Friday, July 29, 2016

Another One To Cross Off The List

Ever have one of those days where everything that can go wrong does go wrong? That was my show day.

It started at 6:30 am, shortly after I left my house. See, I was not aware that, because of the Democratic National Convention, all traffic over 5 tons had been re-routed around Philly. Into NJ. Right onto the highway I needed to take to get to the show. It took over an hour to get 5 miles. My two hour ride turned into nearly four hours. 

The driveway of USET Headquarters.

I arrived at the show grounds seriously, seriously late. With barely 30 minutes to get on and warm up, I opened up the trailer to find that at some point my horse had ripped out all his braids and also ripped the hay bag off the trailer wall (he actually broke the damn thing, something I've never seen before). He was also covered in sweat and looked like a wreck. But, whatever, I've got to get on and warm up. I fixed the braids as best I could, sprayed some show sheen on him, tacked up and headed to the warm up. 



The warm up ring was an indoor, packed with FEI riders. Spider decided to be Spider and careened around like an idiot, bouncing off several BNTs on their fancy horses. Luckily, they were all very nice and/or felt sorry for me. Eventually, I decided to just make my way up to the ring. Then the ring steward stopped me and said, "287? Your time passed, we counted you as a no show." 

*record scratch*

With less than 24 hours notice, they had changed my time to an earlier one. I was not amused, but after a brief argument with the secretary via the ring steward's walkie talkie I managed to get back in the show with a time an hour later. 

This, however, presented a new problem: what to do with my horse? I had rented a day stall, but through another unfortunate mixup it had been double booked. I was by myself, because my friends were in the same traffic I had encountered. Well, technically, I wasn't by myself. I had my two kids with me. It was also nearly 100 degrees with no shade and no water if I couldn't get into my stall. This was not an ideal situation. 

"There's grass? I'm cool."


I went back to my trailer, gave Spider all of the bottled waters I'd packed, tried to spruce him up a bit, then immediately got back on to warm up for the second time. I did find an outdoor ring no one else was using to warm up in, so no one else got run over. That was nice. We warmed up OK, but I over did it. Two warm ups was too many, and by the time I got into the ring at noon I had no horse left. And no me left, either. 

The view was pretty cool, though.


The test is a blur, I may have blacked out a couple times. I went off course in the first movement, so that was two points off. I didn't even try for a half pass, we straight up leg yielded (for a 4.5 and 5.0, respectively). The changes were completely late behind (4.0 and 4.5). My turns on the haunches ended up being reining spins (4.0 for both) and he jigged through most of the walk work. We managed to save ourselves in the halts (7.0 for both) and the extensions and mediums (6.0 for all). The judge's final remark: "Good try of a difficult test in the heat- overall needs much more impulsion to excel at this level." Truer words were never spoken....

Final score: 51.97. It's officially my worst score at Third Level. 

After the test, I finally got my day stall, got Spider settled in, and was able to enjoy myself. (I was sticking around to help my friend with her horse later in the day.) Gladstone is gorgeous, and the stone barn is nice and cool. If only I had arrived on time, I could have taken advantage of all that for my test. Oh, well. There's always next time. 

This is the nicest place my horse has ever shit.


Considering that I knew I wasn't prepared going in, I spent nearly 4 hours driving and it was hotter than Satan's taint, I think we did pretty well. 

Sweaty, filthy and disheveled, that's how we roll.


Plus, I got to ride at Gladstone and run into famous people in the warm up ring (literally). So, I can cross that off my bucket list. We'll get ourselves back into a shape and have another go at it in September when the weather cools off, but not at Gladstone. I'll pick a closer venue next time.


"Wait.... we're not doing this again, right?"


Sunday, July 24, 2016

How To "Cheat" At Third Level

So, it's now Show Week, and guess who hasn't been practicing half pass or flying changes because it's hot as balls?

"Don't try to blame me for this, I thought we were just doing Hunter Paces now."


Luckily, my trainer has decided that I'm absolutely not allowed to screw up at shows anymore and has me in "boot camp". That means I'm getting several lessons before the show whether I want them or not, instead of my usual "I don't need help, I got this!"  

In my last lesson he asked me to half pass to the rail in trot, because it's part of the test. Instead, we aimlessly floundered in the general direction of the rail. I was like, "We.. uh... haven't really done this in awhile." His response: "I noticed."

After a couple more failed attempts, he said, "Let's try something else.... Turn down the quarter line like you're going to half pass, but leg yield instead."

