Sunday, April 26, 2015

DSRC Autumn/Winter Dressage Series; Day 1 of 3.

My weekend freed up significantly since we weren't able to make the cross country practise yesterday (Saturday NZ time).

Instead, I only had to look forward to the dressage today.

I bought a new Gateshead rug combo with tail bag recently for Oscar, it is gorgeous and has little peeps of green with yoshi like dinosaurs printed on it in random places like the neck rug straps and shoulder gussets and all over the tail bag. I brought a second set for the stable in blue, but with little Snoopys instead of dinosaurs. They are SO cute - I need to get my horse to model their cuteness!

The material the rugs are made from apparently keep your horse super shiny, and well..

.. the proof is in the pudding. From what you can see of 'the pudding' anyway!
I will never worry about turnout again now I have these beauties, I feel like they must just groom away at your horse's coat all night long!

Anyway, back on track.

I entered level 1, which I felt a little guilty about as we've previously had a lot of success at level 1. This is going back a few years though. I needn't have worried as when we arrived there were some absolutely stunning horses in my class, and I didn't look like a ribbon snatcher at all.

In fact, we ended up coming third in the first test and didn't even place in the second.

Oscar warmed up beautifully, someone told L they thought that I would win which proved to be a little presumptuous haha.

We were working in an arena that was farthest from the warmup area - and Oscar got a little tense in his new surroundings. Usually I hate a judge that leaves you trotting around for ages before beeping you in, but today it may have helped. Nevertheless, we had a few settled moments scraping a couple of 8's for our walk, and 20m canter circle on the right rein.  We got our first ever 4 for a late transition to walk, but the majority of marks were an even split between 6's and 7's for a 63.08%.

We placed third in that test.

The second test of the day felt like it started better, but the judge didn't think so. We got a THREE in this test for a working trot over the centre line showing a give in the reins for 2-3 strides. The comment was 'good - but no give and retake shown'. I definitely gave my reins, but I'm wondering if the judge wanted to see the horse take the contact down and therefore lengthen my reins as a result. I kind of brought my hands forward to reveal if my horse was in self carriage or not (he wasn't - too tense), but was marked as no give shown. Hmm.

We got an 8 for our left 20m canter circle this time, but finished with a lower score of 60.38% on this test. The second half of my test, every comment says 'tense, tense, tense' so this is hardly surprising.

I got 'well ridden' in the rider comment and Oscar's comment was 'some lovely movements and shows potential.....' - you betcha he has potential! Today was his first day back in a rope arena after a four year hiatus, and the more we do, the less tense he will become. Next time will be better!

I have a dressage lesson on Friday, C is going to go over my tests with me, and then the Tielcey Park Stables winter dressage series starts on Sunday. The goal is to beat 63.08%!

PS: My horse is looking gooood lately!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Dressage Lesson with C; Utilising Shoulder In

My second lesson with C was just as good as the previous. I really think I can strike number 29 off my 30 before 30 list now!

I warmed up alone this time - one downfall of having a farrier for a boyfriend is that they can chat and chat and chat, poor C got ambushed by L and by the time she had broken free I had warmed up.

She was really impressed with our improvements since the previous lesson - despite feeling like we achieve nothing without her help, we're obviously starting to get it. That meant we only spent a short period of time playing with transitions within the trot on a 20m circle and we could move onto a 'new topic'.

C noticed that Oscar was a little resistant, despite working better overall he wasn't using himself as well as he could whilst he was bracing against the bit, and so we spent some time trying to 'unlock' him. I'm sure I don't have to explain that a horse with tension in the neck, back or wherever, can't actually work properly or as well as he could do if he was loose, soft and relaxed.

So we worked on some techniques that not only relax and encourage your horse to soften, but still build strength. We mainly utilised the shoulder in. Now, Oscar does a lovely shoulder in - on a straight line. C prefers working on circles, making the exercises harder for the horse (and rider!) which in turn makes it much easier when we go to perform a movement that is usually asked for on a straight line.

