Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Product Review: Equibox Equestrian Monograms

So I've been sitting on this one a while, but like Tracy at Fly On Over I am really happy with this product and have to tell you guys about it.  (Also, I need a little more time to sort through my lesson last night, where we focused on the stretchy trot.  Deceptively difficult.)

I recently got a new CO helmet because mine was old, and in addition to that being a safety concern, it was really starting to stink.  In the literal sense.  And of course now that I was getting a new helmet I wanted a monogram for it, because monograms are the best.  Everything in my life would be monogrammed if I could get my act together to get it all embroidered.  But I digress.

First ride in the new helmet was obviously in the indoor
because it was raining and who wants to drench a new helmet on the first ride?
First off, Mallory, who started and runs Equibox, delivers really excellent customer service.  I emailed her with some nit-picky questions and I received a response within minutes.  You see, my last initial is a Q, and that letter can be printed in a number of ways, some of which look like a 2, some of which look like a popsicle, and some of which look like they're depicting something that should not be viewed by minors (Tiffany & Co, I'm looking at you.)  Mallory was happy to send me sample images of my initials so I could be sure that I liked the "Q."  She also told me that I could order the decals in Shimmer Black, which was a new color not on the website yet (it's listed there now), that looks great on tall boots.

I ended up ordering a 1.5" helmet monogram in Gloss Black and 1" tall boot monograms in Shimmer Black. With shipping ($8.13 from Canada to US) my order total was $26.13.  A very affordable splurge! They took about two weeks to arrive, as promised, and came in these cute little envelopes.  

I think it took me less than five minutes to apply them.  I didn't quite get the helmet monogram aligned straight but I don't think anyone would ever notice but me.  If that's the kind of thing that would bug you, maybe use a ruler. Mallory advised me to make sure everything was really clean before applying, so I used a face wipe (which I normally use for the inside of my helmet) to clean my helmet and some tack cleaner spray for my boots.  I pressed down really carefully and used the edge of whatever I had in my trunk to get all the air out and get it smooth before peeling the plastic back off the decal. So easy.

I have to say, I think they look awesome.  

Understated and classy.  
Just the right amount of sparkle.
And they are holding up really well.  There is a tiny edge of the "M" on one boot decal that is starting to peel in one spot after many cleanings over the past 3 months, but I think overall they will stay on.   I'm sure if you are a little more careful than me when cleaning, you won't have that problem (don't be like me).  The helmet decal seems to be on there for good.

Go order yourself some.  Seriously, here's the link.  My only regret is that I ordered a trunk decal from another company and it fell right off.  So I will have to place another order with Mallory at Equibox!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Stone Tavern Dressage: In Which We Redeem Ourselves

So, when we last left our heroes, we had just come out of the ring unscathed but rattled....

I walked Tucker down to our next ring and checked in with the ring steward for the next class because I am neurotic and still don't really believe that dressage rings run on schedule, and after confirming that I had just under an hour, I hopped off, loosened my girth, parked him in the shade and mentally rehearsed my next test.

Side note:  there is a theory of sports psychology that if you picture your performance going well, it creates the same neural pathways as though you really are practicing it, so it will improve your performance.  Amy says this: "knowing your arena and the test as a large movie in your mind's eye is very important. Visualize yourself and Tucker making the movements exactly the way you want them to be.... in detail... as you practice your test." (Isn't she great?)  

Ethan found me and we talked over the last test, I told him Tucker was being really difficult, hard to steer, ultra-sensitive to my aids, tense, explosive, etc.  We discussed that his romp may have upset his sensitive tummy and Ethan made a call to the nearby Tractor Supply to see if they had Ulcer Gard. They didn't, but I had given Tucker a dose before we left the barn so that would just have to do.  I appreciated the gesture nonetheless.  Since we had plenty of time, I brought Tucker up to the trailer and he took a long drink of water and fell asleep under a tree for a few minutes.

