Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Dressage at the Fair

I was thrown for a loop with this show because instead of getting up at O'Dark Thirty, I sat around twiddling my thumbs cleaning out my basement until noon when I finally let myself get moving and head to the barn to bathe and braid. My first test wasn't scheduled until five in the fucking afternoon, with my last ride finishing up just after seven.

Remember how I said dressage is booming up here? Bitches love them some lower level dressage, you guys. I was the second First rider of the day--the show started at 8am and allll the rides before me were Intro and Training.Want to participate in an active dressage community? Come to Western/Central NY! (Only don't because this state is the worst.)

also our weather has no chill. after being in a drought all summer
we got a good two inches of rain in--no shit--about five minutes right
as i was getting ready to get on. good thing dopie lives for swimmies.

We pulled into the fair grounds around three, got unpacked and settled in, and was then informed that rides times had been moved back by twenty minutes. The worst. A friend and I went over to watch some tests and suss out how the horses were handling the coliseum, and she fortunately got intel that we were allowed to enter directly into the ring before the test started as a standard court takes up every inch of the ring and the riders we were watching were sticking to trotting up the long sides and having to turn around without circling the entire court--and therefore passing Satan's Altar the judge's open booth.

First 1

I got on with at most fifteen minutes of warm up time. It was more than enough to touch on everything we needed and head into the ring feeling as ready as we could be while knowing that nothing was going to prepare for the actual atmosphere of the show ring. I was hoping that since he'd shown here before he wouldn't be quite as stupid as he started out last year where he wouldn't go near the judge's stand in either test.

Yeah, we barely made it out of the chute before he threw on the brakes and tried to spin and leave because he had to pass the letter A.

FEELING FEELINGS

I booted him past it into the ring and made him circle in front of the judge's stand until she blew the whistle. There was a lot of side eye and he was tense AF, but at least he deigned to be in its vicinity this time.


The whole test was tight, tight, tight. He didn't spook, but he was so locked up I could barely steer him. I was super fussy with my hands trying to contain the lurking giraffe just under the surface, and that made him understandably fussy with the contact. Bro doesn't let me get away with any sort of busy hands without calling me out on it loud and clear.

My entire ride was focused on managing him and getting him through without any major mistakes. The second half of his stretchy circle he actually took the stretch for a second and I was like, "Yes! Success! Now he'll take a breath and settle." No, he saw Dopie Things in the distance and lost it. Judge's comment: Minor distraction.

minor distraction is your new show name, dopes.

Usually the canter gives him some forward momentum to propel him out of the stupids, but I had nothing to work with. I tried about two strides of the lengthen before putting the kibosh on it because he instantly locked up and tried to run. I was happy to get the right lead picked up even though the transition was a mess.

Overall most of the comments were "braced" or "tight". One hundred percent accurate, and I was happy to get that test out of the way while feeling optimistic he would come out for the second one much more settled. He ended up with a 64+% for second. The horse that beat us had already done two Training tests so had the advantage there.

relax yo self

The judge was being a rock star and bombing riders through there, ignoring her breaks and giving us just enough time to make a quick tour of the ring while she finished up comments before moving on to the next. I'm sure by her 500th test she was as ready to wrap up this marathon show as much as everyone else. Guys, she judged for twelve hours straight. #beastmode We ended up going in for our second test at our originally scheduled time, and she even ditched her dinner break to get the last block of us through early.

First 3

I warmed Dopie up when the rider before me went into the ring. 10/10 less is more with this horse. I had to harass him a bit over the right lead canter, but I made it clear that under no circumstances were we picking up the wrong mother fucking lead in the change at X for the fiftieth time this season.

Opie was still a little distracted in this test, but he was actually rideable.

the were more people in the stands this time and he was very interested in them.

The leg yields were rough. At this point he basically automatically braces the second any sort of lateral work comes in. I have a body work appointment set up for him to kick things off, but this is going to need some serious attention in the off season. You've gotta stay supple, my midget friend. Those garnered a 5.5 and a 6, but the 10m circles were 7s and then!!! He hit that stretchy circle and flowed right down and around for an 8 with the comment "well done".

day of stretch days paying off!

