Monday, October 19, 2015

2 year anniversary of the craziest horse thing I've ever done

Two years ago today, I met Paddy for the first time. I rode him for literally 20 minutes before I signed the paperwork, wrote a check, and stuffed his fuzzy butt in the trailer for the 1400 mile drive home.

Buying Paddy is by far the craziest thing I've ever done in my adult life. I wasn't even looking for a horse - I had just lost Echo, and earlier that year we'd lost Saga and Oberon. I was questioning why we even HAD horses, since I seemed to be doing a great job killing them off. And then Lauren asked me - hypothetically - if I were to get a horse, what would I want. I told her  gelding, NOT bay (Echo, Oberon, and Saga were all bays). Kind. Lots of miles. Fun to ride.

She told me I should get a Haflinger.

I immediately scoffed at the idea. I'm 5'8, and at the time I wanted to event. Haffies are short fat ponies, without an athletic bone in their bodies, right? (Let's ignore, for the moment, their impressive ability to escape.) But, because I'm a moron, I looked at Dreamhorse that day while I was eating lunch. Here are the pics from Paddy's ad:




How could I even think about resisting? He was athletic, adorable, and had good conformation. I called the owner and the trainer, and the more I talked to them, the better he sounded.  He vetted fine. And none of my (more or less) responsible adult friends dissuaded me from trying him out. Including my husband.

There was one slight problem though. Paddy lived in Michigan. I live in Texas. I pointed this out to Lauren, who said two words in response: ROAD TRIP.

This is where the crazy comes in. I cashed in some frequent flyer miles and got a one-way ticket to Detroit for after work that Friday. BFF FuzzyPony, because she loves me (I have no idea why), agreed to DRIVE THE RIG SOLO from Austin to Detroit. Then she picked me up at the airport Friday night when my flight got in at midnight. We drove to the hotel, got a couple of hours of sleep, and were at the barn at 6:30 the next morning to try Paddy out.

By 7:20 a.m. we were on our way back to Austin, one adorable Haflinger in tow.

I have never once regretted my crazy choice, and have to thank all my enabling friends and husband for somehow making all of this happen. The last two years have been so special, and Paddy has been such an amazing partner. His face makes me smile every single time, even if I do give in and feed him another cookie just because he's so damn cute.

How can you even resist? You can't. Obviously.

And I will luff him and hug him and squeeze him and call him Paddy! 

PS. Thanks MC for reminding me of the Haffie-versary!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Good thing our dog doesn't beg

We have a strict policy at our house - no feeding dogs from the table, or really, no feeding dogs people food. Then, Elias had a tumor removed that we were told would come back in 4-6 months, and that we should spoil him, feed him whatever he wanted, and love him lots in the time we had left.

That was almost two years ago. Unfortunately, we've taken the vet's advice to heart, and now we have a horribly spoiled dog who most definitely does beg. Even though he KNOWS he's not supposed to.

No begging here. Just looking pathetic and starved and unloved. And if you're not going to finish that...

Pssst! Hey! Hey mom! You don't really want that last bite, do you?

And la piece de resistance... full-on Mutant Dog begging (best watched with sound):

I can't decide if my favorite part is where he keeps staring at the plate, or when he lays down and is like "NOW GIVE ME A PIECE BECAUSE I'M A GOOD DOG!" Gotta keep your eyes on the prize, right?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Region 9 Championships: Day 3

I really didn't want to post this, because it's so bad. I feel like a year's worth of work went into this test, and I completely blew it.

A 57.6.

Second to last, out of 30.

I blew my figures (wtf circle?), I blew my coefficient movements, and of course, Paddy took his bolting down the long side to new levels.

It's really not the way you want ANY test to go, much less your championship ride.

However... HOWEVER... there are things I really like about this test... so all hope is not lost.

We tried a whole new warmup routine, where my goal at first was simply to get him forward and in front of my leg, and not care about what he was doing with his head (for the record, he was a giraffe). I could probably have used a bit more warmup just to be able to channel that energy more productively, but what I had in the arena was a much slower, more engaged trot. You can also see that his mouth is much quieter, because I didn't spend the entire warmup fighting with his face. Our canter/trot transition (which was supposed to be a X but wasn't) was really good - for the first time, he sat down and stepped up and under himself, instead of me dragging him down into the transition. And except for the very last centerline where he got bargey, he really didn't curl. Those things are important to me, even if the overall test was pretty craptastic.

