Friday, August 30, 2013

Indiana Dressage Festival, Day Two

Ya'll recovered from that monster post yesterday? I promise today's post is nowhere near as long. I headed out the barn last night to break Guinness' week of rest to have a bit of a trail ride. I couldn't have picked a better week to give him some time off; it's the hottest week of the whole summer and the ground is ridiculously hard due to a lack of rain this month. We'll get back to real work this weekend, when I can come out in the cooler mornings. The weather is supposed to change again this weekend, back to blessedly cool temps. I'm looking forward to it. Anyway, back to the show!

Sunday

Since my one and only class on Sunday wasn't until nearly 2pm, I spent most of the day at the horse park being incredibly lazy. I took Pig for a walk and watched some advanced rides. They were awesome. I watched some schooling. It was awesome. I talked to my neighbors in the barns. This was also awesome. I took my precious time braiding my horse. We went for another walk. I ate some trail mix. Exciting things, real exciting.

Watching the cross country riders schooling at the start of the course. Apparently, it was totally fascinating.
Guys. I hate having afternoon ride times.

Anyway, I did follow my schedule for getting ready - and was actually ready about 10 minutes early. This wasn't ideal, as I ended up just bouncing around outside my stall crying "Is it time?! Is it time?!" It was ... unflattering. I climbed on Pig with about 25 minutes of warm up time. Juuuuust right.

I was worried about Guinness being tired on the third day, and I think he was a little. My warm up was pretty much the same as Saturday, but with more walk. I wasn't as aggressive as I was on Saturday, either. I was letting myself get more afraid of losing the relaxation and climbing too far into my own head. (Should have spent my morning reading this article instead.) That mindset followed over into my test. Without practicing the forwardness and half halts that I needed during my test, there was just no way I was going to get the forwardness and responsiveness I needed to score well.

Video: 


Guinness was just behind my leg the whole test. I ended up popping him with the crop during our turn across the diagonal in the canter. That reaction I got from him is exactly what I deserved. Too much, too late. As a result of not enough forwardness, I didn't have my horse in my hand and we couldn't execute our bending lines and lateral movements in the slightest. The scoring shows that pretty accurately. Two places where I was riding properly and just didn't get it? The stretchy circle. He did finally give me stretch, but not until the circle was nearly done. The medium walk. The judge writes to ride more forward, and I would have if I'd been able. I knew that Guinness would react to any leg aid by jigging, and I wanted the points for that walk - even if it was slow. So I let him dawdle through that first medium walk, knowing I could really push him forward in the free walk. Know thy horse. It pays off.

(As an aside, I have to tell you how totally in my own head I was for this class. While trotting around the ring, I was expecting to hear the whistle at any moment. Finally, I did. Only, it wasn't the whistle for my ring, it was the bell for the ring right next to me. Thinking it was my whistle, I went ahead and entered the ring. It wasn't until after my test when the judge called me up to tell me that she had saved me by blowing the whistle just before I entered that I had any idea I'd screwed up. PSA, guys. Get out of your own head. Ride the moment, not the brainwaves. I was so lucky, and the judge was so nice.)

I do want to point out that this judge wasn't afraid to use her marks. She gave me 4s for movements that truly deserved them, but had no problems giving me a 7.5 for my first counter canter loop. Holy crap. I was so excited by that score that the fact that the total score was a 55.484% didn't even matter any more, even though it means I missed my 2nd score for my Bronze Medal. A 7.5 for a movement that I couldn't even begin to ride through without disintegrating into a mess of lead changes and bucking at the beginning of the year. In fact, in March I wrote "I'll be surprised if counter canter ever becomes a strength of ours. In fact, I'll just be happy to get through a show without a tension-inducing auto change showing up!" What a difference hard work can make, and what a confidence booster buried in a horrible score. 

