Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Upate 5 of 5: A fairytale ending

No, I'm not dead. This blog might as well be, but everything at Wyvern Oaks is kind of awesome.

In case you're wondering where updates 1-4 have gone, I'm writing this in reverse order because I'm months behind. Whatever, you get the most fun stuff first.

If we're friends on Facebook, you know that the big news for me this year is that Taran and I qualified for and went to the US Dressage Finals in Lexington, Kentucky. Not only that, but we came away with something I didn't even dare to really hope for: a gorgeous, big-ass neck ribbon. That's right, T is top 10 in the nation for AA 1st Level Freestyle.

Victory lap in the Alltech arena. I only cried a little.

The entire experience of finals was like nothing I've done before. First off, before you show in the regional qualifiers, you have to "declare" your intent to go to nationals if you qualify for an invitation. There are two ways to qualify - you can either get 1st or 2nd place in your class, or you can get a wildcard score, which for freestyles is over a 66%. We qualified with a wildcard score of a 68.5%, with was 7th place. 

Once you qualify, USDF sends you an email "invitation," whereupon you log into their website and pay the class fee for whatever you were invited for. In our case, this was not only the freestyle, but we were also "in line" to ride in the 2nd Level AA championships, because we were 3rd place at regionals. If 1st or 2nd place had declined the invitation, we would have been allowed to compete (note, this did not happen).

After that it was a matter of signing up for the show. Kentucky Horse Park is a little weird because you get your classes through one site, your RV reservations through another, and stall/shavings/hay through a third. Normally all these are included when I sign up for a show online, so I found it a little challenging the first time round. Luckily, things were all in order when we arrived after a long-ass, two-day drive with an overnight stop in Little Rock (also, hell hath no traffic like I-35 northbound from Austin to Dallas when a semi overturns and closes the Interstate for 2.5 hours). 

Unfortunately, our first ride was at 8:40 a.m. on Friday, only 14 hours after we arrived. It was 30 degrees and quite windy, and poor T and I were both frozen. We had trouble finding the arena (it was a 20 minute walk from the barn and there were no signs) and so our warmup time was cut short. Luckily my trainer (who didn't go to Finals) had put me in touch with a good friend of hers, and he was on hand to help me warm up. Given that it was the first time he'd ever seen me ride (and uh, let's just say I'm pretty sure we didn't make a great impression), he did a great job jumping in and getting the job done. We rode a very stiff, uninspired, inattentive test for a 60.854, which was our lowest score to date. T stayed with me though and tried his best, but between the long haul, lack of warmup, and cold, I really didn't set him up for success. Lesson learned though - we really DO need a day to settle in if we're going to be competitive.

Pretty but completely frozen

After our ride, I noticed that T was not very warm under his 200 gram blanket, BOT sheet, and neck cover. I tried to find him something warmer at the show, but none of the vendors had blankets, so we ended up going to a local tack store and picking up a 400 gram turnout with neck cover and belly wrap. Within a few minutes of bundling him up in that, he toasted right up and started eating and drinking more normally. Note to self: Texas gear is insufficient for Kentucky temps. Also Taran prefers warm water.

Why yes my fully clipped Texas horse is bundled up to his eyeballs. Not shown: me also bundled up in my ski pants and parka. It was 23 degrees, don't judge.

Day 2 had us riding 2-3 again at 4 p.m. It was much warmer, and I was own my own for warmup. Well, except for my awesome husband who kept reminding me to let T go forward and turn my thumbs up. I was determined to put in a more forward, uphill, and relaxed test this time, so took plenty of time to warm up and really focused on breathing and staying loose in the tack so T could actually move. We got into the ring and every time I felt him get stuck I let out my breath, relaxed, and put my leg on... and he started moving again. Lesson learned! We had our absolute best mediums to date, and our canter work was SO balanced and round. 

Like, dayum. 

Does anyone remember when we could barely even canter on the left lead?

