Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Kennebec Morgan Farm Dressage Show & 2-Phase - October 14, 2018

This past weekend, Ellie and I attended a dressage show and 2-phase at the Kennebec Morgan Farm, where she was born.  I entered Training 1 to get another shot at it under our belt before show season is over, as well as the PreElementary 2-phase division to get her more miles over fences at a show.  Sadly the dressage test for the 2-phase was Intro B, but I had to choose either 18” jumps or go up to 2’3” jumps, which I do not think she is ready for yet.  It is not a huge deal; I just want to never show Intro level again hahaha.

All of the USDF dressage was in the morning, with the 2-phase USEA dressage and jumping after lunch.  This meant our Training level test was at 10:30, while our 2-phase dressage test was at 3:00.  That is a long day, but I was able to get a stall for Ellie and volunteered, watched, and socialized during the downtime.

We made it up to KMF by just before 9am, which gave me plenty of time to get her settled into a stall and get myself organized to show.  I planned to just bring my brushes and tack into the barn on this super cool rolling rack (which I bought years ago for going to Acadia National Park.  10/10 recommend!) and keep my show clothes and everything else in the trailer.  It worked out well and the only time I forgot something in the trailer was my crop at the end of the day for jumping, but I had one of the farm workers hold Ellie for me while I retrieved it.  I must say, it is really lovely to show out of a stall, even for a day show, because it totally eliminates Ellie’s ants in her pants moments haha.  It is also soooooo much easier when you are alone and need to walk the jump course or use the bathroom and leaving a horse tied to the side of a trailer alone isn’t ideal. 

Anyway, Ellie took a few moments to realize where she was and then she did the usual screaming to everyone (and her old herd came galloping up behind the barn I was told later), and I swear she knew exactly where she was.  I figured this would either be a real pain in the ass or totally fine.  Thankfully, it was totally fine and I did not feel like leaving her there at the end of the day hahaha.  ;-)

Warm up was in the indoor, and at first she was a little uptight, since it is right near her old pasture (so she just wanted to STARE OUT THE OPEN DOOR AT A AT ALL TIMES BECAUSE FRIENDS and there were huge round bales stacked quite high all along the short side at C which looked very suspect to her lol.  So it took a little walking and chilling out before she finally let out a breath and was able to get to work.  She still wasn’t completely relaxed when we went out for our test, but I expected her to be a little tense through her back.  She definitely is the type of horse who is looking for things to spook at in this brisk fall weather, but I am glad that at least she has gotten to the point where she doesn’t just spook at imaginary things if she even spooks at all.  She is starting to trust me enough to keep herself together despite being worried.  Instead of acting out on her impulse of WE ARE ALL GONNA DIE!, she just thinks it quietly to herself nowadays.  

I have soooooo much media!  Huge thank you to Margaret B. for taking video and pics!

I think we put in a really respectable test, with all 6.5s and 7s for a score of 67.60% and tied for first place with the barn manager on a mare that has been eventing at Novice all year, so I was really pleased.  The judge wrote: Nice energy, good in topline, fairly good bend.  Our first canter transition was a little shuffly and I thought a little late; though we got the correct lead, she was not quick off my aids, yet we still earned a 6.5 and the comment, transition could be a little clearer. 

Ellie happily tucked into her stall after our test, drank plenty of water and ate her hay and just chilled.  I actually enjoyed hanging out watching tests and helping adjust the ring over to the large arena, which is rare since usually I show and go straight home.  It was nice to just be a horse girl and relax without the pressure of entertaining a husband/kids or having to rush straight home.  Part of being able to show and do horsey things is not forgetting my adult responsibilities at home haha.  I periodically checked on Ellie and was able to walk my course (while it was set at Prelim height, since they did the divisions from highest to lowest, hence the reason I was the second to last rider of the day to jump haha!  Yeah, I don’t think I will be jumping Prelim anytime soon with Ellie!)

Eventually it was time to get ready to ride Intro B, and I didn’t plan to do much warm up.  Ellie was much more relaxed this time around and calmer in the indoor.  We just did a little walk/trot around and called it good.  Intro B is a breeze now, though it did get a little interesting when a huge group of turkeys wandered in behind the judge hahaha.  Ellie definitely noticed them before I did and anytime we were near C, she tried so hard to be good while still getting a good look at them.  I was almost in giggles because all you could do was laugh.  She can be grazing in her field and have literally fifty turkeys walk through and she doesn’t even look at them, but eight of them near the dressage ring was a different story.  I am so proud of her for holding it all together so well though, as I know her eyes were bulging out of her head!  When we halted at X and I saluted, I broke down into giggles and remarked “OMG those turkeys!” as they literally swarmed around just a few feet behind the judge.  She turned in surprise and was like, “Oh wow, she was so good!  I had no idea they were there!” which is obviously a good thing, but it definitely cracked me up. 

