Thursday, June 30, 2016

Just Can't Dressage.

I'd like to say I've been working hard on what C told me to practise following our lesson on Friday, but I haven't. I did, however, clean my bridles so I'll pick up brownie points there.

I rode Oscar around the racecourse block bareback with E and her pony on Saturday, which was lovely, and then tried to continue with the flexion and straightness stuff on Monday but with little success. 

Maybe it's the fact that I'm trying to un-potato myself in the saddle, whilst simultaneously trying to teach both me and my horse how to execute all this fancy flexion stuff on a circle. Most everything we learn is a first for the both of us, since Oscar was fresh broke when I bought him and I was just a happy hacker growing up as a child. I didn't do the pony club thing or lessons until I was 17 so feel like I'm a bit behind all my friends in that regard, but the main issue is that I just can't do two things at once.. or so it seems. 

Our one and only 'proper' ride following the lesson was just a bit of a fight between Oscar and I. 
It was raining and there were horses running around in the big turnout paddock besides the arena. Oscar was distracted by them and I was too, with one half of me trying to figure out what my rogue left side was doing and the other half trying to get Oscar to just show some submission goddammit. Why must you always look at #allofthethings?! He did eventually soften, and I was feeling like my left hip was crunching a bit and had a bit of tightness in my left shoulder, so there was something productive coming out of the ride. 

Aside from the obvious distractions, Oscar just seemed to find the exercises a little more difficult that day. He usually just flicks up his nose to snatch the reins when he struggles, but this time he was genuinely trying to say no and would suck right back behind my leg, and shuffle along that way.  

Usually we're on a 3-weekly lesson cycle with C, but she's house-sitting closer to the stables and I'm on holidays so I thought I'd make the most of it and book in weekly. Whilst the 3 week thing usually works really well for me - giving me plenty of time to work on what we've been learning - I'm grateful that we'll be seeing her again so soon. Following a lesson I always feel like I know exactly what I need to be doing, but this new suck-behind-the-leg party trick of Oscar's is out of character and more than likely the way I'm asking him to do things is messy and confusing for him. So we can't really practise what we learnt last time.

I haven't schooled since that ride. Oscar's had a couple days off, most in part due to the weather. 
We've had a lot of rain. The ground is wet


 L would be hella pissed if he knew I blogged that. He was waving furiously at me from the driver's seat as I took this photo, mouthing something along the lines of "Stop it! Rangers don't get stuck!"
But you can actually see surface water on the grass so I can't understand why he drove into it in the first place, ha.

We had to get the other grazer to tow us out backwards from the driveway, and again it made me realise how great it is to have an arena. Just last year I'd have to be riding on that ground, slipping and sliding all over the show.

Even though it feels like we haven't made much progress this past week, I do need to remember that we are crawling along at some pace, and especially when I consider what we were doing the past four winters (i.e.. nothing, thanks to the grounds!) then we are definitely still making progress. It's just not always in leaps and bounds as I'd like.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Hello Stables My Old Friends

After a pretty long battle, I finally succumbed to the weather and brought the horses inside.

I lost my 'heart horse' (Henry) at a young age, 15, and I feel strongly that his cause of death would have been preventable had he been given adequate turnout. In the UK it is common practise to stable horses for a large part of the year, and moving to New Zealand (although a massive culture shock at first) has shown me how much happier and healthier horses are with 24/7 turnout - which is the common practise here. 

The almost across-the-board all-year turnout available for horses in New Zealand has given them a  reputation overseas for being well developed, adaptable and sound. 

Many years ago, I used to love winter. It meant for deep straw beds and snuggly stable rugs. 
Each Christmas I would get a new 'Masta' stable rug for Henry. It was the first item on my Christmas wish list and I could pick that present from the others in the space of seconds; and once I'd ripped off the wrapping paper I'd be itching to get to the stables to muck out and try it on him. It was family tradition to take hot buttered toast to the horses on Christmas morning, and muck them out together as a family. I therefore have really fond memories of warm and toasty horses tucked away in their boxes, and out of the elements.

