Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Going Out with a Bang

Sunday marked our last show of the year and our first competition at Training. It was a very, very fun day and we all had a good, relaxed end to our season. Pop warmed up for dressage very, very well, but despite my meticulous planning I got on too early and ended up taking two walk breaks, which killed whatever good energy we had. I tried to counter that with a good canter around the dressage arena before we went in but for whatever reason, he started leaning on my hands and not going as beautifully as he had in warm-up. After reading an enlightening thread on COTH about the same kind of situation, I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that my riding must change in front of the judge. Either I’m more passive or worried about making it pretty…either way, I thought we performed a decent test, but definitely less soft than I had hoped for. He was good in all his transitions and stayed nice and straight to the right, but our lengthenings were very strung out and when I got my test back, we got the following comments throughout: “fussy in hand, stiff in neck, stiff in jaw, against hand…” etc. I was quite disappointed with the comments but looking back, I know I could have ridden him more through if I hadn’t been concentrating so hard on the movements themselves. I could have prepared him more for the lengthening, I could have half-halted more instead of just setting my hands. We ended up with a 35.9.

We have been working SO hard on our jumping and I was really excited to put it to the test. Well, I genuinely feel like I failed. I never really got him in front of my leg in the warm-up but was worried about overdoing it because he was putting so much effort into his jumps. I went in and chipped to the first, chipped to the second, then pushed for a long one to 3 (which resulted in a big grunt and a huge effort)…then continued to miss the rest of my distances (even getting a 3 in a 2 stride). God Bless him, he goes no matter what. He is SUCH a saint of a horse. C said it wasn’t as bad as I thought and that the distances were fine because he was in front of my leg, but I was really wanting to have a smoother round. Nevertheless, we ended up 5th and completed our first Training CT, which is something to be proud of. And now we have a nice long list of things to work on this winter before we start up again in January.

We started that work today. I took him on a hack and trot with Bobbie and Mazzie, and I really focused on making him walk forward on a loose rein on the hack to the field rather than letting him schlep along like I usually do. When we got there, we were all business and it was time to go to work. Softened his jaw in the walk and then in the trot, getting him to stretch into my hands while going forward and gradually letting go in his back. He was really swinging and felt beautiful. We did a few leg yields in each direction and really focused on activating the right hind, all with a soft hand and lots of leg. His canter work made me grin from ear to ear; we practiced going from a nice stretchy canter to a more uphill “competition” canter and I really felt like he was through and coming underneath himself and that I wasn’t restricting his gait with my body (as I tend to do). It felt GREAT. I felt like I could put his feet wherever I wanted them at any moment, like I could direct every single footfall. I think this type of warmup could be very helpful at shows for getting him through and swinging before we do any kind of real work. I read an article last night about how important it is to stretch and warm up all the muscle groups before going into real work, and that’s so very true…something I need to pay more attention to rather than just going out, kicking him into my hand and more or less forcing him to soften and go round right from the get go.

I’m excited for a flat lesson tomorrow! Stay posted!

Also started working with a new project today. Champ will be getting the rest of the year off, and maybe longer depending on him. I’ve had an inkling for a while that he was getting sour on his work and he’s confirmed it with refusing to be caught at any cost. So I’m leaving him alone, not even touching him besides pats until at LEAST January. I don’t want him to resent his job. He’s got some more growing up to do and has a nice solid foundation now. No need to drill his resentment out of him, which I highly doubt will work anyway. So…what to do with this extra time? Pull another one out of the field and give her a job.

Meet Sassy:

One thing I really like about these horses is that even though they certainly weren’t bred or built for dressage and jumping, they have incredibly trainable brains and willing personalities that nearly make up for their conformation. This mare is built like a little hot dog, with a very long back, short legs and a short neck. Nevertheless, I like her a lot. Her attitude is willing and kind, and she might question your motives once or twice but she does as she’s told with a smile on her face. I just free lunged her today to get a feel for her and was impressed with her response to voice commands and her natural inclination to go forward.

