Sunday, November 27, 2011

New saddle success!

I have made a considerable upgrade in saddles over the last year. Last January I found a deal on a keiffer dressage saddle, that while quite used, was a huge step up from my ancient-as-time-itself Steuben which was not quite as straight and deep seated as a dressage saddle, but not forward enough to be an all purpose. The improvment was not exactly luxery or even a taste of new saddle smell! It was an extremely practical improvement though. The straight long flaps helped me to finally learn to open my hip angle, and the deep seat has helped me to learn to scope the saddle and canter correctly.

Recently, I upgraded my jumping saddle. After having used a super-flat-no-padding-or-blocks close contact for years, I decided to steal my mom's ancient Crosby out of the garage. It had a deeper seat and more forward flaps, and it worked for a while. I have been jumping in it for over a year, while always keeping my eye out for an appropriate replacement. The thing was used back when my mom purchased it in her 20's, so it was way older than me, and I decided not really comfortable galloping a cross country course in tack that old! Should have thought of that before the season, but we survived, so no point fretting about what could have happened.

About a month ago I finally got around to finding the used saddle shop that had opened up nearby. As luck would have it, I found a used Stueben with all my favorite things! It has nice forward flaps, a deep seat, and while it doesn't look to be brand new, it has hardly been used. I took it out for trial and actually rode my dressage lesson in it that day to be sure it got trainer approval on fitting both me and Bear. He seemed happy, I felt secure, we were sold!

Best of all, it was only slightly more than my "Saddle Savings Account" so a little haggling on the price and a little cash from another account and I have a new saddle!

I still dream of upgrading both saddles to something magical! For now, the money is better put towards lessons. No point owning a Devacoux if I can't jump anything more than a cross rail! I think leaving the truely nice saddles out there in dream land gives me a little motivation to earn the right to ride in one! I really hope that some day I'll be in a position to NEED a nicer saddle. For now, a respectable one will do!

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Davis Derby

In my last post I was explaining how sure I felt about the Derby. Then I went and stopped riding! My great dressage lesson had been the Sunday before, and then with the time change taking away all my daylight, I couldn't ride a single day that week. Of course being a Saturday meant I couldn't even ride the day before. Ugh.

Despite my best efforts to get out there early and even getting up 10 extra minutes early, I was late. (I lost my keys and then left a bag at home and had to go back.) I had hoped to be on 45 minutes to an hour before my ride so that I could have a solid half hour warm up and still be over to the ring to collect my thoughts 10 minutes before my ride time. If that had happened, I think we would have done ok. Instead, I frantically raced over to sign a release form while my friend tacked up Bear. I raced back over to throw boots on and grab everything that I needed. I found my parents on the way over to the warm up arena, which was great since I suddenly realized that I had left my number at the trailer so I sent one of them back. By the time I got the the warm up arena Bear was jumping out of his skin! He was SUPER excited. I tried to go straight to a trot warm up hoping that I could get him worked down a bit in the little warm up time that I had, but no such luck. Instead of transferring his energy into a forward trot it was like there were little sparks of energy shooting off fireworks in unexpected directions. He went sidewise, he canted in place, he was WAY to light in the front like he could go up at any time. I could have worked through it with a good walk warm up and strategic exercises, but I had about 5 minutes and couldn't figure out the best plan of action. Pretty soon I was being called to head over to the ring. Okay, this would be interesting! Here's his camel impression!

So needless to say, things did not go well! I managed to lower my score from our debut ride a few weeks before. It was ugly, and felt horrible. He tried his best to leave the arena the first time we past A, and I think we were probably far enough out to have been considered leaving the arena! At least it was a schooling show. What a shame.

It did not go well, but some days surviving is good enough! This was the naughtiest I have ever seen him, tense at best with that feeling he might explode out from under me! My favorite comment from the judge was "mildly disobedient" when he threw one of his tantrums, but on the rider's note I got "quietly and tactfully ridden." We managed a few decent pictures of trying to fake it. Our little bitty trot and bulging under-neck muscles was not the goal, but at least he wasn't going sideways!

He went back to the trailer and got to snack on hay for a while before heading out for jumping. I wasn't nearly as worried about the jumping since it was such an easy task, but he was just as explosive in the warm up arena there. I don't think I even cantered him. He was hot, tense, sucked back and behind my leg. If I tapped his butt to go forward, he'd buck, which got him several more taps. Ugh. We also completely obliterated one of the warm up fences which got him to be a whole lot more careful and actually jump the fences.
When we finally got out into the arena he was still feeling like he was sparking unexpectedly, and you can see he had a great "firework" at the beginning trying to get to the first fence! BAD spook, but I was very impressed with our recovery. He walked past it, and even trotted past when we circled back again. Luckily this was all before our round and once we got started, he did quite well.

