Sunday, June 30, 2019

Went to a Horse Show Without Much Prep

Well, we went to our first dressage show of 2019 without as much prep as I would like, and all things considered, it went pretty well.  The weather has been hideous all spring with SO much rain and since I have a grass dressage court, test riding has been very limited.  I think I got in maybe 4-6 test rides in the month before this show.  Not ideal when trying to move up a level or for spook training before a show.  Since I need 4 scores at 4 different shows and the clock is ticking, I decided to just run with it and get the typically worst/first show of the year out of the way.

Jet was pretty good out of the trailer, not super spooky walking the outside of the court during the lunch break, and was totally reasonable to deal with.  We stood around in the shade before heading back to the trailer to tack up.  I started a short warm up right before Training 3 and that is when Jet lost his mind.  Pawing at the halt, rigid on one side, upset about something, and just generally unhappy.  I did some yields, some shoulder-fore, some trying to stretch, and he just got more and more wound.  Very unlike him to the point of a rear right before our ride time.  It was so uncharacteristic my husband was convinced something was biting Jet or something was physically wrong.  I did some TRT “yoga” moves and decided to head in for my ride time with the thought that if J took a lame step or if I felt like I really couldn’t sit him I would ask to be excused.  I shortened my reins, concentrated on my breathing, tried to reassure Jet that he would be fine, and off we went.

The walk around the ring and the first half of the test were super tense, like riding a crooked board, with one big spook, but I focused on my breathing and relaxation and about half way through Jet started to relax and the rest of the test was quite nice.  We unsaddled him, offered water, fly sprayed, and let him chill in the shade.  About an hour later I saddled up, hopped on, and walked straight to the ring for First Test 1 and he was really good.  Listening, straight, and fairly through.  I let him move a little smaller than a forward working trot/canter  just to be on the chill side, but asked for forward on the lengthens and I was super pleased with him.

The judge was one of those judges you dream of, friendly and knowledgeable.  Sympathetic after the first Training test, realistic scoring on the beginning  part but pointing out the positive last half, and complimentary on the First Level test with definite thoughts about how to improve our score.  What more can you ask for?  We ended up with a 58.96% for 4th on Training 3 and a 62.06% for 3rd on First 1 behind some nice quality horses.  Not bad for our First debut.  I’m not sure if Jet had a bug or a pinched something and that caused his behavior or if he just decided to throw his toys out of the pram and not play.  I went over him with a fine tooth comb when we got home and could find nothing.  He moved great for 3/4’s of the tests and did not seem in any way lame then or running around this morning.  I have had him 10 years and he has never done anything like that, so who knows?

The plan going forward is to working on having a bit more energy/forward in our working gaits and to start running through First 2.  I’m going to work on improving Jet’s gaits in the full dressage court and skip the next show in the heat of July, show again the beginning of August, and do two First tests.  When we do show I will plan on having a bit longer warmup, so that if this was a behavior issue I have a bit longer to work through to relaxation BEFORE we need to go in the show ring.  Time will tell, but I’m still super pleased with my black pony going First Level.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


I’m feeling this right now.  After a whirlwind six months of my daughter’s Senior ballet, college selection, Senior dance recital, High School graduation, and an open house hosted in my barn, it’s time to get back to my real life.  You know, horses, horses, horses.  I’ve been riding through all of this stuff, but have lacked a little focus.  Just picture home/barn renovations, party planning, multiple houseguests, and tons of social obligations.  You get the idea.  It all went really well and I am super proud of the girl’s accomplishments, but we have finally crossed the finish line.  So now it’s on to the summer and plans for riding and showing.  

I’m thinking I will try to qualify for year end awards with DLSC, which means getting scores at four different shows.  We’ve done this the two previous years at Intro and Training with success, and it fits my budget and minimalist showing aspirations.  Since I am not as prepared as I would like to be due to crazy family stuff and also some really wet weather, I think I will start show a Training 3 and First 1 for a while until we get rolling a bit.  Our lengthens are only so-so at the trot but everything else in the First tests are not bad, so it’s just a matter of riding some tests(please stop raining!!!) and working a bit on “spook” training using the TRT Method.

