Friday, October 31, 2014

Thursday, October 30, 2014

lesson under the lights

Our first real lesson after the HT was with Dan. This was kinda a pleasant surprise, since I'd mostly given up on the idea of any more lessons this month. So score! 

He wanted to know if there were particular concerns or issues. Yes! As always, yes there are! I told him about our dressage test and the numerous remarks on 'could be more round' and 'tension.' I also mentioned our lateral balance concerns.

'i'm perfectly balanced, thankyouverymuch. it's all the rest of you that have issues' - isabel

But he actually broke it down even further than that. He said that we first need to establish actual steady contact. (Yea... this is still a struggle). His exercise: bring the walk down almost to halt, but maintain a steady rhythm. The aids are very quiet and soft: extremely stabilized hands, soft through the shoulders, and steadily closed legs (had to actually tell me 'no pony club kicks' - ughhhh). And it needs more leg than I think. 

The idea here is to feel each footfall. He pointed out that horses will usually fuss quite a bit at first (Isabel proved him correct here), but that once they get steady you can 'push' the contact forward with your hands and encourage them to go deeper, and transition up to trot. 

Same idea in the trot - super stable hands providing a firm contact, with lots of leg (particularly inside) to push the horse into the bridle. Every time Isabel flung her head (or dove down, for that matter), the correction was more leg immediately. When she softened I should too. As she got steadier, I was to keep 'pushing' my hands forward to encourage her to go deeper. 

We had quite a few very nice moments through all this, and I think I've got the feel for what he's asking. He also pointedly said not to drill the walk-at-nearly-halt exercise, but that it was a good thing to do for short bursts. 

And then, just like that, it was on to a quick right lead canter that was actually half way decent, and then on to jumping. The jumps were still set up from last week's lesson with C, but he moved the center vertical down the A-C centerline to be closer to the crossrail... So, uh, slightly more complicated - tho he claimed otherwise. 

He had us trot the crossrail a few times before adding in the left turn to the vertical. He wanted this done in 5 strides, meaning you had to turn pretty much immediately upon landing. Isabel was a tad sassy - and actually seriously played a bit between fences our first time through the combination - but jumped very well. I was actually trying to ride with C's voice in my head: "lift your hands, slow your seat, allow her to make decisions." And it worked really well. 

Then both fences became verticals and we changed directions, still trotting with 5 strides. We got 6 once or twice, but Dan suggested that the turn itself was fine, I just needed to get Isabel covering more ground. 

Then back to the first direction and cantering in left lead to the vertical at F and turn to center vertical in 4 strides. Left turns are tough for us because of our left drift problem, but Isabel remembered this lesson from last week and nailed it. And also proceeded to nail it coming back the other direction again. 

So, oddly enough, this lesson wasn't really about the jumping for us. Isabel felt great, and really wanted absolutely minimal input from me. I set up our pace going in to the first jump, then just kept my legs on and inside rein open. She did the rest, and did it well. Yay mare!! I feel like she's just matured so much this summer - it really blows my mind. 

The real takeaways are the flat work exercises. Hopefully I'll be able to recreate the same feeling on my own!

And, in the meantime, while we were warming up waiting for Dan to arrive, I got in a little more 2point practice. Didn't really expect much here (3min... boo), but want to get in a few more practices to at least raise my total minutes up to a more respectable level. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

xc recap - MCTA Jenny Camp

The prize list for this event was not lying: it was NOT a starter cross country course. The course included some very odd turns and approaches, quite a few fences shared with BN, and some obstacles that Isabel and I had never schooled before (helloooo there, ditch!). 

But it was a beautiful day and the ground felt good (if a tad soft). And the first two fences were very VERY inviting ( < 2' ), with lots of space to establish a strong rhythm. 

Isabel had just finished stadium beautifully, and felt extremely relaxed while simultaneously ready for anything. She looked around a little bit when we left the box (and got a tap on the shoulder asking for focus), but took a very confident distance to fence 1. 

Fence 2 was a little looky also. We were going straight into the sun, and at about 4pm, it was somewhat blinding with dark long shadows everywhere. But she jumped it well anyway, then we had a long gallop around some other BIG obstacles (I think maybe a corner?) to get to fence 3 - the farthest point on course. 

Fence 3 was a faux ditch (the middle was filled with mulch, rather than dug out) - something we haven't schooled. But it didn't really look like much, and Isabel jumped it nicely without hesitation. Maybe actual ditches will pose more of a problem, but this faux one was fine. 

