Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Great first show at the Capistrano International Dressage

Today (Tuesday) we had a nice rest day after a super successful first show here in San Juan Capistrano! The boys were excellent over the weekend for where they're at; Victor made a very successful debut at Intermediare II and Grand Prix, scoring in the mid to upper 60s in all three of his tests. I was thrilled to have such a strong showing in his debut at the top level! Majek also had a good debut in the new Intermediare A and B tests, and although he had some issues with his piaffe (which is a known problem, so no surprise there), he showed some great work in the other elements of the tests and scored consistently 62% throughout the weekend.

R Cessna started with solid but conservative tests at second level, scoring in the mid 60s. As the weekend progressed I upped the expectations and degree of expression in my tests and we finished the show with two solid near 70% rides (one in front of FEI "O" judge Stephen Clarke). I've been very happy with how well he's handling the atmosphere down here and how good his focus has been. Betsy and Gentleman had several rides that scored in the mid 60s, but some tension and spooking interfered with her other rides. By the end of the weekend she had a better handle on how to ride Gentleman through his spooking and finished with a well-ridden (if not easy) test that scored 64%.

Today I dropped Lana off at the airport and picked up Paula, my substitute groom while Lana is away in France. Afterwards we explored downtown San Juan Capistrano, which was interesting despite being grey and drizzly. After lunch and a nap I did the extra exciting chore of doing laundry. We've also taken the boys for walks throughout the day, and they've been quite spicy since all the hunter/jumper riders have been arriving and the show grounds have gotten significantly more busy!

Tomorrow I will take a couple lessons from Leslie on the boys and hopefully we can get a handle on some of the issues from the weekend's competition. I'd specifically like to get some ideas on how to improve Majek's piaffe and Victor's pirouettes, in addition to the usual suppleness and throughness problems both horses have. The next show starts Friday, so we have a couple of schooling days to prepare. I'm hoping to be able to watch more of the competition next weekend, as last weekend I was a little nervous about debuting these new tests (and trying to get them memorized!!) to watch much.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lessons with Leslie Continued

Yesterday and today I rode both boys with Leslie. We're starting to gear up for the shows (Lana and I drive over to the show grounds tomorrow AM) so we looked at some elements out of the tests. Leslie has a great way of being very quiet, and seemingly low-pressure, yet having very high standards for reaction and execution and not letting you fudge ANYTHING. Particularly today we pushed on both horses much harder, and I really appreciated how she approached Majek's issues (as Majek can have meltdowns if you don't have the right approach, whereas Victor tolerates it much better).
He wants me to warm Majek up low in the neck and do some transitions within the trot to get him better in the contact. She also has me intersperse shoulder-in and haunches-in (also haunches-in on the diagonal, with increase in tempo in the trot) for my warm up, to really work on his bending and suppleness.

We also worked to get the left lead canter better in the back and more through from behind, as he tends to want to "stand on his toes" when I try to make him shorter. So we did some transitions from a slower, pirouette canter forward without creating more speed. I had to think to ride his hind legs bigger as I went forward, not just let him speed up and dump on his forehand. Then we carried that into the half-passes. From there we looked at the canter zig-zag from the Intermediare B and dealt with a bending issue on the right half-pass. If he didn't bend in the right half-pass, she wanted me to ride straight forward in shoulder-in right and bend him quite a lot. Then he wanted to either back off or throw his haunches right, so I had to fix that. It took several repetitions but that half-pass felt much better after we got it sorted out.

I also wanted to look at the trot half-pass to walk to half-steps sequence out of the Intermediare B. She wanted more power in the trot work generally, and had me really push the extensions ("ride a full-blown extension...that's not an extension, he's just floating and his hind legs aren't even reaching under his belly...more than that!! More!! Even if he takes a funny step!"). I felt the difference between a 6 or maybe a 7 and an 8 today. :) He was so much better in the contact and over the back today, so I could really push it and I didn't have the rhythm bobbles that I sommetimes have
The half-steps were good, he travels too much forward but the rhythm was actually pretty good. As a exercise she had me do some trot-halt-trot transitions, thinking half-steps into the halt so he stays thinking forward with his hind legs into the halt. It got a little dicey when he started to quit, and she wanted me to get after him (I felt him think about his usual melt-down), but he went kept trying.

