Monday, August 6, 2018

Central Maine Dressage Association Schooling Show & Combined Test - August 4, 2018

After our first ever combined test last weekend at Esprit Equestrian Center, we headed back there this weekend for their CMDA affiliated show.  Essentially it was the same exact show, just affiliated with a state GMO.  I have limited media because I went alone to this show, and my friend who showed up to ride her First level tests later on wasn't going to hold a phone out in the pouring rain for our jumping haha, though she did get a short 30 second clip of Intro C and a few pics.

This time around, I had a solid game plan, since we had shown there just six days earlier.  The show started at 9am and we were the fourth dressage ride of the day, so I arrived a hour and a half early in order to handwalk her in the scary indoor.  I asked permission ahead of time, of course, and doing this helped immensely.  It was dark that morning with the promise of rain (which did end up starting later in the morning), so the lights were on and the indoor seemed gloomier.  Ellie is a stop and look kind of horse when she is nervous, so having the opportunity to literally stop and put her nose on EVERYTHING was good.  She stopped to touch every single dressage letter, which were large handpainted wooden signs on the wall LOL!  It was incredibly funny to watch her do this.  She was able to crane her neck waaaay up to peek over the half way and see the horses on the other side (well, I am assuming she could see them or at least realized what it was).  She put her nose on every single cavaletti they had set up across the end of the ring by C so the judge and scribe could be seated.  She tried to investigated the clipboard and bell, but I stopped that haha.  The farm owner came over to chat with us over the half wall, so Ellie could see a person and realize no one on the other side of those half walls were going to eat her.  

I eatin hay, Mom
no bug me
 After almost 20 minutes of just walking around the perimeter both ways and doing a bunch of circles and changes of rein, we headed back to the trailer to get ready.  I had already walked my jump course before I unloaded and hand walked her, so it was just a matter of tacking up and changing.  I had entered her in the Introductory level combined test, which was Intro B and cross rails.  I also entered her in Intro B and C for straight dressage to get our last GMO scores and it gave her THREE tests in the scary indoor for the day.

Intro B for Combined Test
She warmed up well without issue and seemed much more comfortable at this venue having been there once before.  I was so hoping our hand walk had helped.  To my delight, rather than being horrified when she entered the indoor like last weekend, she marched right in.  GOOD MARE.  This first test was for the combined test.  She was slightly tense but obedient and we laid down a great test.  We are working through an issue of her wanting to swing her haunches left every time we halt from the trot, so our lowest score was a 6 on the first halt and a freaking 4 on the final halt because I decided to fix it rather than just allow her to halt crooked, so the judge commented "cannot step back in halt".  Yes, yes, I know that, but I am here to school my horse so whatever LOL!  I was happy with the 8s on our trot corner after our first halt, because that was the corner from H-E where she was so nervous the previous weekend.  We also had an 8 on our medium walk and our free walk!  That made me super happy because we had no free walk at the beginning of the show season hahaha and have been working hard on that. The rest were 7s and 7.5s for a score of 30.62 points (which is 69.38% in dressage land).  Judge's final comment: "Lovely horse, careful of haunches swinging left."  This was a 7.19 point improvement over the same test from the previous weekend because she wasn't terrified of being eaten hahaha!

all the dressage pics are from my friend Annie during Intro C
I am going to spread them out to look nice haha
We had forty minutes until we rode Intro B again, so I took her back to the trailer and removed her bridle.  She was SO freaking good this time, just standing tied to the trailer and eating her hay.  She pawed a few times when I had first tied her before our first test, but now that we had one test done, she was happy and relaxed.  Such an improvement that she can just stay STILL and be chill for once haha.  

Intro B - again
I headed back over to warm up with about fifteen minutes until our next ride.  I did a few trot circles and practiced a ton of center lines with a halt a X, really focusing on NOT letting her haunches swing anywhere.  She marched into the indoor again and put in an even better test, though the damn horse halted straight on our first centerline and then SWUNG HER HAUNCHES SLIGHTLY LEFT while I was saluting.  OMFG horse hahahahaha!!!  She is such a redhead.  She didn't swing them left in the final halt but she was squiggly and tried her damndest to try, so it was not a smooth halt (but she was freaking straight!!)  So that made our lowest scores as 6s on the initial and final halts.  The rest of the test is 7s and 8s, with an 8.5 on the free walk!  Our score was a 71.88% with the judge's final remarks as "Lovely pair, lovely test.  Good luck!"  I love that we laid down two great tests in the scary indoor and showed improvement!  That is exactly why we were there back to back weekends!  We won this Intro B test out of five riders!