Short video clip:

I had her pop over a pole on the ground to see if she was willing to do it and careful with her feet. At first she was “Heck no, crazy person” but eventually she trotted and cantered over it with no fuss. Obviously no clue what to do with herself but she was willing and that’s the most important thing.

My goal for her would be for her to be a safe and quiet mount for the girl who would be riding her, and maybe something she could take to local shows and have fun with. We shall see. If nothing else, I’m getting invaluable experience and the little horse has a job!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Delayed Chatt Update!

I just want to first apologize for not blogging right after Chatt Hills when everything was still fresh in my mind! We were so exhausted and when we got home the last thing I wanted to do was blog. I'm finally feeling refreshed again and decided to just check in.

Pop was, no pun intended, a complete STAR at Chatt. We scored a 28 on our dressage test, despite my brain fart in the second canter transition and a very fresh little red horse when we first entered the arena. Something about the cool air and cross country running behind us definitely got him excited and I hadn't seen that side of him before on the flat (haha) so I took my leg off. Wrong thing to do, it turns out, but the test was okay anyway. I'm very lucky in that Poppers looks so elegant and pretty so even if everything isn't 100% correct he still LOOKS so darn nice ;) I know, I know, a pretty picture can only go so far, but we did improve on our trot work from Five Points, and we got a 9 on our halt (YES!). Stadium was relatively close to our test so Lizzie warmed us up (and did a SUPER job) and in we went. Poppers had no interest in the flapping flags that had spooked the previous horses, and he was all business. I thought the course was a lot smoother than our previous courses as far as making good turns and getting leads, but I could have ridden him much more forward than I did, which made for some ugly chips. We hit our rhythm about halfway through and I thought we finished up really well. Three time penalties so we were in 2nd at this point.

Cross country day was beautiful, albeit COLD. He warmed up PERFECTLY, very "on" and raring to get going. So was I. The course walked well and it had a lot of little questions that were in midget form to test us a little bit. He pranced into the start box and took off like a bullet. Thank goodness I had borrowed a watch from Andrew minutes before mounting! From the first fence on, he was so perfect and dead on. We didn't have a single moment where I didn't feel like we were on the same page. I can't even explain the feeling it gave me, but I couldn't stop smiling for a long, long time. He's just a little machine. I've never had more fun in my life.

Scores came in...and based on TIME alone, I snuck out the win. YAY POP! Everyone was so kind in congratulating me (when really, Poppers did all the work). It was so exciting and I feel so confident after the weekend. He was just amazing. After talking with Charlie we've decided to tentivily move ourselves up to Training. We are shooting for a Training CT at the Horse Park in a couple of weeks and we'll go from there. I'm really excited about it! I feel like my trust in him has really built and I can't wait to go again!

We've been working hard on our flatwork since we've been home, and he's been really good. I'm working on not letting my shoulders creep forward, which weighs down his frontend. Today I could really feel the difference and that was encouraging. We're also doing a lot more work in shoulder-in to straighten him tracking right. I am really focusing on not twisting my shoulders and just keeping the angle correct and not losing our forward.

Champ has hit the terrible 2's...which isn't really that terrible, since he's such a good boy, but we've been doing a LOT of roundpen work to refocus his brain on me. For example, the other day he decided he didn't want to be dewormed. He reared, spun away from me and pinned me in the corner. 15 minutes later, I dewormed him in the roundpen without even touching him. Good pony. We've also laid down a PVC pipe in the roundpen for him to trot and canter over, to give him something to hold his attention and also to make him aware of his feet. He LOVES it and will go back and forth over it even when I'm not in the roundpen. So precious. Am planning on getting him back on the trail either tomorrow or Friday...it's been hard with the early sunset, but hopefully we'll figure something out!

I love this time of year! It may be chilly in the morning but by noon we're all in t-shirts and the horses are nakey! If only it would stay this way!

Pictures from Chatt Hills!