In case I didn't already get it drilled in my head this weekend - my half halts, they need ze work.
So, obviously the homework for now is half halts, half halts and more half halts. I'm also giving the green light to working on 2nd level. We're where we need to be at First, and working on 2nd is only going to help us keep getting better.
Let's go, Mom!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Indiana Dressage Festival, Day One

Holy crap. It's Thursday and I still haven't written about the show last weekend. What a mess! I've not really been involved in the horse world for the last few days. Pig has had three days completely off, and the most I've done is write long comments on poor Karen's blog (sorry Karen, I hope they weren't too much!). In all fairness, work has been completely nuts (University students are back on campus, cue craziness all around!). Still not much of an excuse, so put on your reading glasses and grab a coffee because this is going to be a doozy of a post.

Friday

Being able to take the day off before a horse show weekend is a luxury, and one that I am absolutely grateful for. Instead of rushing around like a crazy person, I was able to finish up my packing for the show (still forgot something, but that amusing story is coming...) and leave for the barn without any real stress. A lovely start! By the time I arrived at the barn, I had my game plan and I had the horse fully packed and loaded in about an hour. He even jumped right on the trailer (no hesitations!). The two and a half hour ride to the horse park was uneventful, and we were unpacked and settled into the barn in no time.

This fell out of my saddle while I was cleaning it. Don't worry, I'm sure that's totally normal, and not a problem at all.
As planned, I hopped on Guinness to do a pre-show schooling session in the warm up area and the ring where we would be competing. From looking at the day sheets, I knew we'd be in the same ring for both of our tests on Saturday and that's where I wanted to really do most of my work. In the warm up ring I focused mostly on forward and getting control of the outside shoulder in both directions. Once I moved over to the show ring, I worked on positioning our movements in the ring. Mainly, I was looking to get a feel for how much leg yield I was going to need to push for (my rings at home are slightly smaller than regulation) and where my canter loops would work best. Overall, I felt really good about this ride. Everything was spot on except for leg yields. Circles were slightly sticky, but I could get a good amount of bend when I remembered to ride off my seat. Everything was pointing towards a positive Saturday.
Here's some video of the end of my schooling ride (Gosh, I'm so lucky to have such a beautiful facility available for showing!):
After the ride, I put away Pig and headed out to spend the evening with the fantastic Jen of Cobjockey. It was at this point that I realized that I had managed to forget one thing. Embarassingly, what I'd forgotten was a pair underwear that wouldn't show through white breeches in a spectacular way. Jen and I got to go on a fun jaunt to Walmart for the epic purchase of wine and underwear. Oops!

Saturday

Despite the forecast predicting hot, hot weather, Saturday morning was fairly cool and really lovely. With my ride times in the late morning and mid afternoon, I wasn't in a rush to get ready. I'd drawn out schedules for the morning on my tack trunk, and was determined to adhere to them. They ended up working really well, getting me fully prepared and ready to head to the warm up ring right on time without any of the normal panic for time. Check one for successful planning!

I love buttons on a thin necked horse!
My warm up went well. I focused mainly on relaxation and transitions between trot and walk. I should have schooled more canter transitions, as those were a bit buck-and-leap-ish in my test. I also schooled my back and forth leg yield exercise that Nancy had me work on. Doing this at the walk really seems to loosen up Guinness and get him listening to my leg. I've noticed skipping these in the walk results in really tense leg yields at the trot. The leg yields were still not very good. Guinness kept trailing his haunches, and would pop out of the contact and twist if I pushed for more. To try to get these better, I worked on 10 meter circles to supple him. Then I did a few 10 meter circle-25m of leg yield-10 meter circle- 25m of leg yield until he finally would yield somewhat better. By this time it was time to head over for the test.

