Saturday, May 13, 2017

Superstar to Shitcanoe: The Story of CDCTA Dressage at Morven (Part 2)

Sunday this chestnut superhero went away, and left behind a redheaded canoe full of shit that I vainly attempted to paddle through a 4-1 test in a partially flooded arena. Am I taking this metaphor too far? Probably. Oh well.
Photo by Liz Stout
Despite our success on Saturday, I tried not to have expectations going into Sunday. Of course, this was hard. I shouldn't have worried, though. Pig is good at stomping expectations to death. #foreshadowing

Our class was at 2pm, so we had even more time to burn on Sunday morning. Jan and I putzed around early feeding, grazing and watching rides.
Also watching weather. It kept randomly raining then beaming brilliant sunshine, all of this with a high temperature of 55 degrees. Thanks, spring. You're so predictable.
Pig was much calmer in his stall than he had been the day before, so I felt alright leaving him in there while Lyra and I went on an exploration/run. I hadn't had a chance to check out the historical and architectural parts of Morven Park before, and hoped the run would keep me from thinking too much about my upcoming ride.
More on the things we saw on Lyra's recap.
We got back just in time for me to saddle up and head out for another hour long warm up ride. Again the plan was the ride at the walk for most of the warm up, switching to the trot and canter every once in awhile to test buttons and install collection.
Post lunch Sunday warm up rings somehow always manage to be both empty and chaotic. Also Lyra looks super bored.
Pig started off feeling good. After a long deliberation, I decided to ride in the snaffle again. Our main struggle on Saturday had been maintaining a good connection, and I knew I'd have better luck in the double. However, I didn't want to run the chance of shutting down any lateral suppleness I managed to create when I picked up the curb rein. I'm still not sure the decision was a good one, but I think I would have had the same horse in the ring regardless.
Locked/crossed jaw and tilted head and indicator of the shitstorm to come?
I struggled getting Pig to unlock as much as he had on Saturday. He was a bit sluggish, so I wasn't too worried. However, my half halts were not going all the way through and he kept bracing against my hand.
Love that hind leg. Do not love that dip in his neck, or whatever the hell I am doing with my hands.
I tried adding a bit more forward in the way of trot and canter to resolve some of the stiffness. He seemed better in those gaits. I didn't want to use up his patience, so I didn't do a lot of either. Perhaps I should have done more.
Much more relaxed in the rising trot. Also, is it just me or does he look like an eventer in this photo? He's all lean and murderous-like.
I stuck to my tried and true relaxation getting warm up: 2-3 steps of leg yield to 2-3 steps of half pass, maintaining the same bend. This works really well to get him paying attention to what my legs are telling him, and reminding him that they work in different ways. It also helps me control his shoulder and haunches individually. Unlocking that huge shoulder of his is always key to making him rideable.
Moooove sideways, horse. Goooooood horse.
Honestly, I wasn't displeased with his warm up. He lost the spark of Saturday, but overall felt pretty good. I volunteered to go a few minutes before my time, and headed up to the ring.
Things are looking okay right now... but really they are about to go so downhill.
Almost immediately the wheels fell off. Upon walking into the show arena, Pig's head shot up and I completely lost his focus. I tried desperately to get it back, but didn't quite have it back completely by the time the judge rang the bell.
Our entrance looked good. I'm holding to that.
(Fasten your seatbelts. This is going to be the best we're gonna look the whole test.)
The first three seconds of the test went exceedingly well. Then, he saw the huge puddle of thick mud in the middle of the ring, panicked, and splatted/spooked to halt (5.5). His head went up, his back went rock hard, and the test was over before it even started. No. Seriously. This was the end of it. Right here...
"Hello! I have arrived! I am also sure this ring is surrounded by demons, and I must investigate PRONTO!" -- Pig, probably
My horse who is excellent in the rain is about to lose his goddamn mind over mud. I shouldn't have been so surprised, but somehow I was.

I didn't show you the medium trot yesterday because it was awful. But today, I'm going to show it to you, because it's comedy gold. The judge was generous at this point (5.0) saying we needed "more ground cover and clearer suspension over X."
"I'd like less puddles at X, kthnxbai" -- Pig
Yeah. No big deal here. Just my 19 year old horse who acts like he's literally never seen a puddle before. Let's all just move along.

