Wednesday, September 30, 2015

q3 review + q4 goals

Posting this a day early bc... well, if it hasn't been done by this point it's not going to happen today lol.

As a quick refresher, last January I switched from setting monthly goals to using a quarterly schedule. The idea was to include more scope in my goals, but still be realistic about time frames and potential outcomes. You can find all of this year's goal posts in the sidebar.

2015 Q3 Review:

  • Monthly confo shots  Posts here. Kinda sorta missed August (and probably still owe a late September post)... but I kinda sorta think it'll be ok haha. 
  • Research MCTA points system  Researched, and I've been diligently tracking points (tho I have no clue how they compare to anyone else). According to trainer P, *everyone* gets a prize tho, so woot woot!
  • Audit a clinic Yeppers - so much fun! Extra special bonus that this included spending time with Austen & Alli

pictured: swag
aka: MCTA's Sunpebble Point Memorial Trophy, accidentally awarded to me at Jenny Camp lol
  • Improve lateral work - Workin on it. Doing more shoulder in and turns on the forehand. Honestly the practice is as much for me as it is for her (I kinda suck at it lol). 
  • School water and ditches on xc  This happened (here and here) and I'm happy with our progress. #needsmoretho
  • Improve canter transitions BOOM. 7.5 and an 8 on left lead depart!!!! But for the real story, see the full analysis here. This also still needs work. 
  • Improve halts (no more drifting left!) Progress?
  • Steady the connection - Ongoing...
  • Point toes forward over fences (not out) - Ehhhhh no real change. 
  • Mix jumpers and dressage shows into the agenda  Did a jumper show! And a paper chase!! And played polo!! Totally counts as mixing it up, right? 
  • Recognized event?  Deemed not a priority this year
  • Finish on dressage score at an event  YESSSS!!
  • Dressage score <35  Another yes (twice)!
she knocked those competition goals outta the park!
  • Lesson with Sally Cousins - Had an opportunity but it wasn't the right time...
  • Lead changes? - Ehhhh. We did ONE? But no real concerted effort... Have played with counter canter tho, and we actually worked specifically on *landing* the lead in a lesson last night (details forthcoming), which seems preferable to both trainers. Maybe that's where our focus should lie? 
  • Finish in top 5 at an event (for divisions with 10+ riders, top 3 otherwise) - YUP
  • Push our boundaries a little bit (higher heights, tougher tests) - YUP YUP YUP

2015 Quarter 4 Goals:

  • Start thinking more seriously about crack pot / pipe dream / highly unrealistic winter plans
  • Additionally, start thinking more seriously about crack pot / pipe dream / unrealistic plans for next year 
  • Clinics! Audit allll the clinics!
  • Consider what work needs to be done before winter doldrums set in
  • Get Bali going in the lesson program again (sooner rather than later!)
i plan to have a lot of fun with this goal
  • Dressage boot camp: lateral work, transitions (all of them, up down, within the gait, whatever), next first level type shit? 
  • Moar dressage lessons plz!
  • At least one more xc schooling?
  • Contingency plans for evening lessons as darkness sets in
  • All the fall trail riding
  • Fox hunting? 
  • End competition season on positive note, regardless of if that means staying at BN or shooting for an actual honest-to-god legit N 
  • Dressage < 32
  • Clear stadium (putting this here even tho it makes me uncomfortable lol)
  • Clear xc. We can doooooo it! 
we got this!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

another good lesson (with bonus bloopers)

We had another serious competition-focused lesson at OF this weekend, and with only 3 riders in the group it was much easier to zero in on each individual's level and issues. Meaning, we worked up to N height quickly for our course work. Yesss! 

isabel loves the long walk up to the arena - lots of foliage to sample!
Most jumps were in the same place as the last two weeks, tho the outside triple changed to a 1-1 stride combo, set at 18' distances. Trainer P LOVES 18' one stride grids and we've worked on them frequently over the past year and a half. They're tough - the short distance really forces the horse to rock back and compress its stride. Tho we usually keep the heights low and Isabel typically does not struggle with them.