I won't go into the details of Henry's death, but my thoughts on stabled horses took a big u-turn probably a whole year after moving to New Zealand. These days it has to be really severe weather for me to bring my horses inside, and that is only because my paddocks are tiny. It takes thirty minutes to completely turn them upside down from grass to entirely soil when it's wet; fifteen minutes if Kiri is involved. When the horses are out in the big paddocks, they'll happily stay out in downpours with their rugs on. And they don't mind it one bit. 

My old self would see horses out in the rain over winter and think New Zealanders were a bit rough on their pets, but I'm starting to differentiate between horses and humans as I get older and have come to realise that horses don't mind rain. Humans do, but we don't care much for eating grass straight out of the soil either. 

This year is the first year I've been really close minded about bringing the horses inside, and I've done really well until now. We've had some pretty crappy weather over the past few weeks, but have been lucky enough that it's only been the odd day of rain between several dry days. The paddocks have held up nice enough - although I did have to tape off the gateways, which have sunken slightly over the years thanks to many a hungry horse waiting patiently for its' dinner by the gate. 

My gumboots are always fair game to the mud in that area, but behind where I'd taped has been dry enough. 

Today though, my two paddocks were 50% under water and if I wanted them to last until mid-July I knew I'd have to get the horses off them. So, despite telling the grazing manager that I wouldn't be using the boxes, I ended up bringing everyone in. Luckily I had emptied my four stables out completely and refilled them with fresh shavings "just in case". 

I've been saving my big paddock for as long as possible, so once uni starts again (I'm on holidays at the moment) they'll have enough shelter and space to stay out even in the worst rainfall. I imported some decent rugs from the UK so they'll be plenty warm enough. Two weeks of intermittent stabling can't do too much damage, right? And I'll definitely enjoy the reduced grooming time before lessons!

"Perhaps a hot coffee will help me warm up?" says Buzz.
I think the last thing this OTTB needs is caffeine. But he does look hella cute when he's being hopeful, right?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Recap; Dressage Lesson

I had another dressage lesson on Friday with our favourite trainer of all time, who I refer to as 'C' on here! It was amazing, as always, though I didn't have a mate on hand to snap photos this time. I like photo documentation of lessons because I usually look better and my horse does too - must be something to do with having someone tell me off for slouching forward or letting my leg slip back and off the girth.

I did, however, get one snap of us mounted during our lesson. It had been some time since our last one, and Oscar stopped in his tracks at the sight of C. The horse knows hard work when he sees it.

C is great because I tend to want to run before I can walk and she just laughs off my requests to do all the cool stuff straight away. I asked if we could look at lateral work but it appears we're still not going straight well enough to go sideways. When I first met her I said I wanted to move up to 2nd level like yesterday, and she put that idea to rest really quickly. 

Some riders don't like trainers who tell them no, but I taught my horse to lengthen before he had a well developed working trot, and now that C has had us work on our basics he really struggles with lengthening. Because he has to carry himself aaand take bigger steps instead of just marching through the shoulder with the hind trailing. When he lengthens now I can clearly feel the hind legs come underneath and propel us forwards. So I learnt first hand that paying attention to the 'boring' stuff makes the fun stuff even better. 

In addition to this, my ultimate idol has always been Pippa Funnell. Whilst my friends wanted to be Britney or Christina, I always dreamed of being Pippa Funnell, and certain things that she has said have always stuck with me. My love of bay horses began when I read that she had dreamed of a big shiny bay horse since childhood. I couldn't swap my palomino pony for a plain bay gelding fast enough (poor Nugget!), and have favoured them ever since. The plainer and darker the better. 
Pippa always reflected on her time with her trainer, Ruth, who wouldn't let her out of a walk for a week - even after she'd had a lot of success tearing around the bigger one day events at Pony Club level. My Pippa obsession probably meant that I took what she said too literally, and as a young rider whilst my friends would be spoiling their ponies by galloping home and jumping every jump twenty times (just being kids enjoying their ponies), I would spend way too much time walking and trotting and cantering nice and slowly. I thought it would make me a fabulous rider but obviously I was just pottering around. Nevertheless, Pippa's experience made me appreciate the idea and value of good basics. 