Circling the ring, I did work on the stretchy trot. I think this was a great addition to our schooling. It kept me active and thinking prior to the test, and kept Guinness relaxed and light in the contact. Overall, the test went well. The first lengthening and canter transition were really rough. The leg yields were sticky, as normal. Luckily in 1st 2, they are slightly easier, as they start from the centerline and head towards the rail.  I didn't want to push for anything, as I was worried about losing relaxation. During the canter transition, however, Pig let loose with a buck and I started really riding. I reminded myself that I had a whip for a reason and started using it to get more action from the inside hind, and I felt I rode very mindfully, in fact it almost felt like schooling at home. Everything else just fell away, and it was just Pig and I.
Here's the view from the judge:



Overall, the comments show that I need more bend/suppleness, acceptance, and more GO. That was sort of a theme for the whole weekend. The score for this test was a 62.432, good enough for 2nd place out of four riders. I was over the moon with this score. I felt the judge was pretty forgiving of some of the trot work, but was really happy with my scores for the first canter lengthening, as I'd really put aside my nervousness and pushed for it. 
Ribbons!
After this test, I had enough down time to snack a bit and relax. Then it was back to the ring for 1st 3. My warm up was only 20 minutes this time, and mostly at the walk and canter. I also focused more on the changes of bend at the trot, as the 10m circle figure eight at the test opening is really difficult for me. I should have schooled more trot lengthening, but I was again afraid of losing relaxation (always a delicate balance).

The test didn't go quite as well as the first, but I still felt pretty good about it. We didn't have any huge screw ups, and I thought it was maybe more consistent than my first test. However, the movements are harder and the points more elusive in this test. 
Here's how the judge broke it down: 


Did you see the 7.0's on BOTH canter loops? Holy crap, guys. I'm so excited about that, I can't even tell you. The judge's comments to work more on half halts is certainly being taken very seriously, as I can really tell that getting Pig off his forehand is something I really need to start working on. Our transitions will benefit from it immensely. Right now, I notice Guinness tends to really get in the zone working on a circle or a straight line, and change makes him lose everything. Instead of changing bend so dramatically, I should be preparing him a few strides before the movement with a half halt. Elementary, but I've been missing it.

After giving Pig a bath and settling him back into his stall, my entourage and I headed over to watch the some of the more advanced rides, including a BEAUTIFUL Intermediaire freestyle test, and enjoy the competitors party. Indiana Dressage Society really does a beautiful job putting on these shows. The competitors party was a big hit, and all the volunteers did a lovely job all day. It was a beautiful day at the horse park, for sure. 

Now for the surprise. This was supposed to be a one day show for me. My mother, however, sprung for the extra show fees that I could show on Sunday as well (she had ulterior motives of getting me to spend some quality family time with her and my extended family that night, as they all live near the horse park and I haven't been home in ages). This was super generous of her, and there was a scratch in 1st 3 for Sunday that worked perfectly to put me in. the show management was very gracious to let me enter mid-day on Saturday. You know what this means? Another show post! Sunday write-up tomorrow!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Funny Collection of Thoughts

The last week has been off. My mind hasn't been much on training, yet I've had some of the most positive rides of the month. My routine has been completely screwed up, but my horse is still getting worked on the right days and the right number of times.

My thoughts about riding and the show this weekend have been sporadic at best, though I've been trying my best to collect and analyze them. Like anyone with a past of horse-related head injuries can relate, my memory isn't what it used to be. Keeping my ideas and time schedule together for horse shows is just really hard. It seems like I've tried a different technique for every show, nothing ever really working out. Here are a few things rattling around in my leaky brain for this weekend:


  • Surprisingly, I've found myself to be less stressed and more "pulled together" when showing on my own, with no one around to manage or rely on. For this weekend, I won't be alone, but I won't really have help. My husband is coming along, which is a help unloading the trailer. He's going to read my tests for me (after we practice that on Friday), but otherwise won't be responsible for doing much. Getting my horse ready, having all my stuff on and within reach, and getting myself warmed up and to the ring calmly will be all on me. I think I'd rather have it that way. 


