July Dressage – Points For Participation

Wednesday 3rd was the second show in the Evenlode Riding Club summer dressage series.  If you’ve read June Dressage – “Needs more work!” you’ll know that the first show wasn’t particularly successful for me.  The second show started out even worse!

Lead up

Last time the panic was all about the ground conditions but this time I barely had time to panic.  I was too busy applying for and being interviewed for a new job (which I got, by the way!)  I was completely unprepared, having only learnt one of my two tests, and I wasn’t able to leave Pea in during the day so although I had bathed her the night before, she wasn’t going to be clean by the time dressage rolled around.  I was also majorly lacking time – I got to the yard at about half 5 and needed to be warming up by 6.. not great.  As I was rushing down from the field dragging Pea behind me, I seriously considered forgetting the whole thing.  My brain rolled so far down the “don’t do it” train I was right down to “don’t even do dressage anymore”.  But I did it.

Prelim 1

Quite honestly, I didn’t warm up properly.  I walked my way though the test trying desperately to remember it and didn’t give Pea enough chance to soften.  Prelim 1 was tense and resistant.  There were a fair few times when I put my leg on and she tried to canter.  It was a bit all over the place and the actual canter was a bit of a mess too.  Hollow, overbent, there was a bit of it all.

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Prelim 14

I had nearly an hour to wait after my first test before my second one.  It was a good job too, I spent the time watching everyone else do Prelim 14 and just about managed to learn it!

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I went into the test feeling much more relaxed and although it still didn’t feel great, it was marginally better than the first!

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Aftermath 

I was relieved that it was all over after all the stress and rushing.  I always feel better afterwards and while I waited for my sheets I reflected on my achievements to that point.  I showed up, I got on, I warmed up, I remember both tests and we came out of the other side unharmed.  I know that isn’t what it is all about but I do think sometimes you have to credit yourself with taking part when the easiest thing would be to not bother.

I got 60.26% on my Prelim 1 with 5s for my canter work (“sufficient” is an improvement on “insufficient”) and 66.54% on my Prelim 14 with a 5 and 3 6s on my canter work (“satisfactory!”)  A standard “sweet pony” comment and a token 6th of 6 rosette (for my Prelim 1) tied up my test sheets.

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I feel much better about the whole thing now that I’ve had some time to reflect.  I am pleased that I got a better percentage and that my instructor told me my canter work had got better.  If I can sort myself out so that I’m not so stressed out next time, I might be able to improve AND enjoy the process!

June Dressage – “Needs more work!”

This week, Evenlode Riding Club held the first show of their summer dressage series in my yard’s front field.  I have been taking part in these since the first summer I was riding Pea (with the exception of last year when I had to attend on crutches!) so although I’ve done a few competitions this year, this was the show I was really looking forward to.

Lead up

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that the few days before the show had me in a bit of a panic!  It had been raining solidly for days and I was really worried about little barefoot Pea slipping over!

The morning of the show was no different and I got Pea in at 6 to wash her legs before work.  She was actually shivering, bless her!

She stayed in during the day in an attempt to stay clean but I did have a few messages through the day telling me she was feeling a bit “bright!”  Another bad omen!

Prelim 7

After work, a quick groom and a speedy warm up, a thankfully quite calm Pea and I trotted in for our Prelim 7.  I have to say that the only thing I thought about as I went round was “what do I have to do next?” and “which way am I going?” My brain couldn’t cope with the arena being the other way round from our arena on the yard (as in A was north east rather than south west!)  Does anyone else have perspective issues?

Anyway the first canter kept breaking (because it was meant to be a right canter but was actually a left canter) and the second one didn’t so I was feeling quite chuffed (until I realised that was a right canter when it was meant to be a left canter!)  At the time I was really pleased that I had got through the test without falling over or forgetting it (though I did nearly forget to salute!)

Prelim 12

I had to quickly get my head in the game for the slightly more complicated Prelim 12 which seemed to go pretty well until the right canter which broke, turned into a left canter and ultimately ended up as a trot.  By that point we were both a bit tired and we just about kept her going to the end.

 

Aftermath

I didn’t place. I wasn’t bothered about not getting a rosette but I was pretty bothered when I realised about that whole canter on the wrong leg in my Prelim 7 which, until that point, I had thought was better!

