Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Second Level take two: Slow. The. Fuck. Down.

Brego's death has cast a bit of a shadow on Wyvern Oaks. You never quite realize how much a presence affects everyone until it has gone. The whole place somehow feels a bit quieter, a bit emptier. Taran is despondent, and Paddy still occasionally calls for his big BFF.

And yet, life goes on without him.

This weekend, we had a schooling show where I did 2-1 and 2-2. Coming into it, I had high hopes that we were much more prepared than we were a few months ago. Taran is more through, better balanced, and has moments where he really shines in the movements. We'd had a lesson Thursday where his w/c/w transitions were really spot on. His counter-canter is stronger, and his transitions from medium to collected canter are actually starting to look like transitions instead of hopes and prayers. I'd even accidentally put on too much outside leg in the canter and he did a few strides of half pass (OMGOMGOMG). Plus, I'm trying out a new saddle that puts my leg in a MUCH better place, and really lets me sit around him.

Naturally, we nailed the warmup and then we both ran out of steam in the tests.

I find that it takes an incredible amount of core strength to ride a collected canter, and Taran doesn't yet the strength to do much collection, so I have to work really hard to help him. You simply cannot hold collection together with your hands, you HAVE to ride it forward and up from your seat and leg, and I just couldn't do it for very long in either test. The sloppier I got, the sloppier and less balanced he got. We had a lot of breaks, and a lot of very poor w/c/w transitions, despite the fact I know we can do those well. I also let him get very quick in the trot for 2-1, in part because I was soooo tense and that caused him to shorten up.

Like this was supposed to be a medium trot. Whoops.

If that canter were any less collected it would be a medium.

One of our more... expressive... walk/canter transitions. At least I know he can rock back on his haunches?

For 2-2, I realized that I didn't have the stamina to ride a tense test, so I made a conscious effort to relax and sit and slow down, and I think it helped. It was still a messy test, but it felt slightly less hurried and rushed.

A better centerline.

It's a shoulder in, can't you tell?

He can really step under himself if I ride him right and let him use his back.

When we were crossing centerline to do our two walk pirouettes, Taran took a HARD look at the shadow made by the covered arena. There's not much you can do when your horse has a moment except smile and kick on. Rather funny but we scored a 6.5 on both pirouettes.


The judge's comments on both tests can be summed up to "Needs balance and collection and SLOW DOWN." Totally, 100% accurate. Sure, we can do certain things really well at home some of the time, but this is a whole new thing for us both and it's upping the game significantly. I feel like the tests were overall better than the one we did in June (really? June? Damn, that was AGES ago) but we scored about the same (57.7 on 2-1 and 58.4 on 2-2). So while certain aspects of our rides are better, we have a long way to go before we can really put in a solid test. Fortunately we have all winter for me to get into shape so I can ride better!

Taran 2-1

Taran 2-2

Thursday, October 20, 2016

In Loving Memory of Brego

We lost a great horse yesterday.

It turned out that the recurring coronary abscess that we've been fighting all this time was actually an infection of P3 (the coffin bone) that ran from the tip of the bone all the way up into the coronet band. Because of the extent of the infection, it was inoperable. There was really only one decision to make.

You're probably wondering how, after all this time, we could have missed something so extensive. My vet has literally taken nearly a hundred xrays of his foot (and the other one for comparison). We have done ultrasounds, a veinogram, and used basically every diagnostic tool we had at our disposal short of a recumbent MRI, because he couldn't have handled the sedation and his ginormous foot wouldn't have fit into a standing MRI. There are four other excellent vets in-house at our clinic, plus my vet consulted with three external vets on his case (including the one who is considered the expert equine podiatrist in the US). There have been a LOT of exceptionally good people involved with this case, and yet somehow Brego managed to stump them all.

You see, there was never any indication on his xrays that there was infection. The bone was solid on every film. He was never lame, except when he was blowing out an abscess.

After his first hoof wall resection back in July, we had high hopes even though we weren't able to find the root cause of the problem. But then the hoof wasn't growing in normally - it grew up instead of down. We did a second, very minor resection in late August to try to correct that problem, and at the same time we dissected the area around the coronet band and halfway up the pastern to try to find the root of the problem. My vet found no tracks, no foreign bodies, nothing. Brego recovered from that surgery just fine, and the new hoof he was laying down grew in straighter, but it had an odd, cracked quality to it.