  • I read on Eventing Nation this morning that young eventer Caitlin Silliman does a bit of stretchy trot while circling her dressage ring. Her horse, Catch A Star, reminds me of Guinness, a little tight in the neck, a touch hot, and sensitive. The writer felt this stretchy trot helped Catch a Star to relax. I'm thinking this might be a little note that Guinness and I take to the show this weekend. The stretchy trot is so hard for us to get in the ring anyway, maybe schooling it around the outside is a good idea for us. No harm in trying it.
  • I finally broke down and bought one of these hairnets to corral my outrageously long and heavy hair in a bun on my neck, instead of attempting to cram it under my helmet. I've been doing hunter hair for so many years, and had it drilled into my head that flyaways are unacceptable. That makes the fact that my hair absolutely will not fit under my current helmet without falling out incredibly distressing. Plus, I'm always frantically trying to do my hair right before I get on. How lovely to be able to do it early in the morning, and be able to not worry about it the rest of the day. Riding with a bun on my neck will take some getting used to, but the only other solutions are cutting my hair (What?! Then I'd have to do something with it!), or buy a new larger helmet (which I used to do, but can't afford right now). Now, I just have to practice with it...
  • Speaking of the stretchy trot, I need to focus on keeping my legs on my horse -- but only in the show ring. In practice, I'm working on my seat and my contact. My legs are a bit too much of the equation to think about, and their problems seem to resolve when my upper body is correct (read: upright, stretching/supporting abs, shoulders down back)
For now, it is late and my tack is clean. Time to get some sleep. Good luck to everyone showing this weekend!






Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Don't forget the wine!

Well after a brief hiatus in which I traveled to Seattle for a funeral, my nose has been shoved up against the training grindstone again. Giving my horse 3 days off the week before our first recognized appearance at First Level wasn't exactly in the cards, but you have to roll with the changes of plan (no matter how much of a perfectionist-type schedule freak you are!).

So this week has been full of tweaking my riding, practicing my position and rein holding, running through my tests, and brainstorming relaxation techniques for myself and my fiery red-head. I can't say everything has been progressing smoothly, but I can't say that I'm terribly unhappy with the work we've been putting in.

Overall, I feel a little stagnated. Our last lesson with Nancy was so good, but I can't seem to get back to that feeling. Instead, Guinness seems to be taking advantage of my work to hold the reins instead of pulling on them to by dropping out of contact in the right rein. In addition, my left hip is still screwed up (though, not as badly as it was!) and this has resulted in a weak left leg -- allowing Guinness to avoid the right rein more than he should. If I think about really applying my left leg, he's better. Unfortunately, I can't do this for a long time, yet. It's disheartening to feel the contact I worked so hard to achieve go away, especially since our work was so consistent for awhile.

I've been doing my best to stay positive during my rides, but I think I've been riding just a bit too long. After about 45 minutes, anything I ask for seems to be greeted with exasperation, instead of eagerness. That is pretty disheartening for both of us, so I need to remember to ride a little shorter and take a little less work in each ride. I don't need to cram in perfect everything during every ride. I also need to stop pushing so much with my body and sit more upright. I've been pushing for activity too much with my core, instead of with my legs and whip. That causes me to collapse and pull on the reins. It's a hard habit to break, but I need to practice more before the show this weekend. Along the same lines, allowing for a slower tempo trot and canter isn't such a bad thing - especially while I'm working on increasing engagement. It's a calmer pace, and one that might allow Guinness and I to stay calmer and more together at the show grounds.

Counting tonight, I have two more schooling rides before leaving for the horse park on Friday afternoon. We are scheduled to ride 1st 2 just before 11:00 and 1st 3 just before 2:00 on Saturday. Those times are pretty nicely spaced for me, and I hope they don't change too much. I'm getting a little nervous about my first "Big Show" at First Level, but I'm trying to remember that it's just the same as any other show. With the long morning and slight gap in rides, I better not forget to bring some wine!
Guinness in the sunflower field; Sunday morning hack.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Thoroughbred in Dressage

This morning I found myself obsessively reading through the Chronicle forums, especially this thread in the dressage section titled "Is it worth getting a OTTB." Here, a poster asks if getting an off-the-track thoroughbred is worth it if your goal is to eventually work through a USDF Bronze Medal.

