Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Blogger Secret Santa - the secret is out!

I always have such a hard time figuring out what to ask for for the blogger Secret Santa. See, in our family, you make a list for Christmas and then everyone decides what to get you from that list. On one hand it's great, because you generally get what you ask for, but I also like surprises. So this year, I gave my poor Secret Santa a list of things Paddy and I like (green, treats) and hoped that some kind person would get creative.

And wow... bloggers sure do have an incredible variety of amazing creative artistic skills! Val and his mom at CFS sent me a beautiful package with two super awesome gifts... one for Paddy and one for me!

Not only that, but it came BEAUTIFULLY wrapped. So pretty I almost hated to unwrap everything. Oh, and Paddy and I had to eat some of the mints for easier unwrapping.

For Paddy - a massager thingy, just like the one Val has! Husband likes it too :)

For me - a GORGEOUS handmade brass cutout of me and Paddy! It's from a picture of our first level debut show. SO pretty and perfect, and I decided to hang it on our tree. LOVE IT!!!

I also couldn't resist hanging some of the decorations from the wrapping on the tree. Too cute!

THANK YOU, CFS, for such a lovely, thoughtful, handmade gift. It perfectly captures us this year. <3 again="" and="" for="" once="" organizing="" p="" thanks="" this="" tracy="">

Friday, December 26, 2014

The last show of the year

Our last show of the year was another dressage schooling show, on the 13th. Then work and life exploded and I've had no time to blog until now... end of the year is always so busy!

I had hoped that our last show of the year would be some sort of awesome. We’ve been working hard, making great progress – surely it would all come together somehow.

Best laid plans, right?

To start, I didn’t get to ride Paddy the entire week before. Between holiday obligations and being sick, I missed my lesson and all my practice rides too. Strike one. In addition, the show now requires competitors to have a stall, even if you’re just there during the day. Fuzzypony and I decided to make the most of it and haul out Friday, so that we could get a practice ride in Friday night and leave the boys overnight. Paddy’s not used to being in a stall, and he and Taran are super attached. So when I got him out for our practice ride, he spent the first 30 minutes screaming his head off for his buddy. We did eventually get some good work in, but you know how they say that if your last ride before the show sucks, you’re going to do well? By that criteria, we were going to KICK ASS on Saturday. At least he didn't try to buck me off or anything.

On Saturday, I got Paddy out an hour before our ride, figuring I would give him plenty of time to walk since he’d been stuck in a stall all night. It was a good thing I did, because he powerwalked for 25 of those 30 minutes. He was super distracted and was “that horse,” screaming for his buddy. Awesome! Eventually, we started working through our new warmup routine, and he actually settled in pretty quickly. As usual, he took my requests to move away from my leg as requests to trot, and couldn’t possibly be bothered to listen to my seat. We worked on those things until he was listening, and then moved on to trot and canter. We had some super good work, and then I made the mistake of taking a break about 7 minutes out from our first ride, Tr-3.

The problem with taking a break is that Paddy sometimes thinks he’s done. We only did one lap around the arena on a long rein, but when I went to put him back together, it was like starting over from scratch. He ignored my leg and my seat. I started pulling on the reins (because hey, that always helps, right?), and then it was our turn to go. He grabbed the bit, put his head down, and charged up centerline. From then on, he was calling all the shots. I felt like all the work we've been doing just flew out the window and we were back to our previous train-wreck selves. After he came blasting across the diagonal on the canter/trot transition with me hauling on the reins and leaning back over his ass to get him to trot (about 1:30 in the vid), I almost pulled him up and called it quits. It was truly the worst test we've ever done. But I sucked it up and tried to put the blown movements behind us, and we finished anyway. And that disaster transition? We got a 7 on it. Apparently the judged missed the tug-of-war we had going on, and wrote that she liked our energy. Uh, thanks.

We left the arena, and I knew we had two rides before 1-2 to get our shit back together. I immediately started working him off my seat - ask for trot, immediately walk off the seat. Trot, then walk. Over and over again until we could get it with just a thought. Then I started with 10 meter figure 8s, with walks every half-circle and change of direction. I asked for one canter each way, only half a circle, but very obedient and balanced. We also drilled leg yields and shoulder ins, with 10 meter circles on either end, and lots of transitions. He got no breaks, not even to go into the arena. 