We scored a 30.94 with all 7s except a 7.5 on our free walk (heck yeah, totally been working on that) and three 6.5s on our final halt (haunches swung right as usual, but I was too worried about getting her to halt and be over with the test because I was waiting for the turkeys to enter the ring at C and all hell to break loose hahahaha), impulsion, and submission.  Judge’s final comments were similar to Training 1: Nice test, good bend, topline, and energy.  We were sitting in first by 3 points in our tiny division of two riders haha.

After I put Ellie back in her stall, I carried all my dressage tack out to the trailer and brought back all my jumping tack.  Jumping was to start at 3:30, with nearly twenty riders before us and several height changes, so I figured I would watch a bunch of rounds before I got her ready to jump.  I also helped take down the dressage ring and put up the two warm up fences in that ring, since there are only two outside rings and one was already being used for the stadium course.  I still ended up being maybe ten minutes too early in the end, but I’d rather be early than rushing.

Ellie was not as impressed about being taken out a third time from her stall this time, which is understandable.  She had clearly decided she now lived here again and was bonded to every horse in the barn.  She didn’t do anything bad, just screamed a bunch of times for the first fifteen minutes lol.  Of course, other horses answered her, but apparently not the ones she was screaming to.  We did a lot of walking at first, since I realized we were a bit early.  I popped her over a crossrail three times to get an idea of where her brain was, and she was happy and listening to my half halts.  I was super impressed with this, and she decided to just chill out and be happy she had five other horses in the warm up (at first you would have thought she was all alone in the entire world the way she screamed haha).  I thought for sure she was going to pull shenanigans because of her attitude, but she was actually quite good overall. 

We did a little more walking and then three deer decided to come out right at C where the turkeys had been.  Ellie was curious but not upset about it, which was great, and thankfully none of the horses in the warmup got upset either.  I was so happy with her ability to stay focused on me despite her desire to call to her long lost relatives and the second surprise wildlife visit.  As soon as the rider before me went into the ring, I popped her over the crossrail one more time and she was fine.  We were ready!

We entered the ring and I knew this could either go really well or not well at all.  I felt confident, but Ellie is young, she had been calling out and then slightly worried about the deer, and the jumps are gorgeous and highly decorated (which is so fun but I wondered what Ellie would think...).  And of course, being at her home barn with everyone watching her go, I felt like I wanted to prove she could do it even more so!

I had no need to worry.  Ellie was a rockstar, going over every single jump without hesitation.  We trotted into the first few fences, and I made the choice to canter through the three stride and five stride.  I also cantered her through the last three fences and it was seriously so fun.  You can see me smiling in the little bit of video of us going towards the final fence.  I was just so happy with this little mare.  

I know the fences are teeny tiny and it is really not a big deal in the scheme of life, but she was adjustable and listening to my half halts.  There was no rushing or being silly at all, just a little professional attitude and this is huge for her especially with her bit of silliness in warm up.  This shows me she is capable and ready for more.  While we are easily jumping 2' at home right now and she is 90% perfect, I am hopeful we can move up to Elementary next year (which is 2'3") and lay a really good base for her to confidently go BN.  Maybe we will be ready next fall, but I am tentatively planning to be going BN in 2020! 

KMF Dressage & 2-Phase - October 14, 2018 from Elizabeth Sanborn on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Ever After Mustang Rescue Benefit Horse Show - October 6, 2018

Ellie and I attended the 12th annual Ever After Mustang Rescue benefit horse show this past weekend, which is a show I always look forward to every year.  Fun side note, this is where Amanda's Tristan is from!  Not only does the show support a wonderful local rescue here in Maine, it is a fun way to end the year.  I have been many times before, with Dreamy in 2009, Reva in 2011, and Snappy in 2014 as her first show and again in 2016.  I didn't attend in 2010 because I was at WEG with Dreamy for the Standardbred demos, and I had a two week old newborn when the show occurred in 2015 hahaha.  I have always had good showings at the benefit show with all the mares, winning lots of ribbons and high point rider with every single horse hahaha.

Despite the fact my focus has always been dressage and eventing, I do want to someday try Morgan shows with Ellie, hence the reason I have done a few of these shows so far.  And I think hunter under saddle type classes are kinda fun, not something I want to do all the time, but interesting to see how we stack up against horses other than in a dressage test.  I also think it is good for Ellie to be in a ring with other horses like a rail class.  She was excellent this summer at the fair horse show, even with the 4X4 races nearby and the loose horse in our first class.  And it is not nearly as picky as dressage, so it is a nice change for sure!

Ellie decided she had to keep up with the three horses I have shown before her and do just as well in her classes.  We started the day in cool 40 degree weather and a sass monster with a buck spring in her step haha but it definitely improved.  I arrived early to give her a chance to chill; I lunged her a little and she was totally nonchalant about the entire thing so it was kinda a waste of time lol.  She saved her sass for our warmup instead when I actually mounted up!  😂
we had a good day for sure!
I figured in-hand would be a big class, as I remember there being fifteen horses in it one year.  It was the first class of the day, but when I went to the in gate there were tons of horses already being ridden.  Sadly, there were only two of us in the class, but Ellie did well enough for a first place.  Well, technically, I guess it was fitting and showmanship, so the judge was looking more at me haha.  Thankfully I remembered at the last second there was probably a pattern and walked back over to the secretary's booth to study it before the class was called.  Can you tell I am not a fan of in-hand??  Despite my deep hatred dislike, I wanted to see how she would behave (she was fine) because maybe we will attempt a Morgan in-hand class in the future.  