A lot of those commenting make good points, mostly regarding soundness issues, retraining issues, price and most importantly the train-ability and heart of the thoroughbred breed as a whole. That got me thinking about the many (many, many, many) thoroughbreds I've ridden in my career, and what makes them unique.

Here is what I have learned about riding and training The Thoroughbred in dressage:

  1. The Thoroughbred demands your respect and confidence. This is not the type of horse you can ignore. Spooky situations can easily escalate without a calm and confident leader to take charge. He can easily become tense or nervous when things change. Even the best behaved and docile thoroughbred prefers to have your support and attention, especially in new situations and around new people. This is mainly because ... 
  2. The Thoroughbred is a loving, social horse with tendencies towards attachment. Most thoroughbreds are incredibly happy as one-person horses. They tend to bond strongly with their riders and caretakers, often showing an incredible amount of trust in that one person. However, thoroughbreds also love to be social with other horses, and tend enjoy playing with other horses. This may end up being frustrating to the rider, as your personal relationship may get in the way of your objective training.
  3. The Thoroughbred is a perfectionist and a tattle tale. He is sensitive. He will demand the most accuracy his rider is capable of, both in training and riding. Any faults of the rider, a slight relaxation of the core or half inch drop in the contact, will be reflected in his way of going. While this will make his rider ultimately better and more sensitive, it can be the most frustrating thing in the world.
  4. The Thoroughbred finds joy and relaxation in rhythm. He can get lost in the rhythm of his own gaits. This can be used to the rider's advantage, to relax and calm the horse in tough situations. Especially if you consider... 
  5. The Thoroughbred's mind is only working if his feet are moving.
The thoroughbred is a amazing breed, but not meant for everyone. Most days I'm happy to have my little perfectionist workaholic, but certainly there are days where he, say, tattles on me to my instructor every time my core loses an iota of stability and I want to kill him. Certainly I think that Thoroughbreds are suited to dressage, and I believe that everyone should at some point experience the nobility and drive that these animals posses. They make their riders better, and there's something to be said for that.

And for those who are wondering? Yes, absolutely get a thoroughbred for dressage. Any good horse is completely capable of getting 60% scores at 3rd Level. As for picking the "right one?" I suggest using the same criteria you would use to select any other horse for dressage. Look for a level or uphill horse with sound legs and a happy expression. Choose the horse that will make you look forward to your training, more than the horse that is fancy. Then, focus on you. Your riding is going to do a lot more to advance you to your goals than your horse.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Collecting Homework

Clinics with Nancy at my barn are some of my favorite days. The group of us riding tend to gather around as the day goes on, and watch each others lessons. I'm sure we're a bit distracting, chatting and snacking on the bleachers, but none of us really seem to mind the audience. I find the extra auditing is helpful. Often other riders end up getting a lesson very similar to mine, and that helps me really absorb the lessons from my session.

Plus, I get to practice my photography skills.
Not me ... 
I started the morning off with a 10 a.m. lesson. By the time I rolled into the barn, I'd already been up for a long while - having driven out to BFE Amish Country to retrieve my saddle that morning (hooray newly stitched on billets!). Guinness was in the far, far, far corner of the property, and I set off with a halter to capture him.

Once he was safely captured (ha, he comes to me. No capture required), I decided that walking back to the barn through the wet grass wasn't something I really wanted to do. So, I hopped on him bareback and without a helmet. Like a responsible person. This went well until the other gelding in the pasture (who is crotchety and mean and really hates other geldings) pinned his ears and rushed Guinness as we strolled about 50 yards from him. Pig reacted like any animal not wanting to be bitten, and spun to move out of the way. Being bareback and helmetless (I know, I know ...), I decided that the valiant thing would be not to try to save the situation and instead to take the fall. 

A fall of five feet. 

Directly onto my butt. 

In almost white breeches.

Into wet grass.