I climbed back on, and headed back to the warm-up.  He was content walking on a long rein, but I felt a bit at a loss as to how to prep him.  So I just said screw it, and hacked him around like he was about to go into a hunter undersaddle.  I figured at that point the day was probably already blown so at the very least if I could just get him to go in the ring and relax, that would be a win.

I got to the in-gate and realized they had waived jackets, so I pulled off my jacket and a very nice person told me to undo my collar so I wouldn't be eliminated. (Someday I will fit in. Someday. Until then I will rely upon the kindness of strangers, Blanche DuBois style.) I picked up my reins and trotted around the outside, and to my surprise, Tucker was no longer hanging on my left rein but pretty steady in both reins.  So, I sent him a little forward and hoped for the best.

We got a 7.5 on our centerline ("nice entry"), and 7's and 7.5's on our lengthening and working trot work. 8's on both leg yields, which were lovely considering he exploded every time I asked him to move over earlier in the day.  His medium walk and free walk were a 6.5, he still wasn't quite relaxed enough to stretch.  The judge said we had "precise" and "prompt" canter transitions (7's, amazing), but we got a 6.5 on his 15m circle and lengthening left because he just couldn't give me as much lengthening as usual. He was keeping a really close eye on the grandstand seating to the right of the ring, which he has always believed to be suspicious as hell. Fair enough buddy.  

His right lead canter work scored well (7, 7.5), but unfortunately when I went for the downward transition in the corner from lengthened to working canter, he broke to trot.  I don't know if we were both tired, or if he was spooking at the judge's stand, or if I let him get off balance in the lengthening (or all of those), but that mistake earned us a 4.0.  His stretchy trot was "conservative," a 6.0, which seems to be the best we've got right now in any circumstances.  And we finished with an 8.0 on our centerline and halt, which did feel nice.

Of course, I'm a perfectionist and I'm really hard on myself, so I walked out of the ring feeling like that didn't go well at all.  My 15m circles weren't as accurate as usual so I thought they wouldn't score well, and I was annoyed about breaking to trot, and I knew his canter lengthenings weren't up to the quality they can be, so I wasn't sure how they would score.  

I was a real treat to be around. let me tell you.  I felt like the whole day was a giant waste of money and I let my horse get loose and stressed him out and then expected him to perform and it didn't go well and I should probably just freaking quit showing already because the hunters were stressful and now I've managed to make dressage stressful too and this poor horse and waaaah, waaaah, waaaah.... (Poor Ethan, is all I can say.  I apologized profusely later for my generally appalling behavior.  And blaming him for my horse getting loose.  Which was clearly an accident.  I can be a real jerk sometimes.)

So in the middle of my sulking, pouting, whining, pathetic little pity party, we heard over the loud speaker:  "Results of First Level Test 2, in first place, with a score of 68.4, number 155, Marissa Quigley riding Moon River...."  Ethan and I just looked at each other open mouthed in shock.  "Did they just announce that you won?"  "Um, I think so?"  "But I thought you said it didn't go well...?"  "Well what the heck do I know!"

Good Tucker is very, very good.  Marissa could use a little adjustment in the positive attitude department.  We'll blame it on the residual stress of seeing your pride and joy go cantering off toward god-knows-where unaccompanied.  Regardless, though, now that I watched the video and read my test, I am very pleased and I have definitely stopped pouting.  I even got a 7.5 on my collective score for Rider Position & Seat.  So maybe I'm learning to sit up and sit down?  

We have 3 more shows before the end of our season, ESDCTA Championships, ECRDA Championships, and BLM Championships.  (Yep, I'm shamelessly bragging here, and I invite you to freely roll your eyes at me for it, but I qualified for those.)  We also now have enough 60+ scores to submit for a USDF Rider Achievement Award at First Level, which is not too much more impressive than a participation award, but still...  we did technically earn it.  (We also earned the first 1/3 of our bronze medal scores but I'm not publicly admitting that I'm chasing bronze yet so I won't mention that. If you get me.)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Stone Tavern Dressage: Bit of a Rough Start...