Then mid September, Brego went very lame immediately after he'd had his shoes reset. Our farrier (who is an amazingly talented man with a piece of metal), made an emergency visit and found an abscess right in the middle of the area where there was no hoof wall, about halfway down his foot. It was quite a puzzle... why was there an abscess there? We took more xrays to try to find where it was coming from, but nothing showed up on the films. We speculated and scratched our heads while Brego begged cookies from the entire clinic staff, but eventually decided to wait and see since we didn't have anything to go on.

Then on Monday, the abscess blew out again, in the same spot. This time, we did a dye study to follow the track of the abscess. The dye showed a shadowed spot at the tip of P3, as well as a number of little "filament" tracks going partway up the front of P3. At this point we knew the news wasn't good, but we decided to go in anyway and at least try to give Brego the best possible chance.

You can see the probe coming in on the left, and ending nearly at the tip of P3 (obscured because of the nails). The little filaments going up the front of P3 are dye tracks, but even these don't show the extent of the infection that they found.

My vet found that the tip of P3 was infected - not badly, she managed to clean it, but then she began following the tracks upward. She still had not found it all when she stopped at the base of the coronet band, almost two inches from the tip of P3 where the infection was based. We discussed options, and what it came down to was that while we could do surgery to remove all the infection, it would have been so extensive that it would have compromised the structural integrity of his foot. In other words, his coffin bone would have had no support, and he would have rotated and foundered. So there really was only one choice to make.

What's really amazing is that the first abscess he had was nearly four years ago, when he was with his previous mum. She's got xrays from that too, and there's nothing to be seen.  So he's been foxhunting, eventing, jousting, and living with an infected bone for literally four years, and we never knew. As my vet put it, Brego never read any of the books on how things are supposed to happen.

Brego leaves an incredible legacy. I know many folks (myself included) who started blogging because of Brego's blog, The Eventing Percheron. He touched the lives of those he met in person as well - from his massive feet to his larger-than-life personality. There was never any question that he owned the universe and everything in it.

And today it's a sadder, smaller place because he's missing from it.

We love you, big guy, and we'll miss you so much.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Taran Confo Shots: October

Time for October's confo shot...

October 9, 2016

August 20, 2016

Compared to his August pic, I think he looks a bit leaner, although that could be the angle (and the fact that he didn't eat his alfalfa pellets for the entire 4 days we were at regionals). The top part of the base of his neck is also filled in a little more, which I think is because I'm doing a better job of riding him through his back and allowing the motion, instead of getting grabby and stopping it behind the saddle. However, his topline looks a little less defined, which may be because we recently discovered that his saddle doesn't fit any more (oh joy, another new saddle search. Ugh.)

But overall, he looks like a fit, normal horse. How weird is that???

Monday, October 17, 2016

Problems with a slightly more fit, athletic horse

Taran has always been a bit spooky. Things in the woods, stripes on the road, a divot in the arena (or heaven forbid, a tiny spot in the arena that didn't get groomed)... all of these are cause for the hairy eyeball treatment and perhaps a bit of a spook. Luckily Taran is of the opinion that energy is best conserved, so bolting isn't really in his repertoire. And because of that, I've never really worried about my ability to stay on during his rather pathetic attempts at being naughty.

Until recently.

While I know that Taran is nowhere near as fit as even a Novice level eventer, he's still probably the most fit he's ever been in his life. He's also realized that he can use his body in new and inventive ways. Lateral movements are now a Thing He Does. Turn on the forehand/haunches are a well-understood (if not well executed) concept. Unfortunately, some of these new movement are used in a rather untimely manner, and of his own accord. So we get classy moments like these:

OH MY GOD WHO PUT THAT WATER BOTTLE THERE??? (This was a split second before he teleported left to X)


Please note that there have been flowers at A since we started riding here almost a year ago. They are the same flowers that have always been there. They have not moved or changed in any way. Weirdo. Maybe he should have been a cutting horse?

On the bright side, when we're not spooking at random "scary" things, the good moments are getting better.

Medium trot is looking so much more powerful and connected.

And way more "up" in front. If only I would stop leaning back!

Even our moments of disobedience look less... disobedient. Erm... as long as we're not spooking at all the things. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

USDF Region 9 Championships: Day 2

On Sunday, we had SWDC 1-3 at 8:30 am, and then GAIC Training 3 shortly after that.

After the previous two days' slightly error-prone tests, I was determined to make the most of my last day. Taran warmed up a little quick and heavy - he wanted me to balance him, but we did some trot-halt-trot transitions to get him more organized and a little hotter off my leg. We also did a ton of super bendy small serpentines to really get him flexible, and then we were off.