After I chased off the offending gelding (he's really a problem), I laughed it off and headed back to the barn. Minus a huge muscle knot in the fattiest part of my butt (I aim well!), I've no injuries. Honestly for my first fall in almost three years, I feel like I got off really easy. Guinness was incredibly worried about me, too. He's always so apologetic after he hurts me

Nancy laughed when I told her I'd already gotten my fall out of the way for the day, and was ready to have a tough lesson. Which is good, because she certainly didn't pull any punches! A quick discussion about what I've been working on (not giving away my right rein so much, being top of the list), and we dove right to work. 

(I'm going to pause here and apologize if some of this is disjointed and awkward analysis. I haven't had a lot of time to process, and really wanted to get this out.)

Starting with leg yields, Nancy firmed up our work with these. While still not perfect, they are getting better and less dramatic with each ride. She pinpointed my weaknesses of keeping both legs on and my wishy-washy outside rein as the main culprits. Instead of focusing on those things, though, she gave us an exercise to establish straightness: Start on rail, leg yield three steps off the rail. Then, switch and yield back to the rail. When doing this, she had me emphasize straightness, almost to a counter bend. This was especially so to the right, where I tended to give my right rein. The "counterbend" forced me to keep that outside rein, kept us straight and allowed Pig's shoulders to be free and lead the movement strongly. (See video below for an excerpt of our work on this.)
After that, we moved on to the meat of the lesson- mini collection. She started me off riding 10 meter circles at S. Having me move Guinness strongly around my inside leg, and into both hands. I think the main focus here was to get Pig's inside hind leg really moving, and under him. I'm not sure about this, but it's what happened. I tend to ride circles with my weight to the inside, causing Pig to motorcycle around. Nancy reminded me to sit up and use my outside aids to straighten him on the circle and create true bend, not a lean. The circles ended up being really nice, and this is something I need to remember to work on.
Once Guinness was really working and very connected on the circles, we continued on the rail. Here, Nancy had me think even more about my position. She had me think "half halt" almost the whole way around, tightening and lifting my core while sitting very quietly in my seat. To ask for impulsion, she had me lightly flick Guinness with the whip. At first he wanted to trot faster, and bumpier. Nancy had me continue to sit up ("Up! Up! Up!) and quiet my seat even more. It almost felt like my seat was leaning back and my upper body was slightly leaning forward, though I was actually straight. With this, I could feel Guinness come under, just a little bit more. We praised, walked and repeated.

Whoa, boy. This was tough. My abs were actually sore on Sunday and Monday from holding myself UP. Hopefully they are stronger now, as Nancy reminded me that this is the position I need to be riding in all the time, not just when we are working on mini collection. We aren't really to collection, yet. But this is certainly a fun tool to work with, and will hopefully help me a lot on our lengthenings. 

One of  the biggest points that I took away from the entire lesson regarded holding the reins. Pointing out that I looked as though I was pulling backwards on the reins with my arms, Nancy reminded me to pull my shoulders down my back. I did so, then she hit me with a bombshell. "Hold the reins with your hands. You can't hold the reins with your arms. Your can only hold the reins in your hands, and feel the contact in your core" This is such a subtle change, but it was amazing how much it helped me to relax through my arms and hold my reins softly. Guinness picked up on the change quickly, too. I also noticed that I was less inclined to give away my right rein while holding the reins this way. It's not so much a position to think of, but a focus. If I think of the feeling of Guinness' mouth in my hands more like holding water, and sit up straight, I can feel the pressure of the contact in my midsection. It almost ties us together. This is the neatest feeling ... 

Still not me ... 
After all of that work, it was nice to just bathe Pig and sit the rest of the afternoon watching the other riders at the barn get variations on the same lesson, or lessons I've had before. Just another long and productive day at the barn.

Monday, August 5, 2013

To Show or Not to Show

Back in early 2012, I was pretty conflicted about showing. Not having grown up showing extensively, I wasn't terribly familiar with the process or expense of showing. I wasn't comfortable with the idea of it, and I wasn't sure what kind of goals I should be realistically be working towards. After a year really getting out in the world of competitive dressage, both by showing and volunteering, I'm happy to report that I'm not quite as conflicted. In fact, the decision to show or not is actually pretty easy for me now.