The half pass right (6.0) was literally the highlight of this test. Enjoy the harmony while you can get it, folks. Shit only gets harder to watch from here.
Such beauty, such grace, such... lack of suppleness in the back. Whatever. There was bend, he was touching my reins, and there was zero drama. I'm counting that as a win for this test.
Once we got to the centerline, I attempted to guide Pig into a 10 meter circle right like the test asks. However, he decided this time could be better spent scouting the hills for goblins. I rather stiffly ask him to to "Please for god's sake stay on task for a few more minutes" (6.5, what? how?). The judge begins to think I might actually be a howler monkey in a suit, suggesting I might be "restricting" the movement.
"I am disinclined to acquiesce to you demands." -- Pig
Somehow we manage to come to a truce through the shoulder in (6.5). The judge makes sure to remind me my horse is tense.
No? Really? Tense? Who knew...
Negotiations break down in the extended trot (4.0) when Pig decides again that we would all be much safer if he could just put his head in the air like a godforsaken periscope. After all, the flooded parts of this ring are making him feel as though he is perhaps part submarine.
It is at this point, I will admit, I begin to completely lose my patience with this behavior. However, I must first point out that this transition got a 5.0. See? It is possible to get more points on a transition than a movement.
Consider this your educational moment of the day. Now, back to the catastrophic drama.
The half pass left had to go right through the biggest mud puddle, and our communication lines suffered a complete breakdown (4.0). You can actually watch below as Pig transitions from moderately disobedient horse to canoe bogged down by feces as he goes through the mucky parts.
I think you can actually hear my teeth grinding together as I mutter "you piece of shit, just trot through the goddamn mud."
This half pass is supposed to transition right into a circle left, but you all saw how that started out yesterday.
I think my favorite part of this is how we start to turn left and he goes "FUCK YOU WE'RE TURNING RIGHT" with his head. Yeah, uh. No. That's not cool, asshole.
In case you were wondering, it didn't finish much better.
I've never gotten a 3 on a circle before. Can't say this one wasn't fully deserved.
This movement cemented in the judge's brain that I'm a seriously rough and abusive rider with the world's worst hands.

I'm going to take a moment here. I know it's not cool to use harsh aids in the ring. I also know it's not a good idea to rise to my horse's mood and pick a ragingly huge fight. However, my nerves have been a bit shot the last month, and Guinness was being bad. This sort of behavior can quickly spiral out of control with him if you don't put a stop to it now. There's a difference between a horse being over-faced and panicked, or spooked, or in pain. This tantrum you're seeing here was none of those things. This was a dominant horse telling me in no uncertain terms that he is not playing this game today. And that is not an acceptable answer.

Could I have ridden better? 100% yes. (Let's start by suggesting I bend my elbows sometimes. Good lord.) Would that have resulted in zero tantrum throwing in this test? Maybe? Probably not.

Moving on, we put this heavy correction behind us and attempted a shoulder in (6.0). From there we had a transition into the extended walk (6.0, "keep hands quiet") that I was very much hoping would help loosen the rock in Pig's back. It did not.
Why hello hollow back. How are you today?
When I picked him back up for the collected walk (6.0, "rider restricted") and pirouettes (5.0/4.0, respectively) he was very much done. The judge dinged me hard for Pig's waggling head, a sure sign he isn't in the contact at all. Of course not being in the contact made our troublesome left lead canter depart spectacularly bad (4.0, "rough aids").

First he attempted his number one evasion, picking up the wrong lead. When I shut that shit down, he thought about rearing. When I shut that shit down, I didn't give him a chance to think about being backwards any more and I just booted him directly into the medium canter (5.0).
"Fuck you" "No FUCK YOU" "No, FUCK YOU!" "Oh, fuck off, just GO!"
It was at this point in the test that I hoped Pig was right and there really were goblins in the hills, and that those goblins had snipers, and that they would just fucking shoot us both.

Unfortunately, I was right. There were no goblins. The torture test continued. Why I did not just retire, I have no idea.
This half pass was nice. (6.0)
On the half pass, the judge commented that I needed to "keep hands quiet". I thought that was kind of rude, given this is one of the few movements where my hands actually are pretty quiet.  Ah well. She was completely right. It did need a lot more engagement.