Uhhhnnnfortunately, we also put in more mistakes than we ever have before. We had a break in the canter, someone fluffed a giant plastic trash bag next to the arena so we bolted in a 10m trot circle, we did a reining spin instead of a TOH, and he was super convinced I wanted to canter down centerline. So our new score was ALSO the lowest ever... 60.061. But we squeaked the 60 and completed his 2nd level performance award, which was why we were riding it. Besides, it was probably the best test quality-wise we've ever done (he also offered 2 piaffe steps in warmup), and I was super stoked about that.

Seriously wish the pro photographer had gotten this one... alas, it's only a blurry screen cap of a zoomed-in video.

Our final ride was the Championships on Sunday morning. We were 4th to last in order of go (they do a draw by computer), so I had a fairly relaxing morning to prep. We had another good warmup (with coaching this time, woohoo!) and there was a scratch so we got to go a bit early. Overall the quality of the ride was not nearly what we had the day before for 2-3, but it wasn't bad either. We had two mistakes - we missed the first change in our line of 3 but managed to make it up, and he spooked at A when a hoof hit the arena wall (driver error, whoops). We got a little behind the music after those mistakes and I had to scramble a bit to catch up, but it worked out mostly OK. It definitely wasn't the super brilliant test I wanted it to be, but we got around and kept it together.

I had my back to the arena and was talking to my coach about how it went when his eyes lit up, and I turned around to see the scoreboard:

Hell yes I will take that. Also judge at B, I love you.

There was much frantic scrambling for phones to check how my score compared with the others (aside... did you know that iphones will brick when it's too cold? Just FYI), and I was sitting in 8th, with 3 riders to go.

And then two.

And then one.

And we managed to hold on for 9th.

I am so proud of this piece of satin it's kind of ridiculous.

I know we had mistakes, and I know it's only 9th place. But that damn ribbon couldn't mean more to me than if it said Champion on it and came with a fancy cooler. I am riding a tiny 15.1 homebred pony cross against warmbloods imported from Germany and holding my own. I've been told more than once that I'd need a fancier horse to be competitive... and yet, here we are. We have come so far in the last two years, and worked so hard for it, and we are not done yet

Taran not care about fancy ribbon. Taran care about friends OVER THERE.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Help a Haffie out - I need a name!

Hi there.

You might remember me - I'm the new Haffie.

My new Mom and Dad are trying to figure out what my name is, but so far they're terrible parents and haven't found one. 

I mean, how hard can it be? I'm gorgeous and adorable.

I came with "Avery" but it's just not me.

They tried "Armani"






Galahad (what a mouthful!)

Lancelot (seriously guys could we get away from the Arthurian theme?)

But they're just... not me.

Help a Haffie out?

(Notes from the humans: H2.0 is shy, but sticks like glue once he gets to know you. Like literally must be touching you with his nose at all times. He's not confident himself but gets his confidence from you. Tries hard to please under saddle but also comes with the requisite Haffie tricks for getting out of work. Unlike Paddy, he's not aware he's adorable. He's probably the most talkative horse I've ever met. He's also crazy athletic.

Name must be something suitable for a dressage and/or jousting horse. Name must also still fit him if that crazy mane happens to be removed. Name must not cause any embarrassment when I yell it across the pasture at 6 am. Bonus points if it's as cute as Paddington Bear.)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Double (Haffie) Trouble

Yes, there really are two Haffies at Wyvern Oaks now...

Herro World!

Since Brego's death last year, we have tentatively been looking for a new horse for hubby. Paddy has been awesome for him, but that pesky injury in his RF tends to become aggravated at the most inopportune times. Essentially it's soft tissue in his heel (likely DDFT but we'd need to MRI to confirm), and despite two separate 6+ month rehabs, he tends to aggravate it if he gets to playing too hard. So a backup pony seemed like a good idea.

He might even have better hair than Paddy (photo courtesy of MC)

Or at least more of it (photo courtesy of MC)

Enter Haffie the Second (his registered name doesn't seem to fit him, and we haven't figured out what to call him, so he's temporarily been dubbed H2). He was shipped in from Oregon last weekend, because we are insane and bought him based on a video and a vet check.

Communing with hubby

He just turned 8, is 15.1, and has a good deal of dressage training although no formal show record.

