Monday, April 25, 2011

Success Is 90% Perspiration....

Dante and I definitely put out some perspiration this past weekend at Holly Hill. After dropping into the fifties in Dallas early in the week, we were definitely a bit wilted in the 90 degree temperatures in Louisiana. It was intensely gorgeous all weekend, with blue skies and fluffy clouds, and while it was hot, breezes kept it from being unbearable. I broke out the shorts after my rides, attempting to get rid of the completely white legs that we riders always seem to have.

(The trailer leaves Gold Chip.)

We left Gold Chip around noon where is was about 55 degrees and drizzling. I arrived at Holly Hill at four. Dante arrived around five and I got on to have a pre-competition dressage ride. Dante was a little stiff on the grass at first, but he loosened up and I got some good work out of him. He felt very relaxed, which was great, even walking to and from the arena where he often gets excited. I'm hoping this will carry over to Jersey.

The next day, we had dressage at 1:30. It was quite warm, and while Dante seemed largely unaffected, it definitely made me tired quicker. I often have a hard time transitioning to the heat (needing water, Gatorade, feeling woozy) when it turns to summer, and well, Texas surprisingly hasn't made the transition yet this year. I was definitely tired after a few minutes of sitting trot, when at home I had been able to do a full 30-45 minutes no problem. The black coat doesn't help!

I was much happier with our dressage test here than at Poplar. Dante was very relaxed, although he did get a little tense when he became scared of the photographer (who was simply sitting mildly close to the ring). Really Dante? It's a MAN. A sitting man. You see those all the time! Definitely is a facepalm moment. Luckily, I had time to circle (although he promptly spooked at the photographer AGAIN), and he mostly relaxed again before going in the ring.

I was pretty pleased with Dante's test for the most part. I completely botched the second medium trot by asking Dante out of the corner instead of waiting until he was straight, and he broke pretty badly. We also jigged in the extended walk. However, I thought our walk to canter transitions were very good, and I managed to get a real medium walk before picking up our first canter, which I'm proud of because he usually jigs there. He did anticipate the medium canters, but he didn't grab the bit and listened when I asked for him to come back, so I felt they were good. Our halts were pretty square apparently. I can feel up front, but not behind yet, so I have to rely on witnesses. Overall, I felt it was a much better test, and definitely more relaxed, although he did get a bit tense at the very end of the test. I felt that the test was going to score under forty, so I was happy.

Well, it didn't. However, only two horses placed under forty. Everyone else was in the forties. We were in a three way tie for sixth after dressage with a 44.6. Everyone was very much upset about the scores being so high, but I couldn't get myself worked up about it except to feel bad for my barnmate who got a 50.4. According to all those watching, she really didn't deserve that score, and even though she made some mistakes, it also should have been a qualifying score. But since all of the other scores were jacked up high, she very much got the short end of the stick. Mike thought the scores were about six to eight points too high, which is quite a lot!

I walked cross country later on Friday afternoon and discovered it was exactly the same as last year when I moved up. While I was initially disappointed, I was glad to have a second crack at those stupid stumps! There's a line that's made up of a big tree stump, then three strides bending left to a large narrow log with a deceivingly large drop on the back side. Last year, Jessica and I actually schooled this question right before Poplar and Dante was fabulous through them. At the event, our first Intermediate, I didn't quite get Dante back enough from the gallop before hand, got him a little deep to the stump, and he couldn't quite get his legs out of the way in time. He hung a leg and we almost ate it on the backside so we had to circle before the B element. So this year I was happy to have another attempt.