Fence 4 was at the top of a hill, after a bit of a cruise heading back toward the trailers. This was the first max height fence, and had me a bit worried during our walk. But brains being the funny, fickle things they are, I felt ok about it (mostly because it WASN'T a rolltop lol). I rode fairly strongly to it, and Isabel flew over from the perfect distance. It felt incredible, really. 

I am SO SAD we didn't get that one on video, but the footage starts pretty soon after that, tho, and you can see that Isabel's settled into a really lovely (yet alert) canter. 

Then came the water. The approach for this was all kinds of weird. The flags were set wayyyyy far apart - you can sorta see the right one in the above picture, and the left flag below - and not at the actual edge of the water. 

So if you're a horse like Isabel - ie, allergic to water - you can actually make it *through* the flags, but still not touch the water.

"i am a desert horse. A DESERT HORSE. we do not dooo waterrrr!!!!" - isabel

Isabel took one look at the water, proceeded to run sideways up a gravelly hill, nearly trampling our spectators, just to get around it. It's kinda funny actually. And all captured on video for your viewing pleasure lol. (never mind that she bombs through streams in the woods at home like no big deal on a weekly basis. never mind that at all...)

Anyways, the map made the line from the water flags to fence 6 look fairly straight, but it wasn't at ALL. It was a hard 90 degree left turn to a short approach to the biggest up bank we'd ever faced - also shared with BN. I could step up this bank - but barely. The only banks I've done with Isabel have been in the 12" - 18" range. This was easily max height (2'3").

But Isabel was perfect for it. She locked on to a very precise distance, and effortlessly hopped up. I couldn't have been happier. Very pleased to have this on video too. 

please enjoy Isabel's sideways scurrying, and also her total domination of that bank

Next was a narrow break in the fence that they called a 'mandatory crossing' - not an actual obstacle, but flagged anyway. Isabel looked a little bit, but cantered right through. 

You can see in the above picture that there's a sorta natural 'basin' area in the terrain. We'd be running around this after 7 on our approach to 8. 

Fence 7 was also shared with BN, but was super inviting. We have done hay bales before, and the height was definitely easy. Isabel was looking a little bit (she was actually a little looky the whole time on course) but it had zero effect on her jumping effort - which was lovely. 

After 7 we hugged the fence line at a slow trot to get around the basin and approach 8 - a steep downhill slide that I planned to attack at a walk. Isabel spooked a little bit at some stuff leaning on the fence, and then dumped me at a random mud puddle well before the actual obstacle. Boo. We were going so well!!! 

I think this highlights my greenness at course walking and rider awareness. When I walked the course, I noticed the cattails but not the mud. I *should* notice mud tho, bc I ride a horse that dislikes it. Then when I was actually riding, I saw all kinds of other things that I hadn't noticed when walking (like the stuff leaning on the fence that worried Isabel). So I will be talking to my trainer about the finer points of course walking, and hopefully get some guided tours. (plus, ya know, schooling changes of terrain. that's kind of a biggie.... lol)

But anyway, here's the rest of the course just for kicks. The above picture is taken from the bottom of the slide looking back up - so you can see it's pretty steep. The ground was soft too (obvi, if there was mud everywhere...), so the plan was to walk this so that we didn't lose control for the short approach to 9. 

Fence 9 was SUPER inviting - the only question here was the short approach from a steep downhill. I had zero worries about this fence. 

Then it was a quick bend to 10 and then the finish. 10 was a biggish log, but certainly not the biggest thing on course. And you'll notice that the flag actually allows for people who want to squeeze through that little gap (not that I intended to do it). So again, I wasn't very worried about getting over this had we made it this far. 


But again - Isabel was absolutely owning this course - including some tougher questions that we hadn't seen before. I need to work on water and changes of terrain, but everything else was really foot-perfect. 

This was definitely our strongest xc outing to date (including schooling), and Isabel felt safe and positive and forward. It was downright easy for her. So despite the elimination, I think we gained a lot from the outing, and I feel super confident about how it all went. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

stadium + dressage - MCTA Jenny Camp

Show day started off a little, uh, wonky. As demonstrated by my best running braid ever (sarcasm). 

isabel begs me to plz not take her out in public like this

But we managed to snag a parking spot next to my barn mates at the show (one went BN so needed to be there much earlier) - so we could take turns watching each other's horses. And Isabel was her usual calm self, and tied very nicely to the trailer with her hay, water, and grass galore. 