tho i occasionally appear maniacally defensive lol
All the same tho, Isabel started off a bit behind my leg, which was somewhat unexpected given high winds and a distinct drop in temps. Oh well... she woke up eventually!

same four stride bending line from last week 
After working on the 1-1 grid for a while, we practiced the same bending line of oxers from last week, this time adding a coop as the third element, also on a bending approach. It was measured as a 3-3, but with the bend rode very nicely in 4-4. We started this at BN height then raised it to N for the course. It rode super well each time, except once when I came in with too much and got 3-5. Oops.

out oxer of the bending line became the middle element this week
The whole lesson I was focused on moving forward to the jumps. Last week's ride was a blast and everything felt really good - but it was hard to watch the video and look at the pics and not see example after example of *backwards* riding. Sure, the canter was lovely (Isabel is definitely making great strides here) and was able to make up for any iffy distances, but I just hated how evident my pulling was.

bending to the coop in 4 strides as the final third element of the line
So this week was all about half halting (for dramatic, noticeable effect) through the turns (with leg ON!) such that once we made our turn we could flow forward to the jump (again, without speeding up). And it will shock exactly nobody to hear that the approach worked. Very well. Haha. 

emma: "this..... this will not end well"
isabel: "oh shit oh god oh shit!"
After finishing warming up through the individual elements, we put the jumps up and did the full course - starting with a single white gate on the diagonal (3') then back to the 1-1 grid, which had also gone up. And, uh, we maayyyyy have been a touch strung out on approach, plus it was more visually imposing at a bigger height and... refusal. Oops.

"i just want to be close to you, izzy" - emma
Re-approached and got over the first element and NOT the second. Oy, Isabel, those are good brakes and all but that was a HARD stop! Good mare kept her head up tho, otherwise I was absolutely a goner (aka lawn dart).... she still earned a little smack for that. Nothing angry or mean, but just "Hey, you *cannot* stop in the middle of a grid set at 18' distances. Make it work. Jump the jumps."

at least the air bags deployed? 
She got through it the next time (plus once more for good measure) tho it was never very pretty. I just grabbed mane and stayed in the back seat lol. Also I think my stirrups might need to go up a little bit? Eh idk.

pictured: gettin it done (and clutching the mane like it's my job lol)
After the grid issues I got a little lost and somehow went directly to the end of the course, skipping three jumps. Eh, mental farts happen I guess. At least Isabel continued to jump really REALLY well - didn't back off or anything after the shaky ride through the grid.

wheeeee coooop!!
And actually - maybe that grid helped Isabel understand that I was really serious about compressing the stride, so she actually became even more adjustable as we went. Which was great - we compressed seriously in each corner then flowed to the jumps. Effortless. Ah what a good feeling!

we call this jump 'monsters inc' bc of the colors. isabel looks ready to destroy any monsters that dare cross her path
Of course this isn't to say there aren't issues that need attention - because obviously there always are. I looked a little loose in the tack (didn't really feel that way tho, which was good) so probably need to shorten my stirrups a hole. And my toes were doing their own thang per usual - pointing straight out instead of forward.

there we go, that's a nicer expression!!! (disregard my winging out toes... ugh)
Plus I was both overly busy and overly defensive with my upper body. Some of that can be attributed to my subconscious response to bigger jumps, and some of it is just plain old weakness. Needs work regardless. Oh, and I really need more stretch through the lower legs. Especially that right heel likes to creep up up up. The left isn't as bad, but still could use work.

Again I think all these things are related - my upper body is a little weak and busy bc I'm essentially standing on my stirrups rather than stretching down with the upper calf on the horse. That's probably also what's causing the winged-out toes too.

barrels FTW!
But all that will continue to improve with time. For now I'm gonna bask in the glory that is Isabel's ever-developing canter. We have had SO MANY frustrations and issues trying to improve her balance and adjustability here, and lessons like this are the payoff. It's just crazy to me how educated she feels now, compared to this same time last year.

she takes me right where she wants to be lol
Plus the height remains easy for us - always hugely reassuring. I'm still more likely to make stupid mistakes at this height... but ehh, I'm not sure that will ever change lol. And really, the biggest hardship of this lesson (the grid) isn't something we'll actually see in competition at this point (if ever) so... I still feel really good about our general preparation for Olde Hope this Sunday!! 

