Great Plains Dressage Show

On Saturday, I accompanied Richal, her sister H., and Audrey to a recognized dressage show hosted by the Great Plains Chapter of the Oklahoma Dressage Society. Richal and her sister were competed; Audrey and I were acting as grooms.

It was a fun time, especially since they had late ride times- that meant we got to leave the barn at 10 AM. That’s way better than the crack of dawn! The drive to the show grounds in Stillwater took about two hours; it was an uneventful trip except for H.’s horse Woody inexplicably falling down in the trailer. (How he did this, we don’t know, as he was tied up in a slant load.)

We unloaded at the show grounds and set up our area and got to work. Audrey’s an amazing braider and quickly started on Woody, who was throwing his head around like a total doofus.

Woody getting his hair did.
MOAR COOKIEZ PLZ

After braiding, it was off to warm up. It had rained most of the previous night and morning; the warm up was in a big outdoor arena that was absolutely flooded. Richal and H. warmed up in schooling pads and schooling breeches (in H.’s case, sweatpants over her white breeches). 

Woody and H. in the slop.
Richal and Diamante working that trot. 
Audrey and I spent half an hour scrubbing the horses’ legs, girths, and bridles clean while Richal and H. changed in to show gear. Then it was off for their First Level tests.

Woody knows how to halt at X. Good job, Woody!

Both horses (and riders) put in lovely tests with quiet transitions, soft acceptance of contact, and good lateral work. H. scored a very respectable 67% for a first place in the amateur division. I can’t recall Richal’s score, but it was good enough to merit a second place in the open division. 

We had a bit of a break until their Training Level tests, so we sat around and ate snacks and gossiped about who’s riding what and how that’s going. The show was running a little ahead of schedule (thank god for small mercies), so both Richal and H. were off their horses by 6 PM. 
Good trotting, Diamonte! 

On the Training Level test, Woody didn’t have much gas left in the tank (I guess it was falling down in the trailer, spazzing out while being braiding, and doing First Level) and didn’t score particularly well, but Diamante was excellent, scoring a 66% and winning the open division. 

We loaded up the horses, grabbed some Taco Bueno, and got back to the barn around 10 PM. I was exhausted (even though I didn’t feel like I’d done anything) and slept like the dead once I got home.
 Richal, H., and Audrey aren’t bad for a bunch of dressage queens, but I gotta say that dressage shows are way less exciting than the dressage phase of an event. I mean, I didn’t even see a horse jump out of the warm up ring once! Disappointing.

Dressage lesson

I was so pleased to have an dressage lesson this morning with my friend (and trainer) Anne. Anne is very modest about her dressage skills and ability to instruct effectively, but trust me when I say she is phenomenal. Plus, Anne and I are like…totally BFFs, which makes it even more fun when I can snag her for a lesson.

It’s been months since my last lesson, and I knew that I needed one. Ideally, I’d love to ride with Anne every freaking day (which I did, just about, when our horses were boarded at the same place), but between our schedules, we just hadn’t been able to make a regular lesson time work.

So Anne came out this morning and I hopped on Princess Pony and went to work. Now, I’ve been working very hard with Gina on our flatwork; I think Gina has improved immensely, and I feel like my riding is better. Riding a variety of horses has helped; becoming fitter has helped. But I was struggling with dreadful canter transitions and felt tense and stiff, but couldn’t really figure out how to correct myself.

It’s so helpful to have someone on the ground: Anne was immediately able to spot the problem. My right shoulder rolls forward, which puts me off balance. I have a difficult time tucking my seat underneath me in my jumping saddle, which makes it harder to apply my leg aids effectively. And at the canter, I become very tense, stiffen my hands and wrists, and don’t give Gina an opportunity to relax.

Anne’s solution to the seat problem was sitting trot, which on Gina is close to torturous. Gina’s trot is big, floaty, and bouncy. I felt like I was slithering all over the saddle, killing my horse’s back, and looking truly hideous. Anne insisted it was an improvement. Canter departures from the sitting trot were much better than from posting. Gina really stepped up into the canter and didn’t fly around off balance with her head in the air. Success!

