I didn’t ride today because Ava’s been cooped up in a stall for three days. Day two, she was surly. Day three, she’s ready to rumble.
I am moving Ava back to my trainers barn in a few weeks. I’m excited about it. I’m not excited about the commute. There is just no happy way to get there quickly. The shortest route, assuming no traffic, is 36 minutes. I know a bunch of you reading this are thinking “pansy, suck it up!”. I know, I know! In comparison to what most people travel, that’s a pretty short drive. But… I hate driving. *shrug*
I’m geeked about the move. The indoor is HUGE and has great footing. The barn owner has it raked, drug, or whatever they do to keep arena footing consistently firm, yet cushiony. Plus, big outdoor arena’s and the pastures are huge.
Mostly, I’m hoping this move breaks some of the bad habits I’m developing. Being able to watch other dressage riders, and having the opportunity for more mini-lessons, will help me stay on track for my goals.
I notice the weirdest things when I’m riding in front of a judge. The color of an arm chair, the cat walking across the parking lot… Everything has a surreal quality to it. For example, Ava and I were cantering past A and I see a guy walking a dog 20 feet in front of me. Everything slows… The dog’s steps hang in air. There’s no sound. We’re slo-mo cantering, dog and guy still walking, it’s been forever but I’m still barely past A. Except, now I have completely forgotten where I’m supposed to go, or what I was trying to do.
The test feels like it will NEVER end. Unless my horse is not responding to any form of half-halt. Then the arena is postage stamp sized. Even small ponies couldn’t possible make that 20m circle there. All I see are blurry white squares, that are supposed to be letters, whizzing past.
Ironically, the worse my performance, the more it’ll never end. Embarrassment adds at least 45 minutes to a test.
And then bam, it’s over! And time goes back to normal again. Until 30 minutes before your next test, where 10 minutes will fly by like it’s been seconds.
The show went better than I had hoped. My trainer forced me to focus on riding to set up each stride. We worked on keeping my forearms relaxed so Ava wouldn’t have anything to brace against. And sitting back and sitting tall.
When I get nervous, I like to revert to fetal position. 😉
I was so proud of Ava! The few times at the beginning when she did get worked up, I ignored her antics and asked again, and after that she went right to work. Every time I asked for a big effort, she gave it! Even when she was exhausted. It was amazing. During test 3, I knew Ava was close to tapped out. We’re rounding the corner to the long side where we’re supposed to do our last lengthen canter… I ask, and I feel her tighten a bit, her ears pin, and she snaked her head slightly (to let me know she was NOT happy with this), and then boom! She’s pushing with those hind legs to get as much length in her stride as she can. At three quarters she wants to stop, but I nudge slightly and she finishes the lengthen well. She dropped right into a balanced trot at C and kept on trucking. That to me, was worth more than any stupid ribbon, or award. When your horse gives everything they’ve got to you, and trusts you enough to give it… That’s priceless.
I was also really pleased that she never attempted, nor even threatened, to kick anyone. Not even the people with the clackity aluminum chairs that shoved past her rump in the aisle. For a while (when I first got her), she would kick at the slightest provocation. She didn’t want to hit you, but her aim sucks. It’s taken me over a year (with lots of help from others) to retrain her from that habit. Ava was a perfect princess the entire show! I can’t tell you how proud I am of her.
So the results, we got two Firsts and a DQ for test 3. The judge let us finish the test, and scored us. If it hadn’t DQ’d I would’ve gotten a 65% on the last one. Doh! I must memorize these darn tests! I couldn’t hear anything that was being called. I couldn’t even hear the judge when she talked to me. However, I did get a chuckle out of it. It was my third off course error, judge tells me I’m eliminated but can finish the test. Judge then yells to caller “Read the movement as many times as you need to, to get her where she needs to go. Read it three times if you have to. Point if you have to!”
That cracked me up!! 🙂
Oh, and we got Champion High Point and Champion High Percentage for First Level. That was pretty cool!
Here’s a video, just for fun.
I’m supposed to be cleaning a saddle right now. Hello procrastination. Welcome back. 😉
It’s taken me a really long time to develop enough balance to ride bareback, without falling off at the slightest movement. Anyway, I have wanted to canter bareback for months and months, and just didn’t have the guts to do it. It’s not the canter that’s hard to stay on, it’s the going into, or out of, the canter that makes me question my ability to stay on. 😉
We cantered around for a bit, made the transition into and out of the canter well. I was so proud (since it was my first time)… and then I found out my phone died right before I cantered. HA! Too funny.
Oh, and if my hands look funny (not correct), it’s because I’ve got huge chunks of her mane in my fists, and I’m holding on for dear life. Gotta love those Friesian manes. I could belt myself onto the horse with her mane.
I would like to get to the point where I can’t count the number of shows I’ve participated in on one hand. Haha
Either way… This is number three. Our judge is an ‘S’ rated judge, and also a local trainer. She’s actually based about a mile and a half from where I board. I’ve heard she’s a good judge, with an accurate eye. So if I utterly bomb the show, it’s because I suck. I think the judge is capable of seeing what’s actually going on with horse and rider.
I’m trying not to get nervous. Every time I think about it, my heart starts pounding and I feel light headed. The downside of trying to not think about it… I have not prepared myself or the horse for the show. Which also means, I’m going to utterly freak out the day before the show (which is tomorrow).