We only had two riders before we rode Intro C, so I headed straight to warm up to canter a few times.  She was lovely to the right, which was our nemesis earlier this year (go figure), and a little cobra while going left, which she has decided is a good evasion instead of bending to the left while cantering left.  Ya know, she's nothing if not creative.  Beth called her shaky cobra head "rude" at our lesson this past week, which is on par for her teenage rebellion against dressage moments haha.  She doesn't do it the entire circle, just at the transition and at least once the first circle.  Then she usually gives up and goes, alright I can canter like a trained horse.  Which is too bad, since obviously there is only one canter circle in a test haha.

Intro C
At this point, they had opened the two large door behind the judge, so it was pulled open about a foot, just enough for a person to enter.  Which is exactly what happened during our opening trot circle ugg.  Ellie was like OMFG WHAT IS THAT THING? and scooted forward above the bit (still got a 7 on the movement, since it happened at the close of the circle but the judge commented slightly tense haha).  She was still trying to process this scary human who entered her ring when we came around to A for our canter circle.  I was BOUND AND DETERMINED to have a good canter in this test.  I knew besides trying her stupid cobra head shake, our canter has improved a lot.  

The arena door at A was wide open and there had not been anyone standing there.  However, suddenly there is a man with a small child on his shoulders right outside the door.  Ellie is already wide eyed from the scary human entering the ring at C, and I could feel her suck back as we approached A.  I squeeze my legs and am ready for whatever is about to happen, thinking if we can just ride past the door, our canter depart is in the first quarter of the circle, so we will be fine.  OH NO, the man chooses the exact moment we pass A to lower the small child off his shoulders and she falls slightly forward, falling into the ring.  I am seriously watching this entire thing happen and I am internally screaming GET AWAY FROM THE FUCKING RING as well as thinking we are going to trot over the kid.  I sit through her huge shy to the inside of the circle, where she then trips all over herself OF COURSE, and by the time I get her reorganized and back onto the circle at a trot, we are approaching X.


I swear, this Intro C test is the death of us.  I am never riding it again.  EVER!  LOL!
still cute even though Intro C sucks
So, I just ask her pick up the lead and we canter about four strides before we have to trot before A.  Oh well.  Crap happens and we earned two well deserved 4s for the entire thing because Ellie is like why are we cantering and then not cantering and OMG scary shit!  At least I know it was just a bad moment, and I wasn't even upset about it because she redeemed herself and was actually quite good the remainder of the test, with no head snaking in the left canter circle, another 8 on her free walk, and 7-7.5s on collectives.  The man actually came up to me after I exited the ring to apologize, and he was so genuinely sincere, that I couldn't be angry.  I thanked him, laughed, and reminded him it wasn't the Olympics haha.  He said he still shouldn't have been standing right at the door (very true) and that some riders take things differently than I did (also very true).  I did remind him that horses can be spooky, especially young ones like Ellie, and I was happy she didn't run his little girl over.  Of course, I let the little girl pet Ellie and they both fawned over her, because I am a nice person even though all I wanted was two good canter transitions in the test grrrrr.  Not a horrible score though, netting us a 63.25%, but of course I do the math afterwards and realize we would have had a 66+% had those 4s been 6s.  Judge's comment at the end: This test was less consistent than others, which while I don't think referring to previous tests is great judge etiquette, she was correct.  I am still pleased because Ellie was sooooooo much better about the indoor ring itself, and we cannot always prepare for the scary humans who might literally enter the ring while we are riding.  *headdesk*  We ended up fourth out of four riders.

