Thursday, April 9, 2015

April Adventures Recap: Day 1

Saturday morning dawned early for us. We scooted out of our friend's house just in time to watch the awesome lunar eclipse make its rapid way across the morning sky. We'll call that a good omen.
Cell phones are inadequate at capturing spectacular lunar events from a speeding truck...
Walking in the barn, I was greeted by a slightly chilly and somewhat grumpy Guinness. He was interested in my presence as far as being fed was concerned, but otherwise wanted nothing to do with me. He was covered in shavings, and had a spot where he had obviously laid down for awhile. I was happy to see he had gotten some rest after the tribulations of trailering the day before.

After trying to check in with the show secretary (still not there!), I decided to just go ahead and get dressed and braided. I knew the show was absurdly small (something like 11 riders overall), and I was the first ride at 10 a.m. I finally tracked down the show management around 9, and collected my number.
Pig braids! We got complimented on our braids all weekend. A bunch of people kept asking me how I did them, and one of the FEI riders even drooled over them in the warm up. Yay! I'm good at something!
FYI: Fluffy dutch braid tutorial coming along soon...
The moment I got on, I knew it was going to be a tough day. While his movement was stellar, Pig was absolutely not cooperating in the bridle. He kept getting stuck behind my leg, and kicking out when I would get after him. When he's behind my leg, he is impossible to get into contact. The best I can do is try to manage him in the ring to keep his contact tantrums at a minimum. Luckily, we've been working hard at listening to my seat, so while I didn't have very good (or any!) half halts longitudinally, I did have them laterally. With 1-2 coming up first, I knew the leg yields could be very good and the lengthening work was going to be a total joke.

As you'll see in the video, I could have done a much better job getting Pig into contact. Honestly, when I try to manage his ugly behavior (head tossing, leaping, backing, rearing, kicking out), I usually just end up throwing away my reins completely. That's what happened here. My reins are way too long to be effective at all. This was an ongoing theme the whole weekend, and I should have been braver in the warm up and just dealt with his shenanigans. I was a little afraid of being called out for being "dangerous" though.

As we headed into the ring, I tried to put on my "whatever" face and just ride the test as it came. The ring was narrow and pretty spooky. It was also dead silent, just being a large indoor with the judge and scribe at one end, and me in the ring. The noise in the video is actually from the warm-up ring. You couldn't hear any of that in the ring itself. I felt so alone with my thoughts, and it was actually kind of disconcerting to feel that on display. I was surprised by how little it bothered me to be able to hear my scores when on the near side of the ring. As for Pig, he was a star. He took a quick look at the judge's table, then continued to be his stellar non-spooky self.

Even with our contact and roundness problems (See the wagging head? That's our tell-tale sign. Now you know our secrets...), our 1-2 test was one of the better ones we've ever done. After biffing our first halt (though we got a 7?), we went on to have the best leg yield right of our life. Watch us nail that accuracy, too. He was so straight and on my seat, it was ridiculous. We ended up with a 7 on that. First time ever I've had above a 6 on a leg yield. They used to be so terrible.

The second lengthen was much better than the first, in that it sort of existed. The leg yield left was a big star, getting us a 7.5 from the judge. Another big highlight was our walk work, which was really excellent. I've said before that this horse has a stellar walk, but is usually too tense in the ring to show it. We've been working on the walk work being his "refuge" from tense work, and I think it's paying off. We ended up with a 7 on our medium walk, and an 8 on our free walk.

The canter depart was downright terrible. Pig was behind my leg, so I asked really hard. Sensitive soul that he is, we took a flying leap into the canter. Whoops.The canter work was actually the downfall of the test, which is completely unlike us. Most of it was 6s, with one 7 on our first lengthening, and a 5 on our second (totally deserved). Pig wanted to change leads in the second lengthening, and I ended up fighting the whole long side to keep him in the right lead. That was intensely obnoxious.

I really like the new 1-2. The canter work is kind of boring, but the way the trot work is done keeps you moving, without stressing you out. The turns up the centerline really prepare you well for the leg yields. Nothing in this test felt trappy, unlike some of the previous First Level tests.