After all this drama, the flying change was kind of a letdown. My horse felt like a bomb, but didn't try to eject me out of the arena. Honestly impressive (4.0)
On my aids and kind of clean? Jesus, how is this movement one of the tamest in my whole damn test?
He actually came back nicely from the change, allowing me to push for a reasonably nice extended canter (6.0). I hoped some extension would help him move his back some and exorcise some of the demons from the haunted seafaring vessel he was calling a body. It sorta did?
Yeah it's flat as hell, but this is one of the nicer extensions we've done in awhile.
We actually managed to somewhat nail the transitions from that extension, too (6.0). This set us up for what I thought was a decent half pass (5.0, haunches leading).
Looks like the shoulders are ahead until we hit the mud puddle, but obviously I need to practice in front of a mirror more often.
The counter canter to flying change this direction was worse than the other, but garnered a better score (5.0, "rider restricted"). I'm not sure if having the counter canter looped in with the changes is what is making this score so unpredictable, or if judges are just trying to keep me from suicide at this point int the test.
At any rate, this change was late and very inverted.
We had no chance to improve our score on the 20 meter circle showing very collected canter (6.0), and didn't show anything better than the day before. However, there were no tantrums and I did manage to use this time to get my horse further into the bridle and my seat further into the saddle. I'm calling that a success.

Feeling slightly better prepared, we rocketed down our line of 3 changes giving off this explosive "thing" to start...
Well that was terrible.
We then proceeded to make a muddle of the middle of the line, wiggle around a whole lot, and leap out of the whole endeavor with a bang (2.0). I thought the score was actually pretty harsh here, given that we did in fact do three flying changes. Ah well, I do agree it was "bad".
This is honestly how I expected this line to ride all weekend. No big loss.
Gratefully, we pulled ourselves together down the centerline and collapsed into the final halt (5.0, "haunches right").
This is legitimately some of the best canter from the whole test.
I love how you can see Pig and I both calling each other names in that final halt. I walked out of the ring, and the ring steward greeted me with a "Gosh, I'm so sorry. I do have to check his bit, though."

I looked her right in the face and said, "Ah well, I guess today he just wanted to do his best impression of a shitcanoe." She burst out laughing, and so did I. It's about all you can do in such a situation.

When she was done with us, I turned right back into the warm up ring. There was no way I was ending the day with Pig thinking he could continue to be so belligerent, stiff, and unrideable. We schooled transitions and lateral movements until his back unlocked, then a couple working pirouettes. In 5 minutes he was soft in the mouth again, and had transitioned from a stiff wannabe canoe to a bendy pretzel horse again.
This shitcanoe and a half would like to be done now, kthnx.
I told Jan I expected the test to score in the 40s, so was "pleasantly" surprised to find it was a 50%. I laughed at the judge giving us a very well deserved 4.0 for submission.
Click for details.
When I read her comments, I became very glad I'd had the 60% ride the day before. She wrote (not wrongly, as she's only seen this test) "Criteria for level not established enough for horse to successfully and with ease demonstrate required movements." I think that would have crushed me, did I not already know the horse actually is capable. As it was, I am able to brush this off as a terrible test where my horse and I were both at our literal worst. Many things to think about, but not the end of the world.
Zero "fox" Given. Accurate shirt is accurate.
I settled in the rest of the afternoon, as Jan's ride was one of the last of the day. We ended up having to wait until the very end of the show to pick up her ribbon. That meant I got to hear my name announced over the loudspeaker as the winner of the Thoroughbred Incentive Program high point award for 4th level with Saturday's 60%!
Say whaaaaat!
I love the TIP program, and am so glad this show offered high point through 4th level. The ribbons are so beautiful (and matched my vest perfectly!).
I also got a cup and this terrible photo of myself! 
Finally we were on the road and back home. Pig traveled home much easier than he had traveled to the show, not trying to fall down once. I suppose his brief time spent as a canoe helped him find his sea legs.
Though he did sit on the butt bar with his tail hanging out for the whole trip, sigh.
Back home, I'm still amazed with our Saturday performance. This horse, despite his difficulties and age, is one of the most amazing animals. I cannot believe he's garnered me a score at 4th level. What's more, I know he had even better performances in him. I just hope I'm able to coax them out.
Here's to more adventures!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Superstar to Shitcanoe: The Story of CDCTA Dressage at Morven (Part 1)

We came. It poured. We conquered. There were puddles. We lost our ever-loving minds. The end.
Photo by Liz Stout
This show has to have been one of the weirdest experiences I've had with this horse. I've literally never experienced him be so solid, then so bipolar with no warning. Let me explain in the clearest way possible, via gif...