I’ve had a couple of epiphanies about balance, energy, and the rider’s seat that I will post about soon.  Small tweaks that are making a big difference.  Wish us luck as we get down to it and start showing in either 3 or five weeks-depending on the weather!

Monday, April 8, 2019


I haven’t been posting much this winter even though I’ve been riding inside at least three times a week and making some good progress.  The indoor I have is small, so it poses some training challenges to keep things fresh, but I feel like I did get some harder work established.  My daughter is graduating from high school this spring and the whirlwind of senior year coupled with all the house and barn improvements that need to to be accomplished before graduation have had me going every which way.  So, blogging has taken a bit of a back seat, but I have been trying to be present when riding and forget all the other stuff going on.  

A few things that are in the improvement column after a winter inside:
*better more balanced freestyle(loose rein) working gaits
*better more prompt leg yields off the seat/weight aids
*better lateral work off the seat/weight aids
*better engagement off the seat/weight aids 
*better energy off the seat/weight aids

Are you sensing a theme here?  Whenever I ran into a problem adding more energy or engagement the answer was always to do the same exercise without rein contact or bitless.  Then I would realize how much hand I was truly using and how much it blocked and irritated Jet.  This is obviously still a work in progress, but the realization that I can have level balance working gaits and even some elements of collection on a loose rein just using my seat has been my big breakthrough this winter.  Almost universally, when I ran into problems doing harder exercises this winter it was because I got lured into using too much hand and not using my seat/weight aids enough or effectively.

We’ve had some lovely 60-70 degree days recently, so I’ve been able to get Jet working outside a bit early this year and he has been SO good.  I feel like I need to knock on wood when I say it, but this has been by far the best transition from inside to outside riding ever.  The unseasonably warm weather has helped, but also he has been doing harder work inside with more lateral work and engagement, so he is thrilled to go outside and tootle at the working gaits and work a lot on the flexibility exercises like serpentines, various leg yields, and also on working gaits freestyle(loose reins).  I’ll start adding in more engagement and collectibility exercise over time, but right now we are focusing on relaxation and suppleness.  So nice to be out in the sunshine with the birds singing, the grass green, and a happy horse.  Bliss.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees II

So last I left you dear reader, Jet and I had a massive breakthrough (well really me-Jet just wants me to figure out how to ride) about using my seat to lift his back.  The angels sang, there was actual collection, and we had several rides in a row that were just superb.  Jet’s back was up, so his shoulders were more lifted, his hind legs came more underneath, the transitions and lateral work were GREAT, and I felt like I had finally found the missing piece of the puzzle.  Nirvana. And then the wheels came crashing off.  I had a horse with a switching tail, sometimes tense, not easily able to shift from one outside bend to the other.  WTAF?

After a couple of kind of crappy, ineffectual rides(sorry Jet) I figured out what was going on.  In my excitement of figuring out lifting the horse’s back with energy and balance I forgot about the lateral.  You know, having the horse pushed into the outside rein and all that jazz.  Amazingly, if you ride your horse like a straight board, with no emphasis on being in the outside aids, he starts to turn into a 2x4 with all the resultant flexibility.  So...problem eventually solved.  I’m having to think about lifting the back, energy, AND being in the outside aids.  I think my brain might explode, but I’m getting it maybe 80% of the time. 

This got me really thinking though, about the learning process, and about how hard it is to do Dressage and improve without eyes on the ground.  I’m finally understanding that for every learning breakthrough I’ve had, it seems like there is a concurrent loss of something we were doing well.  And this is a consistent pattern.  I figure out the outside aids, I forget energy.  I figure out energy, I forget thoroughness.  On and on like an endless loop.  This is where having a trainer telling you, “You’ve figured out Y BUT don’t forget X” is so freaking helpful.  Putting the skills together is just as hard, but the rider gets a heads up before things go really south.  

Having a trainer right now is not really in the cards for me, but now that I am cognizant of this pattern I think I will be a lot more aware to beware when I make a riding breakthrough.  Just knowing that I have a tendency to add something good but also drop something I am already doing well, will be helpful for future training breakthroughs and maybe make the process a little smoother.  What are your recent breakthroughs and how did they work out long term?