Wednesday, 21 June 2017

2017 Chinook Country Dressage Show Recap I

First, I invite you to review how this same show went last year (here and here), all weekend I was blown away by how much progress Kachina and I had made since last year and how much more smoothly everything went this time around.

My cats apparently didn't want me to leave


I didn't work on Friday so I was able to spend the morning getting all my stuff together and making food for the weekend, as well as doing a couple errands. I got to the barn around 1pm, hooked up the trailer, packed hay and tack, bathed Kachina, and loaded up. I was so happy to be able to give Kachina a good shampooing. This was her first bath of the year and so it was really nice to be able to get all the winter crud off. Kachina was less impressed. I imagine the ice cold water doesn't feel amazing, but at least it was a reasonably warm day and there was a strong wind so she dried off in record time. There were a few shows last year where I didn't have time to bathe so that made me appreciate my soft and shiny horse this time around so much more.

The dirt monster is white! 

The haul to the show grounds was thankfully uneventful. I pulled into the show grounds at around 6:45pm. I had been hoping to go for a ride in the ring where the competition would be held, but unfortunately when I checked in I learned that they had closed the ring at 6:30pm (little annoyed that that information hadn't been posted beforehand). It ended up kind of working out though because the braider that I had hired showed up early. I thought Kachina might want to kill me after being bathed, stuck in a trailer for 3.5 hours, and then having to go almost straight into standing still yet again for braiding. Kachina was surprisingly chill though, the braider commented multiple times on what a good girl she was being throughout the process. I showed up with Kachina's mane clean but otherwise pretty wild, and the braider trimmed it up for me first before making really neat braids that stayed in excellently all weekend. It was nice for me that I didn't have to worry about doing any mane prep or braiding myself.  I don't know if I will use a professional braider in the future but I had zero regrets about going that route this time. I didn't end up riding Friday, but I did lead her around and lunge her in the warm-up a little bit.


I was stabled with a friendly group of people from the Chinook Country club. It makes a show so much nicer when you have people to chat with and cheer each other on. I was especially inspired by the lady I was sharing a tack stall with. She is 70 years old, her horse is 22, and they put in two really solid Prix St. George tests!


On Saturday I had three rides, T1 @ 9:12am, Dressage Equitation @ 9:47am (stayed on between these two), and T3 @ 1:57pm.

I planned for a nice long warm-up before my first test so I could work on the relaxation, do some canter work, and then have time to get her re-relaxed if needed. This worked well, because the first time I asked for canter she flew sideways to the outside of the arena. She did the same thing the second time as well. This is a new issue so I was concerned. Thankfully the fix was pretty easy, I think she was feeling a bit too blocked, so I closed the outside rein but left the inside door a bit open for her during the transition, this did the trick and I got a few excellent canter transitions in the warm-up ring.

A costume Kur entry, so many gold sparkles!!

We went into the indoor arena for our first test Training Level Test 1. I usually find the first test at a show is a bit of a throwaway for Kachina and I, it always takes us a little to find our groove. However this time, we went right in and put in a good test. It wasn't perfect, it was wiggly in spots, but it was generally good. We also got correct leads both directions and had our best ever canter transitions in front of a judge (which doesn't mean they were great, but not the usual llama impression). In fact one of our biggest mistakes was breaking from canter to trot for a few strides before picking it up again. The fact that Kachina was calm enough to break, and then do another good canter transition to get back into it was a success in my books so I wasn't upset about it.

This ad was hanging up in the arena. I've never seen a casket ad before and to have
one in a rodeo arena where people could legitimately die seemed to me like it was
logical, pragmatic, morbid and bizarre all at the same time

Since Kachina was doing so well, I didn't drill anything more before my next class, we mostly just walked around and stood to watch a couple other tests.

Next came the Dressage Equitation Flat Class. The flat class has everyone ride together, going around the arena rail and following the commands of the judge. Then the score from the flat class gets added to your test score on Sunday for the overall results. The flat class just included myself and two juniors. As well as walk, trot, and canter around the outside, we also had demonstrate sitting trot, free walk across the diagonal, and a halt with immobility. Kachina put in some really good work during the flat class, but she also spooked hard at the end of free walk, went back to llama mode for both canter transitions (partly because I couldn't set her up nicely in a corner or circle), and got a little fast in the later trot work. Still, doing rail work with other horses isn't common for us and Kachina kept things together so I was happy with how it went. I came out of the class, got her to give me two nice relaxed trot circles in warm-up and then dismounted and brought her back to the barn.

Who's the best girl?!