So, I made up a schedule the day before my show, as per usual.  I stuck to my schedule and left the barn 3 minutes ahead of schedule.  Not usual.  I was super proud of myself.  I should have known.

Got to the show, picked up my number, verified which rings were 1 and 3, and headed back to the trailer.  Feeling very organized, plenty of time before my first test.  Again, I should have known.

Then we dropped the ramp.  And moments later it became painfully clear to all involved that the butt bar had come undone during transport.  

Tucker stepped back, hit the end of his cross-tie, and panic-flailed until his halter broke.  I was in the front of the trailer helplessly shoe-less, in the middle of putting on my tall boots.  He backed himself down the ramp and we had a moment of eye contact as I followed him off.

Me:  "You're okay..." [inching slowly toward him]




Me:  *jog slowly behind so as not to further scare him and pray he stops before he injures himself or others*

Loudspeaker:  "Heads up in the barn area, loose horse headed your way.  Loose horse in the barn area."


Me:  *jogging and hyperventilating, relieved to see him cornered in a barn aisle*


Me: *takes lead rope from kind stranger*  

Kind stranger:  "Well at least you don't have to lunge him now!"

Me:  "Haha, yes he's all warmed up now thank you."  *quietly dying inside*


Me:  "It's okay buddy, you're okay..."  *tries to pat him*


Me:  Sigh....  

My warm-up was a hot mess.  He was a bundle of nervous energy and try as I might I could not get him to chill.  He had himself curled around my right leg like a pretzel, chin to his chest, and every time I tried to straighten him out or get him to go forward, he'd panic-flail and leap through the air like a giraffe shot with a blow dart.  I lost count of how many lead changes he did.  It was (a) embarrassing and (b) nerve-wracking.  Then a trainer started shouting at his student and Tucker stuck his tail between his legs and scooted across the warm up because he was being yelled at.  And I realized his poor little brain was just completely gone.  I moved to a quieter warm up area and thought I might be getting somewhere, but right before we went in the ring I tried to do a leg yield and he had a melt down.  

Needless to say, our first test wasn't pretty.  I told myself trotting around the ring that I was just going to be as tactful as possible to avoid him exploding, be subtle with my aids, and just be conservative.  I saw Amy do this once on a horse that gave her a huge spook just as she was heading into the ring.  So I had a little "What would Amy do?" pep talk with myself.  I remembered that Amy was very still and very quiet and gave her horse lots of little pats along the way. And I have to say, we got through it.  He felt like a twitchy powder keg and looked like he was about to stroke out, but we got through it.  

We did do a lovely line of fours in place of our one loop serpentine, unfortunately those aren't called for until Fourth Level.  Still, Tucker felt he should have been given some kind of extra credit for them.  I will say they felt like pretty damn great changes, so... there's that?

I could have predicted the comments.  "Stiff," "Tight through the back," "Needs to be more supple," "Short neck," "Overflexed," "Conservative," "Behind the vertical," "A bit tense."  We did get an 8.0 on our last halt.  Which might have been because the judge was just so happy to see we survived.  She commented "Steady ride!" on the back of my test, so I'm hoping it was clear that he was just completely on edge and I was doing the best I could not to upset him.  We ended up with a 61%, for third place out of four.  Not our best effort.  I was a little frustrated and a little worried about him... but I took him back to the trailer for some water and a break in the shade before our next test.

Which I'll tell you all about tomorrow.  Spoiler alert:

Please take me home now,
today has been super stressful I'm going to need a lot of cookies

Monday, August 17, 2015

Oops I Did It Again

Oops I did it again,
I forgot to blog, lost track of the days.
Oh baby, baby.
You think I will write, but try as I mi-iiiii-ight
I'm not that consistent.

That song will now be stuck in all of your heads all day.  You're welcome.