It was time to get dressed and tacked pretty much as soon as I was registered, and then off to dressage warm up. The two rings were set up side by side, with tons of open space for warming up. There were approximately 8 billion other horses warming up too (there were ~115 entries total), but the space made this no big deal. 

not pictured: all the many many horses warming up

The show was running a little late, so I ended up feeling like I got on too early. But nbd. We spent a TON of time just walking on loose reins. This was interspersed with some trot work, and canter transitions. Isabel was super relaxed and was giving me the nicest work in recent memory. Nothing groundbreaking, no, and we didn't suddenly morph into Totilas. But she was soft and loose. 

I was SUPER happy with our test. No pics or videos, but I felt like it was really consistent for us. I made it a point to try and ride every step and not slide into passenger mode. But I also did NOT fight. And Isabel was great. 

Our biggest blip was clearly the cross cantering on our left lead circle. Isabel occasionally cross canters, but I can't remember her ever picking up the canter cross firing like that - it's usually when we're turning on the wrong lead or whatever. So I attribute this in part to the grass ring and slight terrain (the ring wasn't really flat, especially in that corner). All the same tho, I was MUCH too slow in correcting it - so I blew two movements. But as far as errors go, this one is pretty easily fixed, and could have bumped our score up to a ~36. Oh well. 

The rest of the test is pretty much in line with our current level of training. We need to get rounder and eliminate more tension - which, in turn, will help Isabel move out more freely. Interesting that the collective notes include a remark about lateral suppleness, especially considering our recent bio-mechanics lesson. In any case, I'm happy with it! 

We had a loonnnnng break before stadium - esp bc the show continued to run about 20 minutes behind. I spent this time hangin out at the trailers snacking and drinking a TON of soda water. Then it was time to get dressed and head off to stadium and xc. 

isabel says: this is nice and all, but can you plz fix my hair??? 

Our warm up for stadium was quick and simple. We did some trot trot trot on loose-ish reins, cantered a bit here and there, then popped a crossrail and vertical. Didn't bother with the oxer. Isabel was feeling just fine. 

my rendering of the course via ms paint

I was actually a little worried about remembering this course - particularly the right turn after 6. There was a whole jumble of fences in the one corner, then lots of long runs and approaches. Interestingly enough - the jumps were actually the same from our last trial - I guess OF helped organize things? 

All my pics are stills from the video below, and most are zoomed in too... so the quality isn't great. But hey, it's better than nothing! 

Isabel settled in to a really nice rhythm, and we had a decent time finding distances. 

As per usual, we were a little tight to a few fences, but no real 'splat' moments (haha that came later on xc). And some of our distances were actually pretty bangin. 

The striding down the 7-8 line seemed pretty variable. Some horses got a VERY forward six, and others were getting ugly chips with eight strides. So I decided that Isabel and I would shoot for seven. We were tight into the line, so I landed kicking. It was probably not necessary, tho, and the seven was perfect. 

She then cross cantered around the final left turn (as always... sigh) and we nailed jump 9  to cruise through the finish line. Yay Isabel!!

actual video of the course

As much as I would love to say our jumping efforts always look like this or this (ie, forward and jumping out of stride), it's way more common that we get questionably tight distances and inconsistent (and occasionally wild) rhythms. 

So I was really pleased with this round, and felt like it was definitely our best jumping at a show to date. This was even sweeter knowing we'd just put in our best-yet dressage test. Up next: cross country!!

Monday, October 27, 2014

bio-mechanics lesson - balance balance balance

More to come on the horse trial soon - but wanted to get this in before I forget the salient details. 

I had a half hour private with a bio-mechanics trainer who flies in once a month from Florida. I've missed her last few visits due to scheduling conflicts (mostly shows, actually), so was super excited to finally ride with her again. 

'wiggle worm is my middle name' - isabel

A half hour is never really enough, because her long-slow-steady approach really benefits from longer rides. Izzy was actually starting to really loosen up and stretch (and even had the faintest hint of foam around the bit - an extremely rare occurrence) right when we wrapped up. 

But... these lessons ain't cheap, and I can only afford the hour when there's another rider in the lesson. And that just wasn't in the scheduling cards this time around. So. One half hour. Must make the most of it!!