Saturday's 10 meter circle left in collected trot:
A recognizable and respectable, if a bit stiff and flat, circle.
Sunday's 10 meter circle left in collected trot:
I don't know what the fuck that is, but it's clearly not a circle. Hell, it's not even a recognizable gait.
That's right! Saddle up, friends because this is going to be a hell of a rollercoaster recap (complete with obscene amounts of media). Actually, it's going to be a couple of rollercoaster recaps, because I have too many gifs for one post. Today you're going to get the Superstar part.
Put that side eye away, Pig. It's gonna be fine.
Photo by Liz Stout
Friday Jan picked us up and we headed into the show grounds at Morven Park. That sentence makes the whole thing sound easy, but really it was a little bit more complicated than that. First of all because my horse is now and always has been a total stress monster about hauling.
Exhibit A. Horse doing his cray-cray thing.
Secondly because my horse apparently forgot the minuscule amount of trailering expertise he'd built up last year. Meaning... in the whole time I followed the trailer (driven very gently by Jan's husband), I watched my idiot horse flail around like a drunk toddler with a severe inner ear infection.
Actual representation of my horse in the trailer.
I kept having to reassure Jan that he was okay. No worries, guys! Just my majestic dressage horse, unable to balance himself around wide sweeping turns. It's gonna be fiiiiiine. I'm totally gonna ride him later. (oh god.)

Finally arriving at the show grounds, I did decide to hop on and ride around at the walk. I figured it was better for Pig to get as much movement as possible before being shut in for the night. Plus, extra work on suppleness is always a good thing.
"I am a gooooood boy. I definitely did not fall down in the trailer 7 or 8 times on the way here. Nope, nope, nope."
-- Pig, probably
I wish I had video of our ride, not for myself but for the idiocy happening around us. I witnessed a lot of dumb baby horse antics and a lot of dumb rider mistakes (two separate riders getting too close to the arena boards, having their horses kick the boards, then having to quiet the rodeo the noise of kicking the boards created). Pig was an angel, for the most part.

As Lyra explained on Monday, Saturday was extremely rainy. I honestly was not worried about this in the slightest. Pig has always done exceedingly well showing in rain, even heavy driving rain. With a ride time for my single 4-1 class at 1:30 in the afternoon, there was no problem getting suited up and on the horse an hour before to start my warm up.
"I'm gonna walk. Forever."
Photo by Liz Stout
I knew going into this test that I only had a limited amount of time where Pig would hold things together at 4th level quality. I also knew that he would be very stiff and tight over his topline coming out of his stall. That meant I planned to get on 50 minutes before my ride, and spend the first 30 walking in and out of contact. The last 20 minutes I would pick up the trot or canter, test a few buttons, and put it away again. My emphasis was on getting Guinness supple laterally to help him unlock the base of his neck and back, letting collection come easier. This meant showing him in the snaffle, so I could better manipulate him in the contact.
"We bend, bend, bend to the left." -- Me
"I'll kill, kill, kill youuuuu." -- Pig, almost certainly
Photo by Liz Stout
I think the strategy worked out. By the time I went in the ring, I had Pig's complete attention and he was very on my aids. I lost his attention a little bit in the atmosphere of the ring, but overall he stayed with me. I have to credit the bonnet for part of his focus. It really helps cut down on distractions from wind and rain. I'm very glad I used it.