The pattern was drawn differently than the judge actually laid out the three cones in the ring, so she took a moment to explain this before I went in.  I am glad she offered this info, because I would have done the pattern completely wrong lol.  We had to trot halfway to the first cone, then walk two horse lengths, pick up the trot again and circle around a second cone, then halt and set up for the judge at cone 3.  I set her up like a regular sport horse, not parked out like a Morgan (though she is happy to do that too), and we don't have a 90 degree turn on the haunches like the fancy in-hand horses, but what we did was enough for a win.  I also forgot how awesome the prizes are at this show until they handed me a huge wooden box full of tack cleaning supplies.  Heck yeah!  Useful prizes are the best!

Ellie was a bit of a poop about standing at the trailer after in-hand, which was class 1 and we rode in classes 13, 15, and 16.  She really wasn't bad, just likes to lift her right front leg and pretend to paw, which is mostly just annoying.  She is the kind of horse who does this for attention, so I did my best to ignore her.
being an impatient baby and thinking about her upcoming sass 😑
Once we were tacked up and I got on, that is when the actual sass started.  By this point, the sun had fully risen and I figured it had warmed up enough that she would be totally fine.  The cooler fall weather has definitely affected her manners a bit haha.  Instead, she walked around for the first five minutes with a huge hump in her back, threatening to buck.  She even kicked up her heels slightly, in the most halfhearted effort I have ever seen lol, and I had to remember not to giggle hard enough to actually really set her off.  It was one of those moments when you know you are a tactful rider, because I definitely could have closed my legs too much (in her opinion) and caused very real fireworks, but without any leg she was apt to balk and misbehave as well.  I just kept my leg softly "there" and made her circle and figure eight around the small field next to the warm up (which was filled to the brim with numerous under age 18 walk trotters who would be riding in the classes before us).  Once the twelve riders left warm up to go to the show ring, Ellie decided to relax her back and remember how to be a normal horse haha, so we went into the actual warm up.  

She was really good again, as she was at the dressage show here just three weeks ago.  Thankfully her sass was short lived and we were able to trot and canter with no theatrics.  There were no issues with listening or rushing, and we got our canter leads without a problem.  I was a little worried about our canter leads in the show ring, since we would not be doing 20m. circles to pick up the gait.  Nor do we have a walk-canter transition yet, as you are asked to canter from the walk in this type of show.  I had to just remember to put her in shoulder fore and pray hard ride effectively.  I figured a little trot into the canter on the correct lead was better than walk-canter into the wrong lead. 

First up was equitation, which is nice when you are not sure how the horse is going to act haha.  I rather have an eq class before the pleasure class any day!  I still placed first in an eq class years ago at a different show, despite the fact my horse bucked in the canter.  The judge told me in the lineup that the fact I stayed on clinched my top finish hahaha.  Velcro butt for the win!!  I did my best to pilot Ellie effectively, we got our leads 😇, and apparently did it well enough for a first place out of four riders!  Yay Ellie!  We won a $25 gift card to a local feed store, which is another awesome prize.

equitation ribbon
photo purchased from show photographer Tracy A. Shaw Photography

We waited patiently for the next class to go before our last two classes, which were back-to-back.  Next up was pleasure, and Ellie was again quite good but got a little strong in the canter and did her head shake move to show her displeasure with my half halt right in front of the judge.  Whoops.  I was still happy with her though, as other than that one rude moment, she was great.  We ended up second place in this class out of four, which was fair.  We immediately had hunter under saddle afterwards, which I thought could be interesting since it was marked as walk-trot-canter-hand gallop in the class list.  I knew if I could slow her canter down enough to show a difference when we "hand galloped" aka canter faster haha, we would do OK.  

Surprisingly, Ellie was much more polite about my half halts in the canter in this class.  She may have been getting tired, too, since she had already cantered six+ laps of a 100x200 ring in two previous classes, which seems to have knocked her down a peg from opinionated to obedient.  It was warming up and she has quite a winter coat started.  She picked up the first canter slowly instead of her usual bolt, so I used it to our advantage and when the announcer called for a hand gallop, I didn't have to do much to leg her forward.  Yay!  Ellie thought this was the best thing ever.  I was able to half halt and balance her through the corners, and when they asked us to go back to the canter, she was right there perfectly willing to come back to me.  It was glorious. 
Ellie, usually
Then the ring crew started fussing around with the jump standards and jump cups right next to the rail, as next up was lunch break and then jumping classes.  Ellie gave them a huge hairy eyeball as we came around the corner where they were clanking around, and I nicely asked "could you guys please wait, my horse is getting upset" as we trotted by.  I tried hard not to come across as snobby, but it's hard when you are trotting by and trying to talk haha.  And I was thinking to myself, OH EFF NO YOU ARE NOT MESSING UP THIS CLASS FOR ME!  LOL I admit, I did not want to eat dirt at this point.  I also wanted to place well, let's be real here.
the most awkward phase of the canter lol
photo purchased from show photographer Tracy A. Shaw Photography
We came around the ring again, this time at the canter, and I smiled sweetly and called "thank you!" to the ring crew.  They very nicely had stopped what they were doing and I really appreciate that.  Again, we cantered slowly enough to show a difference when asked to hand gallop, and then at the end we were asked to come directly down to the walk, where Ellie happily came down to the bit nicely and walked politely right in front of the judge.  Good manners, mare!  

