Thursday, June 30, 2011

Onward and Upward

...well, actually, just onward. No upward at this point in time. Still at about 3' or lower.

Had a FANTASTIC dressage lesson on Tuesday night. My trainer literally gave me a hug afterwards because she was so impressed. Spirit deserved one too, in hindsight. She got carrots instead.

Now that a few days have passed since the Horse Trials, I have a little more distance and perspective on the whole experience. Have I had moments of depressing self pity, wondering if I've chosen the right sport? Of course. But luckily I'm an optimistic and goal-oriented person. The HT taught me some things:

  1. My horse is awesome. I knew this already, but she proved it yet again. 
  2. We don't need a long warm up. 30 minutes for dressage, 20 to 30 minutes for jumping. 
  3. I do need to be in a positive "get out there and git-r-done" mental state to be successful. 
  4. I need to create a RESET button in my brain. If I get into trouble on course, I need to take a moment and figure out a plan, not just keep going if I'm stuck. 
  5. I need to feel confident. Spirit needs me to exude confidence. 
  6. I need more practice feeling and preventing a refusal - I'm still too slow to respond. 
  7. Spirit needs more exposure to colorful/decorated jumps - and going over them without hesitation, first time presented. 

We're looking into doing a small jumper show 2 weekends from now. It will give me more chances to ride under pressure, the idea being that Spirit may be a looky-loo at the new jumps and may not want to jump them at first. It will be good for both of us. More details to come.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Well...I survived.

The good thing about having lowly, attainable goals is that you achieve them. The bad thing is that achieving said humble goals may not bring satisfaction. I technically attained what I set out to do:
I competed in a Horse Trials. I participated in all 3 aspects of the competition. I didn't fall off.
Check, check, and check.
Yet, I didn't come away from the experience feeling especially happy or proud or encouraged. The most positive thing I can say is that it was a "learning experience." Great.

Okay, here's the rundown:
Day 0 - Thursday: Trailer ride up, get the lay of the land, and practice ride. - Was going good until my car broke down less than 10 miles from the event. Took 4 hours to get towed, repaired, and back on our way. Thank goodness for amazing barn-mates who took care of my horse for me.
Day 1 - Friday: Dressage. - Good. Pretty good, as a matter of fact. Not great, and not excellent. But solid. My score put me tied for 12th place (out of 15 in my division).
Day 2 - Saturday: XC. - Ah, the fun part. Well, I got over my first 3 fences pretty confidently. 4th fence I felt my horse shy a bit, and I decided to circle. We reapproached and got over it. On the landing I hear a snap and realize my right stirrup leather broke and the iron has fallen off. Great. Well, there's only two options: keep going, or stop. I kept going. We get over a large log (one we had refused at our schooling) and then we get over a ditch, but by the 3rd jump without a stirrup I lost my balance and my groove. Horse refused, I landed on her neck, clambered back into the saddle, circled to reapproach, refused again. Rinse, repeat. Elimination. Luckily Spirit didn't seem too upset by the matter.
Day 3 - Stadium Jumping. - The Ground Jury graciously allowed me to go for stadium even though I'd been eliminated. But with the condition that one stop and I'm out. We stopped at the first fence. Ouch. Shame.
Day 3 - Continued: XC schooling - We stayed to school. It went rocky at first - a bunch of refusals, got ran away with for the first time in who knows how long. My trainer sent me on to do my course. And by the 5th or 6th refusal, something clicked. I don't know what, all I know is that I just started fixing it better. We started getting some clean jump fences in there. By the end of it, we ran our course (jumps 4 through 17) clean and at a good pace.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

only 3 days away...

I can't believe its Tuesday already. Where has the time gone? Luckily I've been pretty productive. So far I've:

  • Cleaned and oiled my jumping saddle
  • Cleaned and oiled my (new to me) dressage bridle
  • Cleaned and oiled my jumping bridle
  • Given Spirit a bath and clipped her fuzzy spots
  • Organized my show outfits
  • Figured out what Spirit is wearing for all 3 phases
Last night I had a dressage lesson on her. She was a little fussy, to be honest. And I was trying new stirrup leathers which were NOT working for me (can you say bruising on the thighs??). But our last run through of the dressage test was pretty lovely, so we ended on a great note.

On this past Saturday, we had a jumping lesson to end all jumping lessons. The goal was to build our confidence by overcoming scary jumps. The problem is that we've jumped all the jumps at the barn many times - they're not scary. So we made them scary by draping horse eating tarps and blankets over them! Spirit was absolutely amazing and bravely jumped the scary jumps after some encouragement. But just to keep me on my toes she refused once over a jump that she'd already jumped without issue. She was telling me that I need to do my part every time - I can't take her jumping for granted.

Tonight I've got my last lesson before the show. It will be dressage again. I'm getting excited for the show!!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Countdown to Showtime

OK, so I've got my days mapped out until showtime, but first - an update on my lesson last night!!!