So much more balanced

I was so pleased with this test. Sure, there are plenty of things that could be better, but overall I felt like it was steady, balanced, and consistent. And there were somethings that were really good - our leg yields, our canter lead change, and our last trot lengthening. Unfortunately, with our score of 64.044%, we only managed 12th out of 21. Still, I feel like this was our best 1-3 test of the year, and I'm super happy with it.

Our final test was GAIC Training 3. Taran was about done with the whole concept of showing by this point, not that I blame him. I kept the warmup short and sweet, focusing on bending and me riding good transitions (MORE INSIDE THIGH). I warmed up with a whip and then dropped it before doing my courtesy lap around the arena, and Taran figured out that I had spurs on when I asked for some bend, he didn't respond, and then I got after him. He was VERY obedient off my leg after that!

In this test, I knew that making my figure geometry perfect would count for a lot, so I rode every step of those serpentines and 20 meter circles. Of course our free walk and stretchy trot circle sucked (as usual), and our canter transitions (which had been lovely in warmup) were not through because I had too much inside hand. Otherwise I was fairly happy with the test - and super glad to be done.

Our score for this one was a 65.795%, and based on how everyone else was scoring, it looked like it might be good enough for a ribbon. As we were packing up, both my trainer and I kept refreshing the online score page on our phones. We were sitting in 4th for a long time, but there were still scores coming in. Finally... finally... they were all posted. We'd managed to hang on for a 5th place (out of 16), and I was SO excited. I'd really, really wanted a ribbon for this show, because it would be the icing on the cake for a pretty fantastic year. And we'd done it.

Our final halt of the weekend. Taran's ears say it all.

I'd never ridden in award ceremony before, and it was pretty special to me. The show organizers really do a great job of making sure everyone knew where to go, and making everyone feel like they had their moment to shine.

Walking by the officials.

I felt a huge amount of gratitude to Taran for overcoming so much and trying so hard for me, to my trainer for pushing us to be our best, to FuzzyPony for loaning me her boy, and of course to my husband who has been so supportive of me. If you'd told me at the beginning of the year - when Paddy was doing rehab, Brego was lame from a recurring abscess, and I'd just pulled an out-of-shape, uncoordinated grey pasture puff out of the field - that's we'd be riding in the GAIG awards ceremony in October, I would have told you that you're crazy.

But apparently it's not entirely crazy, because there we are in the middle.

Certain little grey horses are pretty awesome after all!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

USDF Region 9 Championships: Day 1

Region 9 championships are a bit confusing, because there are actually three shows going on at the same time. There's a normal USDF rated show, there's the SouthWest Dressage Championships (SWDC), and then there's the Great American Insurance Group Championships (GAIG). The SWDC championships require 2 scores over a 62% to qualify (for AA Training and First level), and they pin through 6th place, with medals for 1-3rd. The GAIG championships require 2 scores over 65% to qualify, and they pin through 8th place. 1st and 2nd place, or any score over 68%, can go on to the USDF National Championships in Kentucky in November.

This year we qualified for both SWDC and GAIG at Training and First level, so I rode a total of four tests, two each on Saturday and Sunday. I also rode a "warm-up" 1-3 test on Friday in the normal USDF rated show, to attempt to get my nerves under control. It sort of worked.

We totally rocked the warmup (even without my trainer, who was dealing with a sick kid), but when we got in the arena, Taran was distracted and looky. Our trot work, which has been stellar all year, just fell apart. Our canter work was much, much better, until I started to get light-headed. There was a moment in the second canter lengthening where most of the world went black (tunnel vision FTW), so needless to say that canter work was not our best. I did stay conscious for the entire test, but it took me almost an hour after I got off to return to a "normal" not-beet-red color. The only thing I can figure is that between the heat (97 degrees plus humidity) and the nerves, I got overheated. I thought I was more fit than that, but apparently not.

Final score for the 1-3 warm-up: 65.294%. Good enough to be my first qualifying score for 2017, but we were only 10th out of 14.

Our trot lengthenings are getting way better though... at least until we lose balance and fall apart.