Cross country on Saturday was fabulous. Dante was very jazzed up in warm up. We were in the startbox and the starter said "5...4....3...2...1...HOLD!" Poor Dante was soooo confused, he was ready to leap forward and instead I forced him out the side of the box. I'm very glad they had caught me before letting me go though. We waited while they rebuilt the fence that had caused the fall (both rider and horse were fine by the way), jumped a warm up fence, and then were let out on course. Dante was excellent, but he was very confused as to why I wasn't letting him gallop at his pace (FAST) between the fences. I basically kept him on the same pace as I would have on my approach to the fence. He tackled the entire course with gusto, including the stumps. The most interesting jump we had was definitely the Weldon's Wall. Normally Dante jumps the Weldon's the same as any other fence. The one at Holly Hill is right off a sharp turn, immediately after that big drop from the stumps. It's hard to get the right gallopy pace coming up to the Weldon's. Dante started backing off a bit, and I got an off spot to the fence, so I thought he was going to chip, since that's what most horses do with Weldon's Walls. So I sat back and prepared for the chip. And Dante took off, and cleared the whole damn thing, untrimmed brush and all. I almost fell off on the back side, I was so surprised. I'm sure he was like "Hello, are you awake up there?!?" Luckily, the rest of the course we were totally in sync, and though slow, it was an intentional slow, as I'm saving his big run for Jersey. We came in exactly thirty seconds slow, on a course that is notoriously very tight on time (i.e. no one ever makes it).

I iced him twice and tried to walk him, but he was much more interested in grazing than walking. Then he proceeded to spook hard several times at one of the vendor's tents, so I knew he had tons of energy later. I think putting him on beet pulp was a great idea. His weight is up, his energy up, and he's not ridiculously spooky. Mostly. He has a redhead moment every now and then, but most fit horses do! I actually like that, as it shows he's still full of energy after cross country.

(Dante looking super shiny and completely uninterested in posing.)

(Gold Chip gathering between Heather's trailer and the Fletchers' Big Bertha.)

The next morning we show jumped early in the morning. I've got to say I love many things about Holly Hill. The tiny stadium ring is not one of them. Even Mike's ring is bigger, and I think Mike has a pretty small ring. The stadium courses always seem a bit wonky to me too, but I think much of that is because of the tiny ring. I would LOVE to see them make a change and put the Sunday show jumping in the large grass ring that they use for dressage on Friday and Saturday. Greenwood does this, and it works great. The problem I find with the tiny ring is that it's hard to make tight turn after tight turn to these jumps with no let up and no chance to find the correct pace before the jump. For instance, we started with a line across the diagonal, tight turn right to an oxer on the end of the arena, tight turn right to an oxer on the beginning of the next long side, bending right six strides to a one stride double across the diagonal, rollback left to a vertical on the opposite diagonal, bending line to a liverpool, around the short end (which might as well be a rollback), a triple combination across the diagonal and bending right six strides to a skinny (which buried you in the corner), sharp right turn to an oxer on the end, and then another right turn to a final oxer on the other long side.

So yeah, a LOT of tight turns. And Dante was a wild man in the ring. He was fabulous in warm up, but the warm up was a lot bigger. In the ring, I just couldn't see my distance every time, and missed quite badly, burying us on both oxers at the ends of the rings, the vertical off the rollback, and missed mildly coming into the triple combination. Of course, Dante jumps out of his skin and saves us each time, but has a rail by brushing the first of the triple combination. I was initially very concerned about how not well I rode, but the more I thought about it, the more I think it was a product of the tiny ring. Obviously I need to get better, but I think I need to make a mental adjustment in my riding if the ring is small. Dante needs a good pace to jump Intermediate show jumps, and I need to make sure he maintains that pace through the turns in these small rings, as well doesn't cut corners. Luckily Jersey will be show jumping in a large ring, and I believe I will be much better in there. The course did prove to be tough, as only one horse (one of the most careful jumpers of the group) jumped clear.

We finished up fourth, which I was pretty pleased with, considering we went so slow and had a rail. I wouldn't have finished higher than fourth without the rail, but would have finished first with no time on cross country.