In the canter left, I had struggled to keep Pig's right from catching and causing a jerky step behind. A few times in warm up this caused a break, and I was pretty worried about it cropping up in the test. The first canter work in 4-1 is the left lead, and I didn't want to leave a bad impression on the judge of Pig's soundness. I started the test on the left lead, and Pig caught the leg going into the ring. I sat on his right hind hard, begging him to hold it together for the next 5 and a half minutes. Somehow he managed it, and we didn't have another big slip in the whole test.
I'm honestly very happy with how straight this centerline turned out.
The big puddles in the ring definitely caused some issues in the half halts coming into our halt, but overall I was pretty happy with the centerline (6.0). The judge called us out for not being square, which is totally fair. He stepped out with his front left in a big way. Up next, the medium trot in 4-1 asks you to come back to a collected trot in the middle, and at best I knew this was going to be bad. It ended up being pretty inverted, but maybe not as terrible as it could have been (4.0).
I never want to see that medium trot repeated in perpetuity on this blog ever, so instead have this mediocre half pass.
Our first half pass started well, but in an effort to increase bend I accidentally rode the haunches too far over (6.0). Then the 10 meter circle caught us by surprise (6.5). Thankfully I was rescued by the shoulder in, which was surprisingly steady (7.0).
Yeah, baby. It's almost like I've practiced these. (Lol. Haven't really trotted the horse in weeks.)
The extended trot was better than the medium (5.0), but was still inverted. Honestly, I just didn't have him in the bridle enough to get any sort of lift from his back or push from his hind end. Thank god we had another half pass (7.0) and circle (7.0) combo to save us, even if the shoulder in wasn't as good (6.5).
Look at that thing of beauty. LOOK AT IT! (God I love this horse.)
Our walk work was okay. I had been schooling walk pirouettes extensively, and they did score better than I thought they would (6.5/7.0 respectively). The real highlight of the walk was the extended walk (7.0), where Pig actually relaxed his back some and started to develop some swing. Color me impressed.
Almost like his warm up had been entirely walking on the rein for 40 minutes.
As I mentioned, I'd been worried about the left lead canter. I knew the depart would be tough. He often get's leapy in his first canter depart, especially to the left. I might have been so worried about it that I asked a touch late, but I'm so proud of his prompt and engaged reply!
The medium canter felt under-powered and the transition was flat and muddled (6.0). We salvaged that by pulling our shit together and turning up the centerline into a beautiful half pass left (7.0).
Seriously. Can we just go sideways to the left all day long?
The flying change had emphasis on the "flying" part, but the counter canter was good. Plus, the change was on my aids (still a 4.0, though). We took that crappy score and transitioned right into an extended canter that felt very against the hand (5.0). The transition was a literal nightmare (4.0), and continued right to where I needed to make the turn up centerline and set up my half pass right (6.0).
Can we give this whole moment a round of goddamn applause? I am still not sure how I pulled a coherent half pass out of that mess of a transition. Jesus.
Somehow my last counter canter to single flying change scored a 7.0 and comment "nicely done". The change was late behind, but it was quiet and less "airs above ground esque", so maybe the judge just really liked our counter canter a lot.
Whatever. I'll take the 7 and run with it.
Up next I biffed the 20 meter circle showing very collected canter over X. Mainly because I was so concerned with getting a reasonable connection back that I forgot to sit the hell up and ride for collection. Instead we got this pathetic excuse of "very collected" (5.0).
More like "weirdly very slow". Ugh. We can do better.
Finally at the end of the test was the make or break movement of 4-1: the line of three changes on the diagonal. I'll be honest. The last time I schooled these was March, so imagine my intense surprise when I rode this line:
Holy. Fucking. Shit. That almost looks like it belongs at this level. We got a 5.0. Which is at least 1 point better than I thought we'd ever get on this movement.
The final centerline was a bit wonky, and Pig stepped out again in the halt (6.5). I couldn't even care. I was so happy with him in this test.
All the pats for the best horse. Also, holy shit his neck is massive.
Photo by Liz Stout
I left the ring knowing that test was literally the best thing we could have put together at this point in time. It felt so representative of our training right now. We can do individual things better, but overall he was very rideable and his training is very there.

Still, I was very sure the score would be in the mid to upper 50s. Imagine my surprise when I checked back later to find we'd scored a magical 60.133%! That's a score toward my silver medal.
Click for the gory details (updated to the right test, whoops!)
Thankfully I had packed the perfect shirt for just such an occasion.
Yeah. It says "Go Pig or Go Home". I have no shame.
I packed the perfect shirt for Sunday's shenanigans as well, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to see it.