If it makes you feel any better, four different people in real life have texted me in the last week or so alone to tell me that they never see me and try to make plans... which I've scheduled for November. Not kidding.  So don't take it personally.  Between work being kind of crazy, and a bunch of family mandatory attendance events parties, and trying to do as much as I can on the new house, and keeping the horse in some sort of a regular program, time to write is kind of limited.

Anyone else take pics of their horse every time they grab them from turnout?
Anyway, I have to give you a detailed report of my lesson on Wednesday, which was eye-opening. We spent the whole lesson trying to get Tucker more consistent in the contact at the trot.  I've been feeling lately like the canter is getting better and better but the trot is regressing.  It's just not as steady or as forward as it was at one point, he's still not reaching for the bridle, and the contact feels really inconsistent with moments where he's behind the vertical.

I bounced around a few theories. (1) I may be neglecting his trot work.  I've been concentrating on transitions within the gait at the canter, halts, and doing a lot of my lateral work at the walk.  (2) I've been trying to learn to sit his trot, so all my shifting and squirming and bouncing (sorry horse) may be making his back tight or just leading to poor quality trot work. (3)  Connection in the trot has always been an issue, but this is the first lesson where we've focused solely on that, so it might just seem worse because we're exposing some big weaknesses.

I think I may have landed on a better theory though.  In my rides since my lesson, I have scrapped my usual long rein stretchy warm-up, in favor of 20-30 minutes of marching and lateral work asking him to go forward and get in the bridle at the walk before I move up to trot and canter.  I think that stretchy long rein stuff works in the cooler weather when he comes out with energy but needs to loosen up.  In the heat of the summer he comes out with all the nervous energy of a potato.  So long and low warm up equates to shuffling lazy beast who is allergic to everything resembling work.

I just can't resist.
So, when I start off that way, I make the objective very clear:  go forward into the bridle.  At the walk I have more control over my upper body and my hands, and I can be steadier and more deliberate with my aids. And if we walk for a while, he still has plenty of time to warm his muscles up.  I keep asking at the walk until I feel like he's consistently taking both reins, not leaning into the left rein and dropping the right.

Then we move up to the trot with a real connection, and for the most part so far he seems to stay there.  He's more forward, and our transitions within the gaits are smoother.  Since he's actually connected, I can work on straightening his neck and keeping him from coming above the bridle or over-bending in the leg yields without everything falling apart.  It feels like a breakthrough!

I don't have much riding time scheduled this week because of more family and work stuff, but that should give me a chance to catch up on my posts.  Or I'll just give you more Britney lyrics, I haven't decided yet....

I mean really.  He's the cutest.
(Also note Murphy-dog photo bomb)

Friday, August 7, 2015

It's Friday Already?

Things I planned to post this week:

- Another Riverview trail ride
- A video from my last horse show
- A review of Equibox Equestrian monograms
- A recap of my lesson
- An update on the house

Things I did not post this week:

- All of the above.

BLOGGER FAIL.  I'm the worst.  The good news is, these posts are all half written/awaiting media, so next week should be a much better week around here. Also, my lesson was rescheduled for next Wednesday due to my more-hectic-than-usual schedule this week, so I'll have an Amy lesson to tell you about and I know how much everyone enjoys those.

Sneak preview:

While I haven't been blogging because my week was a bit more hectic than usual, I did squeeze in two pretty awesome rides.  On Tuesday night we worked on getting a consistent connection in the walk trot and canter.  The canter has been getting better and better, but I felt like we were losing a little bit of ground in the walk work (literally and figuratively), and the trot connection comes and goes. So I just started playing around with that and seeing if we could figure out a way to get him to stay in both reins all the time.  With mixed success.

Who doesn't love a blurry cell phone ear shot?
Last night I had a fantastic ride under the lights in our outdoor. We did a whole bunch of lateral work and halt exercises, and then worked on our counter canter, our collected canter and our medium canter. He was focused and willing and did some really, really good work. Some leaping too, but I'm starting to realize that just means we're getting somewhere. His canter has been a lot rounder in general these days, which means it's easier for me to sit in to. And once I'm comfortably sitting I can think about weighting my inside stirrup and lifting my shoulders and carrying my hands and all those other moving pieces.

