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.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Let's Talk Geometry

So if you think dressage is boring, this post is probably going to be mind-numbing.  But I've seen a bit of confusion/discussion/frustration on blogs and facebook groups about the "geometry" required in the tests so I figured why not spend some time figuring it out.  It's funny that I'm doing this voluntarily, since the only thing I liked about geometry in high school is that my teacher would call my dorm room to wake me up when I overslept.  True story.

Basically, at my level at least, geometry in dressage means the circles are the right size and shape, your corners are corners, and your half circles are half circles.  I'm focusing on training and first levels here, because those are the tests I know.  If you need help on second level stuff and above, well this is definitely not the blogger you should be asking.

First off, we need to talk about the distances between the letters.  As I mentioned last week, I set up my arena letters on cones and walked the distances out myself, just like I would walk out a five stride line.  I think in feet because I'm an American dammit but I'm trying to just make it simple and say one large step = 3 feet = about 1 meter.  So, from the corner to the first letter of each long side is 6 steps, and from that letter to the next is 12 steps.  Like so:


The next time I rode, I walked the distance for a 20 meter, 15 meter, and a 10 meter circle.  I highly recommend doing this.  It really helps visualize and I rode my circles much more accurately when I got on.  I even dragged my heel to make a line in the sand for the 10 and 15 meter circles the first time.  Helped me feel how a correct sized circle should ride.

20 Meter Circles (Training Level and First Level)

So, just to be super confusing and make you feel bad about yourself, the 20 meter circles at the ends of the arena don't go letter to letter.  That would make it easy.  Instead, a 20m circle at the end of the arena goes just past the V/P or S/R line, and the 20m circles at E or B go just short of that line.  To be more precise, the end circles go about 2 steps (2m) past (6m+12m+2m = 20m) and the middle circles stop 2 steps short. (12m-2m+12m-2m = 20m).


The middle circles touch the rail at E and B, which is slightly less confusing. For the end circles, your circles should touch the rail not at a letter, but actually about 4 steps (4m) past the F/R or M/H line.  The midpoint of a 20m end circle is 10m from the end of the ring, so 10m - 6m = 4m.

At this point, you may be thinking, I WAS TOLD THERE WOULD BE NO MATH ON THIS EXAM.  Don't panic, this diagram is pretty helpful:


So if you do your circles to the letters, the middle one ends up too big and the end ones end up squished.  I figured out a way to remember this:  imagine the three sections of the arena (above) are seats on a plane.  Everyone knows the passengers on the end seats take up the arm rests, and the passenger in the middle has to sit with her hands in her lap the whole flight.  So, the circles on the ends take up the arm rests and go just past the S/R V/P lines.  With me?  Yeah?  Okay great.

15 Meter Circles (First Level Tests 1, 2, and 3)

In the 1-1 and 1-2 tests, the 15 meter canter circles are at V and P.  Like so:



(By the way, I took that screen shot of a diagram from the USDF equitests app.  If you show dressage, you need this app.  At $9.99 it's the most expensive app I've bought, but it's worth it I think. It has instructions, diagrams, the actual tests, and you can record someone reading your test, so that you can just play the test in your headphones while you practice and it will be magically timed to you and your horse.  Plus it's much easier to hand someone the instructions to read on your phone, where they can swipe one at a time, instead of pulling up a pdf and asking them to squint.  Which I've done.)

Since the ring is 20 meters wide, 15m circles at V and P go from the rail to quarterline (3/4 of the ring = 15m).  A 15m circle divided in half is 7.5 meters.  That means the circles go 1.5 meters past the midpoint between the letters (since the letters are 12m apart).  So if I'm on my left lead and I turn off the rail at V, I'm aiming for about 1 1/2 steps to the right of center (toward F between P and F), then for the quarterline, then for right of center between E and V.  So far I haven't had any remarks about the size of my circles.

For the 1-3 test, the 15 meter canter circles are at A and C.


