Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April Analysis | May Goals

April was a long month, and May is going to be super busy. So, let's jump right in and wrap this sucker up!

April Goals: 
1. Really refine First 3 and Second 1. Run through them a few times and video at least once before the schooling show at the end of the month. Figure out where the points are, and how we are best suited to go after them.
Yes! I schooled these tests to death in April, and it really paid off at Heartland when I could ride the tests from memory and feel like I was stringing together actual work instead of scrambling to prepare for a movement because I was late remembering it. 
Hells yeah! Square halt!
2. Amp up the pressure during the first half of the month. Really focus on quality of gaits and transitions, and keeping consistent connection. Need to push more movements together, and great a little stress so Guinness and I find riding tests almost easy when we get to them.
I DID end up increasing the pressure at the start of the month, then backing it off the week before the show. I do think this helped us some. However instead of increasing pressure on things we already knew, I pushed for an increase in flexion from Guinness which wasn't something we'd been practicing, and I think I fried him for the show. Of course, that stuff needed (and is still undergoing) work, so I don't feel too badly about it. We're almost to a point where I can see the light at the other end of the flexion tunnel, and I'm came back from the show ready to amp the pressure right back up. Before my next show, I'll probably decrease the pressure a little bit less than I did last for Heartland. I think I was a little too complacent, and he fell flat in the ring.

3. Keep working on renvers/travers. Try to get a thorough understanding of them, and reliably get a few steps without tension.
Success! I worked on these with Nancy, and she showed me just how much I need to ask for to maintain proper bend/flexion without losing the hind end. She also went through the aids, and I'm feeling able to ask for these successfully every ride. They aren't very advanced or showy, but we're only 2nd level. (It's amazing how often I have to keep reminding myself that 2nd level work is not going to look like Grand Prix work. Duh.)

4. Have a good experience at the schooling show. Focus on relaxation and clear communication. Keep myself focused and riding every moment of the test, not letting the test ride me. Aiming for upper 60s at First and lower 60s at Second. Scores are secondary to good productive rides.
Fail on the scores (Upper 50s in both tests ... ouch), but winning on the focus, relaxation, communication and cognizant riding. I honestly think our scores would have been higher at another show, though I don't think they were horribly unfair either. The rides were good preparatory rides for the season, and our work is only improving.
Good experience, better turnout. Priorities...?
5. Continue to develop the medium trot.
Uh ... yes. But only insofar as as I have been working hard to increase the overall engagement of all gaits and establish a better base of straightness. This results in better mediums, though I can't say we've really been practicing them.

6. Master the french braided forelock (and have fabulous show turnout all wrapped up).
Total success! I braided two forelocks at the last show. (Note: Full, luscious cob forelocks are way easier to braid than wispy thin thoroughbred forelocks. Or maybe I just don't speak "thin hair" well, as my own hair is massively thick. Whatever.)

Connor's forelock is clearly winning here... 

Personal April Goals:
1. Run a 7 miler!
Yes! I churned out 7.2 miles last weekend, and am looking at doing another 7 miler this weekend. It's good to have my distance mojo back. However, I am going to need to start running earlier in the morning and trying to avoid the parts of town with unchained pitbulls. The dogs were pretty frazzled by the end of last weekend's run.
"Mom, get it together. It's starting to get hot out here!"
2. Keep weekly mileage at 15 miles or higher.
Winning again! I only had one week last month where my mileage dipped. I'm feeling okay about that. Rest times are good!

3. Get cracking on personal projects that have been languishing for the last month.
Uh. No. Big Fail. April was the month of zero-motivation. May is feeling much better, though!

May Goals:
1. Work through the tension and temper tantrums going from straightness to flexion is causing in Guinness, and establish better overall straightness and balance.
2. Keep up with 2nd 1 and review and get comfortable with 1st 2. Video rides again a week out from Harmony.
3. Push hard at the beginning of the month and up to Harmony in the Park in the middle of the month. Then, let Guinness have a good week off.
4. Have a good experience at Harmony in the Park at the middle of the month. Look for confident rides that are more representative of our capabilities. Try to ride every ride, and stay present in the moment. Don't hope Guinness is with me, but actively make it so.
5. Finish Bronze scores at 1st level.
6. Get Bronze score at 2nd level.
5. Get out hacking more. At least once a week for a long ride, or twice a week for a short one.