Kirsten asked if there was anything in particular on my mind. In fact, yes there is!! I told her about the recent chiro visit, and how Isabel was out in all the same places despite our intensified focus on improving her way of going. This led to a discussion on the difficulty I have in getting Isabel off her forehand. 

'but forehand is the BEST hand' - isabel

So Kirsten spent some time explaining *how* horses balance, both right-to-left and front-to-back. She said the right-to-left balance is a critical component of straightness, and without straightness it's incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to get the front-to-back balance (itself a critical component of engagement). 

Isabel is most definitely NOT balanced right-to-left. She favors her right hind, meaning that her pelvis is almost always tipped with the right side slightly higher. 

The strategy for achieving side to side balance (and ultimately straightness), is to think of the tail as the rudder, and getting the horse straight from poll to tail. I've heard it said that the horse's head should be in the middle of their chest, but what if their chest isn't in line with the rest of their spine? Kirsten's suggestion was to get the nose in line with the tail. Sounds like 'duh' but was a useful visual. 

'eh, straightness is for suckers'

She also recommended that I watched Isabel's head (see - there ARE trainers who advocate looking down lol). When Isabel's head is moving up and back - ie, when she's going hollow - that's an indication of imbalance from right-to-left. When she goes low and round, that's when you can work on front-to-back balance. To focus on straightness, she wanted me to get the poll right in front of me (ideally, right in front of the tail) in such a way that I can see the bridle equally from both sides, but not the eyes or nostrils. 

We worked on a small circle, clearly demarcated with cones. She wanted Isabel's tail to hit each point of the circle, and keep her hind legs on the narrow path of the circle - and not worry so much about her front end. She said that when the horse is truly straight, going around a circle almost seems like a series of very small turns on the haunches, and that the front end will always seem to be a little outside the circle. .

like this straight blue horse, according to ms paint
(and then there's Isabel, doin her thang in red)

These lessons are always so interesting because we'll just be walking around absorbing the rapid fire philosophies and explanations coming from the trainer, and before I know it Isabel is stretching down and releasing through her neck. 

I guess a secondary takeaway is that maybe Isabel really does need 30 minutes of walk where I'm just focusing on these small adjustments and the nearly imperceptible shifts in her balance before we try anything else. 

But mainly, my homework: keep on chipping away at Isabel's right-to-left balance and ultimately straightness. Only when we can get consistent here will I be able to truly shift her weight backwards and achieve engagement. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

MCTA Jenny Camp teaser

Yesterday's Janny Camp horse trials was a total blast!! The weather was absolutely perfect, and Isabel was in good form. Plus I felt very prepared after some last minute scrambling to get everything packed. 

she enjoys having the choice of grass or hay... or both lol

Isabel was very relaxed for everything, too. I'll give the full details later (too tired right now), but suffice it to say she was settled, seemed to at least try (a little bit) for our flat work, and jumped extremely well. 

despite its grandfatherly appearance, the cap is SO useful for packing

So I fulfilled one of my two goals: We had our personal best dressage score! 39.0!! I'm sure this doesn't seem like much... but to me it's pretty cool to finally break into the 30s. One day we'll be more solid on the flat... but for now we are slowly chipping away. 

one of us is ready. one is feeling a tad world-weary lol.

Regarding my other goal: Finish with a number, not a letter... Not quite so successful there. Isabel was jumping beautifully (again, more on this later) and had a lovely rhythm cross country. 

But... then I fell off when she stopped at some deep mud. Uh, oops? I guess she thought it was too icky or something. It was a very gentle fall, tho - in fact I landed on my feet.. but it spelled the end of our day. 

In any case, getting eliminated was a bummer, but I'm still very pleased with how well Isabel did and feel like we did what we set out to do: get more miles and have fun while we're at it. 

I've got way more pics and some video to share later so stay tuned! 

also, somebody please buy me this from cafepress lol

Saturday, October 25, 2014

HT ride times + goals

We got our ride times for today's horse trial! Not too shabby: starting in the early afternoon will give me plenty of time to get through my morning barn chores, plus packing and grooming etc. 

The venue is a 30min drive up the highway, which will be a new towing experience for me. But I'm not super worried - must just be very careful changing lanes / merging. 

'can't you see i'm ready? let's hit the road!!' - isabel

I like the generous time cushion for course walks after dressage. I thought there was enough time last go round (a little less than two hours), but then found myself in line for a hot dog when I really should have been already warming up for stadium... 