I was able to go for the canter lengthening a little bit more this time around, but still not to the point where he's picked up big scores before. He picked up the right lead in the transition at X, but I pretty much threw his ass onto it. As I was riding it, I was like, "You fucker, I will take the 5 this is going to get over the 4 picking up the wrong lead will get IF MY FUCKING LIFE DEPENDS ON IT." Also he tried to leave the ring picking up the first canter but I cut him off at the literal pass.

opie: soulmates this way
me: not today #childsatan

Despite the couple of disorganized bobbles, it felt like a much steadier test. It scored a 63+% for another second. Just like last year, with a cooler and giant ribbons on the line, we did just enough that on any other day it would have been super results--but we got no giant prezzies. Cue my inner sad child.

Second 3

With the judge giving up her final break, there were only four rides before my final test so I stayed on and hung out in warm up feeding Opie candy. When the rider before me went in, I picked him back up and he was instantly right there. He felt really soft and loose, did a couple of tight but acceptable shoulder-ins, stepped right into the right lead canter from the walk, did a counter canter serpentine easy peasy, and we were ready to go in.

refueled by candy, he went strutting in like he owned the place


Unfortunately, the trot work is all lateral work which means all the loosey goosey went right out the window. Every comment was "tight topline" or "stiffness". Where another judge might have let a 6 slide, she tipped towards 5.5s instead with just a couple 6s for the shoulder-in. Honestly I don't even know how we got a 5.5 for the travers--they felt more like retarded on the wall leg yields.

The rein back, usually a strength to kick off the walk work, had an extra step which killed that score, and it almost had more before I goosed him with my spurs when he ignored me. Then the stupid turn on the haunches we we started off the season with 7s bombed again. The free walk was mediocre, so all those areas where we can usually make up for the tense trot work did nothing for us.

i still think he's super cute and that's all that matters

He stepped right into that canter like a boss though and finally picked up a long line of 6 and 6.5s to finish out the test. Still, only a measly 57+%. We were the only rider doing 2-3 so we at least got a blue ribbon, but there was another AA doing 2-1 who scored a 59%. You know what that means? NO COOLER AGAIN THIS YEAR. We got a consolatory reserve champion ribbon that's a good 4' long, but come on, man. My inner five year old couldn't even. 

he doesn't know the difference. he still got all the candies and snugs.

Not a bad show in the grand scheme of things, though. The judge's comments are all in line with what I know are his weaknesses right now--namely tension, but also needing more collection. He'll get there, and I think next year he'll come out feeling super confident in this test for having gotten the chance to do it several times this season.

In the meantime, we have one more show for our GMO to close out the competition year providing we don't get guilt tripped into doing a CT put on by one of Hubby's coworkers. There are lots of hunter paces on the horizon though, so fun things for the young Dopie Horse as a reward for grinding through another full year of dressaging.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The more you know

You know the old saying: The more you know, the more you wiggle. Pretty sure that's how it goes anyway.

I'm finally starting to feel like Opie has some reliable buttons on him. They're still fairly remedial in the grand scheme of dressage horse knowledge, but at the very least the concept of "leg can mean more than go" is firmly installed. The problem I run into here is that he's learned all these different ways to use his body, and sometimes he uses those powers for evil.

If he doesn't want to work as hard as I'm asking him to, his evasions are sneaky--his rib cage will subtly pop out, he'll get crooked in his hips so you think you're the one riding crooked, he'll tip his head to the inside ever so slightly, a shoulder will drop just enough to make you think you're doing something else wrong to lose the straightness.

you would be surprised how many different directions a horse's body can bend
on one 10m circle

Fortunately, riding alone all the time means I'm mostly proficient at self policing both of us. Also fortunately, that's about the least exciting form of evasion I've ever dealt with in my fucking life and everything else has been drama free.

We've mostly been chugging away at strengthening everything he already knows. Getting his Second level debut out of the way was a massive weight off my shoulders I didn't even know I was carrying. I'd planned for that show to be his debut at the level from the beginning of the year, but there was a lot of doubt right up until we went into the ring that I was going to make a complete fool out of us. With it out of the way, and another show on top of that, it's been good old fashioned basics getting hammered away at again.