Stadium Jumping for Combined Test
At this point, the rain began just as we left the ring to head back to the trailer.  I had planned to change my stock tie, jacket, and helmet to jump but there was no way I wanted to get a second set of clothing soaked haha.  So instead, I just changed her tack and went straight to the jump warm up.  There were only five of us riding in all the combined test divisions in total (as opposed to 27 riders total last weekend) and the jumping had started at 10, so I knew the organizers were just waiting for me to finish my dressage tests so my Introductory division could jump (we were the last division to jump anyways).  We warmed up over two crossrails a few times and she was listening and happy, despite the fact the rain was coming down steadily at this point.  The footing was grass and I didn't want her to slip, so I figured I would ride conservatively.  The jump field has rolling hills and I didn't want her to have any issues on the terrain.  The other rider in my division had a few refusals and knockdowns, so even though I had not seen any of the dressage scores at that point, I wanted to lay down a clear round even more so!  Come to find out after the fact, the other rider in my division rode HC, so as long as I didn't eliminate myself, we were going to win regardless LOL!

All competitiveness aside, my goal was to go clear without any drama at the pace I set.  The jump she had refused last week as fence six was now fence three, so I was ready to tackle it early on.  And this time, instead of a related distance of 6 strides, there was a combination which was actually flagged as two separate fences, the last two #8 and #9.  It walked as 30 feet, so I knew we would probably actually do it in two canter strides or could just trot it.

would rather eat ribbons than win them
Ellie was sooooooo good and I wish I could rewatch a video!!  She was bold without rushing to every single fence.  I trotted her into fences 1 and 2.  I allowed her to remain in canter between fences 3 and 4 and 6 to 7.  When she landed once on the wrong lead before fence 5, I just brought her back to the trot and jumped it from the trot.  We ended up trotting into the second to last fence 8 and she landed trotting, so it didn't even matter what the striding was.  She was a little wiggly to the last fence, but nothing that a little opening rein and closing my leg didn't easily fix, and in all honest we have not practiced combinations enough.  
I eat dis
All I cared about for this show was being relaxed in the indoor, going clear over the jump course, and having her listen to me during jumping, all of which was accomplished.  And from the looks of the scores posted when I picked up my tests and ribbons before I left, we would have won even had the other rider not ridden HC.  So at least we didn't just win because we were alone hahaha!

a little better pic haha
can you tell it poured buckets lol
my barn looks like I hosed it off

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Esprit Equestrian Center Combined Test - July 29, 2018

After a July full of dressage and jumping lessons, plus just the one little show at the crazy local fair haha, Ellie and I tried our first combined test this past weekend.  I entered the introductory division, which was Intro B and tiny crossrails.

This venue has an interesting indoor in that the long sides have a half wall with an aisle and row of stalls.  It is a small and dark 20x40 ring inside so you are right against the half wall.  The stalls were full of horses, so there was a lot of noise and activity on the other side of the half wall.  And when I say half wall, it is really slightly above Ellie's head so she couldn't quite see what was making the noise.  I had a feeling this would cause an issue, since the tests are all ridden in said indoor.  She warmed up well and I just tried to be super nonchalant about strolling into the indoor when it was our turn, thinking she might just be super chill about it too.


Ellie was rather terrified by the indoor therefore it was not our best test by any means.  There were horses moving around, people throwing hay, stall doors rattling, and someone was filling empty water buckets right on the opposite side between H and E, so the entire test was erratic with poor geometry.  I am thankful that when she is upset she just stops, turns her body around, and stares instead of doing stupid things like bucking or bolting, but uhhhh, pretzeling your body and coming to a stop several times in the middle of a dressage test just doesn't work well hahaha.  If I had been able to bring her in there ahead of time for maybe ten minutes, I think we could've definitely worked through it.  But the show had started early in the morning and my ride time was 1:06, so that couldn't have occurred. Granted, we had about 1 minute in there before the judge rang her bell, but that definitely was not enough time to settle her.  I had to just grin and bear it, but I felt shitty for giving her a less than pleasant experience.  Oh well.  It was two trot circles and a diagonal free walk, so whatever.  
no test pics since the indoor is NOT conducive to photos
I did scratch our Training 1 debut, which was supposed to occur just five rides after our Intro B test, because there was no way I was riding it for the first time in that environment.  I guess I just wasn't thinking when I sent my entry a few weeks ago.  But it is the closest combined test to us at 1 hour, 15 mins away, so I don't have a ton of options to get her out and about to practice.