* * *

Back to my lesson! The lesson was spent entirely on a circle, both trying to get Oscar more supple through his ribcage and working on my tendency to collapse through my left ribcage on the left rein. C made me ride with my shoulders towards her on the left rein, whilst sitting up tall and straight. I had a stitch and was out of breath really quickly which goes to show that I usually ride like a potato on the left rein.

Whilst doing that exercise we were also over-flexing Oscar to the inside through his neck, maintaining straightness through his body by pushing the inside hind leg right underneath him and keeping the outside shoulder straight. Simply, a shoulder in on a circle. 
He's fairly weak and his favourite evasion is to run through the shoulder. However, when I fixed my shoulders he stopped running out through his. 

I'm finally starting to get a really good feel of where the hind legs are. Usually it's a concept that baffles me but my lessons with C are paying off and as my horse gets stronger and the difference between rubbish and good is more pronounced, I'm having 'aha!' moments more frequently. During our exercises on the circle I knew when he was moving properly because I could feel it, instead of waiting for C to say 'good'. This is important because it means I'm improving too. 

We also worked on counter-flexion on a 20m circle. When we flex to the inside our circles become smaller, and when we flex to the outside they tend to drift out. So something to work on before our next lesson (this Friday coming) is to maintain the circle size whilst flexing. I'll be sure to spend a couple of days working on that. The theory is that if we can maintain straightness on a 20m circle, switching between over-flexion and counter-flexion - going straight will then be a piece of cake! And then maybe C will let us go sideways hahaha. 

As always, our consistency with transitions was under scrutiny. I'll admit that along with the collapsing left ribcage, settling for average transitions is one of my big riding sins. This made itself quite obvious during the lesson and it didn't go past C unnoticed. She stressed the importance of excellent transitions every time - not only because it will bump up our dressage scores, but because it develops muscle memory. If I'm consistent, Oscar will build the right muscle memory to always switch between gaits nicely. Again - the basics are important, Christle!

I'm really excited for our next lesson this Friday, and a jumping lesson within the fortnight. I had to cancel my scheduled jumping lesson last week as I had bronchitis and filling a hay net left me dizzy and out of breath. If back to back lessons are a bit much then we'll look at the following Saturday. It all depends how Oscar goes this week! 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

In which I never learn..

Not many things in life are a given, and not many things with horses are a given.

But, if one thing can be absolutely certain - every year it is going to get cold. The sun is going to bless some other fortunate souls in a different area of the planet and before you know it the grass will give way to expansive patches of pugged up mud. Your clothes will begin to hold that faint sickly-sweet smell of baleage as you try to keep the weight on your OTTB's, not one natural fingernail will be the same length as another from grabbing at handfuls of said baleage, and the contents of your bra suddenly becomes more hay than actual boobs (#ImARealCatch, #WifeMaterial). The most guaranteed of all though, is that it is going to get crazy fricken cold. 

And every year, I say the same thing in small talk "I can't believe how cold it is!!".

I actually can't believe that every winter I can't believe how cold it gets.

But, I'm still subjecting my horse to potential frostbite and I'm still smiling - just!

We're a bit behind where I would have liked, post Oscar's physio. My silence around here of late had been the result of an impromptu trip to the UK as my grandma has taken seriously ill, and my granddad is showing early signs of Alzheimer's. I had hoped to do the Dannervirke winter dressage series as it was so low-key and fun last year, but family comes first. And so I stopped planning to fix up my float (which didn't sell and that's okay) and instead went on a 30 hour sojourn to my homeland. 

Completely worth it. This is a favourite photo of mine, of my mum spending quality time with her dad on the beach front at Morecambe. 

I can only guess that my sister took the photo from the finger in the corner - that is so her trademark hahaha! 

Consequentially, Oscar and I missed a lot of the autumn/winter series stuff and I'm way behind with the float repairs, however we start having lessons again next week which is something to look forward to. Smooch is on the back burner temporarily as exam preparation is sadly more pressing than her progress at this point - two more weeks off won't harm her whatsoever.