Is it spring yet?

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I almost titled this blog post “Death By Dressage,” but then I caught myself becoming what I’d feared – an indoor arena complainer.

I’ve never had access to an indoor ring and have always made do with outdoor lights. If the ring froze, then no riding, but our Virginia winters are mild enough that it doesn’t freeze every night.

Unfortunately, the barn owner where Oh So and Bear live had the outdoor lights taken down in December to be replaced and they have yet to be put up, so I’ve been stuck in the indoor with both horses during the week for nearly three months.

It’s also been so wet and muddy that I haven’t been able to get out on the hills or hack really anywhere until recently, which is a change from home, where I was able to at least walk up and down the hill in our small field and on a trail behind our property with good footing.

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The fields have been ankle-deep mud, and I’ve just closed my eyes and prayed every day that I turn the boys out, hoping they don’t injure themselves.

As far as work, they’ve both been doing well. I’ve been trying to do a weekly flat lessons as I can afford them. I’ve been used to have two flat lessons a week, one on each, so I’m struggling to find things to work on and trust my instincts. I feel like I’m stifling Bear’s progress a little since we’re kind of doing the same thing a lot, but after my lesson last week I’m feeling a little more confident in my abilities.

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Heidi hadn’t seem him in a couple of weeks because of weather and my travel, and I’ve been working on bending and more forward, as well as working on getting him more laterally supple and moving his shoulders using counter leg yields and leg yields on a diagonal in walk mostly, but some in trot.

We started in walk, just bending and flexing him to the inside on small circles, and that really helped keep him supple when we trotted off. He’s been getting very good with his stretchy trot circles and gives me a good feeling. Oh So’s always been tough with those, but Bear keeps a nice steady rhythm and really goes down. The fact that he did that made me feel like we’re on the right track with his training. He still needs to be sharper off my aids, but he’s slowly progressing.

We finally got off the property last weekend and went up to Loch Moy to jump around their derby course. He was a little rogue and excited, but it was fun! We had a good gallop around the big ring and settled him over some smaller stuff on a circle before jumping most of the novice stuff. He was a star, and I felt like we could go on a jump some of the training level stuff, but Lisa rightly told me to hold off since we haven’t jumped much at home because of being stuck in the indoor.

Oh So has been doing well. I’m really hoping to get him out on the hills this week finally because he needs to strengthen his hind end before we think of taking him to an event this season.

I had a tiring flat lesson this morning in which we worked on collection in canter. We worked some canter/walk transitions, which we’ve been practicing, then moved on to some haunches in on the long side in preparation for more serious work on canter half passes in the future. He was struggling going left, and my left arm is kind of limp now, but he was trying hard and I didn’t lose him mentally, which is good. He’s been a good sport about all of this flat work this winter, and I’m hoping to start letting him have some fun with some cross-country schools soon.

He got to go up to Loch Moy in January before we had the big snow storm and really felt great. Last week we went to a new ring and played hunter over some small stuff. He was quite rhythmical and I was actually happy with how I was seeing things and not messing with him.

I had a busy February traveling to Wellington, Fla., for three days for a contest I won through Practical Horseman. I took my friend and co-worker Kimberly and we had a great time not working, watching horses jump and playing tourist/VIP.

We went on an airboat ride at a kind of red-neck establishment and almost froze to death, watched the Wellington Eventing Showcase and got sunburned, and finished it out by almost being blown away at the Wellington Masters.

I went down three days later for work to the Adequan Global Dressage Festival and covered the CDI****. I always love covering dressage and wish I did it more throughout the year, but Florida is the place to be, without a doubt, this time of year.

Next I’m heading to beautiful Tallahassee for Red Hills, then it’s pure craziness with the Carolina International, The Fork, Rolex and Jersey Fresh, in addition to slipping in some competitions. I’m hoping to start out with a Morningside CT and go from there.

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First show of the season!

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I was finally able to make it out to my first show of the season with Bear at Morningside last Saturday.