Reddums provides the best welcoming committee ever. All H2 has to do is everything Reddums says, and everything is just fine.

Unfortunately the rest of the herd was not as thrilled. Taran played Herd Stallion to keep H2 away from his beloved Paddington.

Yep, that's my mostly unflappable 2nd level dressage horse doing airs above the ground. WTF.

They later reconciled their differences

H2 has not has as many life experiences as our guys. See that tiny dot in the neighbor's pasture, next to the post on the far left? That's a mini donkey. This is H2 keeping Reddums between him and the extremely dangerous #tinyhorseeatingmonster

But eventually he decided they are OK

First order of business: #shedeverything

He's already been on a couple of trail rides (cacti are scary), hauled out to my trainer's (standing patiently in a trailer in not a strong suit, and also he can untie lead ropes), and been worked in hand (no, you can't run over me, and yes I will win this fight so you might as well conserve your energy). And we've gotten a couple of rides in which have been absolutely delightful.

That canter tho

Whether he'll make a jousting horse is anybody's guess, but we're just going to work on miles, desensitization, and dressage for now. He's SUPER fun to ride (I could canter him for days, he's so balanced and light) and knows some stuff, but there are plenty of holes that need to be worked on. Should be lots of fun though, as he's got great basics and I think will pick things up easily.

Plus, Paddy can spend more time eating now.

Two haffies make a whole?

Monday, April 3, 2017

2nd Level Bronze Medal Scores + 1st Level Awesomeness = best show weekend EVER

This year has gotten away from me. I felt so organized back in January, filling out the calendar with all our travel and events and shows and jousts and family things.

And then there's that moment when you look at your calendar and feel completely overwhelmed, and realize that something's got to give. And for me, one of those somethings has been blogging.

I've been riding lots though, and this weekend was the first show of the year. I was supposed to already have 3 shows done and gone, but see above-mentioned crazy schedule. The venue is our favorite, in San Antonio, in part because everything is covered but mostly because there is a FABULOUS restaurant right next door with awesome margaritas. Important detail, right?

I'd signed up at the last minute because they had some slots left, and it had become apparent that another show I had planned on doing wasn't going to happen because of other scheduling conflicts (*&!@&^ calendar). So I felt kind of unprepared - we haven't set foot at a rated show since Championships early last October, and we were tackling second level for the first time ever.

I really should start believing more in myself and in my horse, because it was quite literally the type of show weekend I've only thought other people, with fancy imported horses, get to have.

First up Saturday morning was 2-1. I'd had a tense warmup Friday night (because OMG SHOW), but Taran's bodyworker, who also takes lessons from the same GP trainer as I do (and happens to be an FEI rider herself), kindly took some time to talk me down from the ledge and reminded me to breathe. She was actually on hand for the rest of the weekend with pointers, and I'm pretty sure she's why we did so well.

When I went down centerline the first time, I had a HUGE smile on my fact. I WAS RIDING SECOND LEVEL. For real. I knew we could do it, and I focused on riding a clean test. We had three mistakes (one blown canter lead and we broke after both medium canters because if I sit too hard in the canter, T thinks I mean walk), but we also had some really nice moments. We left points on the table when I didn't halt for 3 seconds before the rein back, but we also scored an 8 on the centerline and had a lot of 7s for the canter work (?!?!?!). Our final score was a 61.5 for second place (out of 3, .4% behind 1st). And it was good enough for a bronze medal score.


After that success, I was able to relax even more. Saturday afternoon had us doing 1-3 for the 12th time, but I had hubby read the test because a) I haven't done that test since October and b) I can NEVER remember that damn test. T was feeling a bit tired, but we held it together and only had one mistake (another break after lengthen canter). Overall though, it was a smooth, clean test, and I made the final halt knowing it was the best 1-3 we've ever done, regardless of what the judge thought of it.

Final halt and salute. This got an 8.

I was right - final score was a 69.295%! That got us our second qualifying score for 2017 regional Championships, and it also clinched us 1st place for 1-3 adult amateur. We even squeaked out a Reserve Champion AA First Level ribbon. I picked up my satin and glassware (not going to lie, I love glassware prizes), and thought I'd had just about the most perfect day ever. We topped off the awesome by visiting with horse show friends, and then hubby and I had an amazing seafood dinner. Horse shows are even nicer when you have The World's Best Horse Show Husband (TM).

