Monday, September 25, 2017

Playing Catch-up

     If any of you live in the Midwest you haven't missed out on the fact that it's not fall at all, but rather second summer.  It's been hot and miserable.  On top of that, Mort cut up his front legs running around in turnout last Tuesday.  All things considered, he had a pretty easy week last week.  I did a bareback ride that was 90% walk.  I did a walk along the fence line with a little trot and canter in the grass at the end.  He had a couple days off.  Yesterday morning, I got out there early (I do chores at the barn Sunday mornings), so I got to fit in a ride that had a little bit of actual work.  

     I was prepared for a kinda rough ride with all of his time off and lazy rides, but he was a super good boy.  I started with a ton of lateral work at the walk.  We did bend and counter-bend, leg yields, shoulder-in, etc.  His first couple of trots were a bit tense and upside down, but we did more of the same lateral work and he loosened up quite quickly.  I threw in some counter-canter pretty early in the ride and he handled it wonderfully.  He wanted to stretch but was still happy to collect as well.  He was just a really good boy.  

     It was unfortunately still fairly hot, even at 9:30 in the morning, so Mort was leaning toward being lazy.  He's started to develop a head tilt sometimes instead of bending.  It's been happening the last couple months.  Luckily, as long as I notice it and apply some inside leg he steps up and bends properly.  Definitely something that I need to keep in mind, especially when it's hot and he's feeling lazy.  

     With him being wonderful and it being hot we kept it short and sweet.  I played with a few things and ended the ride fairly early.  A fellow barn-mate was riding and I invited him to "trail ride" the fence line with me so we all got to enjoy a nice, easy walk.  Mort got a cool hose-off and I left him to enjoy his hay in his stall.  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

First Level Test Three In Pictures

Pictures from our test this past weekend.  All photos by Leah Strid Photography (Confessions of a Dressage Barbie).
Now I just need to sit correctly and lift up those hands.....



First centerline


Going into first trot lengthen


After first trot lengthen 


Leg yield 


End of leg yield



10-meter circle right



10-meter circle left


15-meter canter circle



End of first counter-canter loop


Canter lengthen


Beginning of second counter-canter loop 


End of second trot lengthen 


Final centerline


Halt/Salute


Our true selves




Monday, September 18, 2017

Show Re-Cap

     Well, it was hot Saturday.  Luckily I rode in the morning, but poor Mort definitely had a soaking saddle pad by the end of our second test, and I was none-too-fresh either.  Let's get started on the recap.  

      The people who were volunteering and running this show were helpful, friendly, and wonderful.  I didn't see unhappy people the whole time I was there--a real accomplishment at a hot horse show.  I want to issue a huge thank you to the people who put on small schooling shows.  They're valued by many in the industry as they enable more people to show who can't afford (or don't want) to always be going to recognized shows.  
 
     It was not a fancy show facility.  The show was on grass (something that is fine with me and they kept it somewhat long to help with any slippery-ness that can happen with grass).  Mort handled the grass well.  The small dressage court had a small slope.  The large dressage court had a rather significant slope on one end.  That's definitely not something that Mort and I are used to dealing with.  He's ok on hills on the trails but keeping him balanced while dressage-ing was interesting.  

     Let's start with the warm-up.  I did get on about ten minutes after planned, but still felt mostly ok about how much time we had.  I started with about ten minutes of walking.  We were able to walk around the outside of the dressage court so he was able to check out any potentially scary things.  I tried to warm-up as closely as I could to what we've been doing at home.  Obviously Mort was a lot more energized out in the public eye, but he was still listening fairly well and I was pretty happy with him.  We fit in a little of everything and had time to walk for a bit before our first ride.  

     The first test was a disaster (we're talking a 56% disaster).  I went in asking Mort to be a powerful dressage horse--I wanted to "go for it".  It was a bad choice.  Mort didn't have a good half-halt.  That first trot lengthening was on the downhill and he said no.  I got after him a bit and I think that just made him angry.  Poor guy was just really off balance.  I'd say we need to practice on more hills to get over this, but it's not a common problem in the dressage world.  Instead I just had to come up with a plan for the second test.

     Between the two tests I switched to sitting trot and did several trot/walk/trot and trot/canter/trot transitions in a row to REALLY get that half-halt.  I also brought the power and intensity levels down in his gaits.  He was clearly not ready to maintain that balance over all those changes in terrain, so I backed down the difficulty factor.  

