Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

We have weathered Hurricane Sandy with our good spirits intact. Thankfully, we had little damage here.  Other parts of the East Coast were not so lucky, and I wish them the best.

This is Vinny's payback for breaking my gate.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Show Goes On

Dressage has a reputation as a "wussy" sport.  If people only knew....

Dressage shows are rarely cancelled, due to sanctioning rules and year end points the shows go on regardless of weather conditions.  My show this Sunday was no exception.  Since the hurricane wasn't due to hit until Monday night and the State of Emergency wasn't in effect yet, Spider and I loaded up and headed to the show.  And then we treated the judge to a preview of the hurricane.....

To say the test was a complete disaster wouldn't be completely accurate.  We started out really well, all 6s and 7s (7s for shoulder in and half pass!).  Then we came to the half turns on the haunches and Spider started to jig.  He jigged all the way through the two turns on the haunches (We got 4s for the turns, and a 5 for the medium walk there).  Then he jigged into the canter transition and everything went downhill from there.  The phrase "out of control" was used in the judge's comments.  More than once.

We did all the movements, except for the last flying change.  By that time he was just too out of control and unbalanced to do the change.  The scores for the second half of the test were all 4s and 5s and there was just no coming back from that.  We ended up with a 54%.  Not great, but we still got a blue ribbon!

We were the only pair competing at Third Level that day.

I'm still proud of him.  He did a good job in spite of the impending storm and it being his first time out all year.  We got into the ring, we performed the test and now I know where I stand for next year.

We can do all the movements at home, Spider just needs more experience doing them in the show ring. And I need to react better when he gets tense. It was the tension and jigging in the last bit of walk that ruined us.  He went from a tense walk to a tense canter (that was really a straight-up gallop) and I didn't fix it.  Oh well, there's always next time.

For now, we're waiting on Sandy.  Stay safe everyone!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fall Shots

Despite the weather, is it officially fall here in NJ.  The horses all had their fall shots and physical this week.  Spider passed with flying colors, of course.  The vet was very impressed with Vinny's condition and vigor (I showed her the gate he mangled last week).  He doesn't look or act like a 28 year old horse. And then we got to Matilda.  Matilda did not pass her physical.  The words "overweight", "potential for founder" and "diet" were used a lot.  The vet actually thinks she's gotten fatter since the spring. Ouch.

The prescription: more exercise and a grazing muzzle.  Matilda only gets hay and grass, but that is still too much.  Her current "exercise program" only involves walking around the pasture and giving the kids lead line rides a few times a week.  It's just not enough.  On the 1-9 Henneke body condition scoring system, Matilda is somewhere around a 20. Well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but she's definitely obese.

I haven't gotten the grazing muzzle yet.  I know that's going to go over like a lead balloon and I'm honestly sort of dreading it.  I have started her on an exercise program, though.  She is now getting lunged for 15 minutes at trot every day.  That's a lot of work for a very fat pony, I'll increase it as she gets more fit. She isn't terribly thrilled about it, but I explained to her that it was better than the grazing muzzle (or laminitis).
Matilda says, "This exercise stuff is for the birds! I'll be chillin' on the deck if you need me."

In other news, I'm taking Spider to a schooling show this Sunday to do 3rd Level Test 1.  That should be exciting, we haven't been to a show since last May.  It's just a schooling show, and it's at a friend's farm, so I'm not too worried about making a complete ass of myself.  As I've gotten older I find it nearly impossible to take shows too seriously, anyway.  You can't condense hours of training into 5 minutes in a show ring in any sort of meaningful way.  The test will be whatever it's going to be and there will always be another show.  At this point in the game, I'm just happy to be riding down centerline... score be damned!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Working The Poles

A few weeks ago I read an article entitled "24 Dressage Training Tips From Olympian Kyra Kyrklund". Most of it was the usual stuff, but one piece of advice stood out:

"... The collection in the pirouettes must be as great as it is in the piaffe.  For that reason I teach piaffe first (even though the pirouettes appear much earlier in the tests). " 

As I mulled that information over in my head, I remembered a conversation I had with my trainer several months ago. We were discussing Spider's canter, which is his weakest gait, and I remarked that it had improved even though I hadn't been working on it much. My trainer replied "The canter improved because the trot improved". Then the conversation moved on and I mostly forgot about that exchange. Until, that is, I read that little piece of advice from Kyra Kyrklund.

Then a little lightbulb went off in my head.  Instead of endlessly working to build more collection at canter (which really just annoys us both), maybe I should be working on more collection in trot.

