Boring winter update + my (totally rational) hatred of jumping warm-up arenas

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Winter blues continue. There have been quite a few medical emergencies among my family since my last post, so I haven’t accomplished much on the horse front unfortunately. Domino remains inconsistent in his soundness. Tebow remains adorable. I remain really cold.

We get it, Grace. You don’t like winter. Get a cool pink jacket & get over it.

Blergh.

My trainer’s assistant left for school earlier this month, so she’s doing all the barn chores on her own at her facility (in addition to training, teaching, going to clinics, and competing), which means we haven’t had much time together since then. Tebow and I have been coasting a little, but I’m hoping we can get rolling again now that the days are getting a little longer…

The barn owner has offered to trailer Tebow & me to an evening jumper show on Valentine’s Day, so that’s something to look forward to! Thank goodness. We’ll probably just play around in the 2’6″, but I think it will be really nice to get both of us off property.

Which brings me to the point of this post: I hate warm-up arenas.

Well, not all warm-up arenas. Dressage warm-up is tolerable enough. Cross country isn’t too bad because there’s usually a lot of room. But show jumping warm-up?

Show jumping warm-up arenas are my hell.

My dislike began when I first started showing in my teens. I was leasing a school horse named Turfway, who I adored. He was an off-track Thoroughbred gelding; he was the first horse I ever competed and the first horse I really “clicked” with. I loved him, but he was the grouchiest old man-horse I’ve ever met. He was neutral-negative towards humans, but he hated other horses. Like… get-within-a-15-meter-radius-and-he-will-pin-his-ears-and-charge-kicking-in-your-direction type hatred. I wish I was exaggerating.

You know I rocked that purple Troxel, though. Notice the garish red ribbon in his tail?

Everyone at our barn knew about it and we had a lovely, huge arena, so it wasn’t much of an issue while I was only competing at little home shows. But Turfway was the first horse I took to off-property shows eventually, and that was a whole new ballgame. I mostly just did little 2′ classes that didn’t really need a super intense warm-up, so my trainer would usually just take me to some quiet corner of the property where I could walk-trot-canter in each direction then send me in to quickly hop a fence before going into my class, but even with such limited time in the warm-up arenas, I learned to hate them really damn fast. People were utterly oblivious to the red bow/my warnings/my trainer’s warnings. It almost always ended with either me or my trainer screaming, “Your horse’s guts are this close to getting splattered into the fence. You need to stay the fuck away.” And despite the classes being low and well within our capabilities, our crappy warm-ups had a pretty crappy effect in the show ring. I think I fell off or got eliminated for 3 refusals more often than I had a clear round…

Ultimately we avoided any major disasters, fortunately. But it left a bad taste in my mouth I’ve never gotten over.

We interrupt this blog post for an important announcement. IF A HORSE HAS A RED RIBBON IN ITS TAIL, STAY AWAY. Like, do you think you’re far enough away? Okay, multiply that distance by two and add a couple more horse lengths and at that point you’re probably alright. A red ribbon doesn’t mean: “Don’t ride up my horse’s tail, but stay one horse length away and it’s cool.” It means don’t get anywhere near a possible kicking radius of that horse. Do some people use it for stuff that’s more mild than what I describe with Turfway? Sometimes just to get a little more personal space in the warm-up arena even if their horse doesn’t have a mean bone in its body? Sure. But give them the benefit of the doubt anyways and go ahead and assume that red ribbon = as far away as you can possibly keep yourself. It’s a lot better for everyone if you stay too far away than if you cut it too close.

I think people who haven’t ridden really nasty kickers don’t realize how awful it is to deal with. I can handle bucking, bolting, and moderate/non-vertical rearing without much trouble, but I hate riding a horse who’s actively trying to kick another horse. It’s kind of terrifying to realize that your horse is likely to seriously hurt another and there is sweet fuck all you can do about it. At least on a bucker or bolter or rearer there is something you can do – sit back, circle, shift your weight. If you’re on a kicker and someone’s gotten too close, you’re basically S.O.L.