This is the slobber of a very hard-working dressage beast :)
Lastly, thank you so much for all your kind, sweet, wonderful, caring comments on my last post. Sometimes, when you are feeling crazy/sad/doomed/pathetic, the best possible thing you can here is "omg me too!"  It is nice to know I'm not the only one who gets on my horse like "I'm a mess I can't deal everything is terrible," and the horse is like "just take a deep breath and let's go for a walk and I'll make you feel better about life instantly because I'm the best thing ever." 

You guys are the greatest internet stranger friends a girl could ever ask for, and I so appreciate each and every one of you who keeps clicking these links, even though all I know about some of you is your IP address.  (Mwahahaha.)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Peaceful Evening

I didn't blog for most of this week because I was in a bad mental place.  Mostly work-related stress, but some personal crap too, and I was just feeling seriously negative, and uninspired, and had worked myself into a state yesterday where I had convinced myself that everyone hates me and thinks I'm awful and I can't do anything right and there is no way of fixing anything.  I felt stressed, and depressed, and frustrated, and hopeless (common side effects of being a lawyer, by the way). Have you ever done that to yourself?

I feel better now. I had some discussions with a few key folks (best friend, boyfriend, brother) that helped me realize most of what was bothering me was actually in my head due to me misinterpreting a few key things, and really it wasn't as bad as it seemed and all hope was not, in fact, lost.  Sarcastic outer shell notwithstanding, I am a sensitive type and I can get down on myself pretty easily, and at my worst, I'm prone to some seriously negative thinking.

I didn't want to go to the barn after work yesterday. I bawled my eyes out on the way home, actually. Apologies to everyone on Route 78 who was stuck in traffic with a crazy little girl in a big truck. I wanted to go home and drink a bottle of wine in sweatpants watching Netflix (I am sure you can relate).  But I went anyway, and the tears dried up while I went through the motions of tacking up.

And then I got on and just started wandering around the freshly mowed hay fields.  The crickets were singing.  A light breeze picked up after a hot and humid day.  Deer were grazing in the fields. Swallows were dovetailing picking up all the bugs the mowing kicked up.  And a gorgeous pink sunset was emerging above the treeline.  The photos don't even do it justice.

We walked, and walked, and walked some more.  I let Tucker wander where he wanted.  I let his big swingy gait rock me back and forth.  And I breathed.  And I didn't think.  And I didn't worry.  And I didn't criticize anything.  

I could actually feel my tension lifting like water evaporating out of a sponge.  It was like toxins were being released.  I realized I have had a pounding headache for days and it was finally going away. My whole body just relaxed, and I started smiling and sighing and snapping photos.   I have always thought meditation was impossibly boring and tedious, but I think wandering around on a horse not thinking and just being present in the moment is pretty much the same thing.

Life is good.  Life is even better with a horse.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Suddenly Farm ESDCTA/ECRDA Horse Show

So on Sunday Tucker and I headed out to our first show since the end of May, to Suddenly Farm.  I had never been there before but a friend promised me that the staff would be very friendly and the facility is nice.  She was right, as she always is.  It's a family run dressage farm, and everyone was very welcoming (which is important for a hunter princess like myself who still feels like a fish out of water at a dressage show).  I warmed up in their indoor, which has great footing (washed sand) and mirrors. The outdoor ring where the dressage court was set up is big enough for a warm-up area, so I was able finish my warm up out there to get Tucker acclimated to the ring and his surroundings (to avoid as much star gazing as possible).  I'll definitely go back.  

Warm-up went really well in the indoor.  He stretched out and the trot and canter, we did some lateral stuff at the walk, and we ran through some pieces of both tests.  After we practiced our canter lengthenings and got some genuine downward transitions without breaking to trot, I was feeling like I might be getting the hang of this dressage thing.  Which is why the Universe felt that it was now required for me to be HUMBLED.