In the line-up, I really didn't care at this point how we had placed.  Ellie had been perfect, even when we flew around the ring in a forward canter.  She had her moments of I'm going to buck! when I first mounted that morning and the one annoyed head toss in the canter, but otherwise she had been super.  I am so proud of her.  We had fun, at least I did haha, and it had been a perfect day.  

I decided at that moment in the line up, scratching my horse's neck and smiling like a moron, to scratch the class I had signed up for after lunch, command class, since there was nothing better she could do than she already had.  I was kinda sad to not jump at the show, but the 18" crossrails were for walk-trotters only and the other jumping classes were 2'3" which is way too high to be doing right now for her brain.  We have half halts and polite jumping efforts 80% of the time over up to 2' jumps right now at home, so I was not going to push my luck trying to jump gates and oxers (plus, this show sets up a triple combination as the first fence and does not offer any warm up fences, which is not something she is ready for at all!).  

We were called for first out of the four riders and I was soooooooo pleased.  I won a gift bag of a coffee mug (full of chocolate) and a bottle of SoreNoMore.  The moment the ribbon girl handed this to me, Ellie spooked at the bag hahahaha.  She spun off to the right, away from the girl, so I immediately dropped the bag.  She spun off to the right again, then again, and I definitely had an OH SHIT moment lol!!!!!!  Oh my goodness, Ellie!  I was giggling and trying hard to stay centered, and eventually she did halt as soon as we had come back around again haha.  The ribbon girl was like uhhhhhhh, what and I told her between giggles that Ellie had spooked at the bag.  I think she thought I was crazy, but how could you not laugh at a horse who had just won three blue ribbons yet tried to ditch me at the very end hahahaha.  I told her I would come back over to the secretary's booth for the bag, but she quite nicely walked it over to my trailer for me.  As we exited the ring, someone on the rail called out that she cannot believe I stayed on.  Hahahahaha Velcro butt pays off!  I guess Ellie just thinks someone has to keep me humble and she is ohhhh so happy to oblige.

photo purchased from show photographer Tracy A. Shaw Photography
The best part was I was done showing by 11:30 and home just before 1.  That is the best kind of horse show, one that does not drag on all day long!

love the prizes!

I really love this little box!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

State of Maine Dressage Association Schooling Show - September 16, 2018

Ellie and I competed in our fourth and final SMDA dressage show this past Saturday.  I will be honest, I choose to do this fourth one in order to gain our final year end scores, so I choose to ride Intro B and C again.  After showing at Training 1 back in August, I knew I wanted to move up, but I also realized that if I just did one more SMDA show at Intro, I could be eligible for awards.  It seemed silly not to qualify, as we have worked too hard this year not to.  But I also wanted the opportunity to ride Training 1 again in a show environment, instead of having to wait until next spring.

Because SMDA does not allow riders to compete at Training level if they are also riding Intro A or B, I had to asked permission to ride "HC", which is an abbreviation for hor concours, the French phrase that means riding without actually competing for a ribbon.  Thankfully, the board gave me permission and I signed up for all three tests.  It did not seem like two little Intro test and Training 1 would be too much effort in one day for Ellie.  In fact, it was great to get her into the ring three times within just over an hour of time.

As I wrote about previously, our ride at home on Saturday was great.  She was listening to half halts, she was being polite in the trot and canter, and our center lines and transitions were all spot on.  I was really hopefully she would bring that same mindset to the show the next day!

spoiler alert: she did bring the same mindset to the show!
My only goals were to put in two solid Intro tests as a farewell to the level haha, and to get all of our canter leads correctly.  Leads have been a struggle this year, so I really hoped this show would be an improvement.  Ellie hopped off the trailer in a calm state of mind and set about eating her hay like the little professional she had turned into.  She acted like a seasoned show horse and I already felt so proud about that before I even got on her.  She didn't need a walkabout, she didn't need to see all the things, she just showed up and knew her job.  She had been to this venue twice before in May and June, but it had been eleven weeks (yes, I just went and counted haha) since that June show.  Even though we showed a ton this year and some folks have been a bit judgmental over that, it has totally paid off to have a horse that by now is content to show up somewhere and be happy and calm. 