Personal May Goals:
1. Yoga. Once a week. Do it!
2. Run a 9 miler. Increase weekly average to 17 miles, try to push for one week of 18-20.
3. Keep up with my daily routines and stop letting ice cream and peanut butter sabotage my life. (Anyone else eat multiple jars of peanut butter in a week? No? Just me ...?)
3. Stop falling behind at work. Procrastination is not my friend, no matter how nice and friendly it seems to be.
4. Get my plants/flowers planted, my yard looking less like a trailer park, and my screened in porch ready for the summer pizza party season.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Keeping My Whites White

All we're missing here is a set of white polo wraps...
Let's face it, dressage riders are dumb. Why else would be be obsessed with covering both ourselves and our filthy horses in white clothes and wandering out to ride in rings that sometimes look like this...
That is one sloppy show ring ... 
A while back, a few of you asked how I manage to keep my white show clothes bright and stain free. So, I thought I'd throw together this quick little tutorial showing how I keep my white white clothes bright. What is great about this method is how it works equally well on white sheets (yes, I have white sheets and bedding with two active dogs that sleep with me ... yes, they stay white), show clothes, and on saddle pads and polo wraps. This washing method is pretty darn hypoallergenic, too, meaning you can feel comfortable using it on saddle pads on delicate-skinned people and horses! No real harsh chemicals needed (bleach is optional!).

So as show season is kicking up and I know you all either have or will have some white show gear looking stained and gross, let's get started!

How To: Keep Whites White

Step 1: Gather your soiled, stained, and sadly dingy white gear. Divide into two categories, human wear and horse wear (unless you like hair and sand all up in the crevasses of your breeches. I, do not.). Follow the same method for both batches of gear.
Here are my somewhat gross breeches from last weekend. These actually stayed relatively clean, this time. Note the staining from my tall boots, some dark spots from my saddle, and a couple of slobber and grass spots on the thighs. All normal.
Step 2: Gather your tools.

The main washing ingredients. Bleach is optional, but good to have around in case.
Stain remover. I had Resolve on hand but I'll talk more about other stain removing options.
Ingredients:
1.  1/2 to 1 cup Washing Soda (this is NOT baking soda). You can find this in the laundry aisle of most stores. It's super cheap. Pick some up today, especially if you have hard water. Add a 1/2 cup to every wash. Be amazed. For this method, you'll want to use a 1/2 cup for smaller loads and 1 cup for large loads.
2. Your favorite laundry detergent. You want to use less of this than you think you do, for every load of laundry you do. This stuff is hard to rinse out, an you honestly don't need a lot. I usually use half of the amount recommended by the bottle, and everything comes out clean and nice.
3. Bleach. Optional, but you may find this necessary if all other stain removing options fail. It's good to have it on hand, just in case.
4. A good enzymatic stain remover. This could be Resolve, as pictured, or OxiClean, or another enzyme stain remover. The enzyme in the name is important. For serious. Nothing else will remove organic stains and prevent sweat staining. 

Step 3. Treat any stains, discoloration, or sweat spots (read: PREVENT pit stains in your shirts, y'all) with your enzymatic stain remover. Follow the instructions for your particular remover. If you don't want to use a stain remover, I'd suggest at a minimum spraying any areas that sweat has dried into your clothes, like your underarms (you know you have this issue!) with vinegar. That'll prevent pit stains, which will yellow if you have to use bleach.

Step 4: Fill your washer with HOT, HOT, HOT water. Make this water as hot as you possibly can. If your washer doesn't get hot enough (I'm talking scalding, don't let your children or pets near it, type hot water), boil some water on the stove and use that and your bathtub or sink for the next two steps.
I may have broken the temperature regulator on my hot water heater. Wash your hands at your own risk...
Step 5: Add in the washing soda and detergent, stirring until fully dissolved and mixed in. 

Step 6: Add your clothes to the scaldingly hot water mixture. Be sure to soak them thoroughly, and mix well. If you are using your washer for this soaking step (and haven't had to resort to boiling water and adding it to your sink/bathtub), you might let the agitator run for a minute to make sure everything is well mixed up. Let your clothes soak for at least 30 minutes and up to a few hours. 

Step 7: Run clothes through regular washing cycle. If you used your washer to soak, you're in luck because all you'll have to do is just start the cycle and let it run. If you used your sink/bathtub, drain the water and take the clothes and add to your washer, you shouldn't need to add any additional washing soda or detergent as that will already be in your clothes. Make sure to run your cycle on hot, with a cold rinse cycle. 