When I got done, I told Christian I thought the whole test had gone really well for the first half, then fallen apart completely at the end. I had no idea how we did, but assumed our good work was good enough to get us a 60%. You can imagine how surprised I was to walk away from that test with a 64.063% and first place in the largest class (2 AAs! Ha! Still, the other horse was a very fancy mover.).

Here's the video:
(note: we warmed up inside the ring until the whistle was blown, due to the narrowness of the arena)


 My 2-2 test followed an hour after my first test. I had time to untack Pig, and let him decompress a little. The ride had brought him down a little, but I knew a second ride was going to stress him out even more. (I should post about my stress management/ulcer preventative schedule for this show. It was intense, and probably still not enough.) After a short break, we tacked back up and headed back into the warm up.

I figured for about a 20 minute warm up for this test. If it had been a longer break between tests, I would have done 30. Usually a longer warm up is better for Pig, but when he gets really tight he tends to mentally shut down completely once fatigue sets in. As it was, I felt like I was handling a brain with the toughness of a Faberge egg. Every horse that came towards us had Pig on edge (the warm up was small, but not crowded in the least, and everyone was very good about giving us our space), and he was doing way too much thinking ahead of me. I was pretty sure our simple changes were going to be total disasters, and that we were going to swap leads in the counter canter work.

Keeping in mind my too-long reins from 1-2, I worked to shorten them up. Still, I was a little too tight and Pig was much too tense to deal with any tension from me. We had a few minor blow ups, to which I quickly capitulated. I really needed to just bend my elbows and walk until he gave in. Oh well, hindsight. 20/20. All that.

Finally, I decided to just loosen up his shoulders with a little canter half pass, and go ahead and give the test a shot. Like I've said, I know the training is there, but if the horse isn't cooperating I can only do so much.

We look better entering the ring than I felt. There's a lot of head wagging and body swinging after the halt. Pig decided he was making decisions about where we were going, and he did not want my input about that. We struggle with this section all the time. It's one of the downfalls to riding a ridiculously smart horse.

Our medium trot actually shows some change, but isn't round at all. We got dinged pretty hard for that lack of roundness, as we should have! The shoulder-in left made up for that, though. It's really steady, and I've been working on that. This direction, we typically have too much bend so I was happy to keep him nice and straight through the shoulder. You can see me just kind of anchor my hands for this movement, so you can imagine how much I had to ride him off my seat. He still wasn't having anything to do with connection. If he had been, I'd have asked for a bit more flexion and kept him more collected for an 8, as it was, we scored a 7. I'll take it.

The half circles were okay. He was incredibly reluctant to go into right bend, but when I pushed the issue, he did it. I was happy enough with that. The travers right that follows is just terrible. That's usually our good direction, but I couldn't keep him steady and I couldn't keep him bent. The judge noted that, and this was another of our many 6s on this test (it's pretty much solid 6s).

The first turn on the haunches is pretty good, for us. That's usually his bad direction, but he does it well. The last two strides are kind of terrible, but overall I'm okay with the picture. We ended up with a 6 on that one. The second one was terrible, and I had no control of the outside shoulder. I couldn't manage his tension and get the flexion fast enough, so we basically did a haunches-in on a 10m circle. That was a 5. Ouch. The rest of the walk work is all 6s. After our stellar free walk in the 1-2 test, it was really disappointing to get a giraffe impression in this one. He's overstepping, but only because he really has such a nice walk. A less fabulous walker would have been camped out behind. It starts to improve at the very end, but not enough.

The shoulder-in right was not as good as the other. It's hard to see in the video, but we didn't maintain the angle as well, and he was not bent enough. I wasn't pressing the issue, asking for too much flexion this direction can start a huge fight. I just tried to keep us even. We scored a 6. The half circles felt like a disaster (they kind of look like it, too). He's behind my leg and just trotting up and down, or trying to blast through my hands. The travers left actually helped me corral that crazy, and we ended up with a 6.5 there. He needs more bend from my inside leg and could be steadier, but I'm honestly amazed at how good that looks for a horse that is only 15% in the bridle.