I think we have a whole lot of potential. It will be a lot of fun to really get him started over fences this winter. This was meant to give us some experience with show ground atmosphere, and interesting jumps. As much as he overreacted to the silly pile next to the arena, he didn't even look at the scary jumps with flowers! So as an exposure exercise it was a success, I just didn't get out of him what I was hoping for. That will come. We survived. Then we had a kick-ass lesson the next week to make up for it! He's got some fantastic potential for dressage! I just need the time to tap into it. Can't wait!

In between shows...

Last spring when I took Lola to the UC Davis Event Derby, I SWORE that by the October Derby I would have Bear ready to go for his jumping debut. This was because it was such a convenient and "greenie friendly" event at a good price. I lucked out that the event got pushed back to the beginning of November leaving me a little more room to cram in some work!

So after the dressage show we squeezed in one more lesson and started to put the pressure on to really accept the bit and stop his nonsense in front and start focusing on pushing forward from the back. We had a great lesson and could really see a ton of improvement in his fitness and strength, as well as breakthroughs on understanding submission and seeking the bit instead of being behind the bit to evade the connection.

We also went to a poker ride where I won the 4th best hand! I was so surprised because there were so many people there. We had fun, and I got a second poker hand free for dressing up in costume! Bear looks pretty stunning!

I also hauled him out to a friends barn to do a little jump school. I walked him around while she warmed up her horse so that he could settle in. He was pretty distracted, so it was nice to wait it out and be able to enjoy a ride on a quiet and relaxed horse an hour later! So I spent the first bit leading Bear around and raising jumps and measuring so that she felt good about the height that she'd be jumping at the Derby. Then I dropped all the jumps back down the the smallest cross bar height and warmed Bear up. We had just four set up, and they were all the the center of the smallish square arena, so it wasn't much of a course, but still got Bear to pick up his feet. He mainly just trotted them one foot at a time since they were so small, so I did canter over one twice. He was quiet and didn't think much of it. That was the extent of our jump schooling before the show! I mean they would be tiny cross rails, how much prep does a pony need? And I had already done well on the same dressage test, so that was in the bag, right?

I was feeling pretty proud that in one month I had gotten Bear ready for this despite all his time off! I was pleased with how easy it had all been. I was feeling a little to secure and stopped pushing to really prepare him; I was in for a surprise...

First dressage show, and setting ourselves up for success...

I keep running into the same problem with my greenie horses. If you ride the LOWEST level, it means have to ride first! First is usually WAY too early for me. My ride time for our first show was 8:08, and it was a really far drive.

This is painful to even look back on, but I got up at 3:30am to make this happen! I had agreed to swing past a friend's barn to pick up her horse, so that added in some time. Plus it was almost a two hour drive out there. The saving grace? I had set us up for success. As a schooling show catering to young riders and horses, they had a "Greenie Weenie- All Walk Test" and I thought that would be the best way to introduce the dressage arena, and judges booth. This meant that my warm up could be pretty limited before our first test, and then I could come back to finish the warm up before our Intro Test A.

Watching an all-walk test can be about as exciting as watching grass grow, but Bear tries to make it interesting by demonstrating his amazingly dramatic head tossing abilities. He is seriously talented! He can get his foamy mouth dribble on my face, isn't that impressive? I think his nickname of "Giraffe"has been substituted with "Camel".

The warm up arena was right next to the barn and trailers, but to get to the show arena you had to walk away from everyone and through a pasture which, obviously, held some horse eating monsters! It took some coaxing to get Bear all the way there, but once he was there he did alright. We were able to use the test to calmly introduce him to the arena, and develop some relaxation while working on keeping his attention. Perfect start!

Before continuing I want to take a moment to review where Bear is at in his training. He was started under saddle in the winter of 2008, and he was going well under saddle by the end of spring of 2009. He was only three, though, so I really just wanted to get him out to gain exposure and experience before asking anything too physically or mentally challenging. That should have lasted for a year, but instead his trail riding life kept getting extended. January of 2010 he moved to his first boarding facility with the goal of getting his training started, but we had one health problem or injury after another until we switched barns in May. Basically 5 wasted months. Through the spring he was ridden just enough to be sure my (then boyfriend now husband) could ride him. That's to say, walk, stop, turn, and patiently ignore the rest of confusing cues in order to be safe enough to trail ride. I was gone for the summer, and then that fall, we went about the same. I feel like in all of 2010 we had probably 10 good training rides! Mostly he was just ridden on the trails or used as a beginner horse. He moved back to pasture at my parent's house in November 2010 and just finished his pasture vacation in October of 2011. Basically in three year's he's done quite a bit- horse camping, trail riding all over, various riders and such, but never been asked to do much more than walk, trot, canter calmly under saddle- no real considerations to quality of gait, being on the bit, or being fine tuned to respond. Now ALL of that has changed, and he's a little confused by the new rules of the ride.