I got 58.41% in my Prelim 7 and 60.74% in my Prelim 12.  Naturally I had a “lovely pony” comment (how could anyone not like Pea!?) but the comment that stuck in my brain was “needs more work” about my canter in the Prelim 7.  Yes.  Obviously it needs more work.  Maybe I took it personally because I’ve been “working on it” for years.  I know I need to “work on it”.  I had a hip replacement so I could “work on it”.  Being there and doing it was “working on it”!

After reading my sheets I then had a look through the pictures Alex took.  All I could focus on was my left leg; knee very bent, heel up, foot stuck in stirrup.  This was my second wobble of the evening.  Something else I need to “work on”!

Then I kicked myself.  A year ago I couldn’t move my left leg, I should be able to forgive it for moving in the wrong way for a bit longer!  I am happy I didn’t wimp out and I’m glad that my parents were able to see a less spooky dressage test after the one they saw in April.  I am pleased I managed to remember two tests and ride some “satisfactory” and even “fairly good” movements.  Certainly a start to the series I can “work on”!

Back On It (And Only Just Staying On It!)

April and May have been quiet months for Pea and I.  We had a not-particularly-successful competition right at the beginning of April and then decided to take a step back, take a bit of the pressure off and get some hacking miles on the clock.  With our local riding club dressage competition looming, I thought it was about time I had another lesson.

My instructor has moved so we were at a different venue, not far down the road from home.  I drove, which I was probably more nervous about than riding somewhere new, but we all got there safely!

After warming up and taking in the different surroundings, we played with Pea’s trot, which has improved so much this year, and then worked on our canter transitions.  Anyone who follows our story will know that canter has been our nemesis forever but today I was starting to keep her together into the canter rather than chucking my reins at her and letting her run into it.  I was also wobbling around all over the place, nearly losing my left stirrup the whole time, having cramp in my left calf and being completely incapable of keeping my heels down but lets focus on the positives!  We actually ‘had’ the canter so that is something to celebrate.

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Very occasionally in our time together, Pea has objected to a touch of the whip by kicking out at it.  It has only happened literally less than a handful of times and each time it has been when she’s been tired and objecting to still being asked to canter.  Today I was doing 20m circles and every time we came towards P I could feel her wanting to fall out through her left shoulder and probably duck out to the left (which she did manage to do once when she caught me snoozing).  On one particular circle I felt she needed more than a weak left leg to keep her on track (I carry a schooling whip on the left because my leg sometimes needs backing up) so I gave her a tap and she BUCKED!  A rarely before witnessed experience for sure!  I’m not sure who was more surprised, my instructor or Alex, neither of whom have ever seen her do anything like that before!  Luckily I just flopped on her neck a bit, I did NOT fall off!  A definite near miss though.

Far less eventfully, we also ran through Prelim 12 which is one of the tests I will be doing for our next competition in a week and a half!  It is not going to be easy, the canter work involves a 20m circle AND half a diagonal change of rein then only a couple of strides of trot before doing the same thing on the other rein – eek!  Nevertheless, my trot work is stronger and if I can get that right and just try my best with the canter, I might be ok.

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So, things to take away from today

  • Start with my reins short enough and keep them that way
  • Stay alert because each movement comes up quickly
  • Leave each movement behind especially if it went wrong!

Things for Alex to take away from today

  • Keep that camera snapping, you never know when you might witness a naughty Pea moment!

April Dressage

Finally Pea and I got out competing again today (for the first time since January). I had a bit of a dilemma about whether to go to the show because there were other things going on today but I’ll address time management and prioritisation in another post coming soon!

The day started at 6 o’clock when I was rudely awoken by my alarm. I went to the wonderful wedding of one of my friends last night and danced the night away, only getting home at 1.30 so as you can imagine, I wasn’t keen to get up! Nevertheless I managed to get Pea looking semi presentable (it was too cold for a body wash but I did her legs, mane and tail!) and off we went.

It was my second time at Lower Haddon Livery so I was feeling pretty chilled about the whole experience. My parents had come to watch too which was amazing as my dad has never seen me ride properly before.

Pea warmed up really well. Even my mum, who isn’t horsey, commented that she was going better than she had ever seen her before I had my hip replacement.

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It was feeling promising.. until we went into the dark indoor school with the noisy door and the glass judging window.

You may be familiar with Prelim 1, which was what we were meant to be doing today however this is the test we did..

Overshoot the centre  line at A in wobbly trot, proceed down the centre line and at C stop dead, stare at the floor and seriously think about backing up.

Turn right but don’t go anywhere near the scary door corner.

At A, trot a figure of 8 and stop after X to pretend you are going to do a poo just before avoiding the scary door corner.