The canter depart was a 7. I won't complain. Nothing special here except that it was quiet and on my aid (sometimes that's a miracle). Nothing about our canter was was special or particularly good until the counter canter. Pig wasn't round enough to actually do a medium, and was flailing under my seat too much on the circle. The counter canter came through for a 7, though. He looks really nice in this. You almost can't tell I'm riding the crap out of him to avoid him trying to break on me.

He throws his haunches in the simple change, and trots behind. Oops. The canter work right is all pretty dicey because I can't keep his haunches in place. The counter canter is better, but still only worth a 6 because we basically turn it into a half pass. Then Pig does his own lead change, but decides to pick up the same lead. I get left behind. We get a 4 for that whole communication fail.

Pig taking advantage during the simple change made me mad, which works out for our medium trot, which actually exists. He still isn't round enough for real points, but I'm thrilled to see his hind end pushing and lifting that much on the video. My anger results in me insisting he listen for the rest of the test, and we end on a 7 for our centerline. I pat him, and thank god I don't have to ride his attitude until the next day. Pig sighs and waits for death, probably.

Here's the video:


Overall, the test went, okay. There were some real highlights that show our training is 100% on track. On a day when Pig is actually in the bridle and working over his back, we will own this test. Even though I was kind of pissed at my horse's shitty attitude, that knowledge still felt good. I was pleasantly surprised to get the scores back and see that we ended up with a 60.769%.

I wish it was better, but I think it's a good indication of what the judge saw on the day. In the comments, the judge wrote that we needed to show a lot more suppleness and connection through the back. I knew that, but it helps to know we were getting dinged on something I already felt, and know is fixable. We have that at home. It feels good to know our training is solid enough to weasel out a 60% without being through.

It also feels good to walk away from the first day at a show having finished up the first 2/3 of my Bronze Medal, That took off the pressure for Sunday. Achievement unlocked.
Okay. The fancy blue ribbons helped, too!
We left grumpy Pig in his stall with a load of hay to nap and decompress some, while we went out with my mom to celebrate with grapefruit cocktails, wine, and a trip to the Dover store. Horse show celebrations: doing it right. After all that celebrating, we headed back to check on Pig and take him for a long hand walk/graze. He was much more cheerful after his day of napping and being left alone, and was very happy to join us on a walk around the property in the sun.
Husband and horse enjoying the sunshine.
We left Pig wrapped, but unblanketed for the night. It was going to get cold, but the night before the barn temp hadn't dropped below 45*. He had plenty of hay, so we figured he would be fine. Of course, we didn't know the barn management was going to leave the doors open that night...

36 comments:

  1. Man I know exactly how it is to ride a horse that has the training and capability but just doesn't want to cooperate. Super sensitive TB's that are too smart for their darn good :(. And head-wagging is our tell-tale sign too haha.

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    1. After awhile it's so frustrating! According to my husband, I was tooling around the warm up ring before 2-2 saying, aloud, "Quit thinking so much, horse. You aren't good at it." He said "Uh. You were kind of loud."

      Oops.

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  2. Yay scores! I know what it's like to have the training there and then an uncooperative horse. Mikey doesn't try to melt down or anything, he gets so stiff and tense that I can't do anything with what he's brought to the ring! Throughness becomes an evading cheating tucked chin, or stays as a giraffe. Congrats on sticking it out though and getting your scores!

    And I look forward to the braiding tutorial. I like the braids I do and they always look neat and tidy and I'm always complemented on them, but I end up doing 15 of them which takes time and then are annoying to take out (I sew them in). He also doesn't have a super nice neck- big tall whithers and an ewe neck. The way I braid can end up really showing off how bad the lower section of his neck is when he's really tense and not cooperating. I know the judges will see it anyway, but I don't want it jumping out at them! I tried braiding like what you did, got frustrated that it didn't work right, said screw it, and did them my way, haha!