The only thing left to figure out is our riding schedule for these last few days. How do you balance the week leading up to a show? Conditioning days? Serious schooling? Light n easy?? Some combination thereof?

Monday, September 28, 2015

challenging conditions for baby Bali

This weekend was a tough one for good ol' Bali boy. And maybe for me too lol. He is very rapidly reminding me of all the little things I've forgotten about green horses, as it's been years since I rode one regularly. Just normal things - like topics other bloggers post about regularly, such as inconsistency from day to day and regressing after a day or two too many off work.

at least it's dark enough that you can't tell that my reins and bridle are two different colors
My first four rides on him happened on four days in a row and I was (and remain!) super impressed with how well he improved from one ride to the next. Then he had two days off and... well... reverted right back to his ride 2 self. Which I guess makes sense because he's been a riding horse for a couple months now - his bad habits weren't ingrained in 4 rides and it will take more than 4 rides to smooth him back out again.

baby is distinctly unimpressed. cannot possibly work under these conditions.
Plus the circumstances were tough. I missed a bit of riding through the week, and then we had a 'Ride & Wine' event at the barn, complete with live music, a fire, and many many twinkling lights - all down in the main arena. I got Bali down the hill and almost to the gate (with lots of trepidation and snorting) before deciding that was enough for baby and heading back up to the small 'dressage court' currently in use by bio-mechanics lessons.

there be shenanigans ahead
The riding space is tiny - just smaller than a regulation short court - with hard footing that prompted a lot of tripping in Mr Unbalanced. Plus with another rider already using the space for a lesson... well... It didn't give us a ton of room. And Bali was kinda not very cooperative.

I could *not* get a nice walk out of him for more than a few steps, and a nice trot was absolutely out of the question. Upward transitions continued to be sticky as well. I spent maybe 35-40 minutes all told - long enough for him to submit to the work and drop the idea of exploding, but not long enough for him to actually, ya know, work. Just not sure it was gonna happen that night.

view down the hill toward the party
So despite being pretty tired after my lesson on Saturday (details to come!), I made sure to hop in the tack again, knowing he'd have yesterday off as well. And I'm glad I did. Bali boy was full of it haha. It'd be an exaggeration to say he had murder on his mind... but, well, it certainly wasn't kittens and rainbows that he was thinking about either lol.

this horse has a lot of problems. bein cute ain't one of them tho!
Plus, again with the challenging conditions, the barn manager was setting up for a movie night at the barn and it was cool and windy out. And Bali was still pretty sure that all the party-goers from the previous evening's event might still be lurking around the arena - maybe under that JACKET. Ahh!!! Or, behind all those neatly hanging HELMETS OMG!!!! Plus some deer scampered away behind our backs, a very understandable spook I suppose... but still. Bali was taking any excuse.

'i'm gonna lick you. and then put my teeef on you' - bali
So when the BM told me she'd be inflating the projector screen in about 15 minutes, I made it my business to be FINISHED riding by then lol. And Bali was.... just ok. Honestly I probably need to push for a little more from him. He gets so busy snaking his head around in every direction, and I've been pretty focused on just riding his body and not his head -- but it's kinda all evasive garbage and he's gonna be expected to travel in a straight and balanced line.

'mmmmm lick alllll thethings' - bali
The trot work actually wasn't terrible - the extra space of the main arena gave me more room to push him forward a bit and he more or less acquiesced. So we went into the tricky left lead canter fairly soon into the ride. Oh Bali... I swear, all I wanted was a few balanced and measured strides and then I would have dropped it - honest!

But Bali was having none of it. Right when I'd be ready to reward some good steps by transitioning down to trot, he'd pop a very exuberant lead change and try to bolt. Meaning: reorganize, depart again on correct lead, and continue until we reached a nice canter..... at which point he'd pop another change. Finally we got what was actually quite a nice canter (relatively speaking) when I put him on a small circle and kept him there. Good(ish) boy.

ugh that mouth tho :(
Right lead was much easier - esp since he was already a little tired. We were even able to do full laps of the arena including the long sides with minimal interpretative dance moves a la Bali. Transitioned down to trot and stayed there - quite nicely again - and popped over a cross rail. Beautifully. He trotted up to it evenly and in balance, landed in an equally balanced canter, and brought his own self back down to trot in a couple strides. Goooooood boy!