Saturday was our first day of championship rides. First up was the GAIG 1-3 test. Luckily it was much cooler, so I wasn't as worried about overheating. HOWEVER, you are not allowed to use a whip in the GAIG tests, which Taran realized right after the first trot lengthening when he counterflex-spooked in the corner and I kicked him with my right leg (which he ignored) instead of tapping him on the hip. Annnnnd after that he gleefully realized that I didn't have a whip, so I spent the rest of the test pony-club kicking his ass around the dressage court and praying he wouldn't break gait (which he did, but only once).

At least centerline went well... until about two strides after this when he started staring at the judge's booth.

Maybe someday I will be able to ride a free walk - medium walk transition without the giraffe option.

No amount of kicking convinced him to stay balanced and through in the canter. Blarg.

Because that's JUST the kind of ride you want to lay down in front of Gary Rockwall, who was the judge at C. He, uh, was also the US judge at the Olympics in Rio. Haha.

That test earned us a sad 62.353. Comments were all some version of "flat, unbalanced, downhill, quick" which was absolutely on the mark. I was pretty bummed because we'd had SUCH a nice warmup and his canter has really been getting more balanced, but hey, that's what happens when you have no whip or spurs. Another lessons learned. This score got us 12th out of 20, but another percentage point (which is about four points on a 1-3 test) and we would have been 7th. See what I mean about every point counting?

My second test on Saturday was SWDC Training 3. You're allowed to carry a whip for SWDC tests, so as soon as he thought about looking at something in the (big, spooky) arena, I gave him a little tap and he was all business. We laid down a good round, except the part where I haven't been riding T3 at home and some of my figures were a little off (how big is a 20 m circle again?). Still, it was a fairly pleasant test which earned us a 65.909.

There were 23 riders in that class, and the scoring got a little behind. For almost an hour, there were 5 rides that didn't have scores, and we were sitting in 5th. I was passing the time watching freestyles, frantically refreshing the online scores, hoping we could hold on for a ribbon (SWDC pins to 6th). But no such luck... we ended in 7th by one point. And sure enough, if I'd made those circles a little more round, and the serpentines just a smidge more accurate, I'm pretty sure that would have done it, based on the comments on my test.

Despite not having the rides I knew we were capable of, our scores were really not that bad, and so many riders were so close that every little bit made a huge difference. Plus, we had two more tests Sunday!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Top Take-Aways from the Region 9 USDF Championships

This last weekend was the Region 9 USDF championships. I'm working on getting the media together for more posts, but in the meantime, here are a few of my take-aways from this show:

Seeing a rainbow on your drive must mean good things will happen. Right? Right.

Also I did not crash after taking this picture

Don't bring your goat to the championships. Or your tiny, incessantly whiny dogs. Seriously on the goat, wtf? I kept wondering if someone was planning barbacoa for dinner one night because why else would you bring a goat to a horse show? And no, it wasn't in a stall keeping a horse company. I checked. Oh and while I adore dogs at shows (I tried to steal three corgis and a pyr, but no luck), your whiny dog needs to stay home. Especially if you're going to leave it crated in your tack stall overnight because you can't bring it to the hotel.

It's great reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. And I love how supportive everyone is. Any time I saw someone I knew, we'd stop to chat for a moment, commiserate on the bad rides, and celebrate the good ones. I know that dressage riders are viewed as DQs, and that can certainly be an accurate stereotype. But even with their fancy horses and pricey clothes, they are often also really good, kind people who are supportive of each other, and that's pretty awesome.

For those of us with less-than-fancy horses, doing well at championships is all about riding the perfect test. Most of my classes had one or two riders around 70, then maybe a 68 and 67, but the majority of the scores fell in the 64-65% range. Even one point on a test (not one percentage point, one single point) could affect your standing dramatically. I missed the 6th place ribbon in one test because of a point. I've never wished that I had made a rounder 20 meter circle in my life. So you need absolute accuracy and a mistake-free test to do well - but you CAN do well, even without the fancy warmblood. Oh and speaking of scores, expect to score 2-5% worse in a championship class than you normally do. Ouch.

Hint: I'm the 65.909. That might even be a half-point difference. 

It really is all about the satin. Coming into this show, I secretly wanted to bring home a ribbon. I didn't even care what place, I just wanted one. And... mission accomplished. I even got to ride in the awards ceremony, where I managed not to cry (and I'm so not a crier)... but for an AA who has struggled most of her life at schooling shows, it was an experience I won't soon forget. There is something really gratifying about all your hard work when you get that stupid, cheap, big-ass fake satin ribbon. Judge me all you want, I'll happily take that ribbon and cherish it for a long, long time.

And this handsome fellow made it all possible. :)