I went to pick up my tests and found that I got the following results:

Training Test 1
AA: 2nd/4

Dressage Equitation Flat Class
(Placings determined with Sunday's test)

I was thrilled with my score for T1! I had accomplished all of my goals for the show in just the first test (getting good canter transitions and putting in a test that made me feel like we belonged at the level). The placing was also a nice surprise. For some reason I thought that this show had JR/AA/Open riders all lumped together (which would have put me 6th/11), but they actually were split out. I decided then that I would be happy with the show no matter what but I would make myself a new stretch goal of getting Reserve Champion at Training Level.

After a nice long break I tacked up to warm up again for my afternoon test. The warm-up went great, I was able to get relaxation quickly and I even did a full run through of the test in the warm-up area which went really well. Unfortunately, I had given myself too much time to warm-up, so I ended up just standing around on Kachina for longer than ideal. This time when we went into our test it was a lot more tense and racing. We still did all the right things in the right places at least though.

Training Test 3
AA: 4th/5

I wasn't too disappointed when I saw my score because it felt like a high 50s kind of test (I had actually told myself 57-58% when I did my last salute). I'm okay with low marks when I know that we can do better, and I was really happy with the work she put in during warm-up.

Pawing at her slow feed net to get the good stuff out

Sunday's summary tomorrow.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Local Dressage Show Media!

So, before I post about my most recent show, here is some media from my last show!

(Recap post from show)

To review, I rode Walk Trot Test B and Training Test 2, both Hors Concours. My scores were 58% and 57%, and these were not great tests, with much tension from both Kachina and I. Despite it being a less than stellar performance, I wanted to buy photos both to support the show photographer, and because I wanted something to remember the first show that I organized.

All photos by The Buckin' Photographer, she more normally does rodeo photos but she did a great job capturing some nice moments at the dressage show.

Please excuse the hair, ain't no way I could run the show, ride in it, AND braid haha. Also I made a stupid mistake with my own hair, I was putting it up in a two step process that was different from usual, and I totally forgot to do step number two before sticking my helmet on!

Trotting up center-line to start my first test
(with my best "fake it 'til you make it" grin)

First halt - nice and square, unfortunately nowhere near X
(this was after she ran backwards and sideways off center-line)

I love the look of her power and tail in this one, though I need to fix my hands and her neck

Getting some bend, which we couldn't do this time last year

Actually looking up and where we need to go

One of my favorite photos from the day

"We survived!" pats after the first test

I like this head shot, a soft eye is much harder to capture
with Kachina's blue eyes, but I think this photo nails it

This was during my warm up lap right before my second test,
my smile is huge because I know we rocked the warm-up and
Kachina was going super well, if only I could've held it together
once the bell rang =P

I needed one canter photo, this was the best one there was. Canter is hard y'all

Medium walk
My homemade dressage letters visible in background
(duct tape on pylons for the win)

Free walk

Monday, 19 June 2017

Horse Showing is Fun?!

I had a fantastic weekend at the Chinook Country Dressage Show this weekend! Great people, great times, great rides, and the best mare ever!

I show for lots of reasons: motivation to push for a goal, exposure to new places and experiences, getting an independent review of where we are in our training, figuring out our strengths and weaknesses, using judge's feedback to learn what we need to improve, etc. This weekend was all that, plus, for maybe the first time, I actually had a lot of fun doing it!

Full recap to come.

Kachina had fun being spoiled with a near endless supply of carrots

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Chinook Country - Here We Come!

Tomorrow Kachina and I will be on our way to the Chinook Country Bronze Dressage Show. This is one of our main rated shows planned for the season. I'm looking forward to it but I'm also wishing I was more prepared.

The plan is to compete in the following:

- Training 1
- Dressage Equitation flat class
- Training 3

- Training 2
- Dressage Equitation TOC - Training 1
- TOC - Training 2

Us at the same show last year

Here's what I feel good about:
- It lined up that I have tomorrow (Friday) off work so I will have lots of time to pack and can get to the show grounds early (it's about a 3 hour haul)
- For the first time in my life I have hired someone to prep and braid Kachina's mane for me (rates were reasonable, two less things for me to worry about, and I'm also planning to watch and learn)
I was actually pretty proud of these braids, but they didn't stay in very well
- 6 tests in a weekend gives me a good chance of having at least one decent test, and the ride times are pretty nicely spread out
- KateRose might be coming to watch
- I was at the show last year and it's a nice size show with a good atmosphere
Getting some good feedback from the judge last year
- We succeeded in getting our best ever canter transitions last week
- We have a solid warm-up plan
- She's been to this venue before, and I've taken her several new places in the last year so riding away from home isn't much of a concern
- I've arranged for a saddle fitter to do a saddle fit assessment for us at the show. I've wanted get a second opinion on my saddle for a while now, and this saves me significant travel costs compared to bringing a fitter down to where I live. I think my saddle fits well, but I'd like confirmation, and I also want some girth answers.