Performing a shoulder in on the circle served to push Oscar's inside hind leg right underneath him, get him travelling laterally through his rib cage and off my inside leg. The extra inside flexion required in this movement did seem to work in softening. Obviously there was still a fair bit of pressure and release going on too, until he stopped bracing against the bit.

The right rein was worse than the left, which is unusual for us, and so at one point we got right down to the forelegs travelling on a 5m circle, at which point he kind of sat back, got off my hands and legs, and used himself properly. When he finally became submissive, we travelled out to the larger circle whilst in shoulder in and then proceeded to give him a walk break reward. Dis why I'm tired.

Standard facials for my lessons with C.

The shoulder in work took up a huge amount of time - the demands C puts on us are really starting to affect Oscar - positively! - but understandably he gets a little muscle sore and until he gets stronger and stronger, a bit of resistance is to be expected.

He didn't have that booty definition before!

We didn't have long to work on canter (that's for next lesson) and C didn't want to overdo it. However, we did have to combat Oscar's tendency to fall out slightly to the outside through his shoulder.

I have an awful tendency to use my hands together, and C is working hard to make me realise that each hand is independent and has its own use. I get it in theory, but putting it in practise is a different story! When I see Oscar's shoulder fall out slightly, it seems counterintuitive to bring my outside hand out too. And so I kind of cross it over into inside hands territory. It actually enables Oscar to fall out by doing that, as it brings his nose in.

So, big thing for me in the canter is to make sure I am aware where each hand is. I wish I had Patrick Swayze saying 'This is my dance space, this is your dance space' to my hands. Mmmmhmm.

Naturally, when I fixed myself, my horse came right too!

To build 'straightness' strength in the canter. C made it really hard for us- as she does.

First she asked for outside flexion on the circle, and then got me to push Oscar's hindquarters out - so when we were on the left rein, I actually felt like my horse was positioned to travel on the right rein. It was SO difficult! I'm definitely not practising that movement unsupervised.

All in all, it was another brilliant lesson. My favourite thing about C is that we never practise dressage test movements - instead we work on making those movements difficult, so that when I do perform one, it seems easy.

Mind my tilting forwards, but he is starting to get along freely off of his forehand.

Wednesday's jumping lesson with S was rained out, boo. However, we may potentially get out to a cross country course this weekend, have our first dressage tests in forever on Sunday, and I'm judging a Pony Club gymkhana ring on Monday. Plenty to keep me busy!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Show Jumping Clinic at Tielcey Park Stables

I mentioned previously that I was booked in for a show jumping clinic with a well known rider on the NZ jumping circuit, who I will refer to as 'D'. I'm not sure what the protocol is when involving others in my blog posts, so I like to keep it all ambiguous - ha!

I was down for a double lesson with my friend T - we're both looking to improve our horses technique over fences so it seemed like a good fit to do it together. Also, I can't spot a stride to save myself and T felt that she was in a similar boat in that regard.

The morning wasn't the best - a little overcast and a wee shower, but the jumping gods worked with the weather gods to pull through and hold off the rain clouds for our afternoon lesson. Now, Im going to be completely honest and say that I was not a fan of how our group lesson was structured. The warmup on the flat was the most productive part, as we were riding together on a circle and D was able to divert her attention from one to the other quite seamlessly. Apparently the secret to spotting a stride is getting a correct canter, so needless to say, we spent a little while developing a solid canter before moving onto fences.

When we got to the fences part of the lesson, for safety reasons you need to go one at a time - unless of course it's a small grid and you can kind of go one after the other as long as you watch your distance. The exercises we worked on were spread across a course of jumps, and so there were periods were I could only walk around on Oscar in a corner of the arena. T's horse can be such a handful, he's got this very switched on brain and if he decides he doesn't want to jump something, there only has to be the slightest rider weakness and he will stop. T does great with him, but obviously human error meant that he had a couple of stops. This prolonged the time I was dawdling with Oscar between our 'courses', and it really did nothing to keep him switched on.

So we'd finally get a good canter, pop over some jumps with some really helpful feedback, only to slink back to the corner for a while. It just felt very stop and start-y.