Step 8: Remove clothes from washer after cycle and carefully inspect for staining and discoloration. 99% of the time, this method will remove all the stains and return your clothes to a bright white. If you find any discoloration, don't dry your clothes and move on to the below methods for further stain removal. If everything looks good, go ahead and dry (You should probably be hang-drying your breeches. Please tell me you don't put those things in the dryer ...). If you're worried that all that hot water may have shrunk your clothes, stretch them gently at this point while damp. That should relax the fibers back to the normal size.

My breeches after a good hot soak and a wash. Back to white! (Sorry about the crappy photo)
Other Stain Removing/Problem Solving Techniques
In tough cases, I have had to resort to some further stain removing techniques. Here are a few, plus a tip for getting dingy older whites brilliant white again.

Technique 1: Use Bleach
This technique looks a lot like my normal washing technique, only I toss in a cap or two (depending on the size of the laundry load) of bleach. This will remove almost every stain ever, but will turn organic stains yellow (organic stains: blood, sweat, tears ... you know, all that stuff you get on you at every horse show). It's not my favorite technique, and can be tough on some people/horses with sensitive skin, but it is cheap and easy.

Technique 2: OxiClean
Here, you basically want to soak your clothes in a high concentrate of OxiClean and hot water. Alternatively, you can spot treat by creating a paste with OxiClean and leaving it on to soak in before washing. OxiClean is really friendly for organic stains, and can even remove some set organic stains. It's also great for removing red wine spills (ask me how I know ...). This is my go-to tough stain treatment.

Technique 3: Dawn Dish Soap
This is great if you've managed to get something oily on your clothes. Say, you spilled a whole tub of tack conditioner on your knee (no ... I've never done that ...). Dawn dish soap is the best for cutting grease and lifting oil stains. You'll want hot water and a lot of elbow grease. This sort of stain is best pre-treated in your sink before washing with the regular method.

Technique 4: The Sun
This is not only the cheapest stain remover on the block, but a really effective one. Put clothes (already washed with the above method) out in direct sunlight on a bright and sunny day. The sun will fade stains easily as the garment dries. I use this for saddle pads and fleece polo wraps I don't want to bleach.

Whitening Tip: Bluing
Ever used bluing? This stuff is a miracle. I've used it to keep my sheets a brilliant white, and to brighten up favorite white shirts and pants for years. It's basically a blue dye, so you do want to be careful and follow all the instructions carefully, or you'll end up with blue saddle pads and breeches. Not so great. Maybe practice with your shirts before you try this stuff on your good breeches. I think Dover sells it, though it's easily sourced in local stores. It is totally worth having on hand.

Anyone else out there have great tips for preserving your show clothes? I'd love to hear them! Bonus? Anyone else try to keep white sheets white while sharing a bed with your pets?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

At Home vs. Away: The Great Comparison

Despite feeling pretty positive about my rides last weekend, the scores and overall lack of engagement and "throughness" have really had me bothered all week. I thought we were better than we showed, were we really not?

So I did what any good obsessive person does, I went home and looked over the video of 2nd 1 from just two weeks ago. 

Interestingly, I appear to be riding a much different test in that particular video than the one at the show. In the older video, Guinness is much more engaged and collected. He is pushing more and stepping up with his hind leg. The test isn't great (I make some serious accuracy errors, and he falls flat in quite a few places), but it shows that the quality I'm working with at home is about 30% better.
Videos for your comparison:
Schooling 2nd 1 at Home
(click through to site for video)

2nd 1 at Heartland Schooling Show
(click through to site for video)

I'm thinking we have all the right stuff, but we need to push much harder at home. Basically, I need to establish 100% throughness at home, so when we get to a show and only get 50% or 70% of what we get at home it is still good enough. I also need to bring my hands up even further than I already have. My elbows are bent better than ever before, but I need to start carrying my hands as instinct instead of constantly using my head to remind myself about them. All of that's totally possible, but it's going to lead to some tough training moments ahead...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Heartland: Test Breakdown

Let's backtrack a little bit, because before I can start this post, I have tell you guys about my lesson with Nancy two weeks ago. It's important to the story, ya'll.

Nancy nailed me a couple of weeks ago for not addressing Guinness' tension and stiffness. It's been something she's been trying to get me to fix for a long time, and I haven't stepped up to fight that battle. Now, it's holding us back and causing big issues in our training.