Here's what I'm nervous about:
- We went to the show last year and won for "best rodeo" in the fun warm-up class, not looking for a repeat of that! (I did not enter said warm-up class this year, but I don't want any rodeo moments during my tests either)
Let's not have a repeat of this
(this was just a canter transition, actual rodeo moves not captured on camera)
- The show doesn't offer Walk/Trot tests so I have to tackle the canter every class
- While we are figuring out canter transitions finally, it's far from confirmed and I haven't done it off a circle yet
- The saddle fitting isn't happening until Sunday and so it doesn't really help for the show itself
- Last year Kachina freaked out every time the steward tried to check her bit (it was our first and only show so far that had a tack check). I have been practicing with her on having her mouth prodded, and have some methods I can use, but she's still nervous about strangers going near her face, especially men

Laying it out this way is useful for me, now that I see that the first list is longer than the second, I'm not so worried!

The most important thing to me is having a positive show experience for both of us. Second priority is putting in the best effort that Kachina and I are capable of right now. How we shape up compared to the competition is much farther down the list.... but, I also love me some satin and I have to admit that I would love to earn some. I need to temper my expectations though because this show has 14 entries in Training Level, some of whom are excellent pairs, and last year only the division and reserve champs got ribbons (but the ace up my sleeve is the dressage equitation division ;-), I like having an extra couple classes but it's a fairly new and unknown option so there's only 3 of us in it)

I managed to squeak out a win in Dr Eq last year
out of two people, despite poor performance,
and if you can win a ribbon, they are beautiful

Wish us luck! Anyone else showing this weekend?

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Middling Ride

Last night I tried to recreate my amazing ride from Friday. We worked on all the same things, but it wasn't quite as magical which is not altogether surprising.

Kachina was spookier than normal. She was pretty sure the bushes on two sides of the arena held some bush monsters, and she even did a massive stop-splay-snort-leap away from a dark footprint on the ground. Even when she wasn't actively spooking, she wanted to counter-bend to keep an eye on bush monsters and her default gear was fast.

When Kachina is tense like that I immediately default to my go-to bad habits of leaning forward and pulling. I tried my darndest to push my hands forward and sit back, but it was really tough. One thing I noticed was that if I tried to sit back all at once, the quick change of balance would throw Kachina off and make her go faster, which would cause me to tip forward again. This was a really good insight to make because I think this has been part of the problem for a long time without me realizing it. Throughout the ride I started figuring out how to slowly pull myself back with my mid-back/upper abs, so it was a more gradual correction. I also need to figure out a gradual way of correcting my hands, because forcing my hands forward caused the contact to slacken which made Kachina feel like I had deserted her. I kind of know that means I need to use more leg to push her forward into the contact, but that's way easier to say than do.

Still happy after the ride
(See background for monster-harboring trees/bushes)

I worked on path again, but my footprints weren't as visible any more which made it harder. I bought some cones to use as letters for my show so I think I may need to set those up to give me clear points to ride to.

I still ended up with some nice trot work, but I couldn't hold it for as long and it required more frequent small circles to get her back. I can't rely on small circles in a training level test so I need to figure out another solution.

We cantered again, using the 15m circle, and focusing on me using my legs while keeping my hands and upper body quiet. Kachina was anticipating the canter more today (I could tell she was thinking about it, but I did get her to wait for my cue most of the time). I also struggled with getting my outside leg far enough back. I think that when I know Kachina is already thinking about canter, I am afraid to use too obvious of an aid. However I really need to make it a clear aid so she doesn't think I mean canter when I ask for haunches-in in the future. I can put my leg back to the proper position without it being a strong aid. We had a couple flubs: one wrong lead, and one circle where I just could not plug my butt into the saddle. That circle was kind of funny because Kachina was unbalanced, I was struggling with my own balance so I couldn't help her, I knew that this would be the kind of situation where Kachina might run off or hunch her back and bad things could happen, Kachina was thinking the same thing I'm pretty sure, but she was generous and gave me a full circle and a half before spooking. Despite the notice, I still couldn't get my crap together in time, but I was able to sit the spook and I appreciated that Kachina really had tried to give me a chance. I pet her, went back to trot, and tried again. It took a lot of trotting and half halting, but in the end we did get some nice canter in both directions. I even came out of the circle on a straight line before doing a trot transition (like in the training level tests), and Kachina stayed straight and balanced without changing her rhythm.