SMDA always schedules too much time for the Intro level rides, so the show always gets ahead.  Plus there were a few scratches, so I made it a point to get us in the warmup sooner rather than later.  Yes, I know I can wait until my scheduled ride time, but that just seems silly to have everyone wait around for me.  If Ellie had needed the warm up time for whatever reason, I would have taken it, but we did our usual warm up routine and were soon ready to go.  Ellie warmed up well without any fuss or issues, and I stuck to walk/trot only since it was just Intro B.  She seemed a bit tense in the test, but overall was quite good.  Our test was all 6.5s and 7s, with a 7.5 on the medium walk after the free walk, which netted us a 68.125% and a second place by less than a point.  Judges comment was: Pair has much potential!  Work on further developing suppleness as haunches tend to swing out slightly in circles.  Good luck!

We had just two rides until our Intro C test, but management took a short break in order to keep the show on schedule.  That gave us plenty of time to return to the warm up and canter.  I focused on keeping Ellie on my aids, and she listened to every single half halt (THANK YOU MARE!) which meant that we got both canter leads quite easily.  I only cantered twice in each direction as to not break the magic spell haha, and off we went to try Intro C.  

YOU GUYS.  This mare was PERFECT.  Intro C has not been the best test for us, in the small ring where movements come up quite quickly.  But we nailed it.  I knew as I rode that it was the best Intro C, actually probably the best test at all, we had ever ridden.  She was obedient and listening and it felt fun and easy.  I was literally grinning like a fool during the test.  Our scores were all mostly 7s, with a few 6.5s and one 7.5 on the final upwards trot transition, for a score of 68.500% and first place.  It was the highest we have scored on Intro C all year and the FIRST TIME EVER WE GOT OUR CANTER LEADS IN A SHOW!  Whooo!  I was so so so proud of her and so happy to finally feel like we could put in a clean and accurate test.  Judge's comment: Capable pair on the right track. Work on reaction to aids for smoother canter transitions.  Good luck!
Small child requested his photo be taken as well. 
Note Ellie's legs in background lol
The judge's comments were right on, with the haunches swinging out and prompt canter transitions two of our biggest things to work on right now.  Both have improved tremendously since May when we did our first dressage show, but they are not quite where I want them to be, which would be her always traveling straight and stepping immediately into the canter.  But to get the correct leads and do it within a stride of me asking is pretty damn awesome.  A show acquaintance came up to me afterwards and remarked how good Ellie looked in Intro C and that the test was "foot perfect".  I would have to agree.  It was a great way to end Intro level.

We had a forty minute break until Training 1, so I had time to let her hang at the trailer while I reviewed the test movements.  I did not want to confuse my tests, since riding three in just over an hour tends to do that to my brain haha, so I had not reviewed it yet that day.  I did not want to do much warm up at this point, but I did want to test out our canter leads one more time before we went into the ring.  Again, she was great in the warm up, though a little leery of the huge Friesian who was LEAPING into his canter transitions haha.  I don't blame her, as I thought we were going to get run over a few times.  She didn't do anything naughty, just "grew" a little each time he flailed around anywhere near her.

This test was so much better than the first time we tried Training 1 back in August.  It was a combination of riding it HC (no pressure), the fact she is further in her training (half halts especially), and because it wasn't the first time ever haha.  I am so glad I thought to ask to ride it HC because it gave me a huge confidence boost.  We nailed all our canter leads and she was super good overall, just a little unsteady in bridle at times.  She doesn't know this test and it is a little more involved than the Intro tests.  

We again scored all 6.5s and 7s for a score of 66.304%, a full six point improvement from our first try last month.  Had we been competing for real, we would have won the test.  Judge's comments were: Horse is fairly obedient but needs to improve suppleness and develop steadier connection for better ease of movement in this test.  Good luck!

This show was everything I wanted for the near end of our show season.  We have made good improvements as a team and Ellie has settled into her role as a show horse.  I could not have asked for a better show overall.  I wish we had videos of our Training 1 test (and even Intro C which was sooooo good).  My phone has decided to not work properly unless it is plugged in (new one arrives today, hopefully!), so while my husband and the almost three year old child tagged along, I did not get any video.  :-(  We have one more dressage show this year at the end of October at our lesson barn, where I plan to ride Training 1 twice.  I think that will be a great way to end our first year of showing.  

Monday, September 24, 2018

There's Your Sign

A year ago, in August of 2017, I contacted the Stable Sign Co. about creating a sign for our barn.  Amelia was AWESOME about helping me come up with the right design, look, and size.  She is located in NH, about two hours away, in an area I don't frequent, so at first we discussed shipping and then she offered to meet me in Maine (they were visiting family for Labor Day weekend).
PC: The Stable Sign Co.

PC: The Stable Sign Co.
The sign is GORGEOUS.  I have had it stashed in my basement for a FULL YEAR, which has made me super sad haha.  My husband wanted to have our barn painted before we hung the sign (fair enough).  I happily bought ten gallons of red stain in April.  And then my husband stalled and stalled about getting started on the actual task of painting.  Once we had time in the summer, he claimed it was too hot (fair enough).