Now, I am not yet competent to teach spider piaffe myself, although he does throw out a few steps naturally here and there. But, I do know a way to easily increase his collection: trot poles.

What did you think the title was about?  New ways to fund your dressage addiction?

Well, I suppose "easy" is a bit of a misnomer.  "Straightforward" is probably a better description.  Going over poles isn't easy, but it is hard to screw up.

I have my poles set 4 ft apart, and raised two inches off the ground (that's a total of 4 inches, since the poles are all 2 inches wide).  If I put them any higher than that, Spider tries to jump them.  Also, if I use less than four poles, Spider just jumps over the whole grid.  With this set-up, Spider trots through them nicely and collects.

While working him over it, I try to remember a few things.  First, keep my hands forward and my shoulders back. This makes my abs burn more than all the sit-ups, planks and sitting trot I've ever done, but that's how I know I'm doing it right!  Second, Spider needs to keep his head and neck down, his rhythm steady and his back up.  He gets really excited when we go through the poles, but I can't let him go all jumper on me.  He's got to stay in dressage mode, otherwise we aren't accomplishing anything.

Now, I don't know that I'd recommend that you just start with that set-up all willy nilly.  Spider is in good shape and doing solid 3rd Level work.  He has the strength to sit down and trot through a grid like that.  But, raised poles at a wider distance (say, 5-6 ft) will still help a horse build strength and collection.  I used raised poles set at that distance for many years to get Spider ready to collect.

I've been working through the poles about twice a week.  To prevent boredom, I don't just go through the poles over and over again.  I ride little patterns around and through them, sometimes even riding little figure eights in between the poles.  I especially like to trot through the poles, then half circle 10m and ride a half-pass.  It's also nice to ask for a canter depart right after going over the poles, then canter back around to the grid and trot through again (alternating leads or asking for counter-canter makes this even more interesting).

So far, Spider's canter is improving.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Old Fool Tries Out a New Discipline

Last night, around midnight, I was startled from my peaceful slumber by a loud, metallic crash.  My husband and I turned on the front porch lights and ran out to see what had happened.  My first thought was "car crash", but as my eyes adjusted to the darkness the only thing I could see was a ghostly white shape galloping through the front pasture.  There is only one creature around here who is ghostly white, and he was not supposed to be in the front pasture.  I just seeded that pasture, and the horses are supposed to be locked out.  How had he gotten in there?

I got my boots on and headed out to investigate.  Spider and Matilda were still in the right pasture, although they were a bit miffed that Vinny had gotten out and was eating the "good" grass.  The fence didn't appear to be down, but the gate looked a little odd.  As I got closer I realized why... the gate was twisted up terribly and the 4x4 post that it hinged on had been snapped off clean at the ground.  Vinny had jumped it!  Although, he hadn't quite cleared it.

When I built my fences, I built them tall.  That gate is 5 ft tall, an intimidating height even to trained jumpers. Vinny is not a trained jumper.  I've seen his inspection scores, he did terribly at jumping.  He was made into a dressage horse, and a dressage horse he stayed until his retirement.  I have no idea what was going through his brain last night.  Well, aside from, "Must eat newly seeded pasture."

I checked him over, and he was completely unharmed.  Not a scratch on him, no signs of lameness.  My gate was not so lucky.

My husband and I patched up the fence and went back to bed.  We'll have to get a new gate, replace the post and then run hot wire on top of all the gates sometime this week.  All to keep in a 28 year old ex-dressage horse who has suddenly decided he wants to be a Grand Prix Jumper!

He didn't even have the decency to act stiff or sore this morning.  He was his usual chipper self.  Cheeky Old Fool!

More of Vinny's shenanigans can be found here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

My (mostly) Finished Arena

As I was sitting on the deck looking out over my arena the other afternoon, it occurred to me that I never actually posted pictures of my finished arena.  I posted tons of details about building it and the materials, but never the finished product.

I shall amend that grave oversight now.

To refresh your memory, we started with this:

March 2010

April 2010

Pretty much a blank slate.  Now, we have this:

October 2012

October 2012

Features include:

A gazebo and deck for viewing, complete with fireplace, grill, beer/wine fridge and various children's toys (or, as I like to call them, "de-spookers"):

Deck and gazebo are situated at F, which is represented by that fancy arena marker.

A pen for my children where they can "supervise" the training and de-spooking process without getting run over:

People always comment on how calm my horse is at shows...

It even has a pond where I can reflect upon my ride:

It's also close to the beer/wine fridge, in case I need to drown my sorrows.

And, of course, the most important feature:

State of the art, extremely fancy arena markers.  It's the the hallmark of a fine facility.


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