Pull it together and change the rein KXM.

Stay away from the scary door corner, seriously consider cantering a circle at C but opt for a flashy trot instead.

Change the rein FXH and decide not to really bother cantering another circle at C.

After B, give up on even trying to canter.

Just before A, collapse into walk (early!)

Change the rein in sluggish walk on a long rein (K to B and B to H).

Trot from C to B and motorbike around the corner to X.

Halt somewhere along the centre line, look a bit shell shocked for a moment, just about remember how to salute, pat Pea, laugh at the whole sorry experience and say an apologetic ‘thank you’ to the judge!

So there we go, not our finest hour! Pea still got lots of cuddles, carrots and polos because we all love her regardless.

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I got 3s on my canters, 57.8% overall and 4th out of 4! More importantly, my comment said ‘very well done, nice pony with lots of potential, just a shame you couldn’t get the canter today’. I’ll take that! Canter has been our nemesis and will continue to be for a while. We have been working on it and I know we need to continue to so no nasty surprises there.

I’m very grateful for the lovely smiley ladies from WORC who made me feel so welcome today. I would certainly go to more of their competitions if I can. I am also thinking of going to an outdoor venue for our next competition to see what excitement we can find there!

As One Thing Improves, Another Gets Harder

Finally, after nearly a month and a half of being grounded due to having the trailer serviced, being on equine flu lockdown and being busy moving house, yesterday we got out in the trailer again for a lesson!

In hindsight, we are still very much in the middle of being busy moving house, in fact, after morning tutoring yesterday we took the trailer (minus Pea) to B & Q and Argos to pick up some bits for the house and for my other half’s wall building renovation project.  The pressure of getting back in time for leaving at 3.40 for my lesson didn’t make for a relaxing shopping experience!

Despite the rush, we managed the shop (I’m sat on my new office chair as I write this) AND managed to get sorted ready for our trailer trip.  I was quite nervous about travelling Pea in such windy weather – she’s not a nervous traveller but I’m always nervous travelling her!  I need not have worried, it wasn’t as windy on the roads as it was at the yard and it was all fine.

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If you follow me on Instagram and Facebook you will know that on Friday I had a schooling session that just didn’t go to plan so I was worried that in my lesson we might not show the progress that I thought we had made recently.  Again, I need not have worried!  Pea was an absolute superstar and my instructor was really impressed with how much more consistent she was with the contact in trot.

Then it came to the fateful words ‘lets have a look at your canter’.  Now, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that canter has always been our nemesis.  I find it uncomfortable hip-wise and Pea is still unbalanced and weak in the canter..  In this lesson, it was the worst it has been for a while!  When things go wrong in life I soldier on but when things go wrong in riding I have a tendency to crunch up and have a complete mental block.  Thankfully my instructor helped me out and interestingly told me that often when a horse starts using themselves properly in the trot (which obviously takes more effort than just bumbling around) they find it harder to canter.  She said that if they are used to running from the trot into the canter they suddenly find that they can’t do that from a more correct trot.  When one door opens, another gets stuck eh!?

Once we had achieved some kind of canter work we moved onto working on my halts.  I’m afraid until yesterday my halts were pretty basic – just make her stop!  My instructor taught me to use my seat, my body and my breathing (breath out!) to transition to halt to encourage Pea to do a correct halt.  She has a tendency to leave a hind leg behind so I need to work on letting her step through and finish her step.

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SO much to work on, so much to improve but that excites me.  For the focus of the lesson to be on something other than getting her to accept the contact makes me feel like we are improving.  Now I just need to find another competition to aim for!

Along For The Ride – Confident Cantering!

I was so busy yesterday morning and had such a lot to get through before I allowed myself to go to the yard that I didn’t ride until about 4 o’clock.  The yard was just quietening down after Saturday lessons and everyone was going home except me!

I made the fatal error of forgetting that it had recently rained and went up to get Pea in my riding boots.  If you follow me on Instagram you will have seen the mud around the hay feeder on my stories.  It was not good.

I was feeling tired and a bit flat and initially said I was only going to go out for a short bumble into the village but as soon as we got out of the yard and down the track I felt instantly better – the magic of horsepower!

I texted my YO to say I’d changed my mind and was going further but as we plodded along I had a new idea.  I hadn’t cantered out since my hip replacement (which is now eight months ago!) and I thought it was about time I did.  I intended on cantering out before Christmas but at that time I didn’t feel confident to go on my own and I didn’t get around to organising other people to go with.  I’m really trying to get Pea (and myself) fitter and stronger and I know that cantering out is going to help that and have a positive effect on our work in the school.  Yesterday, with my hacking confidence at an all time high I thought I would bite the bullet.