Anyways.

I kinda forgot about how much I hated warm-up arenas while I was riding Domino, because Domino is very small and agile and responsive and easy-going. He could stop, start, and turn on a dime without any notice, so if someone else lost control or was off in la-la land, I could still count on Pony to get us out of anything tricky. He was also totally unfussed about whatever anyone else was doing.

You want to know who’s not small and agile? A green 17-hand Thoroughbred. Tebow needs a damn runway to start and stop right now. I need to be able to plan our movements and prepare him for things about half an arena’s length in advance, minimum. When I took him into a small, crowded jumping warm-up arena for the first time, I panicked. No one was doing anything wrong – everyone was riding politely, left shoulder to left shoulder, calling fences, jumping in the correct direction, in control. But the “what if” thing destroyed me. I rode like a dummy, I wouldn’t let Tebow get any impulsion to the fences, we had refusals or chip ins like mad, my trainer finally told me to MOVE IT and if anyone got in our way we could run them over and/or she would personally go to the TD and get them eliminated. I sniveled a bit then got over it enough to have at least one decent warm-up jump, then went in the arena and was so relieved to be able to ride without other horses around that I jumped the loveliest course ever.

Anyways, all this is basically to say that I really want to get over being terrified of jumping warm-up arenas because if I ever want to compete much higher than 2’6″/Beginner Novice, I’ll need to be able to have reasonably un-terrible warm-ups over fences, and I think this Valentine’s Day show might be a good way for me to work on that. It’s an indoor schooling show so the warm-up area will be really small, but it’s a winter show in the evening on a holiday so I don’t expect there will be a huge swarm to deal with, and the heights are all quite low.

Maybe we need to come up with a tail ribbon for “Rider is prone to warm-up arena panic, please stay away and be kind”.

New year, (mostly) same blog.

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Something important to know about me if you have any desire to follow this blog: I struggle with winter. Like, a lot. I hate when it gets dark early, I hate schlepping through mud, I hate riding indoors in a crowded arena. So my riding – and, consequently, this blog – slows down in the winter. I feel very guilty about it and spend a lot of time beating myself up about it, but it is what it is, and a lot of the time I can’t face a 2 hour round trip for riding and playing with the ponies in conditions I abhor.

I constantly apologize to my instructor for not doing enough between lessons, and she assures me I’m still one of her most proactive, involved students, so maybe some of my guilt is misplaced. I ride both Domino and Tebow at least 3 times per week, ideally (and usually 4). So maybe if I keep on top of the blogging my motivation will get a little boost…

My full time grown up job ended early in December. I am now a professional dogwalker and honestly? I like it quite a lot. I get to exercise and be outdoors, and I have an almost nonexistent commute. It’s cognitively quite under stimulating for me, but for a short term thing, I don’t mind. I have tons of time to read and write and stimulate myself outside work, so it’s good.

But my old job had me out in Maryland, close to my barn, every weekday. It was not a huge deal to get my ass in gear and go over after work – especially if I was just gonna sit in traffic for the 45 minutes it’d take me to get home anyways. Now, it’s more of a big deal to get over there. Not helping the winter blues.

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Tebow and I have been doing well. I’ve been working mostly on our dressage and we are seeing improvements. When I started riding him, he was so unbalanced we could barely canter one full 20m circle, never mind establishing a decent quality canter. His balance and steering have improved enough that we can canter a reasonable 15m circle, and we are starting to get some connection in that gait.

On the jumping front, I am admittedly too lazy to set up anything too fancy. We had a barn show and they left the course up so I played with that (we did our first skinny no problem). Lots of pole work – we have gone from crashing through 3 trot poles to actually successfully picking up his feet and stepping through cleanly. I need to get on the grid work now…

We also had a tack change, going from a flash to a figure 8 noseband. He doesn’t cross his jaw or gape against the bit, but given his size, it’s a habit we really don’t want him developing. He goes very nicely in it! And, side benefit, it makes his head look quite smart…

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Domino is also showing improvement too! We injected his coffin bone on the right front and it’s really helped his soundness. I’m scared of pushing him too fast, but we are doing lots of walking and starting to increase his trotting time. While my sister visited for the holidays, we had a couple days of rare good weather, and she had a blast with him on the trails – he was very full of himself and eager to go! We held him to just one short trot, but he was quite vocal about letting us know he wanted more.

