Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Quite Possibly the World's Only Jousting Haflinger

Wow, 5 weeks from my last update. Bad blogger. 

Things have slowed down here a little – the dressage show in May is our last competition until September, so Paddy and I took a week off. Then it started raining… and raining and raining and raining…. So we both sat around eating and packing on the pounds. 


I almost had to by floaties for the mutant dog, who can't swim very well.

And then Brego went 3-legged lame and proceeded to blow out the world’s largest abscess.
Seriously. It’s over 2 inches long.

I'm good with blood-dripping wounds, but something about holes in horse hooves makes me gag.

See the giant hole? 

Two visits from the vet, some rads, and a $300 pair of custom front shoes later, and Brego still wasn’t sound. The consensus was that the shoes helped the bruising on the bottom of his foot, but that it would just take some time to grow out the abscessed area up near the coronet band. Unfortunately, hubby had a big international jousting tournament and benefit June 13-15, with a week of practice beforehand. Brego got better each day, but he still wasn’t 100%, and there was no way we were going to joust a horse that’s NQR. We had a backup jousting horse lined up, and then another jouster’s horse blew out a suspensory. 

So two weeks before the tournament, Paddy got requisitioned as a jousting Haffie.

It was a big risk. His last experience with armor (the week after I got him) did not go well. I’ve cantered him up and down a jousting lane a few times, but never against another horse, with armor, or with lances. He’s never done mounted combat, except when I used him as an attack platform when we were working on Brego. In other words, he was pretty much a dressage Haffie.

Turns out, I might need another dressage Haffie, because Paddy is pretty much the best jousting poneh EVAR.

This is his attack face.

So here's my jousting Haffie:

Paddy jousting at SIRE.

Paddy positively stole the show. He was calm before the runs, launched beautifully, ran straight, and stopped neatly at the end of every run. He actually did better than some of the seasoned jousting horses that have been doing this for years! 

On Friday, the first official tournament day, we had a bunch of school children in the stands. They all asked each horse's name, and of course they all recognized Paddington Bear from the movie. Every time he was up for a run, the kids would chant "PAD-DING-TON! PAD-DING-TON!" They all wanted to pet him after, and Paddy obligingly stood for lots of photo ops. All weekend, we had people come up to us and tell us how adorable he was, and he schmoozed for cookies for all he was worth. 

This is his favorite person in the whole wide world to mooch cookies from. Meet Holly. 

Funny story about Paddy and the cookies. Hubby was up for a joust, but didn't know which end of the lane he was supposed to start from. We were all waving and yelling at him, but the jousters can't see or hear very well when they have their helms on. Suddenly Holly yelled "PADDY! COOKIES!". Paddy's little ears swiveled around, locked on to Holly, and he promptly dragged hubby across the arena (to the proper side) to Holly so that he could get a cookie. Yes, my horse will apparently do anything for a cookie.

Oh, and Paddy was by far the smallest jousting horse there:

He's the one on the left.

Entry procession (photo courtesy of Roxanne Moore). Paddy's on the far left, anchoring the formation.

Paddy also participated in the mounted combat melee, which his is apparently awesome at. The video below is a bit long, but it's got some cool action!

(Video courtesy of Roxanne Moore)

The entire event was to benefit SIRE, a theraputic riding program in Houston, Texas. We had the privilege of meeting a number of very special individuals who clearly love horses just as much as we do, if not more. We also had the help of the most amazing volunteers I've ever met - we even had our very own squire for the entire weekend! They really made the weekend so much easier and special for us. We were also very honored to be able to help raise money for such an amazing organization, and we really hope to do it again next year. Paddy will be there for sure!

Jousting Haffieeee!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Str, sl beh vert (aka how to decipher dressage test comments)

Dressage scribes - the people who takes notes that the judge dictates - have a tough time of it. They have to write down everything the judge says, verbatim, and they have to be very quick about it. Not only that, but they have to write legibly, often for hours on end. They're volunteers, and they do the best they can... which means they often use a lot of shorthand when writing. Deciphering scribe's handwriting can be challenging (sorry, every person who's ever had to read a test that I scribed for!), but sometimes figuring out the shorthand is the most fun.