At my yard, we are very lucky that next to our fields we have an uphill grass strip to canter up with no gate to go through to get to it!  Although it is super convenient, there are four potential issues that you have to look past to confidently canter up there.

  • You have to turn away from the yard to go up there which doesn’t always make for a happy pony if they think they are going back to the yard.
  • You have to ride up next to all the other horses who tend to join in the ‘race’!
  • There is an electric fence on one side of the strip and a ditch on the other!
  • There is a gate at the top, which may or may not be closed, that goes straight onto a road!

Can you see how easy it is to wimp out of going for a canter?  Anyway, I didn’t wimp out and it was lush to feel the wind whipping past us again (and don’t worry, she definitely stopped at the top to admire the view!)

So there we go, I now hack out alone AND am starting to canter out alone.  I’m definitely not the confidence crippled rider I used to be!

Along For The Ride – Swimming Not Drowning

Who else had a sinking heart this morning when they looked outside? Last week’s snow was inconvenient yes but at least it was beautiful and I had a nice day off!  Horrible as the rain was, I still had that Friday feeling.  The motivation to get out of bed every Friday is that it isn’t too long until 3.30 when I can drive to the yard and be with Pea.

Arriving at the yard was even more exciting than usual.  Yesterday, I picked up my saddle from the saddlers where it had been to get new LONG girth straps put on.  I have been wanting a dressage saddle for a long time but realistically can’t justify the cost.  I have been thinking for a while that putting dressage girth straps on my saddle might be a good compromise.  Anything to help me be more effective with my legs sounded good to me.

It was less exciting when I realised Pea was literally as far away as she possibly could be in the field and when I had finally reached her she was also absolutely disgusting!

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There was a lot of flowing and standing water in the fields and we appear to have a new lake that wasn’t there yesterday!

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Has anyone else fallen into an extreme comfort zone with their tack?  I feel like I’ve been using the 5th hole on both sides with my double ended elastic girth and saddle for my whole life (it is actually only about a year and a half).  Anyway, I had to put that to one side when tacking up and try to get the right balance of girth tightness.  I got on and honestly felt an instant difference.  My saddle felt narrower purely from the lack of bulk that a normal girth brings – mental!

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Pea was quite entertaining for the first ten minutes or so of the ride, she spent the whole of one long side with her head up in the air, turned to the side, staring out the donkeys who have recently moved to the paddock next to the school rather than at the end of it.  It was as though she had never seen them before!

I went through my normal routine to try to get her working over her back and becoming more supple and to my surprise, it worked fairly well.  Each time she softens I am shocked that I’m actually getting her to do it! I feel like I’ve just about got my head above water with this ‘riding properly thing’ (excuse the water reference!)

She was really good on the left rein but on the right rein she seems to want to bend to the outside which isn’t great.  She is definitely harder in the right rein.  Now would be a great time to see my instructor and get her to help us with the next steps but due to the equine flu situation, I’m going nowhere for the moment.

I didn’t last long tonight, my left leg muscles felt weird (probably due to the slightly different position as a result of the new saddle set up) and I called it a day after about 25 minutes.  I hopped off and led her round for another 10 minutes to cool off – she always needs an extra bit of walking to get her breathing back down and since we don’t have a walker, I do it myself!

How was your Friday?

 

Along For The Ride – There’s Snow Place Like Home

If you follow my socials you will know I’ve been hoping for a snow day and today, my dream came true by many inches!

At 3 in the morning (I must have known something was going on) I woke up to see the world was white and by 8 o’clock it was confirmed that work was closed.  Not that I was going to get there anyway!  My other half had taken our 4×4 to go to his job so I was twiddling my thumbs at home trying to work out how to get to the yard. If you know me, or have read Home Is Where The Horse Is, you’ll know that the yard is my favourite place.

My 3 o’clock in the morning plan had been to walk but it was very sensibly pointed out to me that it is a 4 mile drive, would be quite a bit further to walk, snow isn’t easy to walk in AND if I got into trouble no-one would be able to help me.  Let’s not forget the ceramic hip either!

Anyway, I had established that the buses were not running and just as I was contemplating hitch hiking (for the first time in my life) I got a call to say my boyfriend was coming home and the car was mine!

