.

One score down, one to go. Dec. 7 my trainer is having a show at her barn, and the following day there is another schooling show at the farm I showed at in November.

Regionals Report

You know it is not a good regionals report when it takes you almost two months later to post a blog about it. Regionals were held Oct. 19-20 in Bryan, TX about 2 1/2 hours away from our farm in Alvin.

I was not very confident going into the championships. Despite out stellar performance Labor Day, since then she’d had a lackluster performance at a show mid-September and a dispiriting clinic where the clinician had me ‘take her apart and put her back together’ to change some basic things. Mental attitude has a lot to do with showing and mine was not where it needed to be.

We had a clean but lackluster ride and placed 13th out of 24. Got 61.129 from judge at C and 64.355 from judge at E. I expect some difference because they see different movements from different perspectives. But had 4 on one movement from one judge and 7 from the other judge. Most of the class was in low 60s. First was 68% I think. Judges’ comments all noted things i know we need to work on. In general very complimentary of Faeryn…” elegant horse” and “willing horse with intelligent expression.”  Of course it is the rider who needs the most work! No surprise there!

My ride on Sunday was literally the last ride of the show. And it was an interesting day.  I say that in the same way the Chinese used to say “May you have an interesting life” as a curse. It started in the morning when I fed Faeryn. While she was eating, I was working in my tack stall next to her trying to pack up some non-essential stuff since my ride was not until 3 p.m.  Suddenly there was a great crash – Faeryn, in the middle of eating her breakfast,  had dropped and rolled, and rolled over and gotten ‘cast.’ In addition to being cast, she had hung a front foot in the heavy wire handle of her water bucket.  I just started saying Oh God, Oh God while I searched for a lead rope to help move her – wondering how the hell I was going to get her foot unhung from her bucket. She was on her back with all four legs up against the stall wall, and she was directly in front of the stall door – in fact, her head and neck were jammed up against the door.  Without even thinking I opened the stall door and she fell through the opening when I did – which allowed her room to help herself.  She leaped to her feet and then immediately started pawing. She definitely had a tummy ache. A friend trainer came over and said she probably had an ulcer. I’ve never had a horse with ulcers (it is quite common in horses of all types.)  But apparently it’s a classic sign when they develop distress in the middle of eating a grain meal. Fortunately I’d gotten two free tubes of GastroGuard, an ulcer treatment,  from a marketing rep who had a booth at the show, and my friend suggested I give her some. In the meantime, we took her out and hand walked her in a grassy area, trying to see if she would graze a little. We gave her the GastroGuard and watched her and within 10 minutes she started grazing. Fortunately I also had some alfalfa with me, which is soothing to their stomach. I almost scratched my ride and just went home, but my friend suggested just watching her for awhile. Soon thereafter, Faeryn became her old self, demanding more alfalfa, more hay, etc. etc.  I took her out again and hand walked her and again she did some grazing – also good for the tummy. So I decided to go ahead and ride.
She warmed up beautifully – better than the day before. I was really tired and ready to go home. Finally it was my turn – the last ride of the day. As I was heading to the coliseum-type arena, the trainer who had been schooling the horse ahead of me walked out of the shadows in the ‘tunnel’ leading to the arena and it startled Faeryn, and she spun around and then scrambled on the concrete footing on the pathway. They’d put down some rubber mats, but she spooked off of them. I never thought I was going to fall off, but I was afraid she would fall with me. Probably a good thing she is barefoot behind as that gave her better traction. I let out a very loud “Sh*t) that I am sure anyone within earshot (including the judges!) could hear. I am just glad I didn’t say something worse. But the show goes on – I had no extra time to recover.
Her heart was racing and she was very reluctant to enter the competition area and very strong in the bridle. The judges were no doubt tired and ready to go – they rung the bell before I’d even gotten completely around the perimeter of the arena and it was time for me to start my ride – ready or not. (but they had  no way of knowing what had transpired as I was entering the arena.) And we were definitely not ready. That shot of adrenaline definitely hadn’t worn off.  She was strong in the bridle in the trot and it got worse at the canter. We got the lowest score of her career – 59.35. We did manage to beat seven people so we weren’t last.
Faeryn was very happy to get home, but again, when she started eating dinner, she started pawing and lying down and getting up. I ran and got the GastroGuard out of the trailer, and gave it to her while I massaged her ears. Within a few minutes she felt better, and I took away the remainder of her grain and gave her a flake of alfalfa. So, I guess my girl was more stressed than I thought. She certainly does not appear nervous or stressed.  Since mine live outside most of the time, going to a show is very different than their normal routine. I think for the next show I will need to give her GastroGuard while we are there. But I have no immediate plans for showing. She is done with First level and needs some more work to be ready for Second level.
 
Despite the somewhat bitter end to our show season, Faeryn ended up with a 66.2% First level median for the USDF 2013 year end standings which ended September 30. …the second highest first level amateur in Region 9. Onward and upward!