In any case, I really think we did some good practice at Holly Hill this weekend. My goals for this week is to basically maintain what we have. Mike and Heather will both be at Rolex all week, so I'm on my own. I plan on riding mostly in the afternoon to get us (especially me) used to some heat. I'm easing off the lateral work to make sure he maintains his soundness through the next three weeks. We've had some monster thunderstorms yesterday and today, so I have hopes that the field will be good to gallop on Sunday. If not, we'll go to the track.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Hard Day's Night

These last two weeks I have been busy, busy, busy. School is wrapping up, with only 3 weeks and then finals week. This means all the professors are cramming in their finals tests, panicking over the amount of material they have yet to cover, assigning homework like it's candy, and trying to wrap up final projects that are due. Most of my teachers are pretty cool, but I have one professor who is slowly morphing into Cruella deVille as we get closer to the end of the semester.

Needless to say, she has gotten under my skin.

So these days, instead of spending my free time out at the barn, watching lessons, bathing Dante, and organizing show stuff, I am confined to my house, studying and doing homework.

I did all the normal things last week with Dante, jump lesson on Tues and Sat, trot sets on Thursday, and dressage on Wed and Fri. Wednesday he was very heavy and low, but I think a major part of that was because of my 'realization' about my hands, which turned out to be a bit wrong. It turned out to be wrong because while Dante was definitely very steady, he was also incredibly heavy, down hill, and behind the vertical. Oops. We spent Thursday trot sets practicing uphill trot and presented a much improved frame to Mike on Friday, which carried over into today.

(Zurich and Dante hang out on the Game Readys while Maisie stands in ice boots.)

Sunday morning we went to the track (after a bit of fail on my part including a late evening text, a bit of drinking about an hour from my house, a friend's couch, and an unknown, completely unreliable alarm on my cell phone) and Dante felt great. Mike rode Maisie, and we galloped together, which is great. When Dante gallops against a TB who is also competitive, then we tend to get into a battle of wills. But Maisie is pretty laid back and has no problem running slightly behind. Both horses galloped quite well, and I'm feeling confident about Dante's fitness.

On another note, here's the XC video from Poplar. I'm really proud of how Dante rode the course. Upon watching the video, I wonder if maybe I shouldn't have gone for five strides instead of six, but since it was so downhill, I don't mind that we patted the ground first. And he's also obviously a little wiggly through the huts on an angle, but we've practiced that since, so hopefully he gets it now.

14-Maggie Deatrick-Divine Comedy-CIC2-XC-26Mar11 from CatchRide LLC on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Progress Report

Since Poplar, Dante and I have been getting back in the groove. The first week, we didn't jump, just did trot sets, flat work, and then galloped on Sunday.

This week, we were back to our full schedule. Dante jumped and did a 1 x 25 trot set on Tuesday and did dressage on Wednesday, both of which were okay. Then, Thursday we did a 2 x 25 trot set, which was extremely boring, but we worked on some lateral work during the trot sets, and went up and down the tiny hill in the field.

Friday we jumped again, and Dante was quite wonderful. He's come a long way from the horse who was a bit of a nutball in show jumping. It used to be very difficult to have a calm, thinking horse between the jumps in the ring. Dante liked to rush to and away the jumps, canter in a teacup instead of half halting, and generally all I could do was guide his path and try and get out of his way over the fence. Luckily, he jumped clear, even while doing this, at prelim. In 2010, he matured a bit, and I was able to ride him between the fences. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that, so I had a lot of rails trying to be calm when I actually needed more pace. This year, I've been trying to learn to actually ride my now ride-able horse. It's been a big adjustment for me, like going from a motorbike to a Porsche. Cross country he's the same horse, but show jumping he has improved leaps and bounds, so now it's my turn to improve for him.

So on Friday, we really worked on my pace coming out of a turn, and that I should balance up just as we came out of the turn, then be able to send him a little to the jump, instead of continuously trying to balance him all the way up to the jump. I seemed to be getting it by the end, and then we went into the field and did a 1 x 25 trot set. Again, I worked on some lateral work. I think it helps Dante a lot when trying to understand exactly where I want his body during lateral movements to use a jump saddle and his jump bit. I concentrated on shoulder in left and half pass each direction, both of which improved quite a bit.