     The second test was a lot better.  Mort stayed with me and fairly relaxed throughout the test.  I asked for smaller gaits and he was happy to oblige.  I started coming back from the (very conservative) lengthens before the downhill and he came back well enough.  It wasn't a fancy test but he wasn't tense and resisting.  It felt really consistent throughout and I was happy that I could adjust our game plan and execute it well.  We got a 61% in this test which was a fair overall score for how conservatively I rode it.

     Mort cooled out well and was a perfect gentleman for the rest of the day.  Since another gal from the barn came with us he had to stand tied to the trailer for a few hours.  He happily munched his hay while I spent time volunteering as ring steward.  He loaded up well and got an hour or so of turnout when we got home.  He had yesterday off and I'm sure he enjoyed every minute of it because we finally got some much-needed rain.   

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bad Days

     Since Tuesday was one of our best rides ever, it is only fair that yesterday left me wanting.  Mort wasn't awful by any means but I couldn't consistently get him to use his haunches and really push into the bit.  It was fairly warm and Mort is really lazy in the heat.  I don't blame him, but when I tried to get him a bit more forward he just got hollow and crappy.  Instead of giving me a good bend he just kept trying to throw his shoulder out or head tilt.

     It was hot and frustrating.  I did a lot of transitions and tried bend/counter-bend.  I tried to throw in some trot/halt/trot.  He did stretch down fairly well for me--something the heat usually helps with--but still wanted to throw out his shoulders instead of bending.  I eventually took a walk with him, did a little stretchy trot and quit.

     I was disappointed that I never really got him working the way that I wanted but I didn't think we were ever going to get there.  Mort and I are really progressing as a team and these bad days are all part of training.  I just need to get off, give him a good brushing and ear rub, and try again the next day.

     Tomorrow is a small, local schooling show.  Today I'll give Mort and stretchy and easy ride.  I'll bathe him and clean my tack.  We'll load up early in the morning and see which Mort I mount up on.  Hopefully he'll be energetic but responsive.  If not, I'll do the best with what I'm given.  Shows and the week before a show aren't the time to train hard or pick fights.  In the end, as long as Mort has a fairly happy and relaxing experience that's what matters.  Every trip is an opportunity to set us up for success down the road.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Warm-ups

     Mort has been killing it lately.  I've had really successful and fun rides and that's awesome.  Friday Mort and I took it easy with a bareback ride.  We wandered the pasture looking for his fly mask then spent some time playing around in the grass.  I gave him Saturday off as I had plans with friends after my run.  Sunday morning I hopped on after chores with spurs and Mort was forward, soft, and supple.  He earned a super easy lunge day Monday.

     Last night was cool and breezy and Mort was definitely animated.  While we were on breaks he was very 'looky' but as soon as I'd pick up my reins to get back to work he'd come right back to me with full focus.  The extra energy just translated to some really fun trot work.  Even without my spurs he was soft and responsive to lateral work.  He got a couple stretch breaks and one long walk about the property and came back immediately.  Seriously a good boy and one of those rides where everything clicks.

     I am continuing to experiment with different warm-ups to see which one works best for him and I'm obviously really liking the results of the latest one.  I usually try to get Mort to stretch down and bend in the warm-up.  It's often only moderately successful with a little stretching and more neck bend than true bend.  I then jump into 'real' work without having really gotten him to push into the bridle well.  It ends with a cramped neck that I stretch throughout the ride instead of the other way around.  Definitely time to try something different--at least for the time being.

     The last few rides all I've been doing at the beginning is riding him "on contact".  For me this means that I pretty much let him decide where his head and neck are comfortable while I maintain a steady feel on the bit.  The only time I adjust him is if he hallows out and tries to be upside down.  Beyond that I do a ton of changes of direction and gait, especially quick ones between the walk and trot.  After about ten minutes of this he's pushing into the contact all on his own and we're really ready to rock and roll.  If I ask for him to stretch he's more than happy to oblige.