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So that’s what’s been going on in the world of Grace and Domino and Tebow. Happy new year!

11/9 Starter Trials!

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TLDR: Everything ended up fine, we finished on our dressage score (37.5), Tebow is an adorable rockstar eventing baby, I am dumb about warm up arenas.

Favorite!

Favorite!

Things started really badly. My dressage ride time was at 7:38am, meaning we had to trailer out at 6am, meaning I had to leave my house by 4:30am to get to the barn to feed Tebow breakfast and get him ready to load. I had a very restless night, including waking up at around 2am and not being able to fall back asleep. I checked and triple checked my alarms set every 5 minutes between 4:00am and 4:15am. I almost never have trouble with snoozing and missing alarms: once I hear my alarm, I’m up.

I woke up without any alarm and thought, “Hm. That’s weird.” Looked at my phone.

5:05am.

I panicked and bolted out the door. Fortunately I’d pre-planned and laid all my stuff out by the door and had already packed my tack in the trailer, so I was on the road with a granola bar by 5:15. I texted my trailer buddy and asked her to feed Tebow, and ultimately we still ended up getting out with the trailer by just after 6… But it was not an ideal start for me. I was tense and panicky from rushing, so by the time I got on and started warming up, I felt like I was running super late, even though I was actually right on schedule…

Our warm up for dressage was really nice. We did a lot of work spiraling in and out on a circle in all 3 gaits, asking him to listen and soften and come through (and getting me to calm down and get it together). I actually felt really happy with how things were going when I headed to C to introduce myself to the judge. Then I heard our bell and headed in the arena, and it fell apart almost instantly.

It wasn’t bad, really. He just sorta sucked back as we entered at A and was suddenly really distracted by everything going on around us, and I never got the connection back throughout the whole test because, honestly, I didn’t push him for it. I didn’t want to fight with him about it, but in hindsight, it would’ve been much better if I’d given him a firm half halt and driven him forward into the bridle assertively as soon as I felt him come apart at the start of the test. Instead, I let him drift around a bit and fall in through his corners and generally put in a really mediocre test. Again, it wasn’t really bad. He was obedient and we had the rhythm and relaxation that we’ve been working hard to develop. But I know he’s ready to show some consistent connection and suppleness by now, and I didn’t get that in the test. We did have some nice moments though. Our left canter transition was well executed, and his free walk was very nice.

We ended up getting mostly 6s and a few 7s, which I felt was fair for the level. All of the comments were what I expected. The final score was a 37.5, which I didn’t think was awful, but it ended up putting me second-to-last in a 13-horse class. Oh well, we were going for the experience anyways, and while I know we should’ve done better, it wasn’t really disappointing or anything.

The timing between dressage and show jumping was actually nice. I had enough time to untack and let Tebow cool down and have some hay. I went to go get a breakfast sandwich, then realized in my rush to head out the door, I’d forgotten my purse. Brilliant! So I broke into my car snacks and ended up eating about 6 Nutrigrain bars over the course of the day.

The show jumping warm up was rough for me this time. Background: I do not like riding in crowded arenas. I rode a really bad kicker for most of my teenage years (like, would run backwards to kick at a horse if they were on the same long side of the arena as him), then the chaos of IHSA flat classes did nothing to help that particular demon.

Basically, I would be an awful hunter/eq rider. Because I’d stop in the middle of the class and cry. A lot.

I need an arena to myself, thank you very much.

I need an arena to myself, thank you very much.