So if the ring is 20m wide, I have to be 2 1/2 steps (2.5m) off the rail.  If R/S is 18m from the end, I have to be 3 steps (3m) inside that line as well.  This weekend will be my first time riding this test, so we'll see how we do with our accuracy.

10 meter circles (First Level Test 3)

In the 1-3 test, there are also two 10m circles at the trot, at R and V.  


These circles go to the centerline (half of 20m), and 1 step (1m) inside the midpoint between R/B and M/R or E/V and V/K. When I actually rode these correctly I was shocked to find out that a 10m circle is much bigger than I thought.  I have been making poor Tucker work much harder than he needs to.  

I should also mention that there are half 10m circles in 1-1 and 1-2.  But since they are really just a turn up the centerline with rounded edges, I haven't had much trouble riding them.  Or I guess I should say that's sort of the least of our problems.

If you've stuck it out this long with this post, congratulations. You earned yourself a cute ponyface that I stole from the internet along with every other diagram in this post (if any of these are yours, I'd be happy to take them down, but I was going to confuse the crap out of everyone without visual aids).


Monday, July 20, 2015

He's Still Got It!

I absolutely, positively, unconditionally, love this horse.  I really do.


He hasn't jumped anything bigger than 2'6" in at least a year, probably longer, but on Sunday I put him through a grid that got up to around 3'6" and he didn't miss a beat.  A group of the boarders at my barn had made plans to have a group jump school in the morning before it got too hot, and I figured we'd play along and jump stuff while it was still small.  But every time the grid went up I thought... hmm... maybe we could jump that....

My heart was pounding in my chest because I am a wimp but I was so happy each time the moment I realized he totally had it covered.  I literally just pointed him at the first cross rail, and thought about keeping my eye up and my heel down.  That's it.  He is the greatest.  I think he was just so relieved to be doing something other than circles and sideways steps.

Also will you look at how adorable he was the first time through peeking at the oxer and jumping it like the most cutest little hunter that he is?


Seriously, even though it's a blurry screen grab...  how cute is he?

video


I love dressage and I am very happy with the progress he and I are making, but we definitely need to keep jumping on the side.  He loves it.  

Friday, July 17, 2015

Working on First Level Test 3

Last night I went out and walked the distances between the letters to set up my dressage ring of cones, and Stacey (one of the W&PC gals) and I laughed at how it probably doesn't occur to many dressage riders to walk the distances like they're walking out a line of jumps.  But seriously it works -if I know how big to step to walk out 3 feet, and one meter is 3.28 feet, one slightly bigger step is one meter.  Easy peasy.  It gets slightly more complicated with a large horse in tow and sometimes requires me to carefully balance on one foot while clucking to get him to keep walking with me (which is probably very amusing for on-lookers), but it works!

And then we ran through all of First Level Test 3, thanks to our super awesome BFF (barn best friend) Alyssa who offered to read for us even though she'd probably much rather be home eating dinner and drinking wine like a normal person.  We've been working on the "new" stuff - canter single-loop serpentines and zig zag leg yields.  Those actually went really well last night, so that's good.  But it turns out those are not the most challenging parts of the test.

Did I accidentally forget that I was supposed to be doing all my canter transitions at a letter so I could practice picking them up the way I need to during a test?  I may have.  I seem to have an inability to pick up a canter at C or at A without having a really awkward giraffe moment.  Which is unfortunate. I guess usually when I ride I just take my sweet time setting it up and then ask whenever it feels like he'll do it well, instead of making it happen at a particular moment, which it turns out is the opposite of helpful.

Also trot to halt?  That's a thing I'm supposed to do.  I'm really good at walk to halt, and halt to trot. Sadly walking four steps into your halt is frowned upon after training level.  And we have to do it three times in this test.  One time across the centerline, so the judge will get  a side view of that hot mess. He is slightly more square behind though after some of Amy's halt exercises, if that counts for anything.