Last night I had my lesson on Sybill, an incredible mare owned by a very sweet lady at my barn. When I first came to Laurie Canty Training Stables, my horse wasn't able to come with me right away, so I actually took quite a few lessons on Sybill during that horseless time. She's a great mare - loving and kind, but definitely demanding that her rider do things correctly. She'll only give back to you what you put into it. PERFECT for teaching me how to be a more supportive rider.

This was my 2nd jumping lesson on her - most previous rides on her were dressage. My goal for the lesson was to teach me how to prevent a horse from refusing as I feel it coming on. Well, Sybill obliged me a few times - she hesitated before about 3 jumps. Now, it turns out that it was *my riding* that was causing the hesitation, but still, I had to support with my leg to get her over the jumps. I had to feel it and act immediately. So, good. Also during the lesson, I learned that I lean forwards when I want the horse to speed up. That is a no-no. Also, that I sit too heavily immediately after jumps, and I need to have a light seat rather than a driving one. My wonderful Spirit is too green to be fussy about me doing all of that stuff, whereas Sybill was like "what the heck, human?".  Laurie said the lesson helped me to become more poised and I like the way that sounds. I do hope I can get more lessons on Sybill - she is a lot of fun and certainly has a lot to teach me.

Now on to my countdown to showtime:

Friday 6/17 - Tack cleaning, clothes prep, practice ride.

Saturday - Lesson - jumping. We're making the jumps scary looking to try and invite some refusals (and overcome them). Bath time, and last-minute shopping.

Sunday - More tack cleaning. Organize show gear.

Monday - Lesson - jumping or dressage (depending on whats needed).

Tuesday - Lesson - dressage. Print ride times.

Wednesday - Practice ride. Grocery shopping.

Thursday - Touch up bathing if needed. Pack trailer. Trailer up at about noon. Light practice ride once there.

Friday - HT! Dressage!

Saturday - HT! XC (?)

Sunday - HT! Stadium (?) & head home.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Isn't it too early for butterflies?

My first real horse trials is a week away. And I'm nervous. Way more nervous than I normally am before a competition, and any of life's other "crunch time"s. Maybe its because I'm a not fully prepared - I've got a long To Do list that I'm checking off much too slowly. But in my heart I know it's because I'm afraid of the cross country. I'm afraid we'll get refusals and get disqualified. Aaarrgg.

The main problem with my concern is that I'm somewhat helpless in terms of fixing it. I'm a solution-oriented gal, and here's what I've got down so far for addressing this issue:
1. Take a lesson on a horse that refuses more than mine does (this is happening tonight)
2. Visualize successful XC jumps (ongoing)
3. Practice letting my horse get behind my leg, then pushing her back up again (ongoing)

What else is there? This really isn't very much, or at least it doesn't feel like a slam-dunk way to conquer this fear.

Meanwhile, I'm focusing on the things I do have more control of: cleaning my tack, bathing my horse, planning my food, worrying. Oh wait - should probably do less of that last item. Hmmm.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

::h-e-l-m-e-t ::

Today is national (perhaps - international??) helmet awareness day! Hooray for helmets! Personally, I like my brain. And my hair. I value cranium protection, so I wear a helmet anytime I ride Spirit. If I'd planned out my finances a little better, I'd have saved up to buy a helmet today when most stores have them on 10%, 15%, even 20% off. Its a good idea to replace your helmet regularly, and for sure when you've landed on your head. This is my present helmet:

To be honest, I don't use one when I ride Miss Paint out on trail. And I've been using the same helmet for about 2 years even though I've had plenty of falls. I only have the one helmet, and should probably have more like 3. Gotta be honest on national helmet day. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Snap out of it!

Well, we didn't do the schooling at Shepherd Ranch we had planned for this weekend. Mother Nature didn't get the memo that it's summertime and decided to bring in a windy rainstorm. Aarrgh. We trailered down the street to get a jumping lesson at our trainer's facility instead.

I have to say, it was a crazy morning. Miscommunications were abound and it resulted in me feeling pretty stressed out. 9 times out of 10 I can shrug that stuff off, but unfortunately that leaves me feeling helpless and hopeless the other 10%. Saturday was one of those days - for some reason I just couldn't snap out of it.
So, how do you work on improving something when you aren't faced with it very often? I've got two things in this regard that I need help with: refusals (preventing them), and snapping out of a bad mental state.

My lovely Spirit is game. Especially when she was younger, she'd jump anything. Now she's caught on that its much easier if I actually ride her correctly, so she now expects me to do my part. But at our last schooling we had refusals. It really put me off balance, since we so rarely get them at home. I didn't know how to handle it, and its something I definitely want to fix before the show. I don't expect to be competitive at the HT, but it is my goal to compete in all 3 phases so I don't want to get eliminated in XC. The refusals have me nervous about achieving that goal. So, here is the problem: how do I practice identifying and remedying in-progress refusals when my horse doesn't refuse often? I asked my trainer if I could ride a different horse at the barn - there's a wonderful mare who absolutely demands that you ride correctly or else she will not jump - period. I was hoping some time on her would be a crash course in feeling a refusal coming and learning how to fix it. My trainer thought it was a great idea and I got it all set up, but then she changed her mind due to the horse's schedule & current rider (they've got a good groove and I guess a lesson with me could throw it off) and I'm left now kinda at square 1. She suggested another horse, and I definitely will take her up on the offer, but I rode that other horse before and she was a point-and-shoot. Well, maybe that one ride was a fluke ride? It may be weird, but I really want to ride a horse that won't jump! I need to work on fixing it!