Pointed him at another cross rail and got the same result, tho I asked him to stay in canter and aimed him at a vertical. All small stuff - but he just stayed so steady and jumped it very very politely and stayed straight and balanced on landing. At which point I got him back to the rail, back to trot, then walk then halt and hopped right off and told him what a good little horsie he is.

he is just too stinkin sweet!!
Silly guy. I guess he just needs something to focus on? Like, maybe I was right in saying that all the arena traffic from last week's ride helped keep him tuned in. As soon as I pointed him at jumps he just quieted down and settled. But when we're just out on the rail or circling about he gets so fussy and busy fighting with me.

Will have to think a little bit about what this means for my approach with him - tho it's good to know that he gets better when there's more for him to think about!!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

sunday funday

Let's move on to happier thoughts after yesterday's kinda downer post. I told Milagro about all your well wishes and he said "Thank you!" and asked for a cookie. Always a good boy, that one.

In the meantime, I'm off to watch the Ravens play today - in what will hopefully be their first win of the season!!! Let's go team!!!!! It's an early game tho, so I have just enough time to feed and do chores at the barn before heading down to tailgate.

It doesn't hugely bother me to give Isabel the day off (tho I'm doing the math on rides left before showtime next week and starting to worry about fitness, ugh) but Bali really doesn't need the rest. In news that will surprise exactly none of you who have (or have had) green horses, Bali is incredibly inconsistent but is at his best in regular work. The video I shared last week? That was from last Sunday, after four straight days of work. Most rides.... don't look like that haha. Ah well. He'll get there when he gets there, right?

So instead of any actual content today - enjoy this random collection of images and gifs I've collected over the past weeks/months that make me giggle. Happy Sunday everyone!

am i the only one that finds this ridiculously funny? yes? lol...
but i guess i may or may not be amused by simple things
lol fat cat goes boom!
.....presented without comment
isabel never laughs at my jokes either
'oh no she didn't!'
because there had to be a horse in there somewhere, right?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Milagro on my mind

One of our nicest lesson horses recently came up catastrophically lame. Before joining our lesson program, I believe Milagro was predominantly a dressage horse, tho he jumps well too. He is quite fancy and talented - but above and beyond that, he is as tolerant and safe as they come.

It's not uncommon to see Milagro trotting around (eye-catching, as always) with the tiniest of tots. He happily shows off his moves for any rider (regardless of size) who asks, and goes along quietly and pleasantly for everyone. Really, this horse is a saint and any rider or lesson program would be lucky to have him (and 8 more just like him).

hangin out after a grooming session
So we were devastated to learn that he sustained a very serious hind leg injury in the pasture - circumstances unknown. The prognosis is.... not great. He is to be kept on stall rest for the foreseeable future, and must be prevented from lying down as any attempt at rising could destabilize his injury.

Things are therefore a little touch and go, with the vet and barn mgmt team taking things one day at a time with treatment. Tho the vet believes that, in a twisted way, it couldn't have happened to a better horse. The qualities that make Milagro so beloved and valuable to the program are exactly those necessary for any shot at recovery.

He is just so damn quiet and patient.

still so quiet, even a week into stall rest
We've been instructed to give him as much love and attention as possible, and he's put up in a stall in the lesson shed where there's lots of activity to oversee and kids buzzing around to pat his nose. Even with his stall door open and cooler temperatures, he's still getting quite sweaty - so lots of grooming sessions to keep the itchies away.

But so far he's remained incredibly bright - mugging me for his breakfast on the days I feed - and interested in his surroundings, without becoming restless or listless.

His future is a little uncertain for now - tho with any luck (or a miracle?) he will recover such that he can be granted the retirement his years of service have earned him. Please keep your fingers and toes crossed that Milagro continues to handle his confinement and treatment with stoicism and strength!