It was never an issue with Domino, because Domino is small and very agile. On Domino, I knew I could stop on a dime from any gait. I knew I could turn in any direction at any time and he’d keep his feet under him. Tebow is not like that. He is big and still not very well balanced, and he needs a lot of room to plan, prepare, and execute anything – turning, transitions, whatever. No one was getting in my way or anything like that, but I was anticipating people doing stupid things, so I rode him really backwards the whole warm up to feel more in control and it was really counter productive. Finally I pulled up and had a wheezing/near tears panic attack, so I walked around a bit, then my instructor told me I had to get him going forward and that if anyone got in my way, she would personally march the TD over and get them eliminated. I listened, Tebow jumped better, and it was okay.

Already feeling better by the 2nd fence.

Already feeling better by the 2nd fence.

When I got in the arena and had Loch Moy’s huge show jumping ring to myself, I felt so much better. I got Tebow moving out and in front of my leg, and he put in a very nice, clean course. He was a little peaky to a few fences, which was no surprise – it was our first time schooling seriously decorated show jumping fences – but if I gave him a tap on the shoulder and kept him straight, he hopped over happily. The only really icky moment was the last line, which was set for a long 3 or a short 4. With Tebow, you always expect him to get the long number, and I had planned to go for the 3, but I had the tiniest hesitation as we jumped in and we ended up getting a perfect three-and-a-half strides. Ha. Fortuantely for me, he was catty enough to keep the poles up.

He's pretty cute.

He’s pretty cute.

No one was in the cross country warm up, thank goodness, and after show jumping I was much calmer. My trainer just had me do one fence, which we took nicely, and then we went to the start box and headed off.

Tebow ate up the course like a champ. Our only hairy spot was the 2nd fence, where he chipped badly and I lost my reins, but we had plenty of time to get back together and he rolled through the rest of the course. The final two fences were a rolltop and a little produce stand after the only real long open stretch where you could gallop on a bit, and by that point I was exhausted. Tebow came in really hot to both fences and I had no strength left to hold him back, so I was just saying, “Please, please, just jump this fence because if you stop I am going right over your head.” He obliged and got over both.

Our only XC picture is from the warm up because Tebow tried to run over our photographer. Sorry photographer!

Our only XC picture is from the warm up because Tebow tried to run over our photographer. Sorry photographer!

So we finished up double clear on our dressage score! I’m totally happy with that for our first event together. Our dressage score kept us out of the placings, but I only really cared that we had a positive learning experience and finished, and we certainly managed that.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

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Progress in dressage is so sneaky. Day to day, nothing seems to change – it remains the endlessly frustrating search for unattainable perfection. But then I look back one month and realize that Tebow and I have actually made some pretty stellar progress.

We had such a nice dressage lesson on Tuesday night. First, whenever a lesson starts with your trainer saying, “You’ve been practicing, haven’t you?!” it’s probably going to be a decent lesson. And I had been practicing! A lot! Our counter leg-yields down the long side of the arena are now rock solid in both walk and trot, without any loss of rhythm or straightness. They’re a really important part of our warm up because they seem to put his brain in the right place to focus on the ‘boring flatwork stuff’.

The horses in the field next to the arena got all riled up about something and were galloping laps and calling to each other. It was dark and we were riding under the floodlights so he couldn’t really see them well. He definitely noticed and tensed up about it, so my trainer had me put him on a 10m figure-8, changing direction and bend across the center line. She told me to really focus on keeping my legs and hands quite firm when he’s getting distracted and tense like that, because he needs to learn to ignore the distraction and focus on his job, meaning it’s really important for me to tell him his job clearly with my aids. When he would relax a little, I’d release; when he tensed up again, I’d maintain a steady contact.

It worked really well and after five minutes he was ready to get back to business. He has such a nice brain to work with because he wants to listen very much. He’s super willing and good-natured.