By the time we did our last course though, I was feeling more confident about spotting a stride. I wouldn't say I can pick them out every time, but practise makes perfect huh? Despite the stopping and starting, the clinic highlighted a couple of weaknesses in Oscar and myself that I can get to working on over winter. The first being my tendency to throw the reins at Oscar a couple strides out, anticipating the jump too early. A while back I expressed my goal to stop jumping 'with the handbrake on' and it seems I'm overcompensating now. I've been on both sides of the fault line, so hopefully next time I'll get it right somewhere in between the two.

The second weakness is our corners, which relates to some of the stuff that C is teaching me in our dressage lessons. Whilst Oscar turns his head, his shoulders drift out, and so we overshoot coming into some of our lines. C gave me an extremely useful exercise to combat this drifting, but I'll address that in my lesson recap later this week. It is golden - so stay tuned.

Two takeaways from the clinic, both of which will help infinitely in improving our show jumping performances, and hopefully eradicate the likeliness of a fall next season! I had a jumping lesson scheduled for today with somebody who came highly recommended, but we got rained out. It will be interesting to see if I have made any improvement by next Wednesday, which is when we've been rescheduled for.

T got heaps of feedback for her horse, which is awesome for her. I secretly hope she gets bitten by the eventing bug and we can do more fun stuff together, particularly next season. Something tells me she has too much of a love affair with show jumping though, so I could be lone ranger-ing for a while longer! Bloody jumpers, ha!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Show Jump Practise at Tielcey Park Stables

Such creativity within my blog titles lately!

I mentioned a while back that I had an upcoming show jumping clinic with a well known NZ rider.

The last time I jumped was April 2014, where I was pretty nervous for no good reason. As I mentioned in that blog post, it had been around three years before that that I last jumped.

It may have been mad to book into a jumping clinic with no real practise, but I decided it was the only way I would move forward and actually practise. So, a couple of days prior to the clinic, T and I floated our horses out to Tielcey Park Stables to pop over the jumps and settle our horses in the arena. Oscar looks at everything and I didn't want to pay for a spot on the clinic only to have my horse running sideways across the arena every time he saw something he didn't like.

We got to Tielcey, and already Oscar seemed a lot more settled than he did when I took him for a hack along the bridle path; good sign. I think as long as he can see a horse then he is okay!

(Oh! He also got clipped last week. Just a simple blanket clip because at one point we were down to do our first ever hunt. I've decided against hunting him, my reasons for doing so can go in a post for another time though - back to our jumping outing.)

So Oscar was settled straight off the bat when we arrived, T and I left the horses whilst we went and set up a few jumps. There was a LOT of variety, we set up a few uprights, oxers, a double, a wall and a hanging filler or two just to see if there would be any aversion to anything. The heights varied from a 30cm (1'0") cross rail to one or two 70cm (2'3") uprights/oxers. T and her horse jumped everything, whereas I didn't quite have my brave pants on. I jumped one of the larger oxers as part of a double, the wall and a hanging filler that T's horse stopped at. Oscar went over everything without batting an eyelid, so I stopped quite early. No need to overdo it. I'm of the opinion that a horse doesn't forget how to jump, so unless you're working on something specific then you don't need to jump everything in the arena. It's the excuse I come up with anyway when I don't feel particularly excited to jump all of the jumps - ha!

So all in all a really successful short and sweet eye opener prior to the show jumping clinic - which I will talk about in my next post. I'm almost up to date with my posts now, just got a post about the clinic coming up, then I had another lesson with C on Friday which left me both hating and loving dressage at the same time. I have a show jumping lesson with a new trainer that has been highly recommended for me this Wednesday, and then a jam packed weekend with a cross country practise, a dressage show and then judging a pony club gymkhana on Monday, which is ANZAC day and therefore a public holiday. Even typing it out is a mouthful!

* fun and jumps aside, I finally purchased a basic blogger template and got rid of the awful thing I had going on for a week or so there. I wanted something super basic that I could play with, without having to change code for the rest of the template whenever I changed a colour here or there. This one is a blank slate pretty much, so I'm looking forward to honing my photoshop skills and refreshing  my knowledge of HTML! 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Riverside Hack (& I fell off again!)