Friday, September 25, 2015

left bend: still not a thing we do

I'm beginning to doubt my ability to assess my riding lol. Ask me which lead is better, and I'll tell you the left lead. I'll tell you that the transition is more balanced and that we jump better off that lead.

But then look at my handy analysis and discover that the data say otherwise - that the right lead is stronger (even if I still think the transition is worse). And consider this week's lesson with Dan wherein we couldn't actually jump well from the left lead (and most certainly not with left bend).... and.... yea. Maybe I actually don't have a clue.

left bend waaaaaat?
(pics are from an earlier ride where we schooled over the same obstacles with less fuckery but still no left bend)
It was a frustrating lesson primarily because it started off really well and steadily devolved. And unlike last week, I wasn't able to put the wheels back on the bus in time to finish strong. Ugh.

The Miseventer showed up to ride Tillie (Kaitlyn was stuck at work) just as we finished and asked how the lesson went. It took me a few moments to formulate an answer, and Dan sure as hell wasn't gonna blurt out 'wow, yea she really sucks' with me standing right there so... finally I settled on "educational" as the appropriate adjective for the ride. Ughhhh.

But back to starting off well: we revisited that tiny collected canter from last week's lesson and ran a figure 8 around two low jumps. Last week's video wasn't particularly exciting, but there are clearly moments where we got the right rhythm and pace so that we 'moved forward' to the jump without speeding up. And then there are other moments where we kinda splatted over it. Dan prefers the 'splat' to the 'gap' but would rather see neither.

simple figure 8 repeated until directed otherwise
So I was quite pleased to demonstrate this week that I had taken the lesson seriously and done my homework, and we pretty much nailed this exercise. Every. Single. Jump. It felt goooooood. Haha too bad that wouldn't last.

One of his big focuses on our flat work this week was inside bend. He wanted my inside leg *down* and at the girth (no curling!) and my outside leg *back* to keep the haunches from swinging out. Specifically he told me to think 'shoulder fore' while jumping, particularly when approaching a diagonal jump from which we'd be changing directions.

Somehow, though, achieving that bend while tracking left is just... not a thing I can do. At all. And my only recourse was to just start pulling....

First we went through a course that I can't for the life of me remember, but it involved mostly right turns and we handled it well enough. It was when we switched to the final course that things just completely fell apart.

third and final course. we, uh, struggled. 
I just.... kept messing up. Not getting the bend, or getting fast to the jumps, or not reorganizing early enough upon landing, or adding too many strides down the final coop-blue-green line (should have been a short 4 to 4 and I kept doing 5-5). It was also pointed out that jumping up my horse's neck with my upper body was not conducive to maintaining the balance/pace upon landing.

Finally Dan told me to stop thinking about the 'collected' canter and ask for 'medium.' He did *not* mean go faster - he just wanted to see a bigger step, covering more ground. And he also wanted to see me using a lot less hand - all legs and seat and inside bend to achieve the canter.

So obviously we took off at a gallop down the long straight approach to the orange and proceeded to knock over a whooooole bunch of stuff. Next time through, I jumped ahead at the natural oxer then made a terrible turn to the coop, garnering a refusal. I said something along the lines of "I deserved that" and, well, he more or less tacitly agreed. Sorry Isabel!

i don't always pull on her over fences... just, like, 87-93% of the time
By that point things were getting worse with each repetition, I was getting dangerously close to losing patience (something that rarely happens in lessons), and Isabel started seeing monsters in the darkness beyond the arena's flood lights (which are finally fixed!!!!!!). So... we got through the line and called it a day.

My homework is to make that left bend happen, make it a thing we can solidly do. And that doesn't mean one step of bend and then straight again. We should be able to hold that bend, and without a ton of rein aids. Walk trot canter, whatever. Bennnnnnnnnnnd.

izzy is used to getting things done despite my shenanigans
So yea, a frustrating lesson. Not to be confused with bad, per se (tho you certainly couldn't call it good!). I'm reminding myself that Dan designs his lessons to expose training weaknesses in the horse or rider, which then allows us to work on them and improve.