Overall, we ended up with a 37.81 on the test, with two 5.5s on the first centerline and the medium walk E-H, both with the comments "some shying" hahaha.  These are the two points were she stopped DEAD in her tracks, once as we trotted by the judge into the corner by H and then again at H coming the other way at a walk.  We also had two 7s, for each of our trot circles where she didn't need to be anywhere near the long sides hahahaha.  The rest were all 6s with comments like "moving off rail" which really meant  she was pretzeling her body away from E and H and "hesitant" which meant she wanted to stop and look at things but I made her go forward.  Poor little mare lol.  I think the judge was super kind, fully aware that Ellie was a capable horse that was just upset by the ring environment.  Our collectives were all 7s with a 6 on geometry, which is usually a strong suit for me, but clearly having the correct geometry on a nervous horse wasn't happening hahahaha.  Judge's final comment was: Lovely horse!  Shows a nice soft connection when relaxed.  I was understandably a little bummed we didn't do as well as we are capable of, but I think Ellie was quite good for the circumstances.

As I was back at the trailer getting ready for stadium jumping, I just prayed she wouldn't be a freight train like she was at our jumping lesson last Wednesday.  I didn't want BOTH phases to go poorly LOL!

Thankfully, there were only three people in our division and we were at the end of the day around 2:35, so it was quiet in the warm up.  I trotted her over the little crossrail in warm up and she was just backed off enough that she accepted all input from me, so we had a lovely couple of jumps over it before it was our turn.  We had a half halt and I could push her up to the fence in front of my leg.  Perfect.

We had ten little jumps in our course and I knew I had to ride her to each fence.  I love that instead of just plain little X's, they leave the fillers from the larger fences to the sides of the standards, so the jumps are still a bit looky.  The first five jumps rode quite well, and while Ellie was a bit hesitant and unsure, she listened and went around the field at the pace I asked for.  I liked that she was willing to let me guide her and listened to my input.  Confidence is good, cockiness is not.  So it was nice for her to feel more brave as we went along.  I let her canter after each fence but brought her back to a trot before the next.

our opening circle
I let my guard down by fence 6, a little red and black X with a plank as a ground line.  She politely went, ohhh no thanks and stepped out to the left.  Stupidly, I turned her too sharply and though I could just get her over it.  Nope, I did not set her up at all and of course she stopped again.  Ugggg why do I make poor choices?!  So I circled around and reestablished the trot and DID NOT WANT TO GET ELIMINATED, so lo and behold, she popped right over it.  I could have kept it to 8 penalty points had I reapproached appropriately the first time, but oh well.  Sixteen penalty points it was!  I had not looked at our dressage score before we jumped, figuring we were in last place anyway, so this wasn't about being competitive at this point anyway.
fence 6 - third try is the charm!
Fence 7 had big blue plastic barrels off to the side and Ellie definitely had a moment of ohhh maybe I should stop here.....but I was determined and off she went.  
no touchy

Fences 8 and 9 were a related distance that we did in six strides, as I had her trot in and canter out.  She was being so darn good that I took the chance to canter around to the final fence, and over she went!  YAY! 

fence 8

to fence 9 six strides later
final fence!

yay mare!
We ended up finishing second with a whooping 53.81, the highest score I have ever gotten on any horse on any CT or HT hahaha, but we learned a lot.  Ellie had exposure to another different venue and scary indoor, and while the test wasn't great, it could have been a lot worse.  She did keep it together much better than I had though when we first entered and she went HOLY CRAP WHAT IS THIS PLACE.  I am glad I made the choice to scratch Training 1 for now.  We will have a chance to do it in mid August at our lesson barn.  She was soooo good to jump when she listens to me, which might not always happen of course, but it showed me that she CAN.  I learned I cannot get halfway around course and stop riding her, because she is still green and I cannot let her down.  

jumping photos are just screenshots from the video, oh well
We have a chance to redeem ourselves this coming weekend, as they are doing back-to-back combined tests.  So another shot in the scary indoor, with hopefully a better test.  Now that I am writing this I wish I had handwalked her into the indoor just before we left, since the show was over and I am sure they would've let me.  Crap!  Didn't even dawn on me at the time... And my goal is to go over all the fences and have a clean round, since now we have been there and she has seen all the jumps, and I will RIDE TO EACH ONE haha.

looking quite Morgan-y haha

we managed second out of three because someone was eliminated in stadium
What a good mare.  I am really having fun with this little horse!  She's the best!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

More Lessons, More Learning, & a Helping of WTF Are We Doing?!?