Our week usually starts off with one or two short, high intensity, focused schoolings. I ask for the thing, you do the thing, there is no middle ground, sir. We focus a lot on keeping the connection steady, and really stepping under with the hind legs while bending. The butt must follow, no more cheating, sir. But more than anything I've been a complete Nazi about straightness.


I've gotten comments on several tests this year about Opie losing his shoulder, or just lacking straightness in general in a certain movement. I have about ten trillion flaws as a rider, but being straight had never been one of them. My ass sat in the center of the saddle, in the center of the horse, the end. Until I got Opie.

Remember that excruciating pain in my right hip from him travelling crooked? And then one year later my right knee also broke for the same reason? This horse finds being straight very fucking difficult, and he's very fucking good at knocking me out of alignment right along with him. We've been making square turns ninety percent of the time, and I'm constantly checking my own body to make sure I'm straight--and then therefore Dopie is also straight.

It is fucking hard work. I really don't think there's anything harder than making the simplest things absolutely perfect. But, unsurprisingly, it's paying off. The connection is so much steadier, and each ride he comes out working correctly that much faster and finding things just a little bit easier.

After a couple tough as balls works, Wednesdays are mandatory stretchy days.


We've lost our good stretchy trot circle in tests, and I know it's because I've been neglecting them at home. We still take lots of breaks on a long rein, but they've gone from "This is a stretch break" to "Take the reins and do what you want, I'm fucking whooped." I've tried to be more conscientious lately about not loafing off during breaks, but this is the third week in a row with one day being dedicated solely to stretching and I think I'll keep it like this. It's a good mental and physical break while still working on a much needed skill.

Since we're usually gearing up for a show or some sort of outing every weekend, Thursday or Friday he gets off and then he gets a super light ride the day before adventure time. We hack out after almost every ride, and he's been happy in his work.

Last week, he worked one whole day--a long stretchy warm up before popping over some tiny jumps where we worked on--wait for it!--being straight and landing on the correct lead.


We show Sunday so he'll get Friday off because tomorrow we hit the park with some barn mates for what will for sure be a good time. Running and swimmies and snacking with friends? Still out here advocating for trail riding your way to success, what can I say.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Tanglewood Dressage Schooling Show

I have some schooling/training/general riding things that I wanted to/will eventually post about, but between horse show hangover and general blog laziness I have yet to get around to it. It took me a whole week after Houghton to get back on the horse for a real ride. Not that either of us was complaining about a couple extra days off and some meandering trail rides!

Yesterday, for the first time all season, we hung a left out of the driveway and headed east instead of west. I have three now two dressage shows left this year and they're all for my GMO--a good, fun chance to get out and earn some scores towards year end awards in a much more relaxing fashion than the six rated shows that consumed the first half of the season.

he's feeling fit and feisty right now. and by feisty i mean he generally picks up the
canter on the first try. wild boi!

I felt good going into the show. While our scores showing rated weren't blowing anyone out of the water, no one else's were either and we were doing more than enough to keep up with everyone else. The competition at these schooling shows is blessedly softer, and even without that, Dopie has been feeling super in his work lately. I signed us up for 1-1, 1-3 because you need at least one score from the highest test for year end awards, and 2-3 because I want every chance I can get to ride it in a proper competition ring before winter and our narrow indoor is here for good.

The best part about this show was how little time I spent there. I had awesome ride times, and not long after pulling in, the ring steward came over to tell me they were running early and would be moving to the big ring to start our division shortly. I got dressed, got Opie tacked up, and we made our way over to warm up right as big black clouds blew in.

such a jug head

I wanted to flaunt my new grey gloves which don't go with either of my coats so show shirt it was. That was going great until the skies opened up and I was suddenly the leader of a wet t-shirt contest. I made Hubby run back to the trailer to grab my black coat and tie and we got on with warm up properly covered albeit thoroughly soaked.

ooh, he was mad

Starting warm up, he was so lazy and so behind my leg I momentarily became That Rider in the ring and pony club kicked the shit out of my horse a couple times until he was ready to rocket off my leg, and then we halted every time he tried to blow through a half halt. It was a really ugly five minutes, and I went around muttering "Sorry" to the other two riders--who honestly seemed blissfully unaware of anything untoward happening--but I came out the other side with the horse I have at home instead of a nappy, lazy, checked out toddler.