It was quite windy, but he settled right in when we got to the show. The warmup on the polo field was pretty sucky so we had to warm up on the track and in the tiny little warm up ring, which always bothers me, but he seemed just fine with it.

The person ahead of us scratched, so we were able to warm up near our ring on good footing. The test itself was pretty good for the first time out. He was a bit spooky near the judge’s stand because there was a tarp flapping on the side of the hut. He took exception to that during his right lead canter circle at C, but the judge was quite kind and gave us a 25.3, with a 9 on our final centerline!

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I think the biggest thing to think of in the tests with him is to push him into the corners and really “show off” of those circles since it’s such a simple test. Our free walk and the transition to medium walk then trot needs some work and his final halt was square but not quite round and soft, so we’ll be working on those things before Loudoun. In watching myself, I’m still too active and trying to “push him along”. My heel was drawn up a bit and I was tipped forward in some photos, so I’ll be working on keeping a longer leg and a taller, more upright body position.

We went out on the hill after and had a short cross-country school. I’ll be taking him for a jump lesson tomorrow since my plans with Oh So have now changed.

I had a lovely jump school in the ring at Morningside on Sunday morning with Lisa and we went out on the hill to do a slow canter, Oh So’s first of the year. The footing wasn’t the best at some fences, so we literally jumped two jumps, the coffin and a small log into the water.

He had Monday off and was fooling around in the mud on Tuesday according to my mom. When I went to ride, he was most definitely off and I had the vet scheduled to come for chiropractic work, but we ended up doing a lameness exam instead. Sigh.

We isolated it to the left front and blocked it. He got better after we had blocked the lower fetlock/suspensory area and then ultrasounded. Thankfully there was nothing obvious on the ultrasound so we determined he probably tweaked his leg in the field. He’ll have a few days off and I’ll watch him go and decide what to do.

Unfortunately, I had planned on doing a combined test at Morningside this weekend, which will now not happen. I’m keeping my entry to Loudoun for now since we’re 10 days out and I’m hopeful, but really discouraged about the whole situation. I wish I had a real answer as to what it was, but now it’s a wait and see. Will I ever get to go to an event again?

He feels about as good as he’s ever been and his hind end feels really good too, so now I just cross my fingers and wait. And never speak out loud about any competition plans ever again.

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Plugging Away

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The snow finally melted, but not before it made my life a hassle when I tried to get down to Florida for the Red Hills Horse Trials.

After driving through the snow to the Richmond airport, my flight was promptly canceled and I made the decision to drive to the Charlotte airport since there were no flights out of any area airports the next day.

Five hours later, I got a hotel, slept and was on a plane the next day to Tallahassee and at the show by lunchtime. Whew!

It was a lovely event marred only by the sad death of Kyle Carter’s horse, Conahy’s Courage. I don’t have anything else to add to the conversation that’s been swirling since it happened, except that it happened at a pretty simple fence and just seemed like a freak accident, not anything involving course design, speed or experience.

Here’s a link to my coverage.

Once I got back, it was full steam ahead with both boys. Oh So has been feeling really good from behind–back to his normal self since before his hip injury, so now I feel like we can press on and finally get to an event!

The footing is drying out so I’m planning on getting him out on some hills to really strengthen his hind end before we do anything. I’m looking at a combined test in April to get going and then maybe his first event late April or in May.

On the flat, he’s been getting more consistent about his work, meaning he doesn’t always get tense, which has sort of always been him. I’ve found I can ask for a lateral movement or a change in gait or pace and he’s tolerating it and I’m not “losing him” and spending the rest of the ride getting him quiet again.

For awhile, I thought he might never be the same after having so much time off, but he’s coming around. He is getting a bit strong in my hand as the ride goes on though, so I’m trying to make sure he listens to my half halts and that I don’t get tense in my arms trying to hold him. I think that’s the last piece that needs to be polished after his time off, so to speak.