After the test, I went back to the warmup and worked for another 15 minutes. Somehow my trainer managed to talk me into actually doing something with my outside leg, instead of having in hang there like a dead fish, and suddenly we were doing balanced 15 m canter circles. His trot got rounder and even more engaged, and our transitions got better and better. We ended on a really good note, and while I'm still not happy with our actual test, I feel like we've unlocked some new pieces that will really make a difference going forward.

I'm actually excited for our next show in two weeks, and I basically can't wait to ride my horse after work every day. Because instead of that crappy ride beating me down, it's just made me more determined than ever to get our stuff together and get out there and DO it. I know we can, and I know HE can. Now I just have to make it happen!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Region 9 Championships: Days 1 & 2

The title of this post is kind of misleading - the first two days of the show were (for me) just a standard USDF rated show. I rode T2 and T3 on Thursday, and just T3 on Friday because I didn't want to tire him out for the championship ride on Saturday.

Trainer arrive with her 2 horses and Paddy several hours before I did, but I managed to get in a solid ride on Wednesday before it got dark. The show grounds, at Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Houston, were full to the brim - it was by far the busiest show we've ever been to. Paddy did nothing but scream and do his best Haffie-giraffe impersonation for much of the time. Still, I managed to get him focused in our practice ride Wednesday evening and felt good about our scheduled rides.

I was very pleased with our first ride. I could have probably used a little more warmup, but overall felt pretty prepared. He was leaning on me a little and I was pulling on him some, but compared to our rides at Texas Horse Park, I did much better with staying out of his face. Our canters were pretty solid, and it just felt like a nice, workmanlike test. We scored a 64.6 and ended up first out of two (spoiler: only ribbon of the weekend). We even got 8s on the centerlines and I got an 8 on rider position. I was super stoked for a great start to the weekend!

Now if I could just score higher on those coefficient movements... 

We had several hours between tests, so I got something to eat and rested a little. I hadn't slept well the night before, so I as pretty tired as we were getting ready for the second test. Paddy seemed really tired too, and planted his feet when I went to pull him out of his stall. I remember turning to him and saying "Yeah, I'd rather be taking a nap too, but we have a test to do." 

That's definitely not the attitude you should go into a test with. I was actually TOO relaxed and just sort of sat there during the test. I let him hang on me, I didn't really ride, and it totally showed in the overall quality of our ride. Oh, and did I mention I forgot the test... TWICE? Yep, twice in the same ride. I didn't go over the test before I rode, apparently because I wasn't focused enough to do so. So I completely blew it. 

I'm pretty mad at myself for that test. It would have been a 61 and change if I hadn't made the errors, and the errors made it hard for me to get back on course and ride well for the rest of it, so our scores after the errors sucked. This test was also the one where he started accelerating out of the corners after the canter transitions, something I should have shut down right away - but hind sight is 20/20, right? Anyway, we ended up with a 58.4 for 7th place, out of 9. It was our worst score to date.

Basically I'm the biggest idiot ever. 

I spent most of that night not sleeping well and going over T3 again and again to make sure I didn't make any errors the next day. I also did a little visualization to get myself psyched up for the test the too. The warmup was a little barge-y, but we did a lot of transitions and a lot of little shallow serpentines, which really helps get him moving off my seat and leg.

Unfortunately, what I did not bargain for is how spending almost 24 hours in a stall (minus three hand-walk sessions) would affect his energy level. We came blasting down centerline and it was kind of downhill from there. He was tense and quick, and positively bolted down the long sides in the canter. I helped the situation (haha) by hanging on his face, which of course is not the best answer. I was really, really disappointed with my riding, and spent quite a lot of the test telling him that I was gonna give him away to the next person who told me he was cute. Luckily, the judge was sitting in a car with the windows rolled up, so they didn't hear me (you're not allowed to make any noise, or you will receive an error). 

The crazy thing? This was our high score test! We got a 66.8, the highest we've ever gotten at a rated show (naturally the paper copy of this test is MIA). I joked with my trainer that the judge must have watched another test, or the car windows were really tinted and he couldn't see.  I would have given us about a 61 or 62 for that test, so the scoring was generous. But the rest of the class was scored similarly, so we were 10th of 14. Still, that score gave us one qualifying score for the 2016 SWDC championship, and the score was high enough that it also counts as a qualifying score for the 2016 GAIC USDF championship. So that was a really positive thing in an otherwise disappointing test.