My most important takeaway from today’s lesson was this: don’t push too hard. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, all the time, immediately. If Gina and I do half a 20-meter circle of quality canter, take it. Don’t let it fall apart, and canter around and around until perfection is regained. Take the half circle of good work, and try to make a whole circle next time. I sometimes get so hung up on having everything just so that Gina and I end up tense, frustrated, and unproductive.

It felt good to have a pleasant, productive lesson- but more importantly, I was ecstatic to spend time with my friend!

Dressage happens, fat leg returns

Are those neck muscles I see?

Both horses were in stalls yesterday when I got to the barn; they’d finished their breakfasts and had yet to be turned out. I opted to ride Moe first, because I love him more. I always forget what a huge mistake that is; I have a lot of trouble going from Moe to Gina (but very little trouble going from Gina to Moe). I chalk it up to the major differences in their movement styles: Gina is a larger horse with longer strides and more extravagant (read: bouncy) movement. Moe is a flatter, quieter mover with smooth gaits.

Moe put in some excellent canter work; I dropped my stirrups for a grand total of six minutes of canter work and I think that made all the difference. You see, I don’t own a dressage saddle. My only saddle is an Ainsley ProNational XC saddle. It puts me in a very forward position and is superb for jumping. It fits every horse I’ve ever put it on. It’s comfortable. It’s in wonderful condition. However, its list of virtues does not include being very good for dressage work.

I used to borrow my friend and trainer Anne’s Passier dressage saddle when we were at the same barn; unfortunately, we aren’t at the same barn any more and Anne needs her saddle to ride in. I’m saving up to buy a dressage saddle, but at the moment, I’m stuck in the Ainsley and making the best of it.

I digress.

Dropping my stirrups forced me to sit up straighter and allowed my leg to hang down underneath me. Moe really rounded through his back and stayed soft and light in the bridle. I could have jumped for joy. Our transitions still need work, and I think I’m going to have to get my nubby little spurs out; Mr. 800-meters-per-minute-over-fences is very sluggish in the dressage ring.

After hosing Moe off, I took Gina out of her stall and was not pleased to see that fat leg had returned. It’s still the left hind, still cool to the touch, and Gina still isn’t lame. I went ahead and rode her- she felt totally fine. Fine enough, in fact, to pitch a conniption fit over three ground poles I had in the middle of our dressage area. While we were warming up by walking on a loose rein, I steered her to the poles. She stopped, snorted, backed up, tried to spin away, and generally acted like a brat. What the hell, Gina? You were jumping these a week ago!

Gina got over her ground pole phobia eventually and we went on to have a decent 45 minutes of walk-trot-canter work. I cooled her out and reexamined fat leg. It was still fat, still cool, and she didn’t seem to mind me touching it. I sprayed her off, hosed the stupid leg for ten minutes, and turned her out.

I’m still stumped about what’s causing the leg to blow up. The internet isn’t being particularly helpful on this. Any suggestions?

Dressage with a dog

After ignoring me for a week and a half, Gina was sure happy to see me this afternoon. I loaded my pockets down with granola bars, shouted “MOE! GINA!” into the pasture, and was rewarded with the sight of my two ponies (and their elderly Arabian friend) galloping toward me. While Moe’s always come ambling up at the sound of his name, this is new for Gina. Whatever, I like it!

I settled Princess Pony in the cross ties and proceeded to talk for what felt like an hour with the barn manager; we were mostly talking feed regimes and adjusting my horses’ to better reflect their workload and age. Gina stood quietly, for the most part, until I ducked in the tack room to grab her bridle. I heard an awful racket and heard the barn manager saying “Easy, easy!”

Apparently, Gina had taken it upon herself to rear up in the cross ties totally unprompted. She miraculously managed to not smash into a light bulb or otherwise electrocute/injure herself. She stood totally still after that, as if she’d frightened herself. What a freak.