Five of us horsey people made it to the yard and mucked in with the yard owner to help to feed some of the horses.  I can definitely recommend bumping around on the back of a pickup to go up to a far away field and divide and conquer a herd of fluffy, fat gannets with buckets of grain as the best way to start a Friday.

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The others all decided to hack out but I really didn’t fancy it.  I’ve watched ‘The Horse Whisperer’ too many times and the image of that horse slipping and falling on the ice under the snow and sliding down the hill haunts me.  I know lots of people hack out in the snow but I just couldn’t get past that worry that something might happen.  I didn’t have a hip replacement so that I could end up in hospital again and I’d never forgive myself if something happened to Pea.

I spent a good couple of hours grooming Pea and trimming her feathers off.  I know the snow will probably be all gone before we know it but I don’t want her to have snow dreadlocks or cold wet feathers.

We then popped into the school so that we could get some kind of ride in.  Pea was slightly put off by the remnants of the snowman that had been made earlier but soon made friends with it..

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We plodded round and round the school, trying to churn up a centre line, long changes of rein and 20m circles.  I tried to work on having a forward medium walk and free walk as there wasn’t much else I could do! I hoped to break up the surface enough to school properly but we only managed a bit of trot as it was still just a bit too hard.

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I whiled away a few more hours at the yard before succumbing to the call of a warm house and the promise of a chippy tea!

Today’s ride was not a success in terms of working towards our goals (though we did work on our walk) but I had a really lovely day in the best place.  Sometimes pony time is more important than riding!

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Did you have a snow day?  What did you get up to?

Along For The Ride – Being Braver

On paper yesterday was just another day.  I missed Monday’s ride due to adult commitments (!) so I decided to try to sneak one in on a Thursday.

I swung by the yard after work to get Pea in, then went tutoring and came back an hour and a half later to ride.  It was dark, freezing (literally), I was still mostly in my work clothes and Pea was positively wild.  She hadn’t eaten any of her hay, she had trampled poo everywhere and was circling and stamping around like a bull.

At this point, I could have easily given up on the whole idea of riding and turned her out.  Although I didn’t really want to turn her out either as I knew I would have to go through the shire gelding’s paddock (who has been on box rest for months) and I was worried I might end up panicking and ending up in the mud.

I didn’t give up on the idea.  I gentled the wild beast with the support of some carrot stretches, tacked her up and attempted to face the next hurdle.  When Pea is in a mood she is not a fan of standing still at the mounting block – not great when you’ve got a higher risk of hip dislocation than your average person.  Luckily, she was hoof perfect.

We then got in the school where there were some dodgy distance trotting poles across the track at B – potentially problematic however I decided to use the obstacle to our advantage and practise some five metre loops.  Bend and suppleness are what we need to work on so along with that we did lots of circles and figures of eight.

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Pea actually felt amazing.  Maybe it was because I couldn’t see what we really looked like or because I was expecting lots of tension but reminded myself to chill.  I wasn’t the only thing chilling, by the end of our schooling the arena was starting to feel a bit crunchy and I could see the puddles on the yard were already icing over.  My fingers had that burning cold feel and our cool down was more of a freeze down.

When I clicked finish on equilab (the riding tracking app I have recently been using and loving) I realised I had managed nearly 40 minutes of riding without any real struggle with pain (only in my cold fingers). I then had to cope with the sweaty hairy situation that was Pea – she had worked hard!  She had a boxer style rub down with a towel and then I did her stretches again.

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I was torn between sticking her cooler on and leaving her in or accepting that I had done the best drying I could, chucking her turn out on and turning her out.  The decision was essentially having a grumpy pony all night vs getting past the shire.

I am proud to say I opted for the later!  Roo, the shire, is a very kind soul but I am embarrassingly nervous of him.  I was very much on crutches when he arrived with us and I think the memory of feeling so vunerable next to him has carried through.  I had been pre warned that he had cantered up behind the last mare to be turned out through his field HOWEVER I managed to get through (without letting him through either gate despite his attempts) and off Pea went to find her friends.

Doing my stable was slightly compromised by the fact I had a wrestle with a bucket of water and lost. Not ideal on an already icy night!

Positives

– I didn’t wimp out of any of the things I was worried about.. and I need not have been worried in the first place! The difference in my confidence compared to previous years is unbelievable – fingers crossed it stays that way!

Learning Points

– Thermals.

– Don’t get Pea stressed out thinking she is staying in all night if she’s not!

– Must get stronger! I should be in charge of buckets, buckets shouldn’t be in charge of me!

– Communication with home would have been better than letting this happen..

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