Bear has been going well but I’ve had to modify our plans since we haven’t been able to school cross-country because of the weather. I’m hoping to take him to an unrecognized event in April if we can get a couple of schools in.

I had a conversation with Lisa last week about starting to treat him like an adult and not so much a baby anymore, which means he must move off my leg when I ask, he needs to start moving away from the jumps quicker and he needs to start learning to shorten and lengthen his canter stride. We worked on that in our lesson last week by asking him to shorten his stride across the short side of the indoor ring to a vertical with ground rails on either side, similar to what we did a few weeks ago.

I played around with it in my flat lesson the other day too, but he misinterpreted my aid to mean trot instead of shorten, so that’s something I’ll be working on in the next few weeks.

Here’s a video of both boys this last week. In the flat session with Bear, Nicky and I worked on leg yielding on a straight line in canter to get him to sit a bit from behind and not canter wide behind. He seemed to get it and now we’ll start working more on some counter canter loops.

Oh So’s lesson shows his warmup, which was nice and quiet. We worked on leg yielding to warm him up and keeping a little more inside flexion in trot and canter and the leg yields to make sure he stayed soft.

Homework and basics–keeping things interesting in the winter

As Oh So has come back into jumping after his hip injury, Lisa and I have come up with some small exercises that still challenge him without stressing him too much or too soon.

A couple of weeks ago, she set up three small verticals that he could basically canter over at three strides apart on the short side of the ring we went to. She also had a jump on the short side, so we made a circle of three jumps at three strides, then about 5 or 6 strides, over the jump, then 5 or 6 strides back to the short side. It was meant to make jumping seem “blah” for him and to work on his canter stride and my position.

I’ve recreated that in my ring on a smaller scale these past few weeks. I’ve made them small cavaletti with one stride in between so I can just canter him over them (see first two clips in the video above where he is actually relaxed!). My plan is to make them small bounces on a smaller circle next time to really get his hind legs active and strong. I feel like I’m behind in his legging up because I don’t have much of a hill at home and it’s been so wet, so this is the best I can do for now.

This past weekend, I took him to an indoor, which is always challenging. Indoors make you tend to ride backwards and this time, we were actually jumping solid beginner novice/novice fences.

We trotted over a low, wide oxer, which was beneficial for me since I had to follow through with my hands and wait with my upper body. It also helped him stretch his topline and use his back.

It took me a few tries to get my feel back as we cantered over it, then we continued on to a tall cross-rail across the diagonal, three strides angled over an oxer that was part of a gymnastic on the centerline, then three more strides to a tall cross-rail at the end of the diagonal.

The first time, he actually waited and listened because it’s been awhile since we’ve jumped such an acute angle. The next time, the first two were good, then he tried to plow off over the last.

So, we had a very strong half halt the next time, and by the final try, he actually backed off and listened! He knows how to do this and just wants to jump bigger and get on with it, so I’ve accepted the fact that it will take several rides before we get our “whoa” button back. I certainly can’t fault him for wanting to jump again!

We finished by trotting into a bounce, one stride, one stride, bounce, which really made him sit up and listen. I tend to build things gradually at home for my own sake, but the more times you do things with him, the worse it can sometimes get, so it can be a good strategy to go right through.

On New Year’s Day I took Bear cross-country schooling since the footing seemed to be the best it’s probably going to be for awhile.

He was certainly happy to be out and it took him about 20 minutes to focus. I was worried since we didn’t have stud holes that he might slip, but he stayed quite balanced the whole time.

As you can see from the video, he was quite good. The brush jump tickled his foot I think, so he kicked out on landing, but the bounce bank was great considering he’d never done it before.

He was even happy to trudge through the water with ice on top, but we unfortunately couldn’t do much more than that at the water jump.

On Sunday I jumped him before taking Oh So to his lesson. I just cantered a few things, like the spooky Christmas tree, which he could care less about, and did a double bounce to a one-stride, which he just loped over.