And you know what? It worked. He was SO MUCH better off my seat and leg. He was SO MUCH more obedient (let's just ignore that samba he did on the first halt, shall we?). Our trot lengthenings - especially the second half of the second one where I really went for it - actually kinda happened (canter lengthenings, not so much, especially the transitions back to regular canter). I can see that we are starting to make them work.  Our leg yields were much better than our last test, although you can see where he leads with his shoulder, then is straight, then his haunches, then is straight... lol! Rider needs more practice obviously. 

And here is an excellent picture of me having a love affair with my right rein. Dear right hand: we really need to talk. 

This helps nobody, right hand. Please stop now. 

The moment I felt him start to become unbalanced, I half-halted him with my seat. No, it wasn't forward and relaxed. Yes, he was behind the vertical for a lot of the ride. No, his canter wasn't as balanced as it has been. But we came back from our sucky first ride and we made it happen, so I am proud of that. In some ways it was much better than our first attempt at 1-2, and in other ways, it was much worse. Now we just need to find a happy medium!

We got a 59% and change on Tr-3 and a 58% and change on 1-2. The scoring was tough but fair, except for the 7 on the downward transition in Tr-3 which I think was a gift. Still, those are the worst scores we've gotten to date, so it was pretty disappointing. I know we are doing much better work at home, but right now we're just not consistent.

On the bright side, I really learned a lot about what Paddy needs to put in a good test. We need to do more overnight shows so that we (well, I) can get better at dealing with being away from Paddy's BFF. I learned that he needs a good long walk warmup if he's been in a stall. He also cannot have a break more than about 15-20 minutes from going into the arena, or he thinks he's done and takes much too long to get his brain back in his head. And it's pretty apparent that we will always put in a better second test than first test, so if we are ever going for scores, we need to plan carefully so that the more important test is the second one. 

I also learned that despite having a week off before the show, he's kind enough not to try to dump me in the dirt, even if his generosity didn't extend to being a superstar in the arena. Oh well, you can only get by so much on being cute!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

From all of us at Wyvern Oaks to all our bloggy friends, we hope you're having a wonderful day with family and friends!

Photo shamelessly stolen from MC, because I didn't plan well enough to take Christmas Haffie pictures. If you want to see all her lovely pictures of our ponies decorated for the holidays, visit her blog

Friday, December 12, 2014

I got nuthin' but strep. Again.

Yesterday I woke up with a super-sore throat AGAIN... got to see the doctor first thing, and sure enough, I have strep again. WTH? I'm never sick, so to get this twice in two months is just weird. So now I'm on extra-super-heavy-duty antibiotics, just in case I'm a "carrier". Awesome. Pass me the yogurt, please.

I cancelled my lesson last night, which means I have exactly one ride (tonight) before the show. Thankfully Paddy is the epitome of an ammy-friendly horse, so I'm hoping that judicious application of carrots will encourage good behavior and saving my ass at the show tomorrow.

A girl can dream, right?

Since I have no other pics to share, here's one of hubby with all four of the boys. We managed to get 7 of 8 ears pointed at the camera... not bad, considering!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

If I self-identify as a dressage queen, does that mean I don't have to ride in the rain?

I had plans to ride tonight when I got home. Big plans. The last show of the season is this Saturday and we're slated to do the 2015 1-2 test, which is approximately 934761831289 times harder than the old 1-2 test. It's the same movements but they come up faster in the new test. Plus I'd like to have a better trot lengthening and more consistent leg yield. Obviously we're not going to miraculously improve since the last show, but a little better would be nice. However, improvement requires riding, which is what I did not do tonight because it was raining.

As I was putting out hay I thought about how it wasn't really raining that hard and it wasn't that cold and now we have lights for our tiny pretend arena so dammit, I should ride. Plus, the weather is supposed to be worse tomorrow and it might be muddy by then so really, I should ride. While I was mucking, it started raining harder, and I thought about how maybe if I just did a short walk ride, that would be better than nothing. I thought about how we could just do a little leg yield down the rail, and that would help. But by the time I was done I was pretty soaked, and Red - who generally will not let anything stand between him and food - would not come out of the barn to get his hay.


So I gave up on riding and decided to play horse dress-up instead. I tried Paddy's new special "stock horse" cut blanket from SmartPak on him. They're made especially for horses with square builds.

Alas, Paddy is apparently not square enough. That's the SECOND blanket that doesn't fit him. We tried the Rambo Optimo but it didn't work either - went down past his knees. Haffies are impossible to fit, I tell you. 