But FINALLY he started painting.  Even though I am obviously capable of painting, I know my husband well enough to know I would never "do it right", so I just let him be in charge LOL!  I have helped here and there, but mostly my job has been to supervise and keep the three year old out of the paint.  Honestly, I would much prefer that job to standing on a ladder with a paintbrush.

PC: The Stable Sign Co.

PC: The Stable Sign Co.

PC: The Stable Sign Co.
As soon as the front of the barn was done (minus the top part of the white trim - whoops forgot to do that), we hung the sign.  He was the manpower on the ladder and I was the mastermind with the tape measure, pencil, and scrap paper haha.  Amelia had attached little fasteners to the ends of the sign, so we just had to figure out a few measurements, mark a few spots on the barn and the sign, and use a level to be sure it was straight.  This part was actually a lot easier than I figured (we didn't even argue once lol), and now the sign is up!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Half Halts are Life

Ellie and I squeaked out a weekly dressage lesson every week this summer, including two weeks where we are able to get a jumping lesson in as well.  This was one of my biggest goals this year, to spend time and money on our education.  I feel fairly confident that I can bring along a horse myself, having successfully started three Standardbreds under saddle on my own, but I also fully admit and embrace that I am an adult amateur and have my own weaknesses that can negatively influence my horse.

Knowing that this mare is potentially more talented than any other horse I have owned, I definitely wanted help.  I wanted to have eyes on the ground.  I wanted to have someone who would push us but also make it fun.  To this end, I am super happy with my choice to lesson with Beth, as she has been EXACTLY what I need as a rider.  We have had really awesome lessons, and I always leave feeling as though I have learned something, possibly added a tool to my toolbox, and she always give us homework and exercises.  Not all the rides are "perfect" which is nice, because I ride alone at home all the time and it is good to ride through issues we have at home at lessons with Beth.  We spent one entire lesson in the spring at the walk because that is where Ellie was at.  We have practiced our dressage tests in a real ring.  We have made huge breakthroughs in rhythm, connection, and the canter transitions.

But the biggest thing we are currently struggling with is HALF HALTS.  Oh lord.  This mare has some serious feelings about how life should work, and she isn't totally into taking my input.  She is a sassy pants with an engine, and it only takes a teeny amount of tension to make her super tight through her neck and back.  Sometimes this tension is justified (a group of turkeys popped out of the woods near the ring) and sometimes she just has a hair across her bum and is REVVED up because she can be.  She is a redhead after all haha.

Our last few lessons have focused quite a bit on our half halts.  Or more accurately, our lack thereof.  I often allow Ellie to cheat and not fully listen to my half halt cues.  It is not going to get us anywhere is life if I am constantly "holding her back" through the reins obviously because all we are going to do is either get into a pulling match or create a situation where she is leaning on me to support her.  Not good.  This is not how dressage works haha.  Sometimes we have to do ten gazillion half halts on a trot circle as a way to tell her to wait for me and keep the tempo.  Sometimes I have to do a HUGE sit-her-on-her-butt half halt in order to get her to listen.  Sometimes I still have to do an actual walk transition as a half halt.  
Sure is pretty at 6:15 am
Right now, she is fine at the walk.  She is much better at trotting and cantering to the right, as she is willing to come into the left (outside) rein.  She is much stiffer through her right side, therefore going to the left and stepping into the right rein is a struggle.  We are working through it, but between our half halts not yet confirmed at all times and her resistance to going into the right (outside) rein, I feel really stuck in our training.  

We had a few dressage rides last week where she tried to suck me into fighting with her and allowing her to hang on me instead of maintaining the tempo I set for the gait.  It was exhausting but I am proud that I did not give in and just kept asking, asking, asking until she finally sighed and did what I asked.  LOL!  I jumped her and we hacked out one day as well, as I need to break up the dressage work for her.  Then we had THE BEST RIDE EVER on Saturday in preparation for our show on Sunday.  It was awesome because it finally felt like all of the half halt work was actually STICKING and we were on the same page.  I asked for a half halt, and she listening and actually slowed her tempo and BALANCED HERSELF.  We had slight head tossing in the canter the first time I asked, but I just threw the reins at her so she had to balance herself (and it gave her nothing to lean on or fuss about).  Every single canter transition afterwards was prompt with no head tossing AND WE GOT THE CORRECT LEADS.  I literally rode for 30 minutes, included a few test movements, and called it good.  

Half halts are most definitely where it's at.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Saddle Fitting Appointment (Finally!)

Phew, it has been a crazy few weeks with school starting and my entire daily schedule changing entirely!  There is so much to write and no time to just sit down and do so.  

The biggest recent event is that after waiting on the saddle brand's rep/fitter since July, I finally gave up on that (she did schedule something for the end of August to only cancel on me late the night before....grrr!).  I contacted Nancy Sherick, who has fit saddles for me before years ago, and she came right out on September 4.  Now that is good customer service!  I will never bother to ask anyone else to fit my saddles from now on, that is for sure.  I figured Nancy would be too booked up or not come up here, but I was happily wrong!