With Victor she wants me to start with a flatter, quicker trot with a low neck for his warm-up. We also did some of the shoulder-in and haunches-in in the warm-up, and she wanted me to start dealing with the left bending issue that I have in the canter half-passes, because it is a more general bending issue. She had me do an interested exercise riding forward and back in the trot, but much rounder than I normally do and going back towards a "jog trot" which is like half-steps only more forward. Also she wanted me to keep more contact during the half-steps and supple him a little within it (Victor likes to come backwards from the contact and then quit if you try to make any corrections with the reins). After a few repetitions of that exercise he felt much more adjustable in the trot.

We carried that into some of the piaffe/passage sequences from the Grand Prix test, and they were much improved because his ridability was much improved. We also touched on the GP zig-zag again (which we'd worked on quite a bit yesterday, owing to the difficult left bending problem) and it was MUCH improved. For the test she recommended that I ride the right half-pass a little less sideways, since that evens it out with the left side (where he doesn't tend to move sideways very easily). Also I have to be careful to ride it a little more collected, not too fast.

Today Lana and I met Barb and Betsy and their two horses at the show grounds. They had a very smooth trip down from Boise over the last couple days and were relieved to have finally arrived (boy do I know that feeling!!). We found their stalls and helped them unload. I'll take my boys over to San Juan tomorrow late morning after I get Majek's shoe fixed (looks like he slightly sprung it today). Thankfully Victor's hives looked like they resolved (I gave him Dex Monday and Tuesday to make sure) as he looked totally normal today. The show looks to be big and well-attended by the big So Cal riders. Looking forward to it!!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Relaxing day in So Cal

We decided to get up early this morning and get the boys done before it got too hot. Luckily we had a little front go through today, so although it was a little windy, the temperatures only reached 80 or so. It felt surprisingly cool, after yesterday's high of 95. Just goes to show you how relative temperature is.

Both horses warmed up much better than yesterday, more supple and better through the body. Particularly Victor felt much better! I worked on some of the same exercises Leslie had me do yesterday, with varying levels of success. I tend to be too casual and not address issues quickly enough, as Leslie pointed out when I was cantering around without doing enough tempo changes in the gait. Transitions, transitions, transitions! I also had Lana video me riding just a little, and I could definitely see that I don't do enough changes within the gait.

Victor had a couple of small swellings on his sides up high under the saddle pad. They were pretty small, but he had a similar flare-up of hives a month ago that started very small and then became a bigger problem, so I decided to give him some dex today and likely tomorrow as well. I want to get that nipped in the bud now, before it becomes a big issue. Grrr. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it improves tomorrow. Last time he had this problem I didn't ride him for a week, but that's low on the list of options right now.

Otherwise we spent the afternoon napping and then hit the grocery store after checking on the boys again in the evening. I made dinner with some frozen chicken burrito filling I had made in Idaho before I left, then made fresh pico de gallo and guacamole to go with it and stuffed it all in a couple corn tortillas with a little cheese. It was great and earned rave reviews from Lana!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

First Lessons with Leslie, or Damn, It's Hot Here!

We got started early this morning as the high was supposed to top 90 degrees. I'm trying very hard not to complain about the heat but it got harder today. My first lesson was set for 7:30am with Majek (I figured he needed to get worked first to get some of that energy out), then she would ride a couple horses, then we'd do Victor mid-morning about 10. Both horses are stabled at a barn up the road (and up the hill) from W Farms, so we had to do a little hike down the hill and down the road to get to W Farms, where we tacked up the boys and I rode in their arena.

The road is generally pretty quiet, despite being not far from (one of many) major shopping centers in Chino Hills. So that means not too many cars, but we did get treated to joggers, bicyclists, and various dogs and horses hiding amongst the bushes. The area here is just jam-packed with animals and people. I did get a motorcycle passing when I was leading Victor.

Majek was pretty wild in the beginning and it took him a little while to settle down. I was thinking it may have been smart to lunge him first, but then again he tends to rip around like an idiot and often it just winds him up. Once he settled some we got to work dealing with some basic suppleness and contact problems. She had me start on a 20m circle in working trot, starting straight then going to haunches in then back to straight. It was a challenge in the beginning, as when he gets tense he holds against the outside leg and then locks up his neck. As we repeated the exercise, staying mindful to keep the same trot stride and ride him a bit lower in the neck and get him more supple on the inside rein, he started to relax and become more ridable. The interesting thing about her exercises with Majek is that she wanted to go in and out of straight, so restart the haunches-in again and again. Later we did something similar with shoulder-in, and reminded me to keep my outside leg on (particularly on left rein) so he had to bend and not just throw his haunches out in leg yield.