As the Miseventer pointed out afterwards (while I downloaded/vented a bit), Dan might be intentionally revisiting the habits most likely to interfere with moving up. Some habits were easily ignored/overlooked at lower levels, but become increasingly unacceptable as the jumps get higher and questions more challenging.

I already know this at heart (and wrote about it here) - but maybe didn't realize how frustrating the process of filling in those training holes could be. As always, just gotta keep workin at it!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bali jumps!!

As promised, here are more details on how Bali has been schooling. The short answer: he's doing really well and I am having *so much* fun with him! But I know there are a lot of OTTB fans out there so I'll write out the long version too lol.

grazing like a very happy horse
And there's evidence that my nefarious plan for getting the students excited about him again is working. A bunch of the kids wanted to watch me ride and were therefore willing to take video. Score for media! And job security for Bali!!

he's not a terrible mover! (also try not to die of cuteness looking at that tiny kiddo on Cheyenne lol)
My first ride with Bali did not find him to be super maneuverable. He bulged a lot, kicked out at leg aids, and tried to run into the other horse in the ring (ridden by a first time student... so... definitely not crash proof!).

canter is coming along quite nicely
This fourth ride found him much improved in that regard. There were two lessons in the arena already - two beginner w-t riders that didn't steer well but mostly stuck together, and two more advanced w-t-c riders who had better (but still not great) steering and were working on trotting ground poles. 

lots of pats for the good boy
So, lots of traffic. And Bali was foot perfect. He's not super balanced through tight turns but proved to be handy enough to make them happen and avoid making roadkill out of the students.

"I am Bali, vanquisher of tiny cross rails!!"
His left lead is becoming more reliable - tho he's super unbalanced and rushy in that direction. I really want to avoid punishing 'forward,' but can also see how that canter can scare students (it feels bolt-y). So lots of small circles and using legs to rate him. And oddly enough, this horse might actually have a better half halt than Isabel lol. The brakes are not good yet tho, despite his laziness.

apparently will need bigger fences to encourage better efforts
The right lead has real moments of niceness. He responds SUPER well to thigh/knee pressure and half halts from my core. Tho he doesn't really love me sitting down on him right now but improves as he loosens up.

just out and about for a casual canter
His trot doesn't have great rhythm yet but is also improving. Part of that is my struggle in finding the point between 'forward' and 'balance.' He must move forward off the leg - that's non-negotiable - but we also shouldn't be running. Again I think he'll eventually slide to the 'lazy and slow' end of the scale so I'll also have to be careful not to let him get too dull.

oooh look, a fence!!
He's also a little inconsistent at different places in the ring - speeding up at the far end coming back towards the gate. And he's not great about corners yet. I think that's mostly a function of habits and lack of balance.

he's quite careful!
The jumping was really great. He stayed with me really well, and did NOT morph into a fire breathing dragon. I kept it super simple - circling over the same jump from both directions, starting out by trotting a tiny X and then building it into small vertical. He remained unfazed.

the left lead steadily improved as we continued
And in fact he allowed me to really work on the canter rather than the jumps. His tendency is to jump from a really gappy distance if we don't make it to the fence quite right, and then he lands really unbalanced. So I tried to ride as if I were in a Dan lesson - and really collect the canter and get more lift through the shoulders.

he occasionally lands in a bit of a heap tho lol
Bali might be a little more naturally uphill than Isabel, so it actually was maybe easier to achieve a better canter - but he's obviously much greener. Plus he's still not very fit so he got tired and a little heavier pretty quickly.

you'd stare at that adorable neck too
But really, he's quite uncomplicated. A definite mark in his favor! Didn't get excited about the jumps at all - just kept on plugging away and listening carefully, which was great bc we spent a good bit of time dodging traffic haha. Maybe that actually worked in my favor? We had to steer so much that he really had no choice but to tune in? Idk lol, but he was very good.

video here - complete with adorable tiny lesson student cameos

He's just so much fun. Very different from Isabel - and very similar to the horses I rode in college (like Lad!!). I might not be great at training horses to be very fancy or correct or whatever, but I can get young OTTBs going well enough for a lesson program. And I'm looking forward to upping the jumping ante with this guy and practicing course work!