Kachina's mane used to fall mostly to the right with just about 1/4 going to the left,
now it's almost entirely on the left (this is how her mane was coming directly from her pen),
hopefully that's a sign she's becoming more symmetrical?

My ride ended up being almost an hour in order to get the work I was looking for. In that time I gave Kachina several walk breaks where I worked on transitions between free walk and medium walk. This is something that I've been slacking on lately. If I don't practice it then Kachina will sometimes think trot as soon as I pick up my reins, which has bitten me in more than one show test. If I practice it she gets the idea quickly though and is good.

Overall, while it wasn't the best ride ever, this middling ride was super valuable for me to get more insight into our issues and figure out how to achieve good work through tension. We also did succeed in getting good canter transitions again which is a huge win right now.

Monday, 12 June 2017

The Best Ride

I had the best ride on Friday!

After-ride selfie!

Kachina and I really regressed in our work at the clinic last month. It wasn't the worst kind of regression, more like a "break things down to build them back up" kind of thing, but I still was pretty bummed about it.

I've been working hard to get things back on track. I've been riding more often to get my confidence back. I got a new girth (yes, another one! I may need an intervention, but it was 60% off) and a new girth sleeve. I started Kachina on magnesium supplements as well as a complete feed. I took a simulator lesson to make some position corrections. It will take some more time and experimentation to see what parts of the formula are the most important, but something is working! (In the name of science I would like to change only one variable at a time, but I have a show next week gosh-darn-it so try ALL the things!!)

By the time my ride ended the wind had died down and it was a gorgeous night
See exhibit A: moon, field, and rabbit cameo

On Friday night I was feeling completely drained of energy. I wasn't feeling it but I dragged myself to the barn anyways. Kachina was being pissy while I was tacking up so I didn't have super high hopes. When I got to the outdoor arena, the wind was blowing, there were new cows beside the arena, the horses in the nearby pens were being frisky and I was riding all by myself. Kachina started off tense and looky but I kept working. I focused on three main things: A) pushing my arms in front of my body, B) holding the reins like holding a baby bird (hand closed but not tight), and C) exactly controlling Kachina's path and where her hoofprints fell. A and B I got from my simulator lesson, and C I got from emma's recent post. It was a great day to work on our path, because a recent rain meant that every hoofprint showed up perfectly in the arena footing.

Our circle tracks actually looked pretty round

I started off by doing lots of walking in patterns around the arena. My patterns were pretty random, I was just choosing a series of points on the ground and saying that we are going to walk there, and then bend and walk there and then go the other way and walk there etc. I also threw in some shoulder-in work at the walk. We haven't done any shoulder-in for a while but it was a good way to check on all my aids and it was actually half decent.

When Kachina was listening to me and stopped cranking her head to stare at the cows or horses I went up into trot. At the trot I focused on riding straight lines and round circles. I then did some spiraling in and out between 10m and 20m circles, starting on unmarked ground and then trying to follow our previous tracks exactly. The focus on path really went well with the focus on baby bird hands because it helped me to see when I should stop using my reins and just be soft. When she started to drift of my determined path I would make a quick and light correction and then go back to neutral. Making these corrections while seeing our hoofprints in the dirt was also useful because I found that sometimes I would go to use rein when I should be using leg, or vice versa. I think I was previously too concerned with bend, but especially with circles, if your track is good the bend mostly takes care of itself. Soon I had a horse who was super soft, super consistent in the contact, super relaxed, and super focused on the work. It was a really good feeling.

Good pony!

I thought about finishing the ride there, but I knew I really needed to tackle the canter. After lots of rubs and a nice walk break, we were able to quickly re-establish the nice trot, and then I moved onto canter. In the past I would kind of flop my way into the canter aid, Kachina is so sensitive that she would feel I was doing something and run into canter, but it wasn't really an aid and it resulted in incorrect leads and tension. It didn't help that I've had lessons where I've been told lots of different things about what I should be doing with my hands and hips and upper body in the transition. Some of these things have been suggested as a nice subtle way to get the canter since I do have such a sensitive horse, others have been aimed as corrective actions for getting the wrong lead etc.. I get that scooping with my seat into canter is something that might be good down the line, but the fact is that right now my seat is too uneducated and so is my horse. I really need to focus on basics and stopping my body from doing its "flop" instead of trying to make it flop in different ways. Also, it really doesn't help me to try and increase the inside bend or lift my shoulder or do other "corrective" things with my hands and body when the root problem is that I can't sit straight and apply the basic canter aids clearly to start with.