     This is definitely not a warm-up that is a go-to for me as I prefer to let a horse stretch and relax in the beginning of the ride.  I still do give him a long walk warm-up, letting him wander and loosen in that aspect before jumping into trot and canter work.  But, it looks like Mort really likes this warm-up mentally and for now that counts a lot more than whatever ideas that I have preconceived in my head.  He does start out a bit higher than I like, but if it means he pushes into contact and becomes adjustable sooner into our ride then I can't really complain.

     He and I have a schooling show this Saturday.  We're showing First 2 and 3.  I'm going to try to use this warm-up method and see how it translates in a show environment.  This is our last show before the recognized in October so hopefully this new warm-up really helps me unlock that topline in a show environment.  He gets today off.  I'll school Thursday and do an easy hack/school Friday.    

Friday, September 8, 2017

Experimenting

     Mort and I had a much better ride yesterday than we did Tuesday.  I gave Mort Monday off (because I was a lazy turd on Labor Day).  So Tuesday Mort and not only had a day off but it was also about 20 degrees cooler and quite breezy.  He was tense then I was tense because of him being tense.  I really struggled getting him to connect in the bridle which meant I really struggled with everything.  I don't think I got an easy left bend the whole ride.  I was frustrated and Mort was tense; it was not a recipe for success.

     Wednesdays are Mort's scheduled day off because I like at least one weekday where I can just go home after work and fit in a longer run.  That meant that last night was going to be another ride after a day off.  I decided to start experimenting with his rides after a day off.  He doesn't really get explosive, but he does get a tense back which makes everything else SO MUCH HARDER.  It's actually really similar to how he can get at shows so it's something that I need to figure out.

     Last night I experimented with spurs to see if I could do a ton of bend and counter-bend in our warm-up to unlock him.  With the spurs I'm able to really "ask, tell, demand".  When I tap my leg with the dressage whip it sometimes causes him tension over his topline so it's not a good solution when he's already stiff as a board.  I did use the spurs a few times throughout the ride, and it really seemed to work well.  Mort started out tense, but he worked out of it fairly quickly and we had a nice ride.  I made sure that he had a few stretchy trot moments throughout the ride and I kept it fairly short and sweet.  I want him to know that if he comes back to me from being stiff and tense that he'll get rewarded with stretches and short rides.  This isn't the first time that I've used my spurs on Mort, but it was the first time after a day off and I think I'll do it again.

     I know it's not the nicest part of training but sometimes the pony does need to listen.  If I've gone through the checklist and I know that he can physically do what I am asking and understands what I'm asking, then I "demand" that he does it.  I'd much rather make one or two good corrections than nag, nag, nag forever until he becomes dead to my leg.  I'll also say that Mort was moving off of calf pressure wonderfully for the majority of the rest of the ride.  It's so much nicer to use a soft aid instead of squeezing so tightly with my leg trying to get a response.  It makes my position better, which makes me more effective, which makes whatever I'm asking him to do easier.

     Tonight I have no real plans.  I may hop on bareback or I may throw a saddle on and work on an item or two from the First level tests.  We will spend some time wandering around the pasture because someone lost his fly mask (again).

P.S. Because it's the internet and someone may read this and think I'm an awful and abusive human:  I use soft roller ball spurs.  I also have enough leg control to know how to keep them off of his sides when they are not needed.  I had them on the whole ride and used them maybe three or four times.  I am NOT a very demanding rider--ask literally anyone who has given me a lesson because I'm always told to ask for more from my horse.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Papers

     Mort and I had a couple of good rides this weekend.  Yesterday kinda sucked, but I'm just going to blame it on the 20 degree temperature drop and wind and hope for better tomorrow.  But the exciting news today is that I got Mort's registration papers yesterday!

     New Vocations is a rescue organization that, after a year of care, the horse officially transfers to the new owner (while many other rescue organizations never give you full ownership).  Now, this means that last July was when Mort became officially mine, but I had never asked for his papers.  I didn't exactly need them for my gelding showing intro level at local schooling shows.  However, with recognized shows in our future I need to get his USDF and USEF paperwork in order, so I reached out to New Vocations a couple weeks ago.

     Getting Mort's papers is really cool to me on two levels.  They have some neat information with them--his race and travel records along with his prices when he changed hands in his life.  But the second reason is that Mort is really and truly mine now.  His papers have my name on them and that's really cool to me.  I have never owned a horse before; they have always been my parents'.  Mort is mine.  Hopefully I can live up to the responsibility.