As we were driving home from the show Sunday, hubby was reading the comments on my dressage tests. At one point he asked, "What the heck does s-t-r s-l b-e-h v-e-r-t mean?!?!" I laughed and responded "Straight, slightly behind vertical." He mentioned that you really need a secret decoder ring to read the judge's comments... and then Austen's comments on the "corn" abbreviation made me think - maybe we DO really need a secret dressage decoder ring? So here goes...
  • act - action
  • bal - balance
  • beh – behind
  • cl, clr - clear
  • corn, crn – corner
  • fwd – forward
  • O – round, rounder
  • ovrstp – overstep
  • rhy - rhythm
  • rndr - rounder
  • sl - slightly
  • st, str, str8 – straight
  • sup – suppleness, supple
  • temp - tempo
  • trans, tx – transition
  • vert – vertical
  • 4hd - forehand
Comment for this post are only allowed in dressage test shorthand. For reference, the full set of abbreviations can be found here...  ;)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dressage at the Palace - The Videos

I admit, watching Training Level tests is sort of like watching grass grow, but I have them so I'll share them.

Day 1, Training Level Test 2

This was our super tense but obedient ride. I'm OK with that for a start.

Day 1, Training Level Test 3

Note the error. Oops.

Day 2, Training Level Test 2 (cut short 'cause Hubby's phone died)

This was actually my favorite test, because the scores were consistently higher and nothing below a 6.0. Progress!

Day 2, Training Level Test 3

Not as many 7s, but the 8s make up for it.

I'm sure y'all will notice that he's behind the vertical. Trust me, the judges noticed too. :) He thinks this is a great evasion whenI hold him with my seat and don't let him charge around. We're really working on having him come up into my hand instead of falling behind, but it's going to take time and better timing on my part. It's always something!

You may also notice that I'm sitting the trot in all the tests - at this level, you're allowed to choose between sitting trot and rising trot. It would be better if I posted, because he's freer in his back. However, he's got a quick stride so posting makes him look even faster, and I can't regulate his tempo very well yet at a posting trot (rider failing), so sitting means a more consistent tempo. 

Overall, I feel like our tests look much more polished than they did just a month ago. We still have a LOT of work to do around balance at the canter, but it's starting to happen. I don't think I'm going to do any more shows until the fall (I could do one in June but it's hot and whyyyy?) so we have the whole summer to work on things. And maybe this fall... First Level?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dressage at the Palace Show - Mission(s) Accomplished!

This weekend was our second ever USDF rated show. Going in, I was really worried about our canter - we've been struggling a LOT with it (for ever and ever, but more since the last show), and of course about our obedience overall. At the last show (same venue), Paddy figured out that he could run things once we got into the arena, and I really didn't want a repeat of that.

So my goals for this show were:

  1. Obedience above all.
  2. Get qualifying score for Region 9 Championship show.
  3. Get 2 qualifying scores for USDF Training Level Rider award.
The short version is, we did all that. Every test got better, I beat my own personal record by quite a bit, and we ended up High Point Adult Amateur on Sunday! Truly, I could not have asked for a better weekend or better rides. Yay Paddy!

The longer version...

We arrived late Friday afternoon, and I settled Paddy in while my Amazing Husband parked the trailer and set up the camper. I hopped on for a bit of a school, and I'm really glad I did. The MOMENT we got into the arena, he tried to take over - even so far as to try his buck-and-bolt canter transition in one corner (he did this at the last show, it was special). I shut that down quickly (and tried not to pull), and insisted that he pay attention. We ended with some very good trot work and called it a night.

In case I haven't mentioned it recently, I have the best husband in the entire world. He's making me chai in our camper. Ok, he made me THREE chais. Truly, he loves me.

Saturday I didn't ride until 1:10 p.m., so I had time to do all the things I hadn't bothered to do all week. I cleaned tack, washed Paddy's socks, braided, and trimmed his bridle path and tail. Truly, this is the worst-prepared I've ever been for a show, but whatever. He didn't go into the arena looking like he was completely unloved, although I don't shave legs, ears, or noses (I know, the horrors. My horse lives outside and we have bugs. Nobody complained that he looked like a hairy yack, so whatever.) My braids turned out lots better this time, thanks to many youtube videos and Austen's advice. Hooray!

Better braids are better.