During our fantastic ride, the miniature donkey ransacked my grooming bag looking for treats
(which were in an enclosed pocket sealed with velcro, but he still got them all out)

This time I really focused on keeping my body and hands as quiet as I could (which took a lot of conscious thought, they really wanted to move on me), and just aid with my legs - inside leg just behind the girth, outside leg back. Again I stayed on my 15m-20m trot circle tracks to make sure I was still focused on path. It took a few tries but I eventually got the best canter transitions that I have ever had on this horse! Not only did she do a nice canter transition (relatively, it still takes a couple strides to develop, but she stayed round), but I also felt for the first time that I was giving her a clear, reproducible aid that I was in control of. Once in the canter we did a bit of spiraling in and out between 15m-20m circles. The focus on path within the canter was also great for keeping me soft and neutral except for when I needed to make a correction. I was able to get multiple transitions in each direction without Kachina's mind ever leaving me or her body getting uptight.

It was such an amazing ride, I felt like I was walking on sunshine for the rest of the night. On the weekend I ended up doing some trail riding with friends instead of another focused dressage ride. I don't know if I'll be able to reproduce the great work tonight when I go out, but I know it's in there! Clearly my horse is a saint and I just need to actually ride properly. I'm finally starting to figure out how to do that!

Kachina doesn't look quite as thrilled as me, but I was ecstatic!

How was your weekend? Any stellar rides lately?

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Blogger Meet-up - Alberta Edition

Apparently last week was the week for blogger meet-ups! It may not have been as big or epic as eating sea bugs in Baltimore or horse swapping and riding to a vineyard in California, but a mini blogger meet-up happened here in Alberta this weekend between me and KateRose at Peace & Carrots, and it involved riding horse robots*!

*actually a horse simulator, they aren't very automated so I don't think robot is an accurate term, it just sounds cooler lol

When I mentioned that I would be going up to Calgary to scribe at the Gold Dressage Show there, KateRose said that she would be in Calgary as well and asked if we could meet up. I had already scheduled a dressage simulator lesson for Friday night so I quickly roped her into joining me.

Busy warm-up ring at RMSJ

The simulator is a really cool tool for targeted position work without any of the distractions that riding a real horse brings. I last used it in February 2016 on a dressage weekend where I needed to get some lessons without hauling a horse in winter (posts here, here, and here, specifically read the first one for more info on how the simulator works). The three simulator sessions I took in February helped me in several ways and their benefit lasted for a long time, but I felt like I was due for another dose of position boot camp.

Luke, the simulator

This time around we took lessons on the simulator with the trainer who was the dressage judge at my recent show (so I will call her Judge). Judge trains out of the barn with the simulators now and I really liked her feedback from the show so I knew she would be a good person to work with for fixing my position.

KateRose and I had arranged to meet at the barn with the simulators Friday evening. Unfortunately some different issues related to driving around Calgary meant that Judge, KateRose, and I were all running late. We all got there around the same time, but it made for a kind of weird start because this was the first time KateRose and I had met in person, but instead of having time for the introduction/small-talk thing, we kind of jumped right into having the simulator lessons together (not helped by the fact that I am kind of socially awkward, sorry KateRose!)

View of Calgary from near the show grounds

Since I had ridden the simulator before, I hopped up first for my lesson. We didn't do much playing with the simulator features, more just used it as a moving platform while Judge adjusted my position. The major take-aways for me were:

Me on board (PC: KateRose)
  • The weight of my legs is the amount of pressure I should have in my stirrups
  • My stirrups should be longer (I used to need them shorter because otherwise it was easier for me shoot my legs forward and off the horse, but I have finally improved with my lower leg position (yay!) so I can go longer now), we lengthened my stirrups one hole for the lesson, I should keep them here until that feels comfortable, and then eventually go down one more hole
  • The direction of my toes is pretty good when I'm sitting, but I need to prevent them from turning out when I apply leg
  • When I post I need to keep my shoulders where they are, not move them forward
  • My elbows tend to do the chicken flap thing and it makes my hands not quiet. I have been focused on keeping my shoulders back and my elbows at my side. Instead, I need to still focus on shoulders back, but hold my arms more straight out in front of me with my elbows slightly squeezing together in front of my body. This is a significant difference to what I have been doing, but the benefit of it was reinforced as I was scribing at the show because I could see all the best riders had their hands pushed more forwards. I am still struggling with the feel of arms forward without the shoulders going forward, so I'm trying to practice it while I type, walk and drive, as well as in the saddle.
  • Think of my hands holding a baby bird, and a half halt is keeping the bird from escaping while not crushing it. If you think of a baby bird trying to escape, you need to close your hand quickly in reaction, but without squeezing too hard. This is a really good analogy for me, because it reinforces the need for a half halt to be both quick and gentle. For some reason gentle always goes together in my head with slow. Half halts need to be quick to be effective. Also Judge demonstrated to me with her hands how keeping your hands soft around the reins instead of in a death grip, allows a much gentler half halt to be clear. I also need to remember that a soft hold does not mean open hands. 
  • Canter transitions: I identified my position in the canter transition as being a weak point so I wanted to practice these on the simulator. On Kachina I fall apart in the transition in multiple ways but I find it hard to identify exactly what is happening. On the simulator it was easier to break things down. I know that my body tips forward on Kachina, but that wasn't an issue with the simulator. There were other problems though. 1) My shoulders twist as I apply leg, with the inside one going forward, I need to focus on staying square in the saddle. 2) When I apply inside leg, I turn my toes out and this inadvertently brings my lower leg forward. I need to keep my toe forward and apply the inside leg in it's natural position behind the girth, not any farther forward. 3) I contort my upper outside leg when I attempt to bring it back to aid. Instead I need to keep my knee where it is and just move my lower leg back. 4) As soon as I get the canter I need to bring my outside leg back to the home position, not keep it back. 5) I'm not consistent or exact with where my aids are applied. Judge had me close my eyes when asking for the canter transition and it took a lot of attempts before I could reliably put my legs on where they needed to go to make the simulator respond. 

After my lesson was done, it was KateRose's turn. It was really educational watching her lesson as well. We have very different body shapes and had completely different things to work on. KateRose had such a natural straight looking seat in the saddle though that I envy. I would love to see her ride an actual horse as I imagine she is a beautiful rider.

KateRose on board

After the lesson we parted ways and I spent Saturday and Sunday at show scribing. I didn't find scribing to be quite as educational as previous years but it was still a good experience. While I cannot ride a good test myself at any level right now, my eye is certainly improving for being able to see what makes a movement good or bad. I am far from the amount of knowledge needed to be a judge, but when I wasn't busy writing, I practiced watching test movements and guessing what the comment and score would be in my head before the judge said it, I was right on or close more than 50% of the time which I thought was pretty cool. I also spent a lot of time looking at the equitation of the best riders and trying to find trends that I should use for my own position.

Awards presentation at Gold Show

Sunday evening after the show, KateRose and I met up for supper. It was great to have some one on one time to chat life and ponies. We both have followed each other's blogs for a while so it was interesting how we were able to talk like we already knew each other. Of course I did learn some new things about her, like how she works 60+ hours a week on top of riding her three horses! I am in awe of that and bow down to her time management skills! It was great to have an Alberta blogger meet-up and I hope to do it again soon, next time hopefully we'll get to meet each other's horses too!

Obligatory blogger meet-up selfie!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Pasito a Pasito (Step by Step)

The last couple weeks I feel like I have been even more tense in my shoulders and upper back than normal. I suspect most of it is from being hunched over in front of a computer at work. Some of it in the saddle is probably also from being unnerved during my first ride in the clinic a few weeks ago.

I've been making a conscious effort to bring my shoulders back and down, but it's been a struggle. On my way out to the barn the other night though a catchy Spanish dance song was playing on the radio. While I was driving down the highway I started to move my shoulders to the music, and I could finally feel the tension start to leave them. The song repeated in my head as I caught and tacked up Kachina and it kept me moving and smiling. It has made me seriously consider making a pre-ride dance music playlist.

I came home later and had to look up what the song was and what the translation was (mi espanol es no bueno). The song was Despacito by Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee. The line that was most stuck in my head was "pasito a pasito" which apparently means "step by step". I think that is appropriate because step by step I am rebuilding the trust that was damaged a few weeks ago. I'm a big believer in the trust bank concept. When we rode in the clinic, there was a big withdrawal from Kachina's trust bank with me because she was uncomfortable and I put her in that position. There was also a withdrawal from my trust bank with Kachina because she freaked out and it scared me. The bank accounts aren't empty and we can get past this, but we need some positive rides for both of us to build our trust balance back up to a healthy level. My ride after listening to the song was one of these rides. We just did walk and trot and rode patterns around a 20m x 40m area, but we got some really good work. She started to curl behind the vertical at one point (which she hasn't done recently), but I was actually able to add leg to push her forward to my hand and it worked (using leg is a huge win for me!). Also, there was one point where a cat leapt out from the bushes and through the arena fence. Kachina spooked but we both only tensed up for a couple strides and then we were able to to get it together quickly and go back to a good quality trot.