Overall, things are going well in Ellie land.  We had a dressage lesson last week and then both a dressage lesson and jump lesson this week.  

And we've been trail riding too!
Our lesson last week was probably one of our most challenging rides as we did a lot of work on transitions within the trot and promptness in the upward canter transition (and really, promptness for ALL transitions).  Ellie is a weird combination of lazy and forward right now, as she definitely doesn't think she needs to be prompt about ANYTHING yet she also sometimes gets it into her head that Fast is Beautiful.  She seems to have a basic understanding of half halts, but the transitions within the trot were hard for her.  She's such a sensitive mare that I have to be tactful with my seat when asking for a bigger or smaller trot.  She started to understand what I was asking her, and we were able to correctly hold the differentiation in gait for a few strides.  This is definitely something to continue working on.  It wasn't pretty and it felt chaotic to me (probably felt more chaotic than it actually looked haha).  

there is no media of any of these lessons, so here is a random vertebrae in my riding ring #wutintarnation 

Her canter transitions required a few well timed pony club kicks (Beth calls them D-2 kicks haha), which is frustrating but necessary right now.  Beth remarked that there is no anticipation for Ellie when I set her up to canter and it is almost as though she is perpetually surprised when I ask her to lol.  I had taken off my spurs for the show at the fair and had neglected to put them back, so that definitely did not help.  I am the type of rider who asks nicely too many times (and would feel horrified if I kicked her with spurs...heck, I feel horrified I had to kick her on at all, but Beth reminds me we are not hurting her and she definitely needs the wake up call).  Beth said I am allowed to ask nicely/correctly/like an adult exactly ONCE, and then the D-2 kick came out.  It definitely helped and while we did not get any transitions where she stepped into the gait correctly, she was much more prompt and didn't trot shuffle for six strides before cantering.  I only kicked her in two transitions and she was like OH YES CANTERING NOW GOT IT.  We were able to canter within 2-3 strides which is way better than where the lesson started.  Beth reminds me I need to have intention in the canter transition, which is a good way for me to think about it.


This week's dressage lesson was one of those lightbulb moments where you go OMG NOW I GET IT.  I don't know why I suddenly got all crazy and forgot how to ride properly, but thankfully this is why I take lessons so I can get my head put back on right haha.  I told Beth in the beginning of the lesson that I felt as though our bending was falling apart and I was constantly fighting Ellie to bend and stay in the contact.  When I opened my inside rein, instead of lifting her inside shoulder and bending properly, she was bulging out the outside shoulder despite having a solid outside rein and collapsing her inside shoulder.  Something just wasn't making sense to me and it started to really get worse after our prior lesson.

She had me walk in a 20m.ish circle, drop my inside rein, and turn Ellie into the center with just my outside rein and a tiny bit of inside leg.  I was thinking uhhhhhhhhh whut to myself, but instead I just commented that I did not want to bring my hand up and cross the withers. I said this as I started asking Ellie, and LO AND BEHOLD, Ellie turned in towards the center.  Like with barely enough outside rein to even consider crossing the withers. 


Beth giggles at me when this happens but is kind enough not to say "I told you so" haha.  

Inside leg to outside rein, and you turn with the outside rein.  OH RIGHT, I KNOW THAT.  But for some reason, I was still asking Ellie to turn/bend on a circle with the baby aids of inside opening rein, steady outside rein, and LOTS of inside leg.  And she was like WHUT I AM BENDING so here let me fall onto my face and pop my outside shoulder and swing my haunches out because I trying to do what you say, mom!  And because I was overriding her, she was overexaggerating with her body and then it all felt shitty and I was super depressed that we would never go beyond Training level and I suck at life.  (lol yes I am an overthinker, why do you ask??)

a recent rainy day and my smallest child asked me to make him halters for his bulls and a goad stick for the little man hahaha

So we go into the trot and Beth says, "What will happen if you just drop your reins? I want to try something" and I reply, "Uhhhh I don't know, she will put her head up and run off into a faster trot?"  Which she did for basically two strides and then suddenly she is stretching out, searching for the contact, finds it, and settles into it like magic.  Beth reminds me to NOT touch the inside rein and just squeeze/release on the outside rein.  Like not even move the rein (my elbow) back.  I don't mean I threw away my contact, I just wasn't allowed to nitpick and override with my rein aids.  And minimal inside leg, don't keep pushing her haunches OUT so much that I am making her pop her outside shoulder and drop her inside.  This is hard, because I want to micromanage every stride with an opening inside rein, solid outside rein, and tons of inside leg.  And I was totally not GIVING enough with my reins.  It was all take take take take.  I don't know why I wasn't releasing and expecting her to anyways; she released into the contact when I RELEASED.  How did I forget how to friggin ride???