She also wanted the canter a little more strongly forward and ground covering, and had me do an interesting exercise going shoulder-in down the long side, then half-pass across the short diagonal, to counter canter on a big circle, then a flying change and repeat the exercise on the opposite side. By the end he was very good and felt much more supple in the body (and less explosive LOL).

By the time I got going with Victor it was getting pretty warm out. We started with some basic walk-trot-walk transitions, which are a little challenging on Victor anyway because of the size of his gaits and his slightly slow hind leg. She wanted him much lower in the neck as well, and particularly wanted me to keep him lower and more supple on the left rein where he tends to block. She felt that Victor tends to get too high and bracing (which is true), and rather than thinking of it as a laziness in the hind leg (which is what I tend to do), to think of it more as a suppleness issue over the back. I'm constantly trying to make him quicker or get him more on the leg, but she felt that he tended to just climb and brace more when I do that. She wanted to see that I could ride his trot flatter and shorter ("pony trot") to work on the suppleness issues instead of riding him so big all the time.

Even in the walk she wanted me to connect him lower in the neck on both reins and not let him bounce on and off the contact (which he loves to do), then if he blocks or stops, to deal with that rather than putting a bandaid on it. That alone improved his overall acceptance of the contact and once he accepted that he felt much better on the leg (also the walk-trot-walk transitions worked much more easily). Then we moved to the same canter exercise as she had me do with Majek. We started with dealing with some suppleness issues in the canter on the 20m circle, and she also wanted the canter much more strongly forward and ground covering (more so than I normally ride it). I particularly had to get him better off the left leg in the half-pass/counter canter exercise.

We finished the ride with a little bit of piaffe and passage work. The passage she thought looked good, again, just needed to be a little lower in the neck. Overall though he felt much more active on his own after the previous work. In the piaffe Victor wants to pedestal (bring his front legs too far backwards), so she wanted me to ride the piaffe slightly more forward. That was a little bit of a challenge, as he wanted to go passage every time I tried to ride forward. We worked through that, and also worked on getting a little better suppleness on the right rein, because he tended to block on the right hind leg in the piaffe. When I tried to deal with that, he wanted to stop but she didn't think that was a big deal. She advised me to just keep working on the right rein suppleness and restart the piaffe. Overall he felt much more active and willing though, which was nice!

Thankfully we were done by 11am and by then it was already 85 degrees out! Tomorrow no lessons, so I will ride on my own in the morning and work on some of these ideas. I liked the feel I had with both horses by the end of my lessons, Majek became much more ridable and less rigid, while Victor became much rounder over the back and more active on his own. I'll do another couple lessons with Leslie Tuesday afternoon; it's supposed to cool off a little by then. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Made it to Southern California!

Lana and I had a SUPER easy drive to Southern California this time. Sunny, clear, and temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees the entire way. I decided to split up the trip this time, as the prospect of driving 15 hours straight is never appealing and gets less and less appealing each time I do it. So after our first leg of about 11 hours, we overnighted in Bishop, a cute little resort town situated in a valley at the base of the Sierra Nevada. I stayed in the trailer near the horses and got Lana a hotel room. It was cold overnight (mid to upper 30s) but I had anticipated that and brought 6 or 7 blankets, so I stayed pretty warm.

After yesterday's final 4 hour drive, we arrived in the early afternoon and today we handwalked the boys twice so they could settle in and stretch their legs. The boys both traveled very well and settled in relatively quickly to their temporary digs here in Chino Hills, where we will be staying until we travel to the San Juan showgrounds later next week.

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to be taking some lessons from Leslie Reid. I'm looking forward to getting the help from such an experienced top-level trainer and Olympic competitor, whom I'd admired for many years! The boys have a lot of energy from being pent-up for several days (despite the travel being a little tiring), so hopefully they behave themselves!

Today it almost made 90 degrees here and I think it's supposed to be about the same tomorrow. I'm trying not to complain about it being too hot, especially coming out of our Northwest winter!