Before fitting - a decent fit but not perfect

Also before fitting - just sitting every so slightly too low
I had a feeling that the wide tree was OK but the saddle just needed flocking up in the front. I also wasn't convinced the panels fit her just right but everything seemed so slightly off that I figured flocking could be the answer, not an entirely new saddle. I didn't quite believe it was too wide, but let's face it, had it been an incorrect fit I would have found yet another new saddle.  You have to do what the horse needs, even when it is not what you really want to do haha.  As luck would have it, I did find a MW Juventus on Facebook for a good price and only a year old, so I knew that I could purchase it if indeed Ellie needed a MW after all.

After checking out Ellie's back, Nancy had me place the saddle.  Like in her previous visits, she asked me why I put it where I did, and this time I was pleased to tell her because SHE is the one who taught me to place the saddle behind the edge of the shoulder bone back in 2010.  And it was indeed in the right spot!  Yay for listening to your saddle fitter lol!  

Curvy back 
Immediately Nancy remarked that she really liked the tree on Ellie but it seemed to need some flocking.  FUCK YEAH! is what I wanted to yell, but of course, I politely smiled and cried, "Oh good!" instead.  She examined it all around and then had me run my hand under the front gusset and along her spine.  There were noticeable gaps in all the areas I had suspected.  Nancy assured me this would be a simple fix of adding flocking.  

We also talked about saddle pads, as she asked me to bring out the pads I most generally use.  Because of Ellie's quite curvy back, she wanted me to stick with pads with wither relief to prevent the pad from bunching underneath the seat.  She approved my PRI and Ogilvy pads but encouraged me to purchase anything new with even more obvious wither relief.  It is such a pain to find pony pads in the first place, but I will definitely follow her advice in the future.  I mean, she was pretty much telling me I need to buy new saddle pads, right?  This saddle pad addict didn't need to be told twice!  

There is really not a lot of room for a saddle! 
Good thing I am tiny and can fit in a child's sized saddle haha
I put Ellie into her stall to hang out while Nancy adjusted the saddle while sitting on my wooden tack trunk in the aisle.  I love listening to her talk about saddles and I know I may have asked her 39465652 questions haha, but it is such a fascinating topic to me.  I could seriously follow her around all day and watch her fit horses.  I don't think it is something I personally would ever want to do, but I love the art and science of fitting saddles.

Once she felt the saddle was appropriate for Ellie, we brought her back out and tried it on.  I could see an immediate difference and after feeling all the spots she worked on, she had me feel everything as well.  The addition of wool flocking was such an easy fix and once I saddled her up for a quick test ride, it was so impressed to feel how much more balanced the saddle felt, which in turn balanced me as well!  YAY!  

Nancy recommends for saddles to be looked at every six months or so.  Of course, if something looks off, she will come out sooner, but I do plan to have her out again in the spring.  She confided that she much rather come out to see a saddle and have it be fine or only need a slight adjustment rather than having an owner wait so long an ill fitting saddle causes serious problems.  That made me feel good, since I would hate to feel as though I were wasting her time to come tell me the saddle is OK.  But there is also a good feeling and peace of mind about having a saddle fitter's stamp of approval.  She felt this saddle would work well for us for a long time, since Ellie is already six and there is still a lot of ways to adjust the flocking as needed on this particular saddle.  She said that by Second level I might want a different saddle, but maybe not.  

I love feeling confident and happy knowing that the saddle finally fits Ellie much better and I have someone I can depend on.  The other best part is that I don't need to deal with finding a new saddle, which was such a relief lol!  

Slight changes but it makes all the difference!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

WMDA Team Show - August 19, 2018

The third and final show at my lesson barn was this past Sunday!  It was also a fundraiser for the Western Maine Dressage Association and a "team" show, which meant we were organized into teams for an awards ceremony at the end of the day.  Each test was awarded 1-7th like usual, but then the team scores were averaged for a champion and reserve champion in each division.  There were four types of teams: same test levels, same rider designation (AA, open, or jr/yr), mixed bag of nuts (any levels/designations), and free range (freestyle tests only).  I paired up with two other riders from my lesson barn who were also doing Training level tests.

Yup, that's right, I put on my big girl pants and rode our first Training level 1 test!  Whoo!  The plan had been to ride Intro B as a warm up and then Training 1.  Now looking back, I kinda wish we had done a Training 1 and a Training 1 reride, which is something that is becoming more popular at shows here in the last couple years.  But it is not something I personally have ever done and I didn't even think about it until after I was finished showing haha.  Oh well!

spoiler alert: it was a good day!
This entire premise was a lot of fun.  I mean, who doesn't love to break out the white polo wraps, win a neck ribbon, and do a victory canter around the arena LOL!?!  (I admit I had to do a little searching to find my white polo wraps while packing the day before!)  Not to mention, this past Sunday was also my birthday, so it really was the perfect day!  My family thinks I am crazy that I would choose to spend my birthday at a horse show, but they put up with it haha.  At my age, all I wanted was a cake (thank you, husband) and the day to show my horse!  I finished my tests a little after 11, and volunteered in the "show office" aka tack room with my instructor until the awards ceremony at the end of the show around 2:30.  

