Monday, October 8, 2018


We went to our last dressage show of 2018 and it was a success.  Jet was super, low key, willing to work in a more uphill frame, and very accepting of some wild costumes on horses and riders.  The judge is a known low scorer, so I was very pleased with our percentages.  The first test, Training Level 1, the judge's pavilion blew off the hay wagon during our test.  Not optimal for sure, but Jet scooted a few steps and soldiered on to finish the second half of the test, while several people held down the flapping roof.  Such a good boy!  Our second test, Training 2, was our best test of the year, I think.  More uphill in balance, accurate, and flowy.  We also beat the high score leader for the year end Training awards for the first time.  Woohoo!  A great show and a fun way to end the season.  A little break ahead and then time to start thinking about how to be successful at First Level next year.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Raising the Neck

As discussed in my last post, Jet while relaxed, energetic(mostly!), and aligned, tends to get a little downhill in his balance and low in the poll.  This is not optimal but I have allowed this posture because of all the good things going on like minimal spooking, swinging back, good lateral balance, and a generally happy demeanor.  Sometimes you have to make choices, and especially since the goal this summer has been to go to shows and have a relaxed and focused pony, I've let him go in his preferred balance while starting to add a lot of the building blocks we need to move in a more uphill balance with engagement.  Things like flexibility exercises, lateral work, and more transitions and so on.  But the poll has still been a bit low.

Since we've had three calm outings in a row, after our last show I decided it was time to try to raise the poll and get to a better balance by using a technique called raising the neck as seen above.  Basically, after you have all the attributes of a relaxed, through his back, and engaged horse, IF the poll is still low the rider "fluffs" the horse with the reins to fix the curling or tendency to be low in the poll.  Starting with the normal slightly low poll position but with relaxation, energy, and a calm and happy horse, nothing changes for the rider except a very light momentary upward "fluffing" rein motion that does not go backward at all.  The rider then returns to the normal light contact hand posture within 1-2 seconds and continues on like nothing happened.  Easy squeezy lemon peasy.  The horse typically responds at first by going poll high but withers still a little dropped and then will slip back into poll low after a while.  After a few rounds of this the horse gets the idea they have to stay poll high but that they won't be held up.  Then over the course of one ride or several, if the rider is consistent in asking for the poll to be high momentarily while also keeping the the relaxation, energy, and alignment, the horse's shoulders also lift and you have this.

This is a VERY light "fluff" with lots of self carriage checks interspersed.  The idea is that it just a suggestion to change the poll position, with no holding, while keeping all the other good attributes.  The "fluff" works on the corners of the mouth, not the bars and is feather light.  The big question is, does it work?  And the answer, at least for Jet, is that it works beautifully.  I was careful to make the "fluff" very light, with no backward motion, and to use lots of self carriage checks with the inside rein.  I kept the energy and alignment up to par and only did short 1-2 minute sessions of poll up/neck raised making a clear demarcation between being up and being stretched with nothing in between.  Over the course of a couple of weeks, Jet started to get it right away, though he got a little scooty working outside.  I brought him inside for a few days and gradually increased his time in the new posture over each session.  Then we took things back outside.  And wow.  Everything is SO much easier.  Because his balance is level everything takes much less preparation.  We need a lot less rebalancing before transitions and lateral work is so effortless.  The canters feel like riding on a cloud.  All with easy self carriage checks with the inside rein at any time.  We're taking this new balance on the road for our last dressage show this weekend, so we will see how it all works out at a show.  

Thursday, September 27, 2018

A Tale of Two Dressage Judges

Our past two dressage shows both went really well(see previous post about being Reserve High Score at the first), especially since the second venue was SUPER busy with a high traffic bike/walking path right next to the ring.  I was really pleased with how chill Jet was about the atmosphere and in general with how he was so relaxed and focused for all his tests.  He basically gave the same type of ride at both shows, but the judging couldn't have been more different.

Actually, the problem was not about bend, it was with being more uphill/withers lifted to move up the levels.  The judge at the first show gave us nice comments including "lovely partnership" but also commented that Jet sometimes gets a touch behind the vertical and downhill in his balance even for Training Level.  She basically said we would need to fix this to move up to First but that we made a harmonious picture right now with good transitions, suppleness and etc..  The judge at the second show(scary venue) asked me approach after the test and basically told me she had to mark me as insufficient on every movement because Jet was WAY behind the vertical.  Ok, fair enough, but when I said that I was just really pleased that he toodled around, was relaxed and did every transition in balance and where he was supposed to, she shut me down.  She told me that NO MATTER WHAT the horse must always be in front of the vertical under all circumstances.  Well then.  I thanked her politely and exited left.

Obviously we weren't reserve high score at that show.  Anyway, after I simmered down, I went to look at the video of the test and was pleasantly surprised.  Yes, Jet got a touch behind the vertical/downhill sometimes but nothing like the chin to chest the judge implied.  His tail was swinging, he was  forward, breathing deeply, he was bent properly, supple AF, and was relaxed and focused.  Yeah us.  After thinking about it, I realized the two judges said exactly the same thing but with a totally different spin.  Judge #1 pointed out all the positives and then also commented on what needs to come next to improve.  Judge #2 told me everything we did was insufficient and needs to be fixed STAT before we ever grace a show ring again.  Though to be fair, she did comment "skilled rider".  Thanks, I think?

It's neither here nor there, I know which judge I want to be like if I ever judge schooling shows, but basically they were saying the same thing.  I agree that Jet needs to be more uphill to progress but I also emphasized calm and relaxed over uphill at that particular place and time.  I purposely had a lower key warm up and prioritized relaxation over better balance, figuring that if I can get him consistently calm at shows THEN we can work on a bit more energy and being more uphill.  You know, like this fantasy.

Anyway, live and learn, food for thought, and all that BS, but my takeaway is that since 3 out four of our past shows have been very chill, it probably is time to think about changing the balance and asking for a bit more in the show ring.  The problem is that Jet tends to be a bit more reactive when I ride him more uphill, even when we are at home.  I have a few ideas about how to tackle this.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

What the WEG!?!?!

The 2018 World Equestrian Games competition starts today and what a doozy!  From the largest commercial airlift of competition equines, to the controversies over ongoing construction, to the impending hurricane, the one guarantee is that it won't be boring!  

From what I've seen on social media the airlift went flawlessly and was an amazing logistical feat.  There has been grumbling about unfinished construction but most of the social media by prominent riders has been positive, saying that there is some finish construction going on but nothing in the horse traffic areas or barns.  Most reasonable people seem to be able to appreciate that pulling this thing together after Bromont pulled out 18 months ago has been a real challenge.  Honestly, the facility looks AMAZING given the time constraints.

That said, the hurricane is another matter.  As of this morning it looks like Tryon will at least get heavy rain and wind.  No one knows how the hurricane will pan out this far inland, but the facility has been very proactive to explain their emergency planning, loss of power, and potential evacuation plans.  Now it is just a matter of waiting it out.  I feel for everyone involved, the riders who busted their asses to get there, the people who paid a lot and are coming from all around the world to spectate, and the host facility that stepped up when the previous host stepped down.  Such bad luck to have this happen.

I'm really pretty glad I decided a year or so ago that I would rather spend money on my own riding rather than go spectate live, but I will be watching everything I can find online and through social media.  The dressage should be something special and I am rooting for team Price(what a year!) to take an eventing gold for New Zealand.  I love being able to have the behind the scenes access that social media provides.

Who are you rooting for and what have you heard or seen about the conditions at Tryon?