On Saturday, I decided to begin a new philosophy in regards to dressage. I was watching videos from the Fork, and Jessica Phoenix's video on Exploring caught my eye. (Or Exponential? One of them.) I saw that the horse, while very nice, didn't have super spectacular movement, rather like Dante. However, Jessica Phoenix was extremely steady with her hands and the horse seemed to be very steady in his frame as a result. I decided that I would set my hands and my body and remain steady, using my legs ONLY to communicate to Dante that I wanted him to remain steady in his frame.

Well, it worked extremely well. Occasionally my hands wandered slightly, but for the most part they remained much steadier than before. And surprise, surprise, so did Dante! He was super through and steady, we did lots of trot and canter work, doing transitions both within the gaits and between the gaits. And then we started some lateral work, and it was significantly better. Shoulder in left was much more obedient, shoulder in right had more angle, both haunches in had more angle and were more relaxed as well. So after that, I decided to try some half pass. I began at the canter, and started with half pass to the right. Dante was a bit squiggly with this one, trying to lead with his haunches at first, then straightening out too much when I tried to correct it. We came around and tried it again, and it was a lot better. There is definitely a lot more lateral motion than when I last tried it last summer.

Next, we tried half pass canter to the left, and it was very nice! Positioning of the shoulders slightly ahead of the haunches, bend to the left, and plenty of lateral jump. It felt really, really good. We then did half pass at the trot both directions, and they both felt excellent. I was very proud of Dante, and was even tempted to attempt some lead changes, but decided to hold off until after Jersey Fresh. Dante knows how to do changes very well, and I always do them in warm up for jumping. I've gotten him to the point that he will not change until I ask for the change, and so we'll counter canter around the short end before I ask, so he doesn't think it's every time we change rein. He's quite good at them, but I don't want him to think he's allowed to do them under the dressage saddle yet.

(The truck and trailer hooked up to go to the track.)

This morning, Mike and I headed off to the track, Mike riding Maisie for Heather. Maisie is quite a bit larger (Irish Sporthorse, I think), and has a huge stride at the trot and at the canter. During our trot sets, Dante had to work quite hard to keep up with Maisie's huge trot. At the gallop though, he was pretty insistent that he needed to be at least a head in front of Maisie, and even though Maisie had a huge stride, Dante never tired of 'racing' her. He finished up his gallop sets fighting for rein to go faster and faster, and cooled out quite quickly. I was very pleased with him.

On a feeding note, I've changed his diet because he still seems too under weight. Dante is now getting 1 flake of alfalfa/day, 1 lb of Amplify weight gain supplement am + pm, and 6 qts of beet pulp soaked am + pm. Hopefully, we can bring up his weight before Jersey.

So hopefully, we can translate awesome Dante/Maggie over to the horse shows, particularly in the dressage and show jumping. Fingers crossed, t-minus 2 weeks until Holly Hill!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Poplar Dressage Recap

So here's the dressage video from Poplar.

14-Maggie Deatrick-Divine Comedy-CIC2-DR-25Mar11 from CatchRide LLC on Vimeo.

And here's the judge recaps, the first is from C and the second is from M.

The scores were pretty similar between the two judges. Dante was very tense, which isn't super obvious in the video, but meant I couldn't get him to bend very well to the left, and lateral work was almost nonexistent. The canter work especially I felt as if I was sitting on a firecracker, and in fact on the last medium canter, Dante grabbed the bit and ran. In the video, on the last long side towards the camera, he pricks his ears at about B, and that's when he grabbed the bit. I had to haul on his mouth to get him back. Not our best test, for sure. Our canter-walk-canter's were nonexistent, which is disappointing because they have gotten so much better at home. I slipped back into old habits of contorting my body and shoving my legs forward while my hands drop into my lap. Awesome.

I am working hard to get into shape so I can adequately perform dressage again, needless to say.