Do you listen to music before or during your rides? Any songs that help you get in the right state of mind or body?

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

May Local Dressage Show Ride Recap

So as you may have read before, the first ever dressage show in my area was held May 20-21. You've already heard about the organizing aspect, but I actually rode in the show too (yes, I may be probably am insane). Here's how that part went:

First, I want to let you know that my decision on whether to ride or not fluctuated wildly before the show.
Initially, when the idea of a dressage show was hatched, I was going to do it with a partner, N. The plan was for me to do all the pre-planning work, and then N would manage the show on the weekend itself, freeing me up to ride myself. A significant reason why I organize dressage clinics is so I can take advantage of them myself so I figured the same would be true of a show. At this point, the plan was for it to be an unrated schooling show.
Next, I discovered that the show needed to clear a certain amount of profit to have N on board, I could see that wasn't going to happen (it didn't, I barely broke even), so I was on my own for all the organizing and managing. This made me think I probably wouldn't be able to ride myself.
Then, the show organizing began to take shape and I found out it would be a rated AEF show. Since it wasn't a schooling show anymore, I knew there was no way I could ethically compete. Hors concours was an option, but I figured I would still be too busy.
After that I got to know the judge better, and I really wanted to ride HC so I could get some feedback from her. It's not every day that you can ride for a Medium rated dressage judge from the Netherlands right in your own backyard.
Then, I got busier and busier organizing the show and wasn't able to ride much in the preceding weeks, I figured I would not be riding.
The week before the show at the clinic, a few friends asked me if I would be riding in the show. I said 90% no, but they told me I should. I wasn't fully convinced, but they influenced me just enough to make me check with the judge about me riding HC (she was cool with it), and to have me write my name in 3 ride time slots on Sunday when I was making the schedule (I thought I'd see how Saturday went, and then maybe ride Sunday if things were running smoothly on the organization side).
The final week before the show went by and I didn't have time to ride at all, I was 95% certain I wouldn't be using my ride times, but I kept them there, figuring it was easier to scratch then create them last minute.

Saturday of the show came and went, and I still wasn't planning to ride, I was just so ridiculously busy. But then, when I took the judge out for supper on Saturday night, she asked me about it, and told me I should ride. I warned her that I wasn't prepared, that I hadn't ridden much lately, that I wouldn't have time to bathe or braid, but she said I should still do it. Well, when a dressage judge tells you to ride, you ride.

At 8pm on Saturday night I left the judge in my house, drove across town to pick up my truck and horse trailer from two different places (my brother had used them for moving earlier in the week), went out to the barn, packed up the truck, and rode my horse (my last rides had been the less than ideal rides from the clinic, so I felt like I really had to sit on my horse before getting to the show grounds to make sure she wasn't broken). It was dark by the time I dismounted, and the judge was already asleep by the time I got home.

The next morning I woke up early, set out things for the judge's breakfast, readied my show clothes, packed my car, drove to the barn, loaded Kachina and hauled to the show grounds. There, I juggled grooming Kachina with running the show office, answering questions, getting the arena set for the day, organizing the day sheets and test clipboard (in which I looked at the timing, and scratched my first ride time but kept the remaining two), and getting volunteers prepped. I wasn't able to bath or braid, but at least I was able to tidy up her mane and tail marginally (first show of the season so she was still a winter yak). I repeatedly told myself I was insane.

Once the show started running for the day, I had an awesome volunteer take the show office over for me for a couple hours so I could go tack up and ride my horse. B runs the local breed show so she knows her way around a show office and I was comfortable leaving everything in her capable hands, there's no way I could have ridden without her help.

Warm-Up Part 1

I tacked up and started my warm-up. Everything related to the show had me totally wired all weekend and I'm sure Kachina picked up on my state of mind. She was feeling good, not tight or reactive like at the clinic, but neither of us were relaxed. The start of my warm-up happened to coincide with the morning break. The warmup area was right beside the competition ring so the judge came over to give me some tips (I was riding HC anyways so no issue). She had me really focus on holding my hands in front of me and pushing Kachina into them. It didn't work all the time but I was able to get a few moments of a new and really cool feel of her in between my aids. Periodically we went back into racing giraffe mode though.