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    1. I tell people all the time that my big fluffy braids really mask my horse's tiny TB neck. I have to be careful and plan out the ones at the base of his neck, and actually need to grow that part out a little longer to make those braids a bit thicker. I like to make sure there's a braid right where he usually drops his withers when he decides not to play. It's a visual illusion only, but every little bit helps. Right? I sew these in, too. There's just no other way to do it. Still, they are pretty easy to cut out with a seam ripper or pocket knife.

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    2. Every little bit helps!!! 5-7 braids are a lot faster to put in/take out than the 15-17 I do! I let his mane be a little long when I tried your braids. It's a good thing Mikey has all spring and summer to grow out his mane- the bottom section where you say you keep the hair longer is very thin and short on Mikey right now!

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  3. Um my heart melted a little when you mention that your old red man needs alone time too. <3 :-)

    Definitely waiting for the braid tutorial though. I want banging braids like that.

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    1. :) Independent red horses. :)

      Seriously working on that tutorial. It's coming. In the next two weeks. Working on that is way more fun than writing my thesis papers.

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  4. Yay scores! He looks really nice in both tests - the pieces are there, and they'll get better with time. When are you moving up to Third? ;)

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    1. Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! WE ARE NOT READY OMG!

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  5. Yes please to the braid tutorial!

    Always enjoy watching you two compete and reading all about it :)

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  6. Major congrats on getting your scores!!!!! It's not easy and you and Pig have worked so hard. Well deserved!! I also am awaiting your braid tutorial! :)

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    1. Thanks!! It feels so good to never have to do 1st level again. Seriously.

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  7. Those braids are gorgeous...

    And you two look awesome to me! Congrats on the big day one achievements.

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  8. Way to go dealing with your stubborn smart orange man... I know how that goes ;) Your scores are great for what he gave you to work with! I know you guys will continue to improve! :)

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    1. Ugh. Stubborn/smart/orange. Why do I like this again??

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    2. Because when they're good they're SO FREAKIN' GOOD.

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  9. So jealous of your beautiful sitting trot- I feel like I am flopping all over the place!

    I love those braids! They really make Pig's neck look beautiful and full! Looking forward to the tutorial so I can apply it to my two sad-necked creatures.

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    1. Trust me, I was flopping everywhere in those lengthens and mediums! When he's actually over his back he's so much easier to sit!!

      My goal is to make all thoroughbred necks a little less thin and distracting in the dressage ring. :)

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  10. Great to hear & see all your hard work coming through.
    I cannot wait for the braiding tutorial, those are gorgeous ♡♡♡

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    1. Tutorial for sure! Then I'll get to see the rest of you out there sporting fanciness! :)

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  12. I think that was good, especially for the first show of the season. Your tests were accurately ridden and you were very tactful when things weren't perfect, judges usually appreciate that. You're a smart rider, so I have no doubts that every test will continue to improve. Good job :)

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    1. I always try to go for accuracy. There's no point in throwing away easy points, especially when you know you'll be fighting for pretty much every other point! ;)

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  13. I absolutely LOVE this horse, wish I didn't live on the other side of the world so could come see you both!! Well done, you should be proud cos I am! :D

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    1. Aw thanks so much!! :) I love this horse, too!

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  14. I seriously could feel what you were talking about! We all have good days and bad days, but know that I totally would have crashed and burned just doing a first level test!

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    1. Hey, I've crashed and burned at first plenty of times! Having the base of training at a really solid level has helped me get out there and get it done even when things don't go right.

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  15. Love your detailed write ups! Helps me understand a lot more about dressage, which in a detailed format like this is pretty foreign to me. Congrats on the bronze medal scores :)

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    1. Glad to hear it! Sometimes I feel pretty incoherent!

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  16. LOVE those braids! Don't know much about dressaging but despite some of his head wagging it sounds like a good day!

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  17. woooo hooo - achievement unlocked!! major congrats - you guys looked great out there! just goes to show that all your hard work is paying off, even if all the pieces don't fall into place at exactly the same time :)

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  18. Those braids really are gorgeous....

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