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. ;)


  1. Wonky scoring is frustrating! Seems like you still had a great show though :)

    1. I did! I'm really proud of my silly horse keeping his work ethic under pressure. He was a total star!

  2. I think you guys look lovely. You may be a weeeee bit super critical of yourself. :) just sayin.

    1. Haha, I totally am. Well spotted! The perfectionist in me knows we're better!


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