I have all my Introductory level scores for WMDA year end awards, so this show was totally no pressure.  This was a good thing since the judge was an actual "r" judge, not a learner, and she is notoriously a tough scorer anyway.  All I wanted was to put down solid tests for where we are at right now and break 60%.

Except of course, me being such an overachieving overthinker, I woke up Saturday morning decidedly waaaay too nervous about riding a Training 1 test.  See here for my thoughts about calling it Intro D hahahahaha.  I texted Beth and asked if she would be willing to come to the warm up ring to talk me off the ledge before Training 1, and she agreed.  I immediately felt better and we had a great pre show ride Saturday morning, nailing all our canter leads and having no fussiness in any of the trot work. 

I have never had an instructor coach me at a show as an adult, but for some reason, I just needed Beth to be there.  I can be brave, but I also knew I didn't have to be brave on my own LOL!  Of course, since she owns the barn haha, it wasn't a huge deal to ask her to come over to warm up for ten minutes; before I left at the end of the day, I asked how much I owed her, and she laughed me off and said absolutely nothing.  She also let me have a stall for Ellie so she didn't have to stand on the trailer for hours between our last test and the awards ceremony.  I was fully expecting to pay for both her coaching and the stall, and it was definitely kind of her to not charge me.

Intro B is definitely too easy at this point, but it was good to go in the ring and do the thing.  I thought it was a solid test and we scored 6.5s and 7s for the entire thing with a 7.5 on rider position for a 66.5625% and a first place.  Further remarks: Well done!  Work to develop a rounder connection at times with more relaxation!

Training 1 went well overall except for the left lead canter.  I swear I cannot ride a test without messing up one of the leads haha.  I am overthinking the left lead canter transition at the moment, as it seems if I don't ask firmly enough she doesn't canter right away but if I ask too strongly, she is picking up the wrong lead.  Funny how the left lead used to be our easy lead and now the right lead is.  That is always the way!  We had a wrong left lead and then two lovely correct left leads in warm up, so I felt confident we could do it in the test.

Once we entered the ring to warm up (we then are allowed to leave and come back in), both the judge and scribe decided they needed a potty break.  That was fine, though it wasn't scheduled, but it gave me an extra 7 minutes to ride around and start stressing again.  Oh my lord, why am I becoming such a baby in my old age hahaha.  It did give Ellie a moment to just chill in the ring before we started our test, but it wasn't good for my brain.  

Beth offered to video Training 1 on my phone for me, which I happily agreed to.  Sadly, my phone battery has decided it cannot hold a charge, so it went from 100% to zero after about 25 seconds of taping.  I have us circling the ring, entering at A, halting at X, and then starting our first trot circle.  :-(

The funniest part of the left lead circle was I knew immediately she had picked up the wrong lead, but as I asked her to trot, she did a freaking flying change LOL!  It was clean and I was like welp, OK then.  I think Beth was more excited about the change then the rest of the test, and even the judge wrote under further remarks: Unfortunate mistake on the left canter but nice flying change! (smiley face)  She still gave us a 3 on the transition, which was a bummer, while the rest of the test was 6.5s and 7s with a 5 on submission.  Blah.  We still met my goal of breaking 60 with a 60.4348% and placed sixth.  Hey, whatever, we did the damn test and I know if I can get my act together, we can easily score even higher.  I scored the lowest on my team, but at least my teammates pulled out decent scores haha.

Had I been able to do Training 1 again instead of choosing to do Intro B as the warmup, I think our second try would have been even better.  I think I would have been able to ride the test without getting into my head.  Live and learn.  At least we don't have to have another "first" time at Training level, so now I can cool my jets LOL!

After Ellie was cooled out and settled in her stall, Beth put me to work sorting ribbons.  She was scoring tests and I would then take each class set of tests out with the corresponding ribbons.  I helped adjust the ring from small to large.  But mostly I just hung out and chatted with other riders and with Beth, because there wasn't that much work.  Ellie was pretty pleased with her new stall and was acting as though she was moving in to the farm permanently, which was funny but good.  She has come a long way this year in her confidence in herself and in me, so I was happy she was so relaxed.  Granted, we are there every week for a lesson, but it is still a nice change from our first showing attempts in late fall 2017!
omg the polos are so adorable
Soon it was time to get ready to do the awards ceremony.  Ellie was like uhhhh, we are doing the thing again?  But she was happy to hang out with all the horses up by the ring and was obsessed over my teammate's tiny pony haha.  She was a little weirded out about the car that showed up at F, in order to play music haha, but otherwise she was really well behaved.  Our Training level team ended up winning champions of the "same level" division, so we earned our first neck ribbon whooo!  

yay neck ribbon!  our third teammate did not stay for the ceremony

Ellie was DYING to touch noses with her new pony BFF

trying to keep her away from the pony lol