Since he’s going really nicely, my trainer explained that she thinks young horses really benefit from doing quite a lot of lateral work in their dressage lessons (once they have the basic rhythm and relaxation going on of course). We did a few turns on the forehand, then worked on our trot leg yields. We started doing quarter line to rail, and quickly progressed to center line to rail. Everything was clicking so nicely and he was really stepping across with those long legs. He consistently wants to fall left with his hind end (so when we’re going left it trails him and when we’re going right it leads too much) so I focused on checking his straightness and making sure he takes one step forward for each step sideways.

Because our warm up was a bit longer due to the shenanigans, we didn’t end up having time for canter work, but it was still such a productive lesson. I’m sort of blown away that the horse I couldn’t steer around a 20m trot circle a month ago is now schooling extremely solid, correct first level work…

My trainer also noticed and complimented our progress. She pointed out how much the quality of his trot has improved, and told me that’s how she knows I’m taking the time to do our basics consistently and correctly. Proud moment. She put all of the initial work on him and I care a lot about her opinion, so knowing she thinks I’m helping him continue progressing and not messing him up makes me really happy.

So, um… this is sneaking up on me really quickly, now…

UntitledWe’re doing our first beginner-novice starter trial together on November 9th. That’s just 10 days away! I’m so excited. I used to have such awful show nerves, but I honestly love it now. I feel like Tebow and I are both totally ready to rock this. Can’t wait!

Learning not to take it personally: XC Schooling 10/26/14

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I had a great time cross country schooling with Tebow yesterday with our trainer. It was our final outing in preparation for our starter trial beginner-novice debut on the 9th, and it was really useful. I got to break in my new safety vest so I finally got to breathe while riding, which was awesome. And I got pictures!

We started out really strong and were readily hopping over a few of the more inviting novice fences. Tebow really makes them feel quite manageable, and I am so confident and comfortable on him. He’s just always happy to try and so keen about everything. His expression over every fence is the cutest: “Let’s do it!”

Over a novice raised log

Over a novice raised log

Initially I was being a little too quiet with my aids. I wasn’t giving him much support, and while he doesn’t really need any encouragement, he’s still at the point where he benefits from me being there and confirming I have some sort of idea about what I’m doing. He’s also long and doesn’t have the best balance yet and really wants to roll along on a long, downhill stride, so I need to sit back, half-halt, and get him together a few strides before the jump. My timing on the half-halts was leaving a lot to be desired.

Novice rolltop - I'm thinking he'd like a bellyguard...

Novice rolltop – I’m thinking he’d like a bellyguard…

I got it together a bit more as we kept going. My trainer ended up using landmarks a couple strides before the fence to point out where I had to have him together by, and told me I had to let go and not fuss with him after that point. As you can see in the pictures, he still has a bit of an exuberant baby jump with a lot of legs to coordinate, and he sometimes can get a bit of an awkward effort. I’m still used to Domino, who jumps like a big eq horse: flat, splinter-bellied, with tight square knees and excellent balance. I think that makes me feel like I’m messing up when Tebow doesn’t jump like that, so I try to adjust his way of going to get a better jump, and he’s just not at the point where he can do that yet. He needs to develop coordination and balance, and I need to get him in a rhythm and then stay out of his way.

I did have a bit of a breakthrough with the more “steeplechase-y” fences, though. Tebow kicks ass at these types of fences, where he can just cruise over out of his long stride.

Wheeee!

Wheeee!

“You have to learn how to do these for when you do the Waredaca 3-Day next year,” says trainer. Ha. Ha. But it would be pretty fun if we could get there…

We had a lot of trouble with a down bank in the woods – we tried to just step off down it and he wasn’t having it. We tried having him follow my trainer on the ground, we tried taking a lead from our more experienced buddy, but he’d just get to the edge and think really hard about it and lose his nerve. My trainer explained that it was just a baby moment – it’s not the kind of thing you can get mad at them about. The light was tricky and he was having a hard time keeping it together. We just waited and encouraged him and told him he was super clever whenever he made a move towards it, but ultimately it just didn’t happen. We turned it around and hopped up it again to leave the obstacle on a positive note, then continued and decided we’d do the easier down bank before leaving to make sure he had a good down bank experience, too.