As our first ride time approached, I got more and more nervous. Poor Paddy and poor Hubby had to put up with me being SUPER tense. Of course, I made Paddy tense too, and he's not exactly the most relaxed of creatures. Still, my focus was on obedience, and our test was nothing if not obedient. We got dinged for not being forward and having impulsion, but he responded to each and every half-halt and even the canters weren't too terrible. I was quite pleased with the ride overall and even happier with the score - a 64.231. Highlights included an 8.0 on our first centerline and a 7.0 on a canter/trot transition. SAY WHUT? That's right, if I ride well, we can do them well!

With the first test behind us with a respectable score, I relaxed enough to take a nap before our next ride, which was over two hours later. Y'all, this is the best part about having a camper at the show - you can eat when you want, nap when you want, whatever - it's like bringing your house with you. Plus, hubby was able to get some work done, so it wasn't a wash for him.

Paddy was really distracted in the warmup for the second test. Then suddenly, after a short walk break, he started feeling... funny. A bit off, even, but I couldn't pinpoint which leg it might be. He hadn't tripped or slipped, and the footing was very good. As we trotted around the outside of the arena, I almost decided to pull him up, but then he would be fine for a number of steps. I decided that I could always pull in the middle of the test if it got worse, but it continued to be intermittent. The turns were the worst, he felt so awkward, but I kept going. The trots were good, the left lead canter got strung out and leaning as usual - no surprise there. I was so focused on how he felt under me that I made an error in the test - tried to do a stretch trot circle where we were supposed to walk, but quickly fixed that. We made it down centerline and finished, but I was worried. Had I broken my poor horse? What had happened that he should suddenly feel so strange? I trotted him on a loose rein after but he seemed just fine. Nothing like a mystery lameness to end your day...

Saturday night we went out to drink all the margaritas dinner - LOVE the place right next to the showgrounds. So convenient, so delish. I managed to hold myself to one margarita, but I admit to having a cider when we got back to the camper. I figured I deserved it after that day!!!


Sunday dawned cool and clear. After the usual morning chores, I had time to go watch rides for most of the morning. Y'all... wow. I watched one lady practically see-saw her horse's face off - and he PUT UP WITH IT! Paddy would have stuck his nose on his chest and left the arena. There were some very nice riders, of course, but there were also riders who I would not want to emulate. There were a couple of folks riding more advanced tests on what were clearly schoolmasters - what fun it must be ride a horse like that and learn what they were learning! Maybe someday I will have that opportunity.

As you can see, Gus took his job as horse show dog very seriously.

I made the mistake of going to look at the scores before tacking up. Folks were BARELY squeaking 60s, and there were a lot of scores in the low to mid 50s. EEEK! Nothing like riding for a really tough judge! I tacked up, took a deep breath, and began to warm up my perfectly fine, 100% sound horse. Say what? We kept it short and simple - lots of walk, some trot, focused on obedient transitions, and one walk-canter-walk(ish) transition each way. I went in, determined to ride more forward than the day before, and stay relaxed. And damn if it didn't mostly work! Highlights included 8s on both centerlines (hooray!!!), lots of 7s on the trotwork, and 7s on the up AND down canter transitions. Now all we have to do is get the actual canter itself working and we'll be golden!

After another long wait, a nap, and some preliminary packing to go home, we tacked back up for our last test. It's hard to ride at 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon, lol! Another short and sweet warmup, where I mostly tried to get him moving up to my hand, because he was tired and wanted to suck back. And then, as we were trotting around the outside of the arena to go in... he went lame again. It is really, really hard to ride when you're worried about your horse, or getting called out by the judge for riding a lame horse. I felt like we struggled through the test a bit - he was pretty sucked back and behind the vertical, and I was trying to ride conservatively and not make the awful lame feeling worse. Miracuously, we got 8s on both centerlines again, AN EIGHT ON THE STRETCHY CIRCLE OMG, and 8 on the right lead canter tx (and a 7.5 on the left one), and most everything else was 6s. But can you imagine? An EIGHT on a stretchy circle! FROM MY HORSE!? 