Basically, Guinness carries all of his tension and stiffness in the base of his neck and his shoulders. His tightness here leads him to be more nervous when I ask for lateral work, which leads to more tightness in the shoulders. (See also: Horrible nervous spiral of doom) Eventually, the whole forward train will break down and he will completely mentally fall apart. The problem is incredibly easy to see, but also very difficult to fix. Forward should fix it, but often forward causes more tension in the rein. This seems to be an issue we're going to need to really sit down and fight through for awhile, sort of how we had to sit down and fight through maintaining contact.

Here's a great visual representation of Guinness' tight neck/shoulder. Just imagine a spike driven through the base of his neck. Yep. That's about what it feels like.
A horse working at Guinness' level should be able to lift the withers, round the base of the neck and really drive forward and beneath himself. Unfortunately, with his tense neck and shoulders blocking all that forward and rounding movement, Guinness can only track up so far. Lateral movement is impossible, as he doesn't feel he can move his shoulders over at all and any forward movement we have just peeters out.

I'll get more into how I'm working to fix this later, but for now just keep in mind that this is a huge problem, and I know about, and I'm working on it, and... it made a huge problem for me on Saturday.

That said, I am really happy with how Guinness and I both zipped up our big boy pants and really rode these tests. I, for the most part, sat up and really rode these tests accurately. I missed some easy points here and there (the halts! Oh my god! The halts!), and needed to actually sit up, keep my hands up, and use my lower leg more, but overall my head was completely in the game. Meanwhile once in the ring, Guinness kept his nervousness under control. We didn't have a moment where I really had to finesse something or fake contact. He stayed pretty much on my aids (though, clearly not through and over his back!), and stayed really balanced and with me. If I can keep this mature horse in the ring, and break through his tense neck/shoulder issue, we'll be completely ready to rock out this season.

A note on the judging: I really loved the comments my judge gave, and she was totally on point with all of them. However, the scoring was a little odd to me. For one, both myself and the other rider in First 3 received the exact same score. Which is very odd. Secondly, the judge didn't use a wide range of scores and often gave me the same score for a movement she described as being better than another movement in the test. On top of that, my 1st 3 test was better than anything I turned in last year and the score was way lower than I received at recognized shows. I'll be the first to tell you these aren't stellar tests, but I think the scoring was a little wonky, and I won't be discussing point breakdowns like I normally do.

Now, on to the tests!

First Level Test 3
This test is super hard for us. The leg yields just do not work with a stiff shouldered horse, and the flexion shifts of the 10 meter circles are difficult to achieve for the same reason. 
Score: 57.904% (yowch!)
Movement break down: 
Trot Lengthening: I show somewhat of a difference, but he isn't really pushing from behind. Need more!
Leg Yields: I rode these slightly counter bent (i.e. a baby half pass), but the flexion/tension issue was a big factor here, and you can pretty much see my horse bending two different ways and breaking at the shoulder. Neat, not ... 
10 meter Circles: The counter bend of the leg yields made these slightly difficult, but I thought that overall they rode pretty well. The second circle was slightly too large and oval shaped. He was falling in through both. Needed more impulsion.
Stretchy Trot Circle: Despite needing a lot more stretch, this was pretty good for He Who Never Lowers His Head.
Medium Walk: Jiggy, but quiet trans. Watching back I can tell I fell down through that transition, and didn't keep my legs on. Rider fail.
Free Walk: Jiggy. Slow. Not tracking. Clearly I forgot to move my hips and instead spent the whole time praying desperately to every god out there that he wouldn't break. Apparently, not an effective tactic. Also, hey thumb. How, ya doin'?
Medium Walk: A little inverted, but I'll take it.
Trot: Inverted, rushed. But, again, I guess I'll take it.
Canter/15 Meter Circle: Popped out of contact in trans. Super annoying. Circle is nice, though he's leaning on my leg again. Maybe I need bigger spurs? My leg is digging into him in every picture to no effect.
Canter Lengthen: Develops, but clear change is hard to see. He isn't really reaching forward behind, either. Neck waaaay to short.
Shallow Counter Canter Serpentine: Nice! Keeps balance, hits centerline. Honestly, I see very little here I'd change. 
Change of Lead Through Trot: Oh dear. Super inverted. Clearly I did not keep my legs on and collapsed at the core. Baaaaaad rider. Nice canter depart, though.
15 meter circle: Better balance, not as much leaning. Maybe a smidge too big? I can't really tell from this angle.
Canter Lengthening: Way better! He reaches super forward with his hind legs, though falls slightly on the forehand towards the end. Clear difference shown at the end, though slow to develop at the start. 
Shallow Canter Serpentine: Maybe a smidge too bent in the second half, and the haunches swing a bit. Otherwise, pretty accurate and balanced. I cut the corner, like a doof.
Trot Transition: Abrupt, but he offers contact nicely and actually lifts his withers for a moment. Holy crap!
Trot Lengthening: More shown than the first, but still needs more. Not a lot of difference shown, and a good half halt at the end would go a long way. (Note: I lost my stirrup during that lengthening. I can always tell when he isn't pushing from behind, because I can't sit the damn thing. Oops)
Centerline & Halt: Nice trot up centerline! He was ready and balanced to halt, but I screwed it up by collapsing into the halt and not sitting up for a crisp stop. Driver error x 1000.