For me, the deciding factors are based heavily on three main things: long term goals, our training progress, and cost.
All packed and ready to go!
Goals: My long term goal is to earn a USDF Bronze Medal. A subset of this goal is to complete as much of this goal with Guinness as I can. As earning the USDF Bronze Medal requires scores two at 60% or above at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level, showing USDF recognized shows at Training level was not something I was particularly invested in. I still felt it was important to show at this level, but the extra money for a recognized show wasn't something I needed to spend money on. Now, we're showing 1st Level, and it is important for me to get out there and get those scores when I can.

Training Progress: As a person who mainly trains and rides alone, it's important to me to get out to shows both to gain the insight on my own riding and training from judges and to observe other riders and how they are riding and training. Without seeing the level of work that is being required at each level, I wouldn't have a good idea of where I need to be to appropriately show at the level. 
When I am deciding between attending a USDF recognized or a schooling show, I think about where I am in my training. For example, I wouldn't go out and debut a level at a USDF show. All of my moves up through the levels have been at cheaper schooling shows to get the experience without the extra stress. I also show a schooling show if I feel I am not confirmed enough to get the scores I need. An example of this is my most recent show in July. I wasn't feeling that Guinness and I were confirmed enough to do a USDF recognized show and get the scores we needed, but I still wanted feedback on where we were. That show was perfect, showing me what needed improvement and where I was on the right track. As schooling shows tend to be a little more lenient in the judging and the atmosphere slightly less demanding, they are also good for building experience.

Cost: As a young professional with a medical student spouse (read: one income household with two dogs, two people and horse - ouch), I find that money doesn't exactly grow on trees. In fact, money doesn't really seem to grow anywhere. Our budget is extremely tight, and I tend to justify spending money by asking the question "Will I die without this?" If the answer is "I will not die," then it is hard for me to spend the cash. I'm lucky to have a hoard of generous and supportive family members who don't mind giving much-appreciated horse related gifts, and a group of generous friends who are often willing to give up their homes and time to do anything from house me at shows to watching my dogs, grooming, reading tests, taking videos and anything else related to the pony-adventure. 
As such, spending money on horse shows is only allowed because horses are absolutely necessary in my life, and my riding goals are intensely precious to me. However, fitting the expense of a schooling show into my budget is hard enough, a recognized show is nearly impossible. Still, I want that bronze medal and I want that feedback, so I know that I must figure it out somehow. My show outings tend to be limited to the ones that I see as "necessary." We show at schooling shows when I need the confirmation of our training, and for the experience. We show at USDF recognized shows when I am sure we are capable of delivering work deserving of a 60% or above. I know that I'm not always going to get the scores I need, but I know there's no point for me to throw money at USDF shows until I am capable of getting the scores. That's just the reality in which I operate.

How do you make decisions on showing? What factors drive you the most? 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Barefoot Thoroughbred, A Comparison

Last July, trimmed by a "professional" for a year.

Three weeks ago, after being trimmed by me for the last 10 months.
As I've discussed before, Guinness' feet are a unique case. In case you're new, here's a summary of the important points:
  • When I purchased this horse he was in thick wedge pads in front and heavy steel shoes behind. The back shoes were set on his frogs. He does not have any navicular changes (x-rays to prove it) or bone issues that should necessitate wedges like that.
  • He is prone to thin soles, which have thickened and toughed considerably while barefoot on full turnout. Gravel roads are tough for him sometimes. It depends. He may have a slight insulin resistance, but it's nothing really worth watching right now (as he ages, it may).
  • He has severe fetlock arthritis in both front legs. (Did you look at the x-rays?) This keeps him from being able to extend his foot out and actually use it fully, resulting in chronically run-under heels. This could be fixed with pads, but pads + shoes add weight. Weight = extra strain on arthritic ankles. My vet recommended keeping him barefoot if I can, for the sake of his bones. Either that, or use expensive and annoying glue-on egg bar shoes. So, I keep him barefoot, and manage as best as we can.
Last summer, Guinness was still being trimmed by the local "barefoot trimmer." Most of the horses at my barn are done by her, and seemed to be okay. Unfortunately, Guinness was not one of these horses. After every trim by her he was lame for at least two days. I found this to be unacceptable. She seemed incapable of trimming him in a way that kept him sound, so I fired her. 