Satin with bonus glassware

Sunday morning dawned dark and stormy, with a bonus Tornado Watch throughout most of central Texas. Fortunately, my first ride of the day was just after the leading edge of the front moved through. Other folks were not so lucky, and one of the arenas lost power so dressage tests were ridden in the dark. At least the entire facility was covered!

Not what you want to see an hour before your ride time

I was determined to ride a mistake-free test this time. I'd spent some time thinking about my medium-collected canter transitions, which are a big struggle for me, and what I could do differently. We practiced a few in warmup and I had a very clear sequence in my head - inside leg, sit TALL, and FLUFF THE REINS. I went down centerline again with a smile on my face, because I knew we were going to rock it. Our trot work wasn't as good as the day before, but the test was mistake-free and I was really pleased with how solid of a ride we put in. Sure, we are leaving points on the table, but we'll get better at it the more we do it.

This time, the judge was a bit more generous and gave us a whopping 65.6%!!! And damn, I am proud of this test. I can't even believe this is the same horse I was riding a year ago. 

Unfortunately, we had a 5 hour wait until my 1-3 test. I considered scratching because T and I were both tired and we didn't need the score for anything, but I also really to see if we could break 70. We put in a very short, conservative warmup, and then I went out and rode the test like I was riding a second level test - way more uphill and collected than I normally would. We had a couple of transitions that weren't where I wanted them to be (canter at C was early and it would be great if T would actually halt at X long enough for me to finish my salute) but otherwise I was very, very pleased with it. Even the medium to collected canter transitions felt good! 

I was putting away stuff in the trailer when the results showed up online, but I heard this screech from Taran's stall area and hubby yelled across the parking lot "SEVENTY THREE POINT SIX!!!!" I wasn't even sure I'd heard him right, so I checked my phone... yup, a 73.676%. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR. That's a lifetime high for me, y'all. I've never even done that well at a schooling show!

Since I'd scored so well but both my divisions were the last of the day, I decided to stick around for the finals, and I'm sure glad I did. We ended up getting first place for both 1-3 and 2-1 in the AA division, AND we got High Point AA for both first level and second level. 

Satin like I've never had before

And then I read my 1-3 test, and I saw this:

I actually grabbed the poor stranger next to me, hugged her, and shoved my test in her face exclaiming "I GOT A TEN!" Sorry, whoever you were, and thanks for understanding my excitement.

So that sums up my fairy tale show weekend. Normally, when you watch the 70+ rides, they're on very fancy horses. I honestly never though we'd be able to score that well, no matter how good of a test we put in. I guess I was wrong. Apparently my little (borrowed) homebred pony, who's spent most of his life being a lawnmower, is more awesome than anyone ever knew. 

Heck, apparently he's a perfect 10!


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2016 year end awards

Our local USDF GMO held its annual awards banquet this weekend, and for the first time, hubby and I attended. It was a fun little dinner, although it's so weird to see people without their helmets on! I swear I'm better at recognizing horses than people, which made for a few awkward moments while I figured out who everyone was.

Taran had a pretty amazing year last year, especially considering where we started. He ended up 103 in the nation at First level, with an average score of 65.687. He was also Champion at First level for our GMO, and Reserve at Training. We snagged a couple of saddle pads, because who doesn't need more saddle pads?

The only problem with having a saddle pad with "Champion" on it is I feel like if we used it for a lesson, he'd be a complete jerk just because. These will probably be used for rides at home... no point in tempting fate, you know?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Shoulder in! Renvers! Leg yield! Travers!

Our last session with Alfredo focused on getting Taran to be more mobile with his shoulders and haunches, and hotter off my leg. As Alfredo pointed out after I'd switched my whip for the 20975th time, Taran doesn't respect my leg unless I have a whip to back it up. That's all fine and good until you ride a test where you don't get to carry a whip, and then you're screwed (ahemGAIGchampionshipsahem).