me: helloooo, are you in there?
opie: UR RULES SUCK

The other riders abandoned us to go ride their test and wait ringside to go in, so Opie had to march around by himself IN THE RAIN. Thinking about it, I'm not sure I've ever showed him in the rain before. Apparently this is a big no-no. He was stomping around blowing like a dragon, occasionally dropping his head between his knees, and he finally just couldn't take the injustice of it anymore and when I went to pick up the trot one last time right before we had to go in, he was like, "I AM LEAVING THIS RAIN NOW BAI."

"i know there's a canopy at the trailer, i need to go be under it this second."

"SO RUDE DON'T TELL ME NO I'M MELTING"

this picture is everything. 

Fortunately the rain stopped right as our test started!

First 1



The test felt a little sleepy still, but watching the video he actually looks just fine. Despite stretchy breaks during every ride, and allotting one day a week every week to a stretch-only ride, our stretchy trot circle is still missing in our tests. Annoying, and an easy way to lose points. Going to have to do more work on this before the final two shows.

Everything else went perfectly fine. It was a pretty boring, mistake-free test. We were in front of Crazy Judge who worships the ground Opie walks on--his 9 medium walk and 8 free walk--so we scored way higher than we deserved. A long line of 7s and 8s, plus an absurd 9.5 for Gaits, earned us a 73% which won handily. Whatever, I'll take those inflated scores right to the awards banquet!

He got to go back and hang out at the trailer for about half an hour before getting tacked up again to finish. We got to warm up with one rider in front of us which is exactly the right amount of time he needs. My main goal for this show was to work on my timing for warm up--not getting on too soon--and heading into the ring from warm up with purpose instead of dribbling over there and napping outside the ring for five minutes. I accomplished both of those things, and I have a much better feel for what this horse needs to put in his best test.

First 3

I haven't ridden this test since June, and I was a little worried about remembering it. Somehow I managed to make it through without error.


Another kind of boring, steady test--not a bad thing when those stupid leg yields are involved. The first leg yield was definitely a cop out on the old using your bum thing, Opie, but it got done-ish. The second one was better, but they're still not something our young Dopie Horse is interested in.

In both First tests, coming out of the walk he wants to step right into the canter like you do in 2-3, so that knocked us down a point or two for both transitions. And then that fucking stupid change of lead at X. I swear he nails it every time at home, but it's the kiss of death in a show. I don't know why, but fuck you, stupid trot change.

She really liked our lengthened/medium canters for all three tests and the lowest we scored on those the whole day was a 7.5 in 2-3. We finished this test with a 68+% for another win. That would have gotten us champion for First, but they only award Champ/Res. Champ for the highest level you show at, so--spoiler alert!--being the only Second rider I got a Champion ribbon for that instead.

warming up for 2-3

We had two riders between us before we rode our final test. I walked through the first test, and then put him back to work for the second test. I touched on the SI and haunches-in a couple times both ways and he actually felt pretty good. He's at the point where he gets the idea of them, but the suppleness and confidence are definitely lacking. He tries though, and that's all that matters!

thinking cap thoroughly engaged.

Second 3



This test felt better than the two we did at the last show. Obviously still super green, but for where my expectations are at at this point for this test, I'm super happy with it. The annoying turn on the haunches were again a write off in this test which--like the trot change at X--are something that are always there at home. Oh well, that's why I want to keep riding the test as much as I can.

Highlights include a 7.5 for the halt and rein back, an 8.5 for the first medium canter and a 9 for the transition (which was generous, but while riding it I knew it felt good). Mostly a bunch of 6s which I'm perfectly alright with right now. We ended up with a 62+%.

i'll take your blue ribbons, please and thank you

We left the barn at nine and Dopie was back out with his friends by three so a day well spent. I got my goals checked off, the horse felt good, I came home with a pile of satin, and I'm ready to close out the season on a strong note. But because I'm me, we're going to spend this week playing over jumpies before I go on vacation for a long weekend. Then the big show at the fair which we're going to work our balls off for because COOLERS AS PRIZES.