Monday, April 9, 2018

FMF Spring Thing Dressage

One of my hopes for this year is to get out to new-to-us show venues. Partly for the sake of variety, and partly to test how comfortable and confident I feel when facing unfamiliar obstacles. Since, ya know, so much of my mental game revolves around making things feel routine and mundane, what happens when I push out of the familiar and into lesser known places?

With that in mind, Brita and I packed up the ponies early Sunday morning to head over to the local Full Moon Farm for their Spring Thing Starter Trial. We came here once before in 2015 for their Aloha trials, tho I was fresh back from a business trip and therefore left Isabel at home while Brita took Wick through the Intro level.

there's a lot of effort happening in this picture
Unfortunately, however, upon feeding Charlie his breakfast and wrapping him up for the trailer, I discovered an issue with one of his legs that meant scratching our jumping tests. Sigh. More to come later. Short story tho: he's fine, I promise, but I'm trying to learn my lesson and be more proactively careful even with the small stuff.

But I figured, if we'd be going through all the rigmarole of hauling out to a show (even a local one) for just a single BN dressage test... Well, dammit, I wanted to make that test count haha.

happy with his steady obedience here
So. We set out to do a "good" dressage test. I had in mind the Janet Foy "Through the Levels" clinic I audited a couple years ago. One of her concepts was about about test strategy, and asking "What are your movements that are going to be a 6 no matter what? And where are the places where you can really make a difference?"

Her point was that some movements (the example in the clinic was a medium trot) just won't be standout scores for some horses, and the rider's attempt to keep picking might actually make the score worse (as in, instead of an easy blah 6, the fussy horse/rider issues drop it to a 5.5 or 5). So she encouraged riders to instead focus efforts on movements where they can really move the needle positively vs negatively.

we've been practicing our trot-walk-free walk-walk-trot so so so much lately. it's paying off bit by bit
My takeaway was that sometimes by trying harder, a movement can become worse before it gets better. That a horse might plod around quietly and obediently enough when left to his own devices, but that as soon as you start poking and prodding at him, he might fuss right back.

Charlie's currently a training level dressage horse, and the whole point of this level is to begin influencing the horse in every facet of how he goes. This was Janet's Point #1, and it's basically all about making the horse rideable. Nothing is off limits, no detail falls into the category of "well that's just how the horse goes, so that's that!"

In other words, I should not at this point in Charlie's training be resigned to "Well, that's just going to be a 6 no matter what so I'm not going to try harder." So my attitude going into this test was to try harder to improve on every portion of this test relative to our last performance at Loch Moy two weeks ago. While also acknowledging that my increased efforts might result in more mistakes or tension or whatever.

more trying. not perfect, but trying.
I planned a lengthy warm up of about 40 minutes, anticipating mostly to walk. But to walk with purpose - no slug walk allowed (a new rule for our arena rides) and frequent transitions between walking on a freer, looser rein (still marching tho, sir!) and walking on more contact.

And basically I wanted this ride to emulate a normal schooling ride for us. All too often I get a little complacent in my competition warm ups, esp for dressage where I rationalize this by "not using my horse up" when we still have so much work left to do in the day. Since we weren't jumping on this day tho, I had no excuse.

emmmmmaaaaaa sit uppppppp lol
That said, the warm up felt a little too long. We warmed up fully in the designated grassy area (on a hill, natch) before getting the green light to head into the arena to warm up around the court and between the stadium and dressage ring.

This was useful bc there was a LOT going on and a LOT to see - horses doing stadium in the same ring, warm up and cross country in the distance, plus the entire trailer and office and food truck area surrounding the arena.

But the judge was on a break so we just kept working and warming up, and I ended up feeling like we might have been better off going in for our test 10 minutes sooner. It was fine tho. The judge eventually rang us in and I entered at A determined to stay present and keep trying for literally every single moment in the test.

trying to werk werk werk werk werk on that K-X-G movement
All in all, I'm generally pleased with the test too. Positives include:

- All the transitions happened where they were supposed to,
- The circle geometry wasn't perfect but was better measured than some of our past efforts,
- We got both canter leads in the right places,
- Charlie's trot work was very steady and I was happy with our energy in this gait,
- All our worst moments of bracing were when our back was to the judge (lol)

and getting a nice halt for our efforts, tho still not quiiiiiite straight on centerline. maybe next time!
Areas for improvement:

- Canter should be Charlie's best gait but I don't successfully show it off in a test setting.
- Charlie's free walk is sluggish, but we broke to trot instead of stepping up more.
- Holy hell this horse is just tight tight tight in the base of his neck.
- Needs more suppleness overall.
- Our balance in corners and turns suffers from lack of suppleness.
- Also needs more engagement and step up from behind.
- We've got a lot of bracing against the hand happening, a result of insufficient engagement.
- Despite my efforts, we still halted haunches left after the K-X-G line. Needs mirrors!
 