We worked on the new, slower warmup, which seems to do good things for Taran:

Hellooooo, gorgeous stretchy trot. Where have you been all my life?

And then we transitioned to doing shoulder in to renvers on a circle. The difference is bending, which sounds easy, but it's challenging for me to rearrange all my body parts quickly so that Taran can make the transition from one to the other smoothly and without losing the trot. We've done this exercise with Alfredo before, but I admit that I don't practice it much at home. When I do, I'm not asking for the level of bend and obedience that he expects... because this kind of smooth, obedient movement is a whole new thing for us:

I really liked the feel that I could put Taran's body anywhere I wanted and I would get an immediate and BIG response - that goes with being more demanding of both myself and him. Plus, it's much harder to do shoulder in/haunches in on a circle than it is on a straight line (which is what's required in all the 2nd level tests), so if we can can do these movements well on a circle, we shouldn't have any problem when we have to do it down the rail. Plus it's easy to see in the video how a half pass could come out of these movements, if I just placed it slightly different, so that's exciting. Who knew Taran had so much crossover in those short little legs of his?

Finally, we did an exercise down the long side where we stared in shoulder in, switched bend to renders, then flipped to face the rail in leg yield, then changed bend to travers. Sound confusing? Try riding it! I messed it up the first few times, but eventually we kinda got it right:

Whew, I felt like I needed a translator! These movements (except SI) aren't really automatic in my head yet, so it takes me a moment to figure out what each one needs and then ask Taran for it.

We've definitely got our work cut out for us, but I got a lot out of the clinic. My biggest takeaway is that I really have to be more demanding of us both... Taran can do the movements, and do them big, and I need to push for that. We don't have fancy gaits to help us out with our scores, so it's important to ride every step for 110%. I'm excited with all that we accomplished in just a few short days, and am really looking forward to working on everything at home. After all, our first show of the year is just 2 months away!

Monday, January 9, 2017

A more effective warm-up & riding for better scores

The second day of the Alfredo clinic, we worked primarily on more shoulder in and renvers. But what stuck most in my mind about this lesson was what Alfredo had to say about warm-up.

At home, we usually take a short trail ride to the field where we do most of our work, so we have a 10+ minute walk warm-up. Then I do some trot and canter on a long rein, take a bit of a breather, and then consider us ready to get down to business.

Alfredo's suggestion was much different. Instead of doing long stretches at any one gait, he had us do perhaps a circle or a half circle of one thing, then a circle of walk, then pick the reins back up, do something else, walk, etc. Essentially it was a lot of very sort bits of bending and flexing, working lower and then asking for a few steps of collection, working lower, back to walk - just lots of gentle transitions, gentle flexing, and gentle laterals. I posted the trot the whole time to let his back warm up (I normally do a lot of posting so that wasn't new).

Longer rein at the beginning of the ride

Asking for him to come a bit more together

As the session went on, we asked for more sustained stretches of collection, more angle in the laterals, more bend, and a faster response off the leg. Again, Alfredo's method is very short stretches of good work, followed immediately by a walk/reward break when the horse does the exercise well the rider does the exercise correctly.

Flexion left with a bit more collection

Really asking that hind leg to come through

The trot near the end of the ride

I can certainly see the benefits of shorter chunks of work, especially with an older horse, but I do worry a little about building more fitness and also the horse expecting that he only has to work for short periods of time (ahem).

We did have one fantastically excellent spook when a pitchfork that was leaning against the side of the arena slid down the wall and onto the ground...

Thank goodness for saddles with ginormous thigh blocks! 

Another super interesting thing Alfredo said was about getting better scores on a movement. If your movement starts well, then the judge is likely to have in their heads a 6.5 or a 7. If you ride half of it well and then it falls apart, you might end up with a 6.5 or a 6, depending on where you started. BUT, if your movement starts off really badly, the judge might have in their heads a 5, and even if the second half of the movement is great, you're unlikely to score more than a 5.5 or a 6. So it's really important to set up the movement well and make that good first impression, even if it falls apart later. Easier said than done, of course!



THAT's what you want to come out of the gate with!