Tebow started to tire about 3/4 of the way through the course. He’s pretty clear about letting you know when he’s had enough for one day. We went through the water and were supposed to jump a little cabin about 3 strides away. It was a very small fence – he’s jumped the novice version of it before with me without problems – but he ran out from it a few times. He was just not feeling it. We knew he was tired – and by this point I was, too, so I wasn’t helping him as much as I should’ve – but we made him do it. He got it on the 4th try and I told him he was the best horse in the universe and gave him lots of praise. We decided after we did the last down bank that he’d be done for the day.

And he stepped off the littler down bank like it was nothing. We did it twice and he was totally calm and happy about it. Tebow and I just strolled along while our (much fitter) buddy did a few more fences. Trainer has prescribed lots of slow canter work prior to our show on the 9th to help his fitness. She wants us able to slow canter for 10 minutes and recover within 5 by then. I like having specific numbers to work towards – and since Domino is still out of commission, I definitely have the time to give Tebow these next couple weeks.

It was the first time Tebow and I have had a bit of a rougher cross country outing. We had some issues, most of which were just standard green horse issues, but I’m such a perfectionist that my trainer seemed to know I was a little worried that I’m messing him up somehow. She told me that even when Tebow and I struggle or have some miscommunication, it’s still really obvious that he likes me and wants to do his best to take care of me however he can. He needs more experience still, but when he has a problem with something, there’s a reason for it. He’s not ever trying to trick or upset me: a lot of this is still genuinely new and confusing for him, and he’s still learning. I’m very averse to punishing a horse for jumping problems, but I do get after myself a bit when I mess up. But Tebow and I are both learning each other and this discipline still, and it’s just going to take some time for both of us. We like each other and want to help each other, and we’ll get it eventually.

And we do have moments when we both get it right, and those are pretty damn awesome. That excites me for what we might eventually be able to do together.

Superstar Tebow!

Sunday tip: How I clean my bits

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I have an embarrassingly huge bit collection. Here’s how I like to keep them clean and ready to go.

Spearmint – yum.

Mouthwash!

I dilute it out to about 1:10 and just let the bits soak while I clean and condition the leather. After about 30 minutes, any crud that’s built up will usually come off with a quick wipe with a clean sponge or cloth. It makes the rings nice and show sparkly, too.

And I figure the horses probably enjoy the mild minty taste the next time they’re bridled.

Tada!

XC Schooling – Switching it up

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On Tuesday evening, I took Tebow cross country schooling with a different trainer. Originally, I’d planned to go with my trainer on Monday, but the weather was abysmal and without studs or a particularly well coordinated horse, I decided to postpone. But my regular trainer wasn’t available on Tuesday, so my friend and I arranged to go with another trainer from a nearby eventing barn.

I adore my trainer. She’s improved my riding more in a year than anyone else has in about fifteen, and I think the mindset she’s given me about riding is really excellent. But it’s fun to get another perspective sometimes, and to go out with someone who doesn’t necessarily know me or my horse and our various issues. Fresh perspective and all that fun stuff.

The weather wasn’t exactly beautiful yesterday, either. The sky was wicked ominous and the wind was really blowing – gusts over 25mph. But the footing was okay and my trailer buddy seemed confident, so I decided to go for it and if it was really bad or Tebow got terribly worked up, we could just school the show jumping course.

Tebow is amused by my lack of faith.

Tebow is amused by my lack of faith in his brain.

He was fabulous. I was worried about the weather, so we started out trotting a few of the little 2′ elementary fences, but Tebow doesn’t have a lot of respect for little trot fences and was really wiggly and impatient. The trainer was good about reminding me to keep my leg on, keep my shoulders back, and just wait to let him figure it out. Once we got to the up/down banks and I let him get rolling a bit, he was a lot more comfortable. So was I, since he’d successfully reminded me that even if he’s a wiggly baby, he’s still an incredibly honest, genuine character who’ll take care of me.