I was embarrassed about the issues Kachina and I were having. It makes no sense but I felt like being the show organizer put more pressure on me to be a better rider. Of course if I hadn't been the organizer I would have been better prepared and likely would have ridden better. Nobody else was putting pressure on me, I was just putting way too much pressure on myself. The embarrassment made me more stressed out which added to our issues even more. In general though I'm proud of how I warmed Kachina up. I couldn't release all my tension but I made smart decisions about what exercises to do and I focused on riding one leg into one rein and bending instead of restricting her with my hands. I could get some nice walk and trot circles from her, but unfortunately every time I tried to ride a straight line or sit the trot (even just to change diagonals), Kachina would take that to mean that she should break into a tense canter, not exactly what you want right before riding a test with lots of straight lines and diagonals!

A friend had volunteered to hold my show jacket and some water for me while I warmed up. As it was nearing the time for my test, I got her to bring me them. Kachina isn't usually that spooky but of course she decided today that the water bottle was terrifying and my coat was going to eat her. After a few big spooks I had to drop my coat and dismount to put it on. Again, not the best way to prep for a relaxed test!

Walk/Trot Test B

Too soon, it was time for my first test, Walk/Trot Test B. I really really wish we were beyond walk/trot level, but we've been struggling with canter transitions lately (again/still!) so I felt this was the best choice for my first test. Moving from the warm up area to the test ring did not help with Kachina's tension, or mine. She spooked at the judge's truck and didn't want to get to close to the side of the ring with the stands. Our test was not pretty. We got a few moments of nice work, but in every single movement there was at least one moment of rushing or hollowness or counter-bend. I kind of wanted to curl up and hide in a hole, especially because I knew the judge, I knew the scribe, I knew the photographer, I personally knew every single person who was watching me fail. I'm a lot better at blocking out strangers than I am people I know. We got a 58%. While this wasn't a great test, I am accustomed to the fact that the first test of a show is usually pretty much a wash for Kachina and I. We always need at least one test to get in the ring and fail before we can pull it together.

Warm-Up Part II

Despite my shame, I put Kachina back to work for the few tests before my next ride time. I became a more active rider and got her to do straight lines and diagonals without losing it. I got some really nice trot work and some decent canter. Unfortunately the canter work brought back her tendency to try and tensely canter in the middle of every trot movement. I had to spend most of the time doing just walk/trot work to keep her brain in her head.

The rider ahead of me finished her last salute and I started my loop around the competition area waiting for the bell. The judge decided to have a short chat with the rider before me so I actually had time for several passes around the ring. These trot circles and diagonals represented some of the best quality work that we can produce and I was really happy, I was ready to start my test!

But, the chat went on longer than I was expecting, we had peaked in our work and I wasn't sure how to keep it going, I kept trotting, not wanting to lose the quality, but I lost a bit of my focus. The bell rang, my tension went up, and we kind of fell apart.

Training Test 2

My second test was training level test 2. The test started with a few oops moments (a very crooked halt and a spook at C), but I managed to not totally lose it. We again had some quick and hollow moments, but they were interspersed by longer moments of good work. We held it together for one whole trot circle and one whole trot diagonal so I decided then and there that the ride was a success. Not surprisingly, our canter sucked. To one direction she picked up the wrong lead and then switched to cross firing before I could correct it. Unfortunately in Training Test 2, the double coefficients are for the canter circles so that really hurt our mark (the other lead wasn't great either).

We got 57% so pretty much the same score as Walk/Trot B, but I was much happier with the test overall. We had multiple movements where we scored 7 so I know that when we are good, we are good, we just need to clean up the bad movements. Really, even if we just turned the few 4s into 6s we would have had a respectable score. That mostly just means figuring out the canter once and for all (please! please! please!!!).

These remarks are so simple but so true for me!
(It reads: "Canter is tough eh? Relax, breathe and practice!")

I came out of my second test, made Kachina do a couple trot movements without losing the quality, and then cooled her out, fed her lots of treats and put her away.

Overall I was glad I rode. The show survived without me for a couple hours, I got some good feedback, and I got media! (I'm buying photos but they will have to wait for their own post) The tests didn't go great, but that was understandable with the unfortunate clinic the week before, my lack of prep, and my level of nerves. Kachina stayed with me and tried her best. I'm proud of my little mare and got lots of compliments on her (she can look fancy even when she's giraffe racing!). We'll take this as a learning experience and use it to build for the next show, one that actually counts (best part of riding HC, you don't have to publish your scores, so there's no lasting evidence of a bad ride ;-) (except for this blog post I guess lol))