I’ve got two new books with tons of cavaletti and grids in them, so I’ll set something up this weekend after the deep freeze comes and goes this week and write reviews.

Winter Doldrums

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I haven’t written in about a month since things with Oh So and Bear are just trudging along as we go further into winter.

Oh So has been cantering for a couple of weeks now and feels pretty good so I’ve been working on trot poles and if it ever dries up a bit, I need to be getting out on the hills.

He’s had a bit of a cold/respiratory thing this week with some snot and a slight cough, so I’ve been keeping his work pretty easy.

Bear unfortunately had a heel bruise that’s taken some time, but I think he’s finally come sound this week. He hasn’t quite forgotten everything he knows, but he does feel a bit rusty! I’m hoping to maybe pop over a few jumps this weekend if my dressage trainer Nicky thinks he looks good. The lameness is so slight at this point, but I want to make doubly sure that he’s going well.

I do think the little forced break has helped him. He feels stronger and more forward, possibly because he’s been quite bored out in the field. I think he really enjoys having a job, so fingers crossed we can move forward. Of course I got a couple of calls on him over the last few weeks…

At work, I got to cover a day of the Mary King clinic at Morven Park which was really cool. She unfortunately did the same exact lesson for every group/level, but I did get a few new exercises to try.

I’ve been working on using four canter poles on a 20 meter circle with Oh So this week and I think it will be good for Bear too. It’s so basic, but can be so hard!.

I’ve been really yearning to jump. I can’t believe I have two horses out of commission at the same time. I’m ready for this year to be over!

I traveled back to Texas this past weekend to cover the USEA Convention in Fort Worth. I got to visit my former co-worker Megan, who lives nearby and she took me for a quick tour of the city, which was quite modern save for the Stockyards, which were the historical part of town.

It was pretty cool to see governance in action and I got to sit in on some private high performance meetings with chef d’equipe David O’Connor, which made me feel pretty cool!

I don’t have much else going on for now until Oh So and Bear start jumping and going off the property, so I’ll update again soon.

 

 

Book Review: 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes

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This review originally appeared in the Oct. 20 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes
Wendy Murdoch
Trafalgar Square Books, Box 257, Howe Hill Road, North Pomfret, VT 05053. 2014.
HORSEANDRIDERBOOKS.COM
224 pages. $29.95.

I really enjoyed Wendy Murdoch’s previous book, 50 5-Minute Fixes To Improve Your Riding, so I was excited to pick up her latest release, 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes.

Inspired to learn more about how to ride pain-free after a severe riding accident in 1984, Murdoch developed a teaching system that focuses on developing riding skills by focusing on individual body parts, so 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes is divided into several sections including Lower Back and Pelvis, Hips, Legs and Arms and Hands. This made it easy to locate which fix I might want to read about.

Murdoch notes that not all of us have the luxury of growing up on horseback, galloping across the country, and learning a natural “feel,” so her exercises focus on body awareness, something that I think is of particular use to amateurs who often only have one horse to ride and limited time to do it.

Many of the exercises can be performed off the horse and require as little as an exercise ball or a chair. Several are performed on the horse with and without a helper, which makes the book great to take ringside.
In certain sidebars, Murdoch can get quite scientific in her explanations of the anatomy of horse and rider and how they function together while riding, which made those parts a little dry for me, but each exercise was then simply explained, step-by-step.
There are countless photographs and illustrations of how to perform each exercise and three simple questions at the beginning of each to decide if you might want to read further. For example, “When jumping do you: Hold your breath over jumps? Exhale only at the end of a round? Take shallow or panting breaths?”
Then you might want to try exercise 29, “When In Doubt—Breathe Out!” which offers a breathing exercise to try on the horse and another off the horse.
If you’re looking to improve your jumping position this winter, 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes should give you plenty to practice when you’re stuck in the indoor waiting for spring.