After that, the trainer coached us around the MDHT beginner-novice course. It was a pretty solid course for the level, with plenty of decorations and “look-y” fences. I think the most challenging was a fence that was on both the beginner-novice and novice tracks; it was the red-and-green square ramp-y thing (pictured below, from a different day) but it was set in the woods right before a VERY steep downhill. Man from Snowy River type of downhill. I definitely would not canter down that hill on most horses. I would honestly probably walk down it on Tebow and most babies – in fact, that’s what I did yesterday, and he was still stumbly and unbalanced about it. But he jumped the fence itself no problem.

Tebow jumping the green and red fence with me a while ago.

Tebow jumping the green and red fence with me a while ago.

The biggest fence on course was a double brush, but it jumped super nicely uphill and came up out of stride beautifully. It was towards the end of the course.

We finished up with the ditch, the cordwood (the fence Domino didn’t like – Tebow didn’t care about it at all), and the new produce stand. The produce stand concerned me because it was a roll top with big crates of apples all along the front of it. It was definitely a seriously decorated, eye-catching fence, but it was the last fence on course and by that point Tebow was just cruising along and didn’t give it even a cursory look. He jumped it really beautifully and it ended up being a lovely note to stop on.

What I love about riding Tebow is that I can start out feeling hesitant about 2′ starter fences, and I can finish up galloping along looking at the novice fences thinking, ‘We could absolutely do that right now.’ I realized Tebow and I have actually schooled quite a few of the fences that were on the novice course, like the trakehner, and haven’t had any problems with them. That’s a pretty cool feeling. I just haven’t been able to find something that he’s not totally game for, even if the conditions aren’t great or I’m not giving him the best ride. If I just close my leg and say, “Hey, let’s do it,” he responds with, “Sure, I’ll try!” And he does, and it’s awesome.

Domino Update and Dressage Lesson 10/8/14

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I got Domino moving in the round pen after a week of bute and rest… He looked better but still seems the dreaded not-quite-right behind. I’m going to suck it up and arrange another lameness evaluation with Dr. D to see if he has any advice. This is really frustrating.

In the meantime, I had a very productive but very challenging lesson with Tebow on Wednesday. He’s starting to get stronger and can carry himself for more time without getting tired or frustrated, and his trot work especially is starting to get quite nice.

The awesome thing about Tebow is he’s never learned the (incorrect) shortcuts, so it’s easy to tell when he’s got something right or not. Domino is an absolute master at faking it; he can fake connection well enough that low level judges and instructors believe it, at least until the stretchy circle. Stretchy circles are awesome to test whether the horse is actually through and connected. Domino does not do them very well. He was just starting to get it consistently when his injury trouble started last February… Tebow , on the other hand, can do them very nicely. He’s not strong enough to maintain it for a long time yet – we can get about half a 20m circle before he loses it – but he’s getting there.

We worked on our canter transitions a lot during our lesson, which was why it was very challenging. I did an exercise where I started out trotting on a 20m circle, leg yielded in to an 18m circle, then leg yielded back out to the 20m circle and picked up the canter, then leg yielded back in to 18m and transitioned to trot, then back out to 20m and transitioned to canter, etc.

Oh my goodness. So hard. Keeping my aids coordinated throughout was really tough, and it definitely highlighted my current major issue with getting heavy on the inside rein. Let go, dumb inside hand!

It was pretty hard for Tebow, too, especially as he got more tired as the lesson continued. He started rushing and trying to curl under the bit, so I ended up throwing in a lot of trot-halt-trot transitions, too.

Eventually we got a nice 18m-20m-18m sequence in each direction and quickly let it be at that. I was exhausted and Tebow was working hard, too. It definitely improved the quality of his canter, though, and although it was a lot of work, it really got him listening – something we should definitely keep working at outside of our lessons. My trainer also suggested throwing in a lot more stretchy trot throughout my practice rides, particularly at the start and finish of each ride.