I jumped off of him as soon as I could and checked him over for damage. I couldn't see anything, and he seemed fine walking. I whispered to my husband that he felt off again, and he nodded back to me and said that he could see it again. What had happened? Neither of us had any idea, but we headed back to Paddy's stall to strip his tack. And as soon as we got there, he proceeded to pee.

And pee.

And pee some more.

As we watched the stall flood, Hubby mentioned "You know, he did that yesterday too as soon as I got him to the stall after your second ride." 

So apparently, my horse goes "lame" when he has to pee. Who knew? Now I just have to teach him to pee on command, BEFORE our rides.

And if you've made it this far in my blathering, here are the final scores:

Training 2 (Saturday) - 64.231 (4th)
Training 3 (Saturday) - 63.409 (7th)
Training 2 (Sunday) - 65.385 (5th)
Training 3 (Sunday) - 65.455 (5th)

Although my placings don't look very exciting, they combined the AAs, pros, and JR/YR for each class. So my 5th places were behind 4 pros, and the classes were won with an 80% (Dear pro rider, please move up to First Level and stop breaking the curve. KTHX.) And as it turns out, my scores on Sunday were good enough to land us the Adult Amateur High Point award!!!!!! I seriously cannot even believe it. To be fair, the competition at this show wasn't as stiff as at the last one, but still, I'll take what I can get! I am beyond stoked at this, and I'm hoping it comes with some fun satin! 

I also got high enough scores to qualify for attending the Region 9 USDF Championship this fall, AND I got the scores I need for the USDF Training Level Rider Performance Award.  Ok, so it's not a score toward a Bronze medal, but in my mind it's a big step in that direction. Woohoo! 

Maybe we can do this dressage thing after all. :)

Pro pic from the last show, courtesy of Light & Time Photography (yes, I own it). 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

"He's using his cuteness against you"

“He’s using his cuteness against you.”

My trainer told me this last night. This is a very polite way of saying “Your horse has your number and you need to do something about it.” Whoops.

See, she’s been riding him for the past week while I was helping Hubby with the jousting competition. And she apparently learned a lot about what it’s like to ride him, in addition to having a few very serious discussions with him.

Apparently, taking things seriously is hard for him.

Exhibit A: The mounting block. Paddy happily walks off the moment my butt touches the saddle. No more of that, trainer says. You get on, he stands until you say otherwise. Shockingly, he’ll stand still without so much as a toe hair out of place now. Huh.

Exhibit B: Walking. There’s a fine line between walking politely and using his butt and, well, not. I am learning to keep my core super engaged at all times to “hold” him to a polite medium (without pulling on the reins, of course), making sure our tempo is very consistent and he doesn’t get the chance to speed up and fall over his front end. We’re doing this more in the free walk too, “holding” while allowing him to stretch, but still riding the hind end. The nice thing is that our transitions from a polite walk to a trot are just that much better, and it’s so easy to feel when he’s falling over his shoulder that I can mostly fix it very quickly.

Exhibit C: Trotting. As my trainer puts it, “He’s taking over… HE’S TAKING OVER!!!” In the space between one step and the next, Paddy can go from politely trotting to tucking his nose in and bowling for dressage letters. She was impressed at how good he is at this, and noted that the MOMENT you pull to get him to stop/slow down, he pulls twice as hard and just keeps going. (Note that he also does this at the canter, times 10.) To counteract this, I have to ride. Every. Step. Quite literally, I am riding every step his inside hind leg takes. I cannot allow him to go straight – we have to be sliiightly shoulder-fore at all times. If I relax for even a moment (or, heaven forbid, think “Hey, this is pretty nice…”), next thing I know he’ll be charging off, ignoring my seat like he’s never heard of a half-halt before.  But IF I’m paying attention, and I’m quick, I can give a half-halt with my seat and apply some inside thigh to re-focus him and get that inside hind back under control. Our trot work has magically slowed down (it feels like we’re crawling, although I’ve been told we’re not), BUT he’s also much more obedient. I know we’ll get marked off on not being relaxed over the topline, but if I ride like this, maybe we’ll also not get comments about rushing and pulling? One can hope.

We’re not even talking about the canter. Things are getting worse before they get better, but damn, we have our work cut out for us on this one.

Oh and Paddy? Trying to commit Haffie-cide three days before a show is sub-optimal. I know cantering is hard but did you REALLY have to try to bank off a panel in the round pen, get BOTH front legs caught, and flip over mid-stride? Because you almost gave me a heart attack.