Welcome my world, where procrastination reigns! Haha
Sometimes, I’d like to kick myself.
Back to the show stuff… Every time I do a show I think, “Why did I do this to myself?”. I wish we got real prizes for competing. Like cash! I like cash. Cash can be reinvested into lessons, or tack. I have not found a way to re-purpose ribbons yet. I was thinking about making a big pink and green blanket with my last batch of ribbons, but seriously, the feel of ribbon material makes my skin crawl.
I wonder if ribbon material is water proof?
It’s come to my attention that I will never make the kind of money necessary to actually pretend to be a dressage rider, so I’m going to embrace my economically depressed roots!
Here’s a partial check list for how to tell if you’re too poor to be a dressage diva (feel free to add more):
- Your “extremely expensive” full seat schooling breeches cost less than $80… And you could only afford one pair.
- Your refer to the holes in your breeches as “ventilation” ports.
- You know the day will soon arrive when the seat of your breeches bust. Most likely at an expensive clinic that you couldn’t afford, and in front of the extremely rich ladies riding the 50k Warmbloods.
- You’ve come to grips with the fact that sleeping outside your horses stall at a show is the only affordable option.
- Your saddle is older than 90% of the people you show against.
- The fee’s to register both you and your horse for either USEF, or USDF, cost more than one of your mortgage payments.
- Your trailer was painted with spray cans…. And it looks nicer than it used to.
- Your only truck is 20 years old, and has bungee cords holding up the gas tank.
- You are ecstatic when your truck and trailer actually make it to the show.
- When you park your trailer on the show grounds, people move their trailers to get out of the ghetto.
Here are some things I’ve learned that have helped to improve Ava’s canter over the past year. I’ll try to sum up what I’ve learned in this post.
The horse, and rider’s, balance during the canter can make or break it (literally and figuratively). If I so much as tilt my head slightly down, this can cause enough of a shift in my balance to push Ava’s balance off. It also takes a significant amount of core strengthen to keep your upper body aligned properly to allow the horse to carry you most effectively.
Everything starts with straightness. If the horse isn’t straight, then she can’t ‘sit’ on her hindquarters. If the hindquarters aren’t aligned with the shoulders, then the horse can’t push from behind and have that energy travel through the back, and up through the shoulders. When the horse is crocked, that power and push throws the shoulders to either side and causes the horse to lose balance. Worst case, the horse will throw a fit to avoid cantering. Best case, the horse will canter, but you won’t be able to influence the speed/tempo very well; and you can rule out any movements more complicated than a 20 meter circle.
How do you straighten the horse? Boy, that’s a loaded question and one I’m still learning. It is so individualistic that it’s impossible to learn from a blog. But the main goal is to keep the horse’s shoulders and the base of it’s neck directly in front of your hips.
I know I always have issues with creating too much bend in my horse’s neck. If going right, it actually helps to have a tad too much bend, as long as I use it in conjunction with a thigh aid to push the shoulders to the outside. If going to the left, I have to keep her neck as straight as possible with just a slight flexion to the inside. Some day’s we spend most of the ride in counter flexion when going left. It always comes back to “where are the shoulders”? If I can’t see a straight line from her whither’s and up through her neck, then I’m probably using too much bend.
Again, the idea is to move the shoulders so that they are directly beneath you. If Ava were left to travel as she wanted to, her entire shoulder area would be tilted at a 45 degree angle to the right. So a great deal of my training involves finding ways to make her use both legs with an equal distribution of weight, even when traveling on a circle.
Shoulder-in and haunches-in, while in the canter, can help strengthen the horse’s inner hind leg to allow it to carry more of it’s weight on it’s haunches. These can be performed on straight lines or circles. Decreasing the size of the circle can increase the difficulty of the exercise.
One of the exercises we’ve used is to start the horse in haunches-in at the trot (on a 20 meter circle), leg yield outward (horse should be straight), and then ask for the canter depart. You don’t want to canter directly from a haunches-in as this can teach them to swing their haunches around instead of stepping up under and powering straight through their body. I’m sure there are exceptions to when to use, when not too, but for me (the average amateur), I’m better off not confusing things too much.
The past four months have seen a huge improvement in Ava’s balance in her canter. We’ve focused exclusively on getting quality canter steps. So even if Ava can only hold a well-balanced, straight, and engaged canter for three or four strides, then we focus on doing those few strides as close to perfect as possible and then taking a walk break. We’ve gradually increased the length of time she can hold a high quality canter so that we can maintain a fairly decent canter for the length of a few 20 meter circles. Another aspect of quality over quantity is the canter depart. Once I realized that I didn’t have to allow Ava to continue cantering if her depart was crappy, things started to improve for us. I had this concept that if I brought Ava right back to a walk (if the canter depart was bad), that it would teach her she didn’t have to canter. The trick is to immediately re-ask for the depart again. Don’t take minutes to re-organize and try to set the horse back up… it has to be immediate. The more I demanded from Ava try it correctly, the more correct her canter departs became. I rewarded a great deal for effort on her part, and made sure that if she really tried, then she’d get a lot of praise and a nice walk break.
I’ve embedded a video of our canter work during the Roz Kinstler Clinic back in April of this year. She had some very good ideas on improving Ava’s canter.