I've been having a lot of really great rides lately, and am going to attempt to get them all down in a chronological order. So I'm going to go way back to over a week ago when I took Oscar for a conditioning hack along the bridlepath that runs by the river.

After my first lesson with C, I hacked out a few times to let Oscar's muscles recover. C is amazing and really changes how we do things, so understandably both Oscar and I are a little muscle sore after lessons. A conditioning hack was long overdue, and since the ground at home was wet after some heavy rain, I convinced L to trailer us out to the bridlepath. Palmy bridlepath is stunning, you basically follow the river for miles, and there's well maintained grass verges on either side. You come to optional bridges, and meet lots of people along the way - with dogs, pushchairs, and on bikes. So much mental stimulation for a horse like Oscar who benefits from being exposed to new things.

We went to the Ahhurst end this time which joins onto the section that runs through palmy. It's a little shorter and perfect if you only want to be gone for a short time. L was walking the dogs and put a time limit on me, so the short track it was.

Oscar was super uptight at the float where we unloaded - there were no horses around, and a family were collecting rocks from the riverbed nearby which made quite a noise as they hit the trailer they were being thrown into. He stood well enough to be tacked up, so I think he's getting a little more mature with all these outings. At one time he would have lost it.

However, it did set the tone for the rest of the ride with Oscar being uptight and watching for monsters.

We walked for a while with L who had the dogs. Quite the family outing!

Eventually we pushed into a trot, and then forward into what I call a 'cross country' canter. It's just a good, solid canter that's too forward to be called a working canter. I have tried to google the distance to no avail, but we got to where the path meets the palmy section after around fifteen minutes.

It was like a long cross country course without any jumps, we got to a puddle covering most of the path at one point - he balked at it and I lost my balance coming forward over his neck. I stuck on, but nothing tells you you need to work on your two point and keep your leg on like having your horse hesitate during a forward gait. We trotted through the puddle, and past a construction site by the path. Oscar looked hard at this as we cantered past, and I had to keep my leg on and rock back a bit to keep him going forward. He definitely didn't have his brave pants on!

After we'd crossed the puddle obstacle and gotten past the pretty intimidating diggers parked by the path, Oscar was just about ready to explode! So as we cantered around a sweeping corner right up to a big German short-haired pointer exploring a bush, my horse lost it and not only stopped, but swung sharply to the left. I sailed clean over his right shoulder, keeping my grip on the reins. The last thing I needed was my horse bolting back 15 minutes to the float! By some miracle I didn't hook my horse in the mouth too badly when I landed, and I also landed right on my feet. I did myself proud again when the adrenalin of the fall allowed me to swing back up onto Oscar's back - despite never having been able to get on from the ground before. My jump stirrups are quite short but I still clambered back on almost smoothly, apologised to the family belonging to the dog (we gave their dog a bit of a fright with my air aerobics) and carried on on our way. Not long after this we got to our turning point, ready to walk back to 'home'.

Despite falling off, and having a bit of a white knuckle ride, it was a good outing. It felt like a hairy cross country course, and I think a horse friendly version following this will seem a lot easier for Oscar! I've always got the goal of winning a pre novice in the back of my mind, so most of my rides are geared towards preparing for next season's eventing. If I go for a hack it's either to loosen up muscles or to condition for a cross country course. No more dawdling around - I forgot how motivating goal setting was. I have been utilising 'my equicoach' a lot lately, and it's definitely helping me break down my big goal into small achievable steps.

Oscar was pretty hot when we met up again with L and the dogs, and he was much more settled. Somebody stopped us to say what a 'well kept' horse he was - I am a stickler for good grooming before an outing, and even if you're going to a 'non horsey' environment, it doesn't go unnoticed. So that was nice.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Lesson with C: Dressage

Oscar ended up coming sound after a new set of shoes, so we went ahead with our dressage lesson.

The lesson itself was fantastic and certainly gave me plenty of food for thought. I immediately booked another one for three weeks later (student budget - limited luxuries), which brings us to this Friday. Because I mentioned last time that I was going to ask for C's opinion on me doing level 3, I'll just point out that she didn't recommend it and said we should start at level 1 for two reasons.