Second Level Test 1

This test is very similar to the above, but is supposed to ask for more engagement and push. Uh, we didn't show much of that. Oops. 
Entrance & Halt: Trot is actually pretty collected and nice. I waggle his head a bit, and we step back into the halt. Oops.
Medium Trot: Let's just laugh about how non-existent this is.
Shoulder-ins: Shoulder-in right was pretty okay, thought it took him a second to really step forward into it. Shoulder-in left was crooked and awful. Don't even look at it. Seriously. Just ... no.
Change of Direction Across Ring: Uh, pretty okay. I guess. It could be straighter.
Halt/Reinback: Halt started well, but I didn't settle him into it and linger there. Backing was okay, but tense.
Medium Walk: Needs more impulsion, but I believe he was trying to jig here.
Free Walk: JIGGY-JIG-JIG-JIIIIG, clearly I wasn't keeping my legs on ... again.
Medium Walk: See above.
Canter Depart: Popped above bit. Hollowed out completely. He wasn't stepping up at the Medium Walk, so of course he couldn't just step into the canter. Dur...
Counter-Canter Serpentine: Balanced and pretty darn accurate. I'm really pretty happy with that serpentine.
Simple Change: Not too prompt, but not the worst we're capable of. Popped above bit, another indication that I took my legs off completely at some point.
10 Meter Circle: Pig leans on my leg and needs more proper bend. He isn't stepping through enough with his inside hind, and is blocked at the neck. (I'm starting to sound like a broken record here ....) He's blowing through my half halts and his head is waggling instead.
Medium Canter: Shows a clear difference, but could be bigger. Need to work more on transitions in and out of this. At the trans back to the collected canter, he drops his withers like it's a bag of bricks. Baaad.
Counter-Canter Serpentine: Lack of balance really shows here. He isn't in my right rein at all, and as a result I'm more pulling him in that supporting him. He's leaning on my legs, and sort of blowing through them. This is new in the past month, and I haven't liked it.
Simple Change: Falls into trot then walk, instead of making transition promptly. Upward transition is better, but he still pops above. (Say it with me now) I took my leg off, I'm sure.
10 Meter Circle: I think he left his haunches at the other end of the ring, or at least, there's no sign of them here.
Medium Canter: Slow to start and never really builds. He was pretty tired by this point and didn't want to give me much. I remember when I asked for this transition, he grunted ... he grunted all the way down the side. Silly horse.
Medium Trot: Not a very clear transition, but he keeps a much better outline about the whole thing. He stays under himself and doesn't get as strung out as normal. I'll take it, for now.
Centerline/Halt: We finally nail the damn halt. Finally. Of course, I think his haunches drifted left. There's always something ...

Had enough yet? Tomorrow, a comparison!

BTW: Hillary at Equestrian at Hart reached 100 followers and is hosting a contest! Check it out, but let me win. ;)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dusting Off Cobwebs: The Heartland Schooling Show

Fancy horse shows off true flexion ... just this once. New favorite picture.
I really couldn't have asked for a better schooling show to dust off the showing cobwebs for the year and get back into the swing of show season. Heartland CT is a pony club event, and filled to the brim with little kids, ponies, adult amateurs, local trainers, and horses of all levels of experience. It's not much of a "true dressage schooling show," but that's okay. I grew up with this particular group of eventers, and it was so much fun to spend a weekend checking out everyone's new horses, catching up on years gone by, and trading hugs.