As for my second thing to work on - how do I fix my mental attitude when normally that comes so easily to me? I got in a mental funk this past Saturday and I had a very hard time getting out of it. Took me two days, lots of crying, lots of hugs from my amazing fiancĂ©e, and even now I feel a tinge of it lingering around. Unlike my first problem, I'm not gonna go looking for situations to put me in a bad mood so that I can practice getting out of it. My approach to this one is to compile a list of things I can do or think in those moments, and feel more prepared for the next time it happens. I think I'll have to put the list in my wallet or something so that it is with me at all times. We'll see how that works. 

So, given that I had a personal raincloud over me for the jump lesson, I will do my best to give an accurate account of how it went. Firstly, my trainer taught me the important distinction between obedience and patience. I had always slumped them together. When I mount my horse and other horses start walking away, and I want Spirit to wait until its *my* idea, I was just forcing her to stand. This of course pissed off Spirit who started to get light on her front feet, and I start growling at her. Laurie taught me to instead walk her in the opposite way, then come back and halt, and then when I feel her sigh/release, allow her to follow the other horses. Worked like a charm. This is why she gets the big bucks. ;)

On to actual jumping: we did fine. Nothing great, nothing horrible. My frustrated mood made my response time slacken, and I made a few bad judgement calls that I immediately got chewed out for but then immediately fixed. We worked on our bogie - down banks - and Spirit is now a pro. I'm still nervous about them, but Spirit didn't seem to mind at all. She's such an amazing horse. We also did a little hill, and I felt good about keeping Spirit upright when going downhill. Jumping course was good. Got to do some singles and double-strides, which we don't do at home (too few jumps). Spirit was a champ - patient or forward, depending on what I asked. Plus she was listening very nicely, I thought. A problem that she and I have was articulated nicely at this lesson: when we land on a jump, Spirit throws her neck and head forward causing her to go on the forehand and me to go on her neck. I'm used to it at this point, and don't have much of a basis for comparison.  Laurie told me that it is not very easy to fix: I have to sit up and give her a little jerk to immediately get her back on her haunches. I tried a few times and apparently did a good job, though I couldn't really feel a super significant change. 

Well, on to read how some of my favorite bloggers did over the weekend! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 ADD leg

So, over my last 3 rides on Spirit, something finally clicked. I need to add leg in order to slow down in a balanced fashion. Multiple trainers have been yelling this at me for quite some time now, but yet it took about a year for me to actually get it with my body. Well, better late than never, I always say! Me getting it started with our recent canter/gallop work, where I got the hang of speeding up properly. Slowing down was definitely more of a challenge (something we're still working on) - miss Spirit would much rather go from a fast canter to a fast trot rather than to a slow canter. I've learned that the only way to keep her in the canter is to add leg. If I just pull down, she falls out. It's been coming together where I add leg to keep her cantering while also half halt to slow the pace. Then my body started using that when coming to the jumps. Then my brain caught on to this whole thing. Awesome. =]

As of my lesson last night, I'm feeling pretty good about my progress in this respect. The brain-leg-hand connection in terms of slowing down is doing pretty well. I'm sure its still taking me much longer than it should to slow down and rebalance, but at least I'm doing it in the right way.

Meanwhile, Spirit and I are also starting our journey on lead changes. She'll do them when turned out (and has since she was young) and she does them on occasion when jumping. But now we're asking her to do it - requiring her to actually think about it.  Previously, I think she was just doing it without thinking. She prefers to pick up her left lead instead of her right, so I need to work on bending her to the right more often and more dramatically to loosen her body properly. Sometimes she gets frustrated with trot-changes, so she'll just lead change and be done with it  :)  which is great except that she needs to be able to do it even if she isn't frustrated with trotting - she needs to do it on command.

We get our changes (or at least a half-change) when I am able to keep her balanced and then ask her hip to move towards the lead I desire. Unfortunately, I can't seem to rebalance her while turning - its just too much for my brain-body connection to handle. Using inside leg to push her out on the circle while using outside leg to push her hip in towards the circle plus not letting her fall out (using both legs??) is just too much for me to handle!  =P Something I need to work on. I used to have this same problem with turning + slowing down, and turning + staying square. I'll get it one of these days, I just need to practice, practice, practice.
Well, only one more lesson left before our XC schooling at Shepherd Ranch. I'm glad this whole virus thing has settled down quite a bit.