Phew.

Despite it being ass-kicking hard, I got 2 lovely compliments from the trainer that have totally made my week:

  1.  “He’s looking so much stronger than he did during our last dressage lesson. He really looks good. Keep doing whatever you’re doing.”
  2. “I’m so glad you’re riding him. I can tell he likes you. He’s very nonchalant about it, but he definitely likes you.”

Yay!

Cross country schooling on Monday. Double yay!

Grid Work with Tebow 10/1/14

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Thank goodness, tonight’s lesson was really excellent. Grid work is my favorite. The setup was: trot in, placing pole, crossrail, canter one stride, vertical, canter one stride, oxer.

Trot pole - crossrail - 1 stride - vertical - 1 stride - oxer

Trot pole – crossrail – 1 stride – vertical – 1 stride – oxer.

Tebow was super happy about life tonight and did everything with the enthusiasm of a kindergartner in a pen full of puppies. The vet came for fall shots today so everyone spent the day inside and that had the whole barn pretty wound up. The thing that I love about riding him is that even when he’s really excited and antsy, he listens so nicely. It makes him really fun to ride almost always, which I appreciate so much when the situation with Domino is as decidedly un-fun as it has been for the past ten months. Anyways. If left to his own devices, Tebow will cruise on a totally downhill, flat, 13’+ stride canter. Even when he’s cantering nicely, his stride is still longer than the standard 12′. But when we compete they won’t change the courses for us (damn), so we mostly practice on the 12′ stride, and that’s what we did tonight. The first few times over just the placing pole and crossrail were exciting. I felt like he was in the air forever, even though I was with him when he took off. But by the landing I was like, “Seriously, I’m really not sitting back up again yet?” I asked my trainer what was happening and she explained that because his stride is long and it’s still hard for him to get his hind end beneath himself, he sort of has to launch to get a good spot when we ask him to jump from a shorter stride. It’ll improve with experience and strength, and it’s apparently a pretty normal “large green horse” thing. It was weird for me to stick with because Domino has a very flat, easy, out-of-stride jump that is exceptionally comfortable and smooth. If you want to jump a course and look like you have pretty, effortless equitation, Domino is your guy. I haven’t ridden a horse with this type of rounder or scopier “back-cracking” jump style for a long time. Anyways, we did it a few times until my feel in the air got reasonably decent and I stopped landing too early, and Tebow settled down while I figured that out. We added the vertical without any issues, then added the oxer. Having the stride set a little short for him was actually really helpful because it got him to back off a little without me having to argue with him about it. He was having some issues staying straight and twisting in the air – not surprising because he still isn’t super strong or balanced yet – so I had to work on compensating for that proactively. He’s not consistently “point-and-shoot AA made hunter” straight to the center of the fence, but my trainer explained how to help him not look like, “Who brought their horse to this exhibitors’ wine tasting…?” So that’s a step in the right direction! Finally my trainer dropped the oxer a hole or two, but made it very wide and placed a rail over the top of it to help Tebow see it was an oxer and not a bounce. The big difference for Tebow when we (hopefully) start moving up the levels won’t be the increase in height as much as it is the increase in width. Height is pretty irrelevant for him until we start talking about really high fences (4’+), which I won’t be for a while (or ever).

This thing is rather wide.

This thing is quite wide.

Tebow loves jumping too much. He was like, “Too easy, too easy, I can do it, yaaaay!” After doing it twice to confirm the first successful attempt wasn’t a fluke, we stopped on that note. It’s so nice to finish a ride with a horse who feels deservedly proud of himself. Our homework is to start doing bounces. A lot. Often. Keep it low but set up several fences. This should help him build strength so he can stay straighter (and help his canter quality on the flat). She also suggested using guide rails to help him stay straight even when no one’s around to tell me to keep him straight, which I’ll definitely be doing – an ounce of prevention and all that good stuff.

Yes - he is still super cute, too.

Yes – he is still super cute, too.