Suddenly we have this lovely connected trot for several 20m. circles.  She is bending, there is no issue with her shoulders, and as long as I stayed out of her face and stopped overriding like a monkey, it was the nicest trot I have ever had with her to date.  I could have cried.  Beth kept telling me, "You have done a wonderful job training this horse and now you have to TRUST yourself and your training."  I have to ride her like she is actually trained and knows something, because she DOES.  I honestly do not know why I wanted to micromanage and override her and use these HUGE aids and not give an inch; bless that little mare's heart, she was TRYING so hard to do what I was asking but I wasn't asking correctly for what I wanted.  So, of course, this is why it fell apart.  

We brought this same concept to the canter, and while it wasn't as beautifully lovely as the trot because it is a harder gait right now, it was amazingly helpful in setting her up to canter.  She wasn't waiting to be micromanaged in the face and instead of using big half halts and releasing to steady her tempo once cantering, I used more SEAT and a more following hand. Ellie is sensitive enough that just using my seat was enough to keep her cantering at an appropriate tempo and to come back to the trot.  


I know all these things.  I don't know why I let my basics fly out the window.  Now to get back on track and put the pieces together!

I bought new boots trees for my new boots!  Yay!

I also had a jumping lesson with Babette again this week.  It was a great lesson in learning to control her outside hind and her overall speed.  Our two previous jump schools have been to do "all the things" in the XC field, once with Daryl in a clinic environment and then two weeks ago with Babette in a "get to know you" lesson.  This week's lesson was more nit picky and we only schooled over a few small crossrails.  At first I felt a little bummed out, like but I wanna jump all the fun XC things! and immediately I realized that while that is fun, that is not what will help us improve our jumping right now.  This was a real lesson lesson.  

I warmed up Ellie before Babette was finished with her previous lesson, so it was nice to already have her working in a decent frame and tempo.  I was able to recreate the lovely trot work from our dressage lesson in the first fifteen minutes and I worked hard to not nitpick with that inside hand.  It felt good!

Babette started having me really work on not allowing her to swing out her outside hind, which totally related to our previous troubles with bending.  As soon as I started making her travel straight and not just lose her hind end, we lost the good connection and suppleness.  Uggg.  But as Babette kept saying, we have to work on this like a puzzle, one piece at a time.  Right now the priority is keeping her outside hind underneath her and having control, while being connected to the bit is second in line.  We got it easily in the walk, as I was able to keep her bent softly inside, connected through the aids, and with her outside hind aligned.  The trot and canter is MUCH harder for her right now, as when I use my outside aids to control the hind, she wants to come above the bit and counter bend her neck.  I could eventually get a stride or two where it all came together, but then she couldn't hold it.  That's OK.  That is our homework.  But it was good to be able to FEEL the correction with her outside hind and get it underneath her properly.  She wants to fling her right hind out more so than the left.  And even when I am not overriding her and using too much inside leg (because I am not letting myself get in that trap again!) she still has a tendency to swing her outside hind out.

not super impressed as we tacked up for our jump lesson

As far as jumping, we worked on controlling her speed to the fences.  She doesn't rush, she just doesn't take any input (half halts) to allow me to rebalance her before the fence.  She chooses the tempo and when I try to slow her/rebalance her, she ignores me.  It is funny because she doesn't do this in a ring, only out in the field.  We only jumped out in the field during the lesson so it became hugely obvious immediately, and I have noticed she does this with me at home in my jump field (the front pasture) but not in my ring (dirt paddock).  Huh.  Something about open spaces I would guess.