Turns out that I also have no idea how big a ten meter circle is.  I think I've been doing 8 meter circles.  Ten meters touches the centerline.  Did you know that?  Well, we both do now.  Also 15 meter circles at A and C go beyond the quarter line.  Unless you're doing a 15 meter oval, which I executed flawlessly last night.

This one will be a shock to all of you:  If you can't properly sit at the canter, when you do a simple change of lead through the trot, you are going to bounce.  And when I say bounce I mean daylight between butt and saddle.  I almost lost a stirrup.  Awkward.

Finally, I got a trot transition three out of four times I tried to do a lengthened canter to working canter transition at a letter.  Which is not a surprise, since that's where we're at right now.

I have a week to work on it before going to the schooling show I foolishly recklessly entered on Sunday.  So that should be plenty of time to revamp all of this, right?  No problem.  What could possibly go wrong?

In other news, I finally got a conformation photo of him where he is standing like a normal horse. It took a billion tries to get all for legs facing forward, his neck out of giraffe mode, and his wiener put away (why, right when I take my camera out, of all times?).  Not the most photogenic beast.  But he's looking pretty good these days.  Like a reasonably proportionate, decently muscled, appropriately filled out, albeit hard to fit a saddle to, horse. 


 Rather than a llama-camel-shark-cow-mule cross.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Adjustment and Improvement

This week Tucker had an overdue visit from his chiropractor and acupuncturist, Dr. Lackey.  If you're local, she is amazing, can't recommend her enough.  She used to work as a track vet and continues to do chiro at the track, so maybe because she is used to working with super-fit racing TBs, she has a very calm, relaxing manner about her and the horses all seem to love her.  Lots of releases and licking and chewing going on while she works, and even if she makes a big adjustment, Tucker always looks like it feels really good.  I held Tucker, Goose, and Wesley today and they were all wonderfully behaved and seemed to love getting work done. 

Our previous two appointments had to be rescheduled for various reasons so I figured Tucker would be in pretty bad shape. I usually like to keep him on an every 2-3 month schedule, but this time we had gone five months. Yikes.  Turns out though, riding the horse correctly means he's less of a hot mess chiropractically (is that a word? it is now).  Who knew?  

As soon as I brought Tucker out of his stall Dr. L (who hasn't seen him since February) said, "Wow, he's getting a topline! This is the best I've ever seen him!" Amy said he looked like he bulked up in my lesson last week, too. I think it's a combo of correct(ish) riding, finally figuring out what he needs to eat and in what quantities, and all weather overnight turnout on really good grass.  It's definitely working.  

Compare:
Hunter Tucker, around 2008:  Lots of fat, no muscle. Pretty and squishy!
Tucker in transition, 2012: slightly more proportionate,
but still a dip in front of the wither.
I realize the angle is off, but check. out. that. butt.  (And his neck is improving.)
Anyway, back to Dr. L. He needed a little work in his usual places, lumbar, hips, SI, but this time all the work he needed was even on both sides - meaning where he needed his right hip adjusted, he needed the same adjustment on the left, and so on.  I think working on nothing but straightness for the past several months is actually working!  He was a little sore at the base of his neck, just in front of his wither, which I have been noticing too and massaging a little after each ride. I think he's just starting to use this muscle for the first time in his life. He needed a TMJ adjustment on the right, which reminds me I need to schedule the dentist. Dr. Lackey recommended a dentist she'd like me to try to get him balanced so I think I'm going to call him.

Of course, I have no media from today, because my hands were full drinking coffee and holding Tucker, but overall, great visit! I love when he's starts licking and chewing and nuzzling me when it feels good.  He also gave us a big stretch with his hind legs and a "release" with a whoosh of air out his nose during the acupuncture.  Money well spent if you ask me!  Naturally, I haven't had an adjustment or massage in years, but I'm a horse girl, so I just walk it off.  Duh.