I ended up going back to the warmup arena and working Paddy for another 20 minutes after our debacle in the sandbox. I really pushed him to move forward and to canter around on a loose rein, and you know what? He was SUPER GOOD after that. Asking him for more forward really unlocked his back and engaged his hind end, and having him canter with basically no contact forced him to find his balance on his own, instead of leaning on me. We ended with several very good up and down canter transitions, plus some very good trot moments. What I took away from that was that I needed longer to warm up, and I really needed to push him for lots of forward without asking for round right away, just to get him moving and not leaning. So despite the poor performance in the arena, I felt really stoked about our new warmup plan for the championship ride the next day, and was confident that it would make a difference in our overall test.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Top 10 takeaways from the USDF Region 9 Dressage Championships

1. Getting a ride in on the show grounds the night before a show is absolutely key. Paddy was much more focused for the first test since he'd seen everything already.

2. It was the best of times, it was the worse of times. We got both the best score to date, and the worst. Really not the show I had hoped for.

3. I give up, I need to have someone to call my tests for the rest of my life. Seriously, I forgot the test TWICE? We're well into the realm of ridiculousness now. At least I didn't get us eliminated, but it was a close thing.

4. Next time I'm at a show for this long, I'm getting a tack stall. Schlepping all your stuff back and forth to the trailer daily (a 10 minute walk) is a PITA (whine, whine, whine).

5. After 3 hours in a trailer next to Paddy, my trainer's grey mare that used to hate him now thinks he's the best thing ever. There's nothing like a trailer ride to make a new BFF!

6. That moment when you're braiding your horse's forelock (so you can't let go) and he starts grabbing things out of your braiding belt and dropping them on the floor. Thanks, buddy.

7. Stemless wine glasses are the best prizes EVER. Because who doesn't need something to drink wine in? (Note: there were only two people in my class, so the blue ribbon isn't as exciting as it might seem.)

Also note the 8 on the centerline, thank you very much.

8. Yes, after one of our fantastically crappy rides where he bolted off down the long side in canter (again), I really did post to FB asking if anyone wanted a free Haflinger. I was kidding. Mostly.

9. Despite the bad rides, I was sad that I hadn't signed up to show Sunday. Next year, I'm going to stay for all 4 days. More time to ride, more time to watch, more time to visit!

10. No matter how bad your rides were, at the end of the day, it's still just a horse show and a learning experience. Plus, there were some people who had amazing rides who were absolutely inspiring to watch. It just makes me more determined to keep working hard and come back next year ready to shine!

And it wasn't all awful, we did have some really good moments!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Here goes nothing...

Today after lunch, Paddy and I are headed off to the USDF Region 9 Championships.

We've got Tr2 and Tr3 on Thursday, Tr3 on Friday - both part of a "normal" USDF show being held at the same time. Then the SWDC Championship ride (also T3) is Saturday afternoon. There are a terrifying 31 people in the Adult Amateur class, and a lot of them are also riding in the First level championship class.

I'm trying to keep things in perspective. It was a goal of mine just to be able to go to the championships this year, and we're going. It's very unlikely we'll be competitive, even if we put in solid tests. The championship class judging is HARD - last year there were a lot of scores in the upper 50s for riders who usually score 65s. There are also TWO judges - one at C and one at E - and this is the first time I've ever ridden for two judges. That means my circles have to be perfect, my transitions have got to be better than good, and I have got to manage his tendency to curl up. There's no place to hide things like there is when there's only a judge at C.

I feel like there are still so many holes in our rides at this level, but of course there are always things you can improve on. I'm trying to focus on what we CAN do for this weekend, instead of thinking so much about how bad our downward canter transitions could be or how he might blow through my aids. So my goals are:

  • Stay in the arena
  • Keep my hands down and STAY OUT OF HIS FACE. This will be hard as he gets more tired because he likes to lean and I like to pull, but my trainer will be there to hopefully keep me honest.
  • Inside leg. More. MORE. MOAR INSIDE LEG. 
  • Ride the hell out of the trot - forward but not quick. For the first time at a show, I plan on posting the trot and trying to surf the new, super-engaged trot we've found in the last month. He's not strong enough to hold it for long, but I will ride every step asking for that trot.
  • Halt at X. Seriously. AT X. Hear that Paddy? X. EEEEEXXXXX.
  • Look UP when I'm riding transitions, especially downward transitions. Otherwise I just throw him further on his forehand. 
Last night we did a short ride where I tried to make everything very accurate. In the interest of not having the horse-show-crazy rub off on Paddy, I kept it to w/t. He was a very good boy, we got some of the bigger trot, and I managed to keep his right hind somewhat under control. Oh, and we halted at X.

Hopefully I'll have wifi and can post during the show, but given my recent lack of blogging skills, we'll see. If anyone's in the Houston area and will be at the show, good luck! We'll see you there!