Honestly I felt a little frustrated with the test itself because there were a lot of moments where we left points on the table. Particularly: jigging in the free walk, and the walk-trot transition at K that is combined with the second trot circle. And just a lot of bracing against the hand in general.

My impression is that it'll be really difficult to get a good score for that second circle no matter how good it is if the trot transition is hollow and braced. So I've been working on those transitions a ton lately, but again without the suppleness and push from behind we still got a lot of bracing in the test.

 
comment: "Handsome horse obed/steady test. Work to show more suppleness/bend with more weight to HQ less on FH.
final penalty score: 33.6%
It's a good kind of frustration tho. The kind of frustration where I knew I had tried, knew I had pushed to get the result I wanted. As opposed to our last test where we kinda just cruised through without asking for much.

So in that sense, it was a satisfying experience. I don't have to wonder "what could have been" had I just tried a little bit harder. Rather, instead now I have an even better idea of how to keep working and practicing to keep improving.

scritches for an itchy good mare after one of their nicest dressage tests!
All the same tho, I braced myself for getting a similar score, estimating we'd get a 35%-40% for our efforts. So I was happily surprised to get a (generous) 33.6% instead, tied for third place with first place scoring a 31% and change. Not too shabby from a competitive perspective. Especially considering there's so much I still want to fix.

charlie generally being a nuisance while bella just minds her own business getting studs in. i appreciate this picture bc the angle and coolers make them look like two reasonably similar sized beasts
So ya know. It wasn't necessarily a feel-good kinda day, what with Charlie's new leg issue (blargh) and a dressage test that reflected just how unconfirmed we are in so many of the basics.

But it was a good day, still. And a good learning experience. I was pleased with myself for being more disciplined and being able to show real and quantifiable improvements in this dressage phase over our last outing (even tho, uh, yea this scoring was certainly generous. see: scoring a 6 for a free walk where we broke gait...). And pleased with Charlie for rising to the occasion.

the truth comes out in this pic tho haha. also i'm experimenting with ways to keep charlie's tail tidier in the trailer since he likes to poop all over the butt bar then mash his tail into it. this wrapping method worked quite well, but is too fussy to put on and off, on and off, throughout the day as charlie goes on and off the trailer. 
As ever, tho, there's still more work to do. In time tho haha. Because uh.... Yea all things are getting put on ice for now (including that leg, bleh). It'll be ok tho. Soon enough.

36 comments:

  1. Not bad at all! Hope his leg issue clears quickly, sigh.

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  2. This sounds like a great way to get some good feedback. I've been judiciously warming up at the walk for a timed 15 minutes before doing any work lately and I think it's really been paying off. It's neat figuring out which things click for your horse for warm up, etc. Oh the tail thing is REAL! Scout nearly rubbed half his out last time I trailered him!

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    1. oh man, yea we walk so so so much in all our riding. partly bc charlie's body legit needs that time to move and limber up, but also bc the time we spent walking in his rehab from surgery was so instrumental in getting a fresh "restart" on our training.

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  3. You've just had the WORST luck with leg issues!

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  4. I equally love and hate those rides/tests. Where you know you tried but it showed a lot of what you still need to work on. So glad it was good tho! And ugh CHARLIE. STAHP with the LEG ISSUES. lol

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    1. yea i mean, in the grand scheme of things it's a positive thing to walk away with a decent score and attainable homework, right? every now and then tho it would be *so* cool to enter at A and suddenly morph into like... valegro. haha. hahaha.

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  5. Wait, what did I miss? "all things are getting put on ice for now (including that leg, bleh)." Dang, Charlie, stop hurting yo'self. But injury aside, why are things being put on ice? Or is it just the injury? Am I failing Reading for Comprehension 101?

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    1. ugh yea. top of the post under the first picture - when i went to get charlie ready in the morning i discovered an issue with his leg that meant scratching from our jumping tests. ugh. charlie. ugh.

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  6. Charlie looks SO GOOD in that test!!

    I kind of flounder and just ride quietly when I ride at shows as well. I think its normal - you don't want to upset the consistency you'd been getting and don't wanna "rock the boat" at a show.