Baby Bear Gets His Call Up At Seneca Valley Horse Trials

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

Since I scratched Oh So from Seneca due to his SI pain, my coach Lisa suggested I enter Bear in the beginner novice in his place so I didn’t lose my money. I was a little hesitant because he just did his first three-phase the week before, but we’ve been jumping beginner novice height at home in the ring, so I nervously agreed.

I had planned on having another couple of cross-country schools over solid beginner novice height jumps, but since the opportunity presented itself, Lisa and I went into Seneca with the idea of schooling.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

We ended up parked right by the cross-country warm up, which I thought would be terrible, but Bear just hung out and watched people go by all day while eating out of his hay net, which was a nice surprise.

The dressage was a bit of a walk and he got a little nervous as we approached the warm up ring. I hadn’t competed at Seneca since they moved the dressage rings and I like where they are now, very isolated from the jumping. There were four rings, but there was enough space so it wasn’t too crazy. He was quite tight and up for the first 10 minutes or so and then he settled and decided to get behind my leg!

I moved him over to a more isolated spot as our time approached in an effort to diffuse any separation anxiety. He did one neigh and a hop, but then settled. The ground was so hard and this was his first time doing dressage on grass, so I think he was a little short in his stride throughout the test.

I stupidly didn’t look over my test one last time before dressage so I ended up with two errors, which I’ve never done in my life, in the simplest test known to man!

Besides my dumb errors, he was just a bit behind my leg. It didn’t look so bad on the video, but he did seem a bit uneven in the contact and his push from behind.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

We had four hours to wait until show jumping, and I actually kept myself quite calm!

The show jumping course, also on grass, looked pretty doable for us. The cross-country definitely looked a bit bigger though.

He did not like the hard ground in show jumping and felt a little four-beat and stiff around some of the turns, but he was jumping well. We’ll need to work more on bending through our turns in the coming weeks.

I asked for one long one, which he actually obliged, and a short one that he tapped but it stayed up, and the rest were pretty spot on. He was swapping leads a bit and swishing his tail (I think due to my spurs), so it wasn’t the smoothest round in between the jumps, but he was clearly seeking the fences.

Lisa took my spurs off for cross-country, we did a warmup roll top and it was off to the start box! I’ve definitely missed the countdown and the butterflies as the starter says “go!”

The first jump was a cabin and he met that nicely but got the wrong lead to number 2, which was a pretty big roll top with brush on top.

I think it caused some issues for others and he definitely hesitated on takeoff and in the air, but once we landed, he seemed to be happy to canter away to the next jump.

The next several jumps were good and I just worked on keeping my leg forward and my upper body back in case he did anything silly. I need to be conscious of my upper body because we weren’t getting the correct lead most of the time because he follows my weight.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

I flubbed a couple of them and got him too close, but I now have a better feel of when he gets long and strung out in his canter, so hopefully I can correct that next time.

We got over the first 11 fences well and then came the water…he stopped dead, which I expected he might, and after three step backs, we were eliminated.

The jump judge kindly let Lisa lead him in and then we trotted back in once more so we could end on a good note. There was only a ditch and two jumps left, so while I’m bummed we didn’t complete, it wasn’t totally unexpected. He still needs some time to get in the water and when they flag it at the beginning like that, you’re SOL if they take a few tries to get in.

So, on paper, it looks bad, but I think it turned out to be a great schooling opportunity. If I had to do it differently, I would have taken him in another water before, but there was no water on our elementary course at Loch Moy.

He showed me that he seems to be enjoying his job and he definitely has the scope and gallop to go higher, and I got to head out of the start box at a recognized event for the first time in over a year. What more could I ask for?

I’m hoping to do Waredaca and maybe VA Horse Trials in October after we get a bit more

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

cross-country schooling in.

Oh So is starting his work back a few days early today because he’s been a jerk in the barn and needs a job. I walked him and trotted a bit and he felt a little uneven, but I’m hoping that goes away as he works more.

Here’s the video of Bear at Seneca. I edited it to get rid of my mistakes in the dressage and my mom had a camera issue, so she only got one jump on cross-country 😦