So I headed to the outdoor, checked Equitests one more time to make sure I knew what letter the 15m canter circles are at, and I was ready and trotting around the outer edge of the arena as soon as the rider before me did her final salute.  This time I will not be caught off guard with an early bell!  Ha! I've got this!  

Except for one thing.  I never took my horse's boots off.  Which I realized as I was trotting around the outer edge, just as the bell rang.  I didn't know what to do, so I just went in with them on.  The judge told me afterward (schooling show) that I should have had someone pull them off really quickly since I hadn't gone in the ring yet, but I remembered some rule about no one talking to you after the bell and I panicked (which is my coping mechanism of choice in pretty much all situations).

So our score for 1-2 was a 67.3/Eliminated.  Welp.  That sucks.  Especially given that this show was double-pointed and I could have used that score.  But as the judge (and actually several other people) pointed out, I'll never make that mistake again.

But I've already wasted too much time in this post talking about what went wrong and if you know me at all you know that I wallowed and spent most of yesterday afternoon alternating between burning self-hatred and bitter despair over my lack of a brain.  (That is until I had some wine and calmed down.  Oh and got a text from Amy saying "Well good job on the 67, you can do it again.")

So let's talk about what went right!  First off, both our opening and closing halts were 8's.  So all that halt work we've been doing has been paying off, we can get 8's now.  His leg yields were really good (both 7's!), and I even touched him with my whip in the right-to-left and he didn't have a melt down. His trot lengthenings were lovely in both directions.  His right lead canter lengthening and transition downward were great (to the left he got a little stiff).  All his transitions were prompt, his canter transitions got 7's (and felt great), and he was focused and listening and we didn't have a single giraffe moment. 

The only real bobble in this test was an early canter-to-trot transition across the diagonal, which is a recurring problem that I haven't figured out how to fix yet, but at least it's not a new problem. I opted to make him pick up the canter again after a trot step or two, and then ask for the trot transition at X again, because might as well teach him something if we already screwed it up right? Overall our lowest score on any individual movement was a 6.5, and the judge's comments were positive except for telling me I need to sit up more at the canter (agreed) so I'd call the test a success. Ignoring for a moment that I was eliminated the moment I stepped in the ring, of course.

The 1-3 test wasn't quite as good.  For starters I think despite telling myself to let it go and focus on the next test, I was still pissed about the boots (after realizing it meant I was eliminated), and horses are like giant neon screens displaying our emotions to the world, so he was a little tense, not as supple, not as willing.  We had some stiff transitions.  He completely inverted and flailed when I asked for the leg yield right, at the start of the zig-zag, but then he recovered and did the rest of it nicely.  It was an "omg what are you asking of me I can't possibly?! ...oh right I can do that." moment.  Vintage Tucker.

I also forgot where I was going.  Which I blame on being distracted and annoyed about the boots, which again just further compounded my annoyance with myself because I know better than to let one ride affect the next.  After the stretchy trot circle I basically stopped riding for a second because my mind went completely blank.  I had to circle but then remembered, thanked the judge and told her I knew it.  Then I thought I had the last two movements correct but then heard the little bell.  I forgot the single loop canter serpentine.  So I had to go back and do that, and sort of lost momentum and had no jump to the canter.  I'll be honest with you, I kind of gave up at that point.  Our last halt was a 6. Must remember to keep riding regardless.

We got some 7's here and there but mostly 6's throughout the test.  The end result was a 65.8, so I'm not really complaining, but I'm not really all that proud of it either given how it felt. I need to get a hold of myself mentally when things go wrong. I need to figure out how to set up the zig-zag leg yield out of the corner, and we need help with the 10m trot circles and halt at X.  I completely lose the connection and he starts head bobbing like his favorite song is playing in the 10m circles, and when I'm sideways to the judge the vast distance between his hind legs in the halt is painfully obvious.  I have been working on getting him to move one hind leg at a time in the halt, but I still don't have a good feel for where his hind legs really are.  But we're working on it.