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    1. yup that's EXACTLY the mind set i fall into too. and like, it's not necessarily wrong, per se. there's something to be said for just riding the horse you have and rolling with it on show day, and saving the training or whatever for another day. esp with a hotter or more sensitive horse who has trouble relaxing in the show ring!

      charlie's generally a pretty reliable horse for me at shows, and will generally rise to whatever level i ask of him. so... i'm trying really really hard to rewire my head to actually step up and DO the asking at shows. we'll see how it goes!

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  7. Free walk can be so hard!!! But awesome job even if you thought the judge was being super nice- I mean how can you not be nice to the big adorable Charlie horse?? He’s just so cute :)

    Hope his leg heals quickly!

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    1. yea i mean, generosity in scoring is kinda a tricky thing - which is why i often look to see how my score placed relative to the rest of the back. so i can look at this score and see lots of 6s and 7s and feel like maybe some are inflated. but seeing that we were only 2pts off from the 1st place score (knowing all riders are scored under the same judge) helps put the score into better perspective. yea it was generous, but yes also the judge liked what she saw relative to other competitors.

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  8. I can definitely relate right now- trying to figure out the warm up is half the battle with getting a new horse and sorting things out. Hopefully this show gave you a little more insight into what Charlie needs as part of his regular show routine!

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    1. definitely. the warm up on charlie is just so so so different from isabel. i'm sure it's the same with jack and foster too. luckily i've got a much better idea now in how to keep working on it tho!

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  9. I was all for dialing it in for dressage while eventing. Sounds like you got a good mental workout and learning experience from it that hopefully carries over to your next full event!

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    1. yea i mean, i'm with ya on taking each of the three phases pretty seriously. esp in starter trials where time really isn't a factor in sj or xc, the dressage score becomes that much more important in the final outcome. this was definitely a good experience for us in that regard tho!

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  10. Improvements all around! Well done. He IS a handsome horse ;-)

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  11. Damn horses and their stupid legs. Glad you guys went out though and really pushed more for that score and stretched the comfort zone! :)

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    1. thanks - that's basically what it's all about anyway, right? hopefully your boy heals up from his recent leg thing asap too!!

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  12. Get better again Charlie!!! You two look great out there!

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    1. thanks!! and i'm sure he'll be fine with just a little extra special TLC ;)

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  13. Glad you went and did the dressage at least. He looks great to me and i can def see improvements from last year so slow but steady you are getting there. Sorry about the leg! And I tie Remus's tail in a knot up to around the dock. He doesnt mash it like Charlie does but he will poop all down the inside of the tail so that way it is out of reach of the poop. LOL. I just always have to remember to untie it once I get to the show, lesson etc. HA!

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    1. ha yea a tail knot could possibly work, i'd need to play with it, but he's such a big long horse the butt bar is just right there to make a mess of everything. i'm thinking about experimenting with tail bags too. something super easy. we'll see!

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  14. On a super positive note, you went to a newish place and put in a solid, thinking test where you made decisions to try and improve your score. (as opposed to just cruising around). Charlie has already made such huge leaps forward in his dressage work.

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    1. yup and that's basically the whole point, right?

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  15. I have the same issues in dressage. I always leave feeling like I could've asked for more here or there, and should've not battled for more at another place. Constantly a work in progress. He looked good though!

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    1. ugh it's such a balancing act tho, right??? it's like a type I and type II error, but i think i would always prefer to feel like i did everything i could to get a result, vs leaving stuff on the table bc i didn't ask for enough. like, generally i'm always more ok with being the source of mistakes, vs doing everything right and still having a problem with the horse. but i hate feeling like the horse would have done better had i just asked for it. if that makes sense lol

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  16. I think that you were genius to really go for it in the dressage test. You should also be pleased with that score- it was excellent. Not a '5' to be seen!

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    1. thanks! i'm really pleased to have gotten that experience for sure. and yea, the score gives me a lot to be happy about, tho perhaps there should have been at least one 5 (or 4) for jigging in the free walk. but i'm cool with it haha

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  17. Any trip off the farm is a win in my book! Also, I know little about dressage shows, but I can't stop looking at the car in the arena?! Is the judge in there?!

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    1. charlie actually has a lot of experience traveling off farm - before we moved to our current boarding situation we hauled out for lessons 1-2x per week, so he's definitely got mileage haha.

      and yup - that's the judge. it's not uncommon to see the judge in a car, esp in arenas where they have different ways of setting up the dressage courts and therefore don't have permanent booth structures built.

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  18. Yay! Great job! Glad you hauled there for a dressage test, it definitely sounds worthwhile!

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    1. yea definitely worth it! plus obvi brita was there to do her full three phases with bella, and it's always nicer to have company (both for the horses and riders!). so charlie was useful in more ways than one lol

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