So, I turned right down the near quarter line and then leg yielded left. "No, no, no! Leg yield like you would half pass!" Me: "..... Huh?"

Trainer: "Turn down the quarter line, like you're going to half pass, but leg yield instead. To the rail!" 

Me: "........ So, turn right, then leg yield right?"

"Yes!"

*light bulb goes on*

This is, by the way, opposite of how one usually leg yields in dressage, hence my confusion. But, we tried it and nailed it. After a few times doing that in both directions, my trainer had me subtly change the bend in the leg yield. It wasn't a full half pass, but it's enough to get a 5. Obviously, we're going to work on getting an actual half pass back and not just cheating our way through, but if push comes to shove and I don't have enough oomph for a real half pass at the show, it never hurts to fake it 'til you make it. 

Then we moved to those pesky changes. The change has always been a challenge for Spider. He came to me with a very lovely automatic change: any time you changed direction, he automatically changed his lead. Unfortunately, that is not what we're looking for in dressage. I spent years convincing him to change when I wanted him to, and not when he thought he should. Now that he's older, and not as fit, he's developed a tendency to change where I ask him to, but late behind. 

The solution to this was more leg yielding, this time at the canter. Same exercise, but this time I knew what was coming so there was no awkward "... Huh?" conversation.  

So, the exercise was canter down the near quarter line, straighten out, leg yield in the same direction you turned down quarter line, ask for change when you hit the rail.  I would never have thought of this solution, it is not in any of the books, but it worked! Why did it work? I'm still working that one out in my head, but I'm thinking it has to do with engaging the outside hind leg and me setting up and using my aids for the flying change more effectively. I'll work out the "why" later so I can use it to get the changes correctly... for Thursday, I'll be doing a leg yield into my change. The changes in my test are called for across the diagonal, and a judge at C can't see that I'm leg yielding into the change. 

Fake it 'til you make it, y'all.  






Thursday, July 21, 2016

Horse Training At 100 Degrees

I've got a competition looming, so naturally NJ has decided to go full sauna on me. How does one train a horse when the heat index is 107? Very carefully.

NJ heat is a brutal combination of sun and humidity, and NJ only has this type of weather for a couple months out of the year. It makes it hard to acclimate, and that takes a definite toll on my horses:  Jack sweats like a $3 whore just standing still, Spider turns into a salted slug, and Spots and Beau refuse to leave their shady stalls. 

But, I'm still going to a show in a week, so I've got to figure something out. My solution: lots of walking. 

Particularly over raised poles.

The walk is a seriously underrated gait, as you will notice by the number of horses either jigging or zombie crawling through the walk work at most dressage shows. I'm definitely guilty of the jigging, and I've got the scores to prove it. So, might as well work on that walk when it's too hot to do anything else!

Dressage rules define four different walks: Medium, Collected, Extended and Free. Those four alone are more than enough to keep me busy for a half hour or so in this ridiculous heat. But, in addition to the "rules", you can also perform all the lateral exercises in walk. This is a great way to introduce the lateral movements to a young horse, re-affirm them in a trained horse, or sharpen your own aids for them without the bouncing and speed of the other gaits. (Those last two are definitely what Spider and I need!)

The walk is also good for building suppleness and relaxation, something a Thoroughbred always needs work on. Fingers crossed that all this walk work builds the suppleness and relaxation I need for Spider to not anticipate his flying changes and then totally flub them!






Monday, July 11, 2016

Two Weeks

I let a friend convince me to show at Gladstone on the 28th. To be fair, it didn't take much convincing. Gladstone, formally known as Hamilton Farm, is the headquarters of the USET. It's historic, gorgeous, and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to ride crappily where Olympians have tread.

And crappy riding it will be! I had just finished up two months of PT for my neck, I was feeling much better and my riding was getting back on track, when I got The Cold From Hell. I've had it for two weeks now, and can't seem to shake the cough. This means I haven't worked my horse in the last two weeks, except the one lesson I took last week in which I wanted to die. It was so bad that my trainer, genuinely concerned for my health, rode my horse for me in jeans and sneakers (and still rode better than healthy me). 

So, now I've got two weeks (technically, 17 days) to get ready to show at the USET headquarters and try to look decent (as in, not like I'm riding a horse I just pulled out of a field). I should probably be riding the aforementioned horse, but instead I'm sitting here next to my arena having some "cough medicine" because procrastination is my superpower. 

Adult Pony Club - South Jersey Chapter, Representin'!


I will, of course, be taking my Wine Sippy Cup with me to Gladstone for awesome photo ops. And also for liquid encouragement and "cough medicine".

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