So that extra 45min will provide a good opportunity to just sit and chill for a bit. And perhaps watch my barn mate get through her BN stadium and xc rounds? 


I am keeping it really simple. This show is our biggest to date, and the organizers made it very clear on the prize list that this is NOT a starter trial. 

'that's cool - we mean biznesssss' - isabel
(photo credit Shelli Ramos)

It isn't likely to be our final show of the year (may have a fun hunter trial next week!!), but it IS likely to be the last horse trial. So I want to end this year of firsts for us on a positive note. I have two goals - one very basic, and one that's more of a reach:

Basic: Finish with a number, not a letter

As our second HT, and first show at a new venue, it's important that we set a good, positive tone and enjoy ourselves. It's supposed to be fun!

Reach: Dressage score consistent with previous tests (low 40s)

The point here is not about the overall final score (ie, it's nbd if we have a rail or stop, tho obviously I'd prefer not to) - it's more about developing a record. 

Bottom line

I don't expect to be competitive at this event. Our division has more entries than placings (8 ribbons awarded). And let's be real - it's the end of the season and most riders are wrapping up, rather than just getting started like Isabel and me. 

I would LOVE to snag some satin (love love love to!), but will not be disappointed if we have a typical-for-us ride and it isn't enough. 

'c'mon, let's GOOOOOOOOOOO!!' - isabel

Friday, October 24, 2014

pre-show lesson w a new trainer

So we did something that was either really stupid, or wise... depending on the outcome, I guess?? But the outcome was good, so we'll call it wise. 

Isabel and I, along with two other barn mates who are also showing tomorrow, took a lesson with a new trainer last night.

'your offerings, they plz me...' - isabel

I had originally thought it would be a dressage lesson, which is sorely needed (considering I haven't been able to connect with my own dressage trainer, and we are, uh, experiencing some technical difficulties). But it turned out that we would be jumping too. 

'ugh, do we have to??'

I was REALLY pleased with how this trainer structured the lesson. The main mantra was essentially: lift my hands, regulate my seat (and thus, pace), and get the horse using its hind end more effectively. In other words, work less as a rider so the horse has an easier time doing its own job. 

She took the time to explain why she wanted us adjusting our position, and what the end result should look like (but also how much time we should expect to practice that way before seeing super definitive results). 

trainer says - actually, your leg goes here. ya know. where it can be useful?

Isabel was in more or less the same mood on the flat as our previous ride - ie, not really trying and a bit sassy. But trainer C had me thinking less about her head and neck, and more about her pace and my own seat. 

It was a useful mental shift for me, and it got me thinking more about making the small changes that will eventually add up to a pretty picture. One particular hint that helped: she told me to connect my spine with Isabel's... for whatever reason, that mental picture seemed to work for me, position-wise. 

'this is a sick joke' - isabel

For jumping, we started with trotting into an X, complete with placing pole, and she told us straight up that she'd be picking apart our position. YES PLEASE!!!!! She zeroed right in on my pinched knees = toes pointing straight out issue, and had me focusing on stretching down and staying off me knees. 

Her solution was novel: C had me looking at *her* and counting however many fingers she had up during my approach and actual jump. It was enlightening- I could still stay with Isabel's motion even when not looking... but Izzy was also able to jump *better* with me staying more still instead of anticipating. Shocking, I know. 

placing poles were invented by the devil

Once we figured out how to get the quiet, slow pace (while still driving from the hind end), we added jump two. If the X was at F, more of less, the vertical (w placing poles before and after) was in the center. So it was a hard left turn from X to vertical, or a hard right in the other direction (captain obvious is obvious). 

The whole idea was to 1: set up the pace coming in to jump one, 2: be STILL and let the horse jump, and 3: maintain this stillness through the turn to jump two and allow the horse to find its own spot. You may recall that my jump trainer P has been telling me to allow Isabel to make her own decisions... and it's been difficult for me... but that's essentially what this trainer C asked too, and for whatever reason we were able to make it happen.  

 'whatevs, you only wish you could be this cool' - isabel

It actually worked out really well - I was able to let go and be still, and Isabel did exactly what we all know she can do: take care of business. We did it in both directions (predictably better going from vertical to X bc turning right is ALWAYS better, except for in dressage, duh), and Isabel pretty much proved that she can do anything with or without my input - preferably without lol. 

The trick, I guess, will be holding on to that feeling during our jumping rounds tomorrow.