So I tossed Cash's new Wug on Paddy to see if it would work, since their wear the same size. Paddy's problem is that his wide shoulders are hard to fit, plus he's short. The Wug pulls a bit in the shoulder, but otherwise seems OK.

Fits in the neck area, and this closure style rocks. Red has the Rambo version of this blanket and I love it.

So, gotta send the special "stock-cut" blankie back and get him a Wug. Hopefully the third blanket's the charm!

P.S. It's still raining.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I'm having a love affair... with my right rein

I’ve been hiding this for some time, but I finally have to come clean: I’m having a love affair with my right rein.

Logically, I know I need to get over my attachment and just let it go, at least a little. I mean, Paddy needs some space, and I understand that. He needs to be able to find his own balance, and my attachment is holding us both back. But it’s so hard to give something up … when you’re used to holding on so hard.

What’s worse is that my husband knows - my trainer told him at our last lesson. He said he knew that I’d been trying to hide it from him, but that it was totally obvious, even to him. But he loves me, and says that he accepts me, flaws and all. Still, he hopes that in time I’ll learn to let it go, at least a little.

And I know I should let it go. I mean, it’s damaging to my relationships – with my trainer, with my husband, but most of all, with Paddy. The fact that I can’t let go… well, it’s stifling our communication. It’s keeping us from making any forward progress, and that’s never a good sign.

So somehow, some way, I have to train myself to do without. I’m not going to go cold turkey – I just don’t think I’m strong enough, and it wouldn’t be good for Paddy either. But just a little less every day. A little less of a death grip, a little more of a gentle friendly relationship. I know it’s what Paddy wants, even though he doesn’t ever really tell me in words. But I know, deep down, that it’s the right thing. For both of us.

Do it for the Haffie. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin)
Sigh. Why is this sort of thing always so difficult?

Monday, December 8, 2014

We take naptime VERY seriously here

We keep a very strict schedule here at Wyvern Oakes. Every day around noon, the boys take a nap. 

Herro! You are interrupting naptime, human.

Taran guards the nappers (they switch after about 30 minutes, with Brego and Paddy guarding while Taran has a snooze).

I was sleeping, you know.

Three in a row.

Does this camera angle make my butt look big?

Does your horse have a napping schedule?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I got my butt kicked in a dressage lesson. IT WAS AWESOME!!!

I've managed to get back into regular dressage lessons, and we're just progressing in leaps and bounds. Our new dressage trainer is really working on my position, and of course, when I ride better, Paddy goes better. Amazing, isn't it?

Our warmup currently consists of a lot of walk work, getting him moving both his shoulders and haunches away from my leg, and getting him to halt off my seat. We often spend 20-30 minutes just walking, trying to get him to listen to my leg and seat to a point where trot work can be productive. We're working on ways to make our warmup more productive, but Trainer keeps telling me that some horses require 2 hours to warm up and not to be impatient. Eeek!

Eventually we start with the trot. We stay on a 20 meter circle, and work on a few steps of trot, transition to walk. Over and over again. If he stays balanced and not rushy, he can trot a few more steps. The moment I feel him try to speed up, take the bit, etc, that's the moment I ask for the downward transition. The goal is to get him balanced and listening to my seat, so that I can just THINK downward transition and he'll balance back. This is the critical part - I CANNOT pull on him. He's got to be listening to my seat, and the hands/reins are just there for steering. If I start pulling at this stage, he'll just get heavier and heavier as the ride goes on, and ignores my seat more and more.

Usually during this stage, he decides to get with the program and really go to work. For the next 10-15 minutes, we work on keeping him on my seat aids, not pulling on the reins, keeping him on my leg aids (or rather, off my right leg lol!), and not pulling on the reins. If I've done it all right, we end up with him being really up into the bridle, balanced, and suuuuper flexy-bendy. This is where we do our best work - we can work on leg yields, shoulder in, and baby lengthenings. Of course, if I start pulling, I can undo all the work we've done to this point in a matter of minutes. It's a good incentive to keep my hands still!

If we haven't fallen apart yet, we move on to canter. In our last lesson, we did a TON of trot-canter-trot-canter transitions on a circle. It's easy for him to get flat and rushy at the canter, so this really helped us both work on staying balanced because everything came up so quickly. It felt awful and I was exhausted by the end, but looking at the video, it's not as bad as it felt.