The whole event is staged in true eventer style: total controlled chaos. From the moment you step on the property, it's obvious you aren't at a dressage show. However, Amy did a great job on the event and the whole thing ran incredibly smooth and most of the rings were actually ahead! As a regular horse-show volunteer, I can appreciate how difficult that is to accomplish!

I entered Guinness in First Level Test 3, where I was competing with another rider, and Second Level Test 1, where it was just me. These tests were scheduled all the way at the end of the day, and back to back, meaning I had Saturday fairly free until around 1 o'clock. This was lovely, because I didn't have to stress about getting ready early and knew I could actually spend some time helping Jen get Connor braided fancily, and watch a ton of rides!

Friday's travel went smoothly (see yesterday's post), with Guinness traveling easily and not too freaked out and nervous upon arrival. He always settles in easily at shows, and is quite the consummate gentleman in the stall and on the grounds. I never worry about that.

However, our schooling ride on Friday was a doozy. My fancy dressage horse, who should be one of the better trained horses on the property at a lower-level eventing schooling show, forgot how to turn left. Just plain couldn't manage it. An hour of tactful but aggressive riding later, and I had finally managed to get through Pig's nerves and get him somewhat supple and listening. He still had a tendency to lock his shoulder and neck on the left and tune out my leg, but was getting better. I called it a day before we killed each other and embarrassed ourselves by getting into a huge fight in the ring.

When I got back on Saturday morning for a quick warm up, he was fabulous. Loose, light, and flexible. Apparently, he'd had plenty of time to think about our fight the night before. I just wish our classes had followed this ride instead of being scheduled so much later in the day, as my later warm up for my ride times was pretty tense and more similar to Friday's ride.

Instead of being loose and listening, he was very nervous and tense. A nearby halflinger was screaming its way through a dressage test, and Pig was very worried that the halflinger might be a victim of horse-murder and that he might be next. It's not very common for him to be so distracted by other horses, so I wasn't sure how to best get his mind back on the game. In hindsight, more leg and transitions would probably have been better, but instead I went for a tactic including mostly flexion and relaxation. That helped him be calmer, but we lost all collection and impulsion when we finally made it to the ring.

Tomorrow a breakdown of the tests!

Trying desperately to keep my tests straight! The two are so close, I'm always afraid I'll miss the turns in the canter work!

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Night Before A Show, A Pictoral How-To

Step 1: Get up early, and kick off the day by exercising yourself and your puppies!
Three miles with mom is a good start!
Step 2: Hook up truck and trailer, load all your stuff, and your pony.
Don't forget to turn off overdrive!
Step 3: Jam out to music, eat snacks, and enjoy your drive. Try to leave the napping to the dogs ... 
It's so sleepy!
Step 4: Arrive at show facility, and get horse settled in stall. If desired, do a schooling ride.
Omg! Hay!
Step 5: Pour yourself a beverage, and enjoy watching your fellow competitors school.
Everything is better with a drink, friends, and beautiful weather!
Step 6: Try to get to bed at a reasonable hour!
Sleep is important, ya'll!




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lets Talk Fitness

(This is a monster post. I feel like I should apologize ...)

A week ago Saturday, Nancy returned from Florida to destroy Guinness and I in our first lesson of 2014. (A wrap up of that is on it's way, once I get the video clips edited. For now, I'm in complete show-prep mode and the lesson video hasn't left my television.) While the ride was good, she was tough on both Guinness and I, really trying to iron out some issues that are getting to be a big problem.

At the end of the ride she turned to me asking, "So are you still happy I'm back from Florida?"

"Oh hell yes I am," I said. "I'm just happy I spent the whole winter you were gone busting my ass at the gym!"
So happy I put the time in here...
And, you guys, it's true. She murdered me. I would not have been able to physically accomplish this April's lesson back in December. The 30 minutes we spent at the sitting trot working solely on shifting my inside hipbone forward and my inside elbow back would have been completely impossible. Let me repeat that... we spent thirty minutes at the sitting trot. No breaks (well, we cantered once, but I'm not counting that because cantering is cardio). I have never been so happy to be fit in all my life.

Then I got up the next morning... with sore abs.

Damn. Dressage is a workout and a half.