Of course, with no one else really capable of keeping him sound - I decided to give his foot care a try myself. After owning this horse for years, I was pretty familiar with what shape of foot he was soundest with, and how his feet tended to effect his arthritis. For example, he tends to do well with a fairly long toe. I think it helps compensate for the fact that his heels are always going to be run under (see the above point about his arthritis restricting his range of motion).

For the past year, he's been a sound and happy horse. I've learned a lot about his feet, and gotten stronger from standing under him holding his feet and rasping away. This winter was the first we didn't have long layups where he was too sore from arthritis to get work done, or too footsore from frozen ground. In fact, we ended up doing a lot of trotting and walking on the local gravel roads. He was fantastic. This summer, has been a challenge just keeping up with the massive amount of foot he's been growing. I've had to trim him every week and a half just to keep up! 

I'm not perfect at doing feet, and wouldn't touch another horse's feet unless I was as familiar with them as I am with my own horse. Even with Guinness, I'm not terribly confident. When I trim his feet, I try to keep them evenly balanced, watch for any strange flaring, and shorten his toes as much as possible. He seems happy, though. He tends to whuffle through my hair and nap while I work, and stands comfortably after I'm done. That's enough feedback for me, I suppose.

Anyone else dealt with extremely special needs feet? 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Noticing Trends: Elbows

One of the best routines I've implemented in my riding this year has been the writing of "3 Things" at the end of every ride. Sometime between dismounting my horse and crawling into bed, I boot up "Day One" on my phone to write up a list of at least three things that apply to my ride. These things can vary widely. Here are some recent examples:
July 30: "Working the Stretchy Trot: Remember to Sit up! Stop letting your legs swing all over the place when you post. Keep the rein pressure the same as when you sit, stop moving your hands so much with your posting."
July 28: "It seems that some right rein contact issues are stemming from Pig feeling blocked at the shoulder. Look further into this when in the ring ... "
July 27: "Whoa, bad day for contact. Finally managed some decent working after doing approximately 1,000,000 turns on the haunches."

What I like most about this process is reading back through my posts for the last week or so and seeing what I've continually highlighted as a problem or thought point. Over the last week, what's been trending highly is how nicely Guinness softens into my hand when I manage to keep my elbows close to my sides, and really ride with the contact through them. As my core stability starts to become second nature, the problem of the elbow flailing is taking further prominence.

For the last couple of rides (exactly two, as I came down with a bad case of the near-death-allergy-attacks this week), I've keep these wayward elbows of mine at the top of my mind, figuring out their place in the Guinness and I's growing lexicon.

It seems I was right. Without my elbows right at my sides, I cannot properly carry my contact through my back and absorb it kindly. Elbows bowed out breaks the line, and all the contact ends up in my forearm.

I don't know about you, but my forearm isn't terribly flexible.
Guinness would like to add that he agrees with me. Forearms are not flexible.
Ugh. So, to the right my flailing elbow has been allowing my contact to bounce around on my forearm, which is hard for me to detect if I'm not paying close attention. Elbow in solves the problem without any other position changes.

Now? I need to develop this into muscle memory, and reestablish Guinness' trust in my right rein. Right now, he's taking 3x the amount of inside left leg to finally settle into the contact on that side. The moment my elbow shifts slightly, he's back off the contact and solidly on my inside rein.

If you see me this week, you might hear me repeating over and over under my breath: "Both reins even, same contact, steady, elbow in and back, leg on. Both reins even ..."

Sigh, we'll get there. Nancy lesson tomorrow morning.