I was really happy we had schooled all the canter transitions in the lesson (despite my legs feeling like Jello after), because at the show, Paddy broke to trot in the middle of a canter circle. No biggie, we quickly reorganized and got back to it.

I'm starting to collect so many little nuggets of riding wisdom in these lessons that I've started a new page, "Dressage Wisdom," to track them all. What are the best dressage tips you've gotten?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Our First Level debut

On Saturday, we went to a very small dressage/CT schooling show. I hadn't expected to go to the show - it was Thanksgiving weekend and my parents were in town, plus we were a (very very) late entry. But the very nice folks at Rolling Ridge Stables found room for us in the schedule, so we went!

I was kinda excited about it for a couple of reasons. First, since we didn't get to go to the local GMO's championship show, I hadn't gotten to get all fancy with the new coat and braids and such. I decided that even though this was a teeny schooling show, I was gonna deck Paddy and myself out to the nines. Secondly, our lessons have been going REALLY WELL. We have tons to work on (SO MANY THINGS), but each ride is so much better than the last, and I was curios to see how it would go at a show. Finally, it was on my secret bucket list this year to show first level, even if we sucked. I figured that this was as good a venue as any to pretend that we could do a first level test, lol!  I picked 1-2 instead of 1-1 because there's less canter in 1-2 (and we all know that canter is not yet our strong point) and because there's leg yield in 1-2, which we're pretty good at if we have it together.

Warmup. We only looked this good part of the time...

Rider needs more leg, less hand. In other words, DON'T PULL ON THE REINS.

For our first test, we did Training 3. The wind was whipping and there was some stuff to look at, but for the most part he was pretty focused on me. As you can see in the video, he's not relaxed over his topline or through in this test. That's still a huge struggle for us, and if I start pulling, he pulls back and it just goes downhill from there. You can see I'm riding pretty defensively, BUT! I felt like overall I did a better job of applying more leg and less hand than in many of our previous tests, even if it didn't necessarily look as pretty. We also had some really nice canters, which I am very proud of, although you can see where he starts to fall on his forehand and race. As always, a work in progress. 

Paddington Bear, Training-3

We scored a 62.4 - the scoring was stiff but very fair and accurate, and honestly I prefer harder scoring at a schooling show. In the comments we got "Rider needs to more effectively keep horse on the aids." LOL! So tactful, but yeah - ride with your seat and legs and STOP PULLING ON YOUR HORSE.  

We had one test (Fuzzypony on Taran) before First-2, so I went and tried to get Paddy more on my seat aids and remind him about laterals. As usual, our second test was much better, and I am SUPER PROUD of this test. It wasn't an amazing debut into first level or anything, but he was SO obedient and tried SO hard for me.  I really could not have asked for any more.

Paddington Bear, First-2

You'll see that I'm still too strong with my reins, but I did try to let go when I realized what I was doing. You'll also see the bobble in the right lead canter circle, where he broke. That was unfortunate, but he just couldn't hold it together so we took a few trot steps and fixed it. Our trot lengthenings were quick instead of forward, but since he wasn't truly over his back, it was all he could do. Our canter lengthenings... well, we survived, even if we did careen around the end of the arena after! We did get really good scores for our canter departs and our trot half-circles, and even 6s on our leg-yields, although I totally lost his haunches on the leg yield left. Getting him off my right leg is a struggle - we can do this movement well, but only if he's balanced and on my aids. And I just can't get him there consistently - yet. :) 

Still, he is the Best. Haffie. Ever.

We ended up with a 61.3, which I am super extra happy with! We had some 4's and 4.5 on coefficient movements (stretchy trot fail, anyone?), but he tried so hard on everything else, and those points are rider error anyway. The judge commented that he wasn't strong enough for some of the movements today, and she's absolutely right. He's not strong enough to be balanced all the time, and I'm not together enough to help him, which makes the laterals and lengthenings difficult to perform. It will come in time, though! We were the only ones to ride 1-2, so we got a blue "participation" ribbon. 

After, we tried to get some pictures, but Paddy wouldn't have it. I think these are the ONLY pictures I have where his ears aren't pricked at the camera.

Haffie not interested in pictures with cousin Taran after ride. Haffie want to go back to trailer and eat.

Haffie not amused by mom holding up earz.

Trailer is that way, mom.


* All photos and video courtesy of Otter Tails Photography (a.k.a. MC)