1. The amount of time that has elapsed since the last time Oscar has done a dressage test means he could feel green in the arena again. Best to give him a good experience rather than stepping up to a new level and over facing him.
2. During the lesson we actually went back to basics and readdressed our working paces, therefore we didn't work on any level 2 movements.

So, slightly disappointed.. However, C gave me so much to work on so I am very excited and enthusiastic which makes up for the disappointment. It's better to do it properly from the start anyway, right? Will make the step ups easier anyway.

During the lesson we worked on three things

1. Straightness and suppleness to develop rhythm and pace.

C had us work quite deep and asked for lots of flexion which encouraged Oscar to stretch out over his back and really allow room for that little trot to go somewhere. Whilst I thought he was over flexed, he felt brilliant and I realised that going forward from then I needed to incorporate a lot more flexion in my warmups in order to increase his suppleness.

The great thing about having Oscar super soft and flexible, was that I was able to bend and counter bend whilst keeping him straight (to a point) on the circle. Although this seems like an easy exercise, it's hard to maintain rhythm, straightness and deepness when essentially moving your horse's head from side to side.

2. *Surprise* - the second thing we worked on was the quality of Oscar's trot.

If you've been following my blog for a while you'll recognise that our working trot typically gets a LOT of attention during lessons - it's the one thing that I always have to be mindful of.
Is he balanced? Could he be slower? Is he running?

Whilst G had me bring Oscar back on plenty of 10m circles in my last lesson to kind of force Oscar to sit back and stop rushing, C focused more on transitions within the gait. We spent a solid chunk of the lesson going from an almost too slow working trot, to a good medium trot all on a 20m circle.

I previously thought that Oscar's party trick was his medium trot, but there's nothing like testing yourself on a circle to show you how unbalanced you are huh?

He found it difficult on the circle and fussed a bit with his head, but asking for more flexion and really riding him forward into my hands pushed him on. I can't tell you how sore my legs were getting! C trained with Charlotte Dujardin for a while and so prefers legs over whips during schooling.

These transitions on the circle seemed to unlock Oscar a little and when C asked me what I noticed, I said I felt that Oscar was moving at the same 'speed' as normal, but there was definitely a prolonged period in my rising trot.

The proof of the pudding that my horse was taking bigger steps without going any faster!

3. Positioning of the neck and shoulders; obviously relating to straightness, but we spent a fair bit of time focusing on the positioning of the above to correct Oscar's over-popping shoulders!

This exercise was mostly carried out in the canter. C described my hands and reins as a box (box/trapezium hybrid - let's not get picky!) and asked that I really focus on having Oscar's neck straight up the centre of that box at all times. Using the box image, I could clearly see when my horse was falling out of the outside shoulder - it happened a lot!! Riding into my outside rein helped keep Oscar straight through the neck, and encouraged him to bend through his ribcage instead. C had us canter on a tiny circle around her, and then leg yield out onto the 20m circle without letting him lead with the outside shoulder.

This was extremely difficult, not only did Oscar find it very hard maintaining a canter on such a small circle whilst I prevented him falling out of his shoulder, but I found it hard to sit back and ride strongly. We're both a little unfit! We did this exercise about three times on both reins with slow progression.

Following the lesson, Oscar gave me the best stretchy trot ever! I feel like stretching beforehand is a waste of time now as he just goes flat - in future I'll warm up deep and round, and finish long and low.

The poor horse had sweat dripping over his eyes so he deserved a big bubble bath and a bit of a massage afterwards, followed by a short walk around the racecourse the following day.

As I said, we have another lesson this Friday - I have been intermittently doing the homework C set me - although we've been interrupted by conditioning work, jump sessions, the Easter break and a jumping lesson! So much going on, so little time to work on everything.

I'm ├╝ber excited for the progress we're sure to make over Winter - next season I'm adamant we're going to conquer training level if not finally move up to Pre Novice! Now I'm having regular lessons I'm finding it easier to make those smaller goals to help achieve the big one.

We'll be competing in two different dressage series this winter and the first show is just under two weeks away - that's less than fourteen days to make some big improvements on both our working paces and transitions. So exciting!