Scrape on back of heel/pastern

Slight ding on inside of LF

Rumpled hairs

Don’t worry, he’s sound despite me thinking I’d killed my horse. A bit stiff of course, but no heat and no swelling – just a bit of rumpled hair and a cut on his pastern. Thank goodness!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Brego rocks Lysts on the Lake 2015

The short version: Brego ROCKED the jousting competition this weekend! He had zero problems in the lane, was happy to engage in mounted combat, and thought the jumping part of the obstacle course was THE BEST. Hubby couldn't be happier, and I doubt Brego's had so many treats (often provided by his extensive fan club) in years.

The long version:

Although we had worked a lot with Brego over the winter, at his first competition in March he decided that he really did not like the idea of his rider getting hit, and chose not to play. He would either not go in the lane at all, or would stop dead in the middle, at the impact point. Since then, hubby and I have worked a LOT with him, getting him used to having his rider hit, having his rider move about, etc. Hubby went to a couple of practices where he probably got hit over 100 times while walking and trotting down the lane. While Brego had gotten better and better, he still hadn't been able to do an actual run where both riders had lances and were targeting each other. In an ideal world, we would have had another month to practice, so we were both quite concerned about what the big guy would think about actual jousting. Had we gotten him over his fears? Would he play?

Here's a video of how the first joust on Friday went:

Note that these are in reverse order ('cause I'm an idiot with iMovie), so the last runs in the vid where you hear me clucking are actually his first runs.

In short, Brego has gotten TOTALLY into jousting. He did his job, ran perfectly down the lane and stopped at the end. You'll even see a few vids where he flips leads after the hit to keep himself under his rider! Hubby actually made it to the finals, and by the end, was able to run Brego with no reins. Talk about major improvement! We couldn't be happier, and Brego couldn't be happier with all the treats and praise he got for a job well done.


There was also a mounted combat competition, which is something that hubby has won repeatedly on Red. Alas, with Red happily retired, Brego has had to step in. He's not as maneuverable as a zippy little 14.2 hand MFT, but he's definitely getting the hang of going around bashing opponents. This was another game he just wouldn't play in March, and while he's still not interested in being the aggressor 100% of the time, you can see he does quite well considering all the excitement:

Back at the barn, Brego was quick to make friends with all the ladies. His favorite girl is a big Belgian mare named Peaches - they were practically inseparable. (Peaches mom made up the following song about the two of them.... "Brego and Peaches, sittin' in a tree... CRASH!!!") However, there were a number of PerchX mares and one PerchX gelding, all of whom thought he was pretty hot stuff. By the end of the weekend, Brego had an entire harem of his own.

Brego (in the middle) and some of his girls.

The final contest was a mounted obstacle course based on the hunt. There was apple chopping, boar stabbing (a fake boar), a drag hunt, and jumping ditches and hay bales (Brego's FAVORITE part). I don't have any pics of this since I was jump judging, but hopefully there are some pro pics coming.

Brego also had an enormous fan club the whole weekend. I am pretty sure he mooched more treats than any horse there, and he got a bit impolite about asking for them. We ended up having to tell anyone who wanted to pet him to keep their hands "above his mouth" or else they were in for a bit of a slobbery surprise! I think he may have gained a few pounds from over-indulging, but it was well-deserved.

The only thing better than adoring fans is adoring fans with cookies.

Of course, there is a huge amount of work that goes into putting this show on. Many thanks to the organizers, all the ground crew, and all the other competitors for making it such a wonderful event. We had a great time and can't wait for next year!

Oh yeah. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Jousting: Hitting tip-to-tip

In short: Big jousting tournament this weekend and all our work with Brego paid off! He was a jousting STAR!!!!

I've got a ton of pics and videos which I'll post when I'm done processing them, but for now, I leave you with a sequence of shots where the jousters hit tips, which is very unusual. 

See the tiny "poof" of the initial lance break just above the lances?

Hubby's lance is still on target for his opponent's shield.

Juuuuust about to hit...

... and the follow-through!

4 points for hubby and Brego, since they broke on their opponent's shield AND broke more than half of the lance tip!