We were having the loveliest, softest, best dressage school when a dog appeared out of nowhere. It ran up to Gina, weaving between her legs and under her belly, dropping behind to nip at her heels, and at one point, jumped up her side to try and sniff my foot. Gina took it like a champ, albeit an irritated one. She shimmied away from the dog, gave a half-hearted kick at it, and otherwise ignored it as best she could. We tried to continue on, but the dog was too disruptive. (I mean, have you ever tried to trot with a dog leaping up your horse’s side? Yikes.) I dismounted, walked Gina and the dog back to the barn, and locked it in a stall with a full water bucket on the ground. The dog was not thrilled and spent the next half-hour whining pitifully.

HERRO, Y U LOCK ME IN STALL??

Gina continued to be a freaking dressage boss, and when we were finished, we headed back to the barn to see our new dog friend. Gina was not putting up with the dog’s shenanigans; as soon as I’d unbridled her, she promptly escorted herself into an empty stall and waited for me to finish untacking her. She laid her ears back and bared her teeth at the dog, who totally did not get the message and ran around underneath her anyway.

“Are you going to do something about this?”

The dog had a collar on, but no ID tags anywhere. She was super friendly, totally ignorant of how to behave around horses, and was obviously well fed and cared for. Except, you know, for the whole no ID thing. 

I checked with the barn manager, who said he’d run the dog off the property yesterday. Our best guess is that she escaped from the apartment complex across the street- barn manager was planning to check with the office manager of the complex to see if anyone had reported a dog missing. I hope she finds her people! 
Gina had a well-deserved roll after I rinsed her off, totally undoing all the hard work I’d put into removing the clods of mud she’d coated herself in.
Ungrateful creature.

Cloudy Day Capers

Since it was above freezing and not precipitating, I rode yesterday. I caught Moe and decided there’s no time like the present to find out if he crossties.

Moe is such a good sport. I can’t ever recall putting him in crossties at any point in the last 11 years, but he was totally fine with them. (Unlike Gina, who once flipped over backwards.)
I saddled him up and set out for the front riding area; since our last two rides in the field have been full of distractions, I opted for a quiet dressage school.
He was super. The hitch in his hind end that I noticed last year is totally gone. He’s moving fluidly without any hesitation or stiffness. I’m glad, because I’m too cheap to put him on supplements again and I am definitely not injecting an elderly, semi-retired-mostly-pasture-pet.
Dressage has never been a strength, but after a solid 18 months of dressage-only work with Anne on Gina, Colt, and occasionally Atut, my riding has vastly improved. It’s led to better results from Moe. Yesterday, he was round, soft, and supple. He had a few llama moments where he flailed around with his head up at the trot, but once I reminded myself to sit up, put my shoulders back, and lift my hands, he came right back to looking like a horse.
Years ago at a Pony Club camp, I was in a dressage lesson frantically trying to slow my horse down as we were schooling our test for an upcoming event. I was convinced we wouldn’t score well because we were going so damn fast. The instructor (whose name I can’t remember) told me something I’ve never forgotten: dressage isn’t about slow. This made zero sense to my teenage brain, but as I’ve committed more time to learning how to ride dressage and viewed it as its own thing (instead of something to get through before the fun parts of eventing), I think I understand what she meant. It was pretty much my mantra for yesterday, as Moe was really putting some effort into his working trot! 
He tired pretty quickly (because he is old and fat), so I quit while we were ahead and walked him around the front part of the property for a while.
What up 51st Street!

And then I saw a branch.

It doesn’t look like much, especially from a horse’s back, but the high part of that thing was a legit 18″. So I did what any sensible person would do and pointed my horse at it. 
He did what a sensible horse would do: cantered up to it, jumped as if it were a solid 3′ wall, and galloped merrily away.
After a brief discussion of what “WHOA” truly means, I cooled him out, and we headed back to the barn. I left him in the aisle while I grabbed some treats.

I think that might be my favorite thing about Moe. He’s totally trustworthy. He’ll stand and wait patiently, untied, while I rummage around in a tack box for the better part of five minutes.
It looks like we may finally be over the winter weather, so I’m heading out tomorrow for some conditioning work. Which means walk and trot sets. Which means I’d better bring headphones.