So that's where I just sort of end up sitting too quietly and going "oh, OK, here Ellie, you are headed towards the jump so I'll steer and point you at it and you jump".  This needs to change now.  I don't have her in front of my leg and instead of using half halts and then closing my leg over the fence, she ignores me so I don't use my leg aids at the base (because she is already taking me to the fence or so I think...).  It cannot be HER decision, it has to be mine.  As Babette said, Ellie has shown us that over small fences she is fine "on her own" up to a certain height, and then when she feels "abandoned" and wants my support/input, she just stops taking me to the fence.  But I wouldn't abandon her in the first place if she would JUST LISTEN in the first place haha.  So it is a cycle that I need to stop.  When I try to give her input before the fence, she just tunes me out.  Babette said if she is ignoring me and we are a few strides out, instead of just hanging on and winging it like I have done in the past, I am to halt and MAKE HER LISTEN because she can walk over the tiny cross rail.  We did that twice and Ellie was like OH RIGHT YOU ARE UP THERE MOM GOT IT. 

We were able to finally get a few approaches where I felt as though I was in control and could half halt and then close my leg at the base.  The lesson was over way too soon (only 45 min slots) but I feel as though I learned how to fix this issue and that I CAN fix this issue.  Ellie clearly doesn't like this new way of being told she has to jump, but it is absolutely necessary for her right now.  It was one of those moments where she just wants to eat cookies and I'm like NO YOU NEED TO EAT YOUR VEGETABLES, CHILD.

more cookies plz - Ellie, definitely
after our jump lesson
Babette remarked that Ellie has all this confidence, but I replied, "No, it's really fake confidence because if it were real confidence, height wouldn't be an issue."  Babette laughed and agreed it was more like cockiness haha.  "You know, we all know a guy like that and when he can't do something or fails, he is a douchebag!"  I laughed so hard when she said this and added, "Yup, and blames everyone else instead of himself!"  So really, Ellie is being a frat boy d-bag.

She reminded me it is more of a personality issue at this point and that I need to practice this at home over small fences at the trot.  Once I feel as though I have half halts and a horse who is willing to communicate with me, we are to try it at the canter over small fences.  Our next lesson with Babette is mid August, so we have three weeks to see how much progress we can make on our own.

Essentially, I have some work to do.  None of it is insurmountable, none of it cannot be fixed, and all of this is why I am taking the time (and money) for lessons right now.  I want this horse to have solid basics and I cannot do that alone.  Hell, I clearly lose my mind, override her like a monkey, and need to be told to pipe down and ride her properly hahaha.  I also know that if I just put her into training instead of doing this myself, all the issues would resolve much faster, but where is the fun it that.  I want to be able to train her myself and know that even though it took twice the time it would take a professional, it was all ME.  Now it is just a matter of me getting my act together and Ellie taking a bit of my input!  

how Ellie feels about all of it
(oh, and more cookies plz)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Ossipee Valley Fair MHA Show - July 15, 2018

While my focus with Ellie is dressage and eventing, I do want to someday try some Morgan shows with her, therefore she needs to know how to conduct herself in a big ring with other horses.  There are plenty of little Maine Horse Association shows around (including a bunch at the same venue where we do some of our dressage shows at the Hollis Equestrian Park), but I have not yet wanted to spend $20-30 a class to have her be a pain in the ass haha since most of the shows are rated A and B. After several successful dressage outings, I finally I felt comfortable bringing her to an open show but then it was a matter of which one do we try?

It worked out perfectly to bring her to a little show at our local fairgrounds on the last Sunday of the fair.  We have no dressage shows in July, so this was a cheap and close to home way to gain experience for her.  The horse show has always been only open to 4-H kids in the past, but this year they affiliated with MHA and held a Class D show.  There were maybe 15 horses there in total, so I think bringing in a few adults and non 4-H kids was probably a good idea to keep the show viable.  It was only $10 a class and fifteen minutes from the house, so I figured it was worth it.  All my classes were before the lunch break, too!  My husband always pulls his cattle at this fair and we brought our little red show steers last year for the full four days.  (It is not often that cattle show up on my blog haha, but if you have ever wondered about working steers, you can learn all about it from my post last year!)

I knew not to have high expectations for this show.  The fairgrounds are pretty darn busy, even with the show ring tucked into a corner of the grounds.  There were 4x4/ATV qualifying races at 9am when the horse show started, so having the super loud engines being revved up was quite unsettling for Ellie.  The folks who were camping out for the horse pulling