That said, our goals for this test were to keep him forward while accepting a light and following contact, that was really it. We had prepped for the show with one dressage lesson. Literally he went from a handful of rides to get him back in shape, to one dressage lesson, and an attempt at a show. Taking that into consideration, it was an enormous success.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Catch up time!!!

I LOVE holidays! Not just for the holiday eating and family, but for the complete break from reality. Its a Wednesday, and I'm not at work! How wonderful is that? Instead I got to sleep in, enjoyed super sale prices and no state sales taxes while shopping, and am currently cozy in my in-laws home while the Portland weather steadily assures me that sitting on the sofa with my laptop is indeed the right choice! I don't have a kitchen to clean, meals to make, laundry to do, closets to organize, or any of the other busy and never-ending work that I have at home. I don't even have a horse to ride or a dog to walk! This complete freedom means that I finally have time to reflect just back to the last few months of fun that I've not gotten a chance to write about! We have been BUSY!

I am going to break each of these out into several posts since I have pictures and video to go along with it. We've had plenty of training moments to capture so that I can go back and look at them later. When I look at all we've done, frankly I'm impressed with how well Bear is coming back into work and handling it all.

We've now had several "first times" to add to his list:
first dressage show,
second dressage show,
first time jumping cross rails,
followed immediately by his first time jumping a course at a show,
sprinkle in some impressive progression in a only three dressage lessons,
and a poker ride where (despite him being a little coo-coo for the first part) we won the fourth best hand and looked fantastic in our coordinating Halloween costume!

First of all, to set the scene, we moved to another barn...again! I feel like I'm a transient horse owner based on how many places Lola ended up living (heading off to her lease home was her 9th move to her 6th location), but I guess Bear has had less moves and he spent the last year at the same place: happy in pasture at my parent's house. This worked fine for occasional lessons and hauling out to trail ride or use the community arena, but it got to the point that I had to hook up the trailer and haul several times a week to get anything done. I even hauled out to lunge. Ugh. So when Lola found a lease-home, it became clear I needed to find a place with an arena and jumps, trails nearby, and at least some lights to do some quick riding or lunging after work on weeknights. That's what I needed to make it better than leaving him at my parent's, because really he had it good there! On his side, I didn't want him to have to give up all his horsey freedom since he's always been in pasture or a pasture sized paddock with a buddy. I wanted to be sure it wouldn't turn to a mud pit, since we've had to move because of that before. Quality of care has also been a problem before, as well as his penchant for destroying things. Then of course there is price and gas cost to consider!

I can tell you that I was feeling pretty hopeless for a few weeks. Then I stumbled across the winner: small facility body-wise (only 8 other horses) but really quite large land-wise! It has a good size arena with footing that is still ride-able after a rain and enough jumps to get us started. The six stall barn only has two horses which leaves plenty of hay and tack space and a warm dry lit place to groom or tack up. Add in room for my trailer, outdoor wash rack, and super nice people, and it has turned out to be wonderful! Here's the cherry on top: we have direct access to some of my favorite trails in the area! These have always been my favorite training trails because they are fairly flat, wide with good footing, and since they area is fairly small the trails loop and crisscross giving you endless options to get miles of ride in without having to stay on the same trail out and back. We've been enjoying them regularly, and will be the perfect way to keep him fit and fresh with some long trots and canter sets through the winter.

We still need to get the lights back up and running for winter, but I have faith that piece will fall into place also. As for Bear, he has the best pasture ever! He has a hug big pasture in the very back of the property, and he has it all to himself right now. This means lot's of grass, no competing with others for feed, and plenty to do to keep him happy.

Funny enough, one of the woman there had taken lessons with my dressage trainer in the past, and so we've started to split the travel fee for her to come out to give a lessons at our barn. Now I don't have to plan the extra time for travel or cost for gas! Plus there is an extremely reputable hunter/jumper trainer right next door with an enormous jumping arena with incredible fences and complete with a bank in the middle. As much as I loved my eventing trainer for my jumping lessons, she is always hard to schedule time with, and if I have the choice to WALK next door instead of driving 30 minutes each way, the choice should be clear. I hope I like her, I'm a little intimidated by her, especially being an equitation focused coach! I probably need some ripping apart though.

I've got huge goals for this beastie this year, and I'm excited to have the right set up to support the progress.