Now, part of the reason I'm so sore from a lesson is because of my picky horse. He's a legitimate hard ride, and very demanding of me. Teaching him dressage has never been easy, and as I am at the point of asking him for more work he is demanding even more from me. The other part of the reason I was sore is because I was asking for more flexion from my body than I normally do, and I just didn't have the strength developed to hold that flexibility. As such, it's back to the drawing board for me.

For those of you who don't personally know me, I take a lot of pride in my fitness work and truly do enjoy it. I know it's not a lifestyle for everyone, but it really works well for me. Right now I try to get to the gym 2-3 times weekly for strength training and run between 13-16 miles weekly at an average pace of 9 minute miles.
A good running buddy is essential!
With my busy schedule, all this fitness is hard to squeeze in, but I love being fit, I love the energy it gives me, and I love that I am able to keep up with my intense life without physically crashing. As such, I make it work, usually by getting up at 5:30am to fit in some running or gym time before getting ready for work.

Evenings I don't ride I have a lot more time. Often on those days I'll do a long run after work, then spend the evening with friends or catching up around the house. I take one total rest day during the week, where I do not go to the gym or run at all. Sometimes I'll even take those days on a non-riding day and just lounge around the house like a giant lazy cat. It's weird, but I don't often enjoy those lazy days. I tend to feel restless.

I'm not the only one on a fitness schedule. Guinness' routine is also set up for regular workouts. He and I do 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours of solid dressage schooling 4 days a week. We take frequent walk breaks, but the work is hard. One day a week (typically a Sunday) we will do a conditioning ride. These vary between field gallops, long slow distance work, and hills. He's also out in a pasture with fairly hilly terrain 24/7, which makes a huge difference in his fitness.
Tired Thoroughbred has the tired. This was after a long dressage school last week. We were both dying.
Of course after this last lesson, it looks like it's time to take another look at both Guinness' and my fitness for our increased workload. I'm switching out some of my weight lifting sessions for a little more dynamic cardio (think kickboxing/martial arts sort of stuff) and yoga. I really detest yoga, so we'll see how long this lasts. Guinness, meanwhile, is going to be getting a lot more long and low work fit into his regular dressage schools and a lot more suppling flexion added to his warm up.

What about you guys? Do you think about your fitness as it relates to your riding? Have you ever made changes to increase your flexibility and strength in your riding? Did it work?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Hair Problem

"Showing in April has to be one of the worst ideas I've ever had!" I found myself myself exclaiming aloud to... my laundry room. Tiny chestnut hairs seem to be covering every surface in there, clogging up the washer, flowing out of the dryer lint trap, and settling on what were once clean bath towels.

Hello, my name is Austen, and I have a pet hair problem.

You see, I usually weather the spring shedding season in a very certain way. I wear nothing but sleek and slick jackets and tightly woven breeches to the barn in an attempt to leave the horse hair where I found it, at the barn. I refuse to bring home any hairy saddle pads or wraps, instead brushing them off thoroughly and using them until the shedding has ceased and the hair has worn off. Even with these precautions, I often find tiny red hairs all over my car and stuck in the crevasses of my phone case (anyone else?). Yet, my home mostly remains unscathed.

However, this season shedding started at the same moment as horse show prep. Instead of being able to hunker down and just survive the shed, I find myself constantly toting things home to clean them. I'm currying frantically trying to erase clip lines that will not die, and getting enough horse hair down my bra to make a (admittedly small) blanket. I've found myself picking a few wisps of orange out of my keyboard at work. A small fiery cloud escapes my car every time I open the door when the wind is blowing.

You guys I own two Siberian husky dogs currently blowing their magnificent fluffy coats, and there is still more horse hair in my home than anything else.

Why, spring? Why?
All this picture says to me is "thank god I own a Dyson"

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Trek

At my barn, springtime means the opening of the summer pastures (all 30+ acres of them). It must officially be spring, because this is what it takes to capture my animal the last few rides...
See him out there? No? Look close, there's a slight glint of copper just over the furthest hill.
Getting closer ... 
Aaaaaaaaaalmost there ... 
Gotcha!
This post brought to you by Endurance, and Lucky My Horse Doesn't Run From Me After I've Hiked a Mile. Also brought to you by At Least He Wasn't Wandering in the Deep Woods This Time (... this time).

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

March Analysis | April Goals

Well guys, I'm back. A few weeks ago, my grandmother came extremely close to dying from a freak heart emergency. I really appreciate all of your comments and concern while I ran off to help my family get things settled back at home. We are a stereotypical huge loud family, and it was great to see how everyone pitched in to help. My grandmother is miraculously doing okay now, and may actually end up coming home from the hospital soon. Her recovery has really been amazing.
Here's a picture of a supremely happy husky to lighten the mood ... 
Unfortunately, running back and forth across the state repeatedly and missing a ton of sleep hasn't done any favors for my person, professional or equine life. Things are finally getting sorted, but for awhile there I felt like I'd been hit by a truck full of bricks. Bah. I have managed to get out and ride, but my normal 5 rides a week have been cut to two in the last few weeks. Luckily, Guinness and I were at a good place in training when all this happened and the break has at worst caused us to review more than move forward. It could be much worse.

So, in an effort to get life chugging forward again, let's get on with April goals and leave March behind!

March Goals

1. Increase the quality of our canter. Go braver and bigger in our medium, and more engaged and connected in our collected.
Totally nailed this. I spent a lot of time at the canter at the start and middle of the month. The counter canter is still beautiful, the collected is getting smaller and springier, and the medium is getting straighter. Overall, this horse has it made in the canter.

2. Improve canter/walk and walk/canter transitions. They need to be smoother, and more relaxed. But, they also need to be more prompt. I think this might be a strength issue, and a "butt in seat" issue.
Pretty sure this was both a collection issue and a "butt in seat" issue, both of which are clearly related. We've made huge strides in this area, especially in keeping the transitions prompt and active but low on tension. Keeping my legs on really seems to be key. I'll have to write more on this. For now, let's call it a success. 

3. Work the medium trot. I need to practice lengthening my leg and sinking into my seat while still asking for the lengthening of the gait with my seat. Might need to do some yoga to open those hip flexors more. Guinness will need work to hold the medium longer across the diagonal, once I learn to sit it properly. 
Partial success. My seat has improved leaps and bounds from February (I need to get video to verify, but I FEEL much more secure, upright, and plugged into the saddle.). The medium trot is still not where I think it should be, but I think I'm being hard on myself. I want a big Grand Prix trot, but Guinness isn't capable of that right now. And, I can't ride it. I still haven't come to terms with this completely. 

4. Run through 1st 2, video. Run through 2nd 1 again. Compare video.
Noooooooope. Big no. Did not do. Negative good buddy.

5. Start working on the haunches-in. 
Yes! This has been a huge breakthrough in the last couple of weeks. I've been introducing travers and renvers, and a touch of half pass. These are still very much in the "new to us" and "reward just two steps of each" stage, but they have amazingly improved other things, like leg yields.

6. Explore turn on the haunches.
Oh, I explored it. No conquering, though. Pretty sure I'm going to need to get better at #5 before this gets really good.

Personal March Goals
1. Increase running mileage to 15 miles per week.
Boom! I've been running solid 15 mile weeks for the last three weeks now. Easy, like pie! (*cough* not really)
2. Turn in a respectable time at a 5k (I'm looking at running sub 28:00).
I ended up not running my 5k this month, but from my training session feedback I'd say I'm right on track. Monday I ran 4.19 miles in 39.50. Three weeks ago, I ran 3 miles (just under a 5k) in 27:23. Let's list these as "Things I Am Proud Of" and move on. 
3. Get all memberships in order for show season.
Donezo! Sure I'm broke now, but at least we're good to show!

April Goals

1. Really refine First 3 and Second 1. Run through them a few times and video at least once before the schooling show at the end of the month. Figure out where the points are, and how we are best suited to go after them.
2. Amp up the pressure during the first half of the month. Really focus on quality of gaits and transitions, and keeping consistent connection. Need to push more movements together, and great a little stress so Guinness and I find riding tests almost easy when we get to them.
3. Keep working on renvers/travers. Try to get a thorough understanding of them, and reliably get a few steps without tension.
4. Have a good experience at the schooling show. Focus on relaxation and clear communication. Keep myself focused and riding every moment of the test, not letting the test ride me. Aiming for upper 60s at First and lower 60s at Second. Scores are secondary to good productive rides.
5. Continue to develop the medium trot.
6. Master the french braided forelock (and have fabulous show turnout all wrapped up).
Second attempt at braiding a forelock. Dry hair, winter wispies, and a beginner technique make things tough!
Personal April Goals
1. Run a 7 miler!
2. Keep weekly mileage at 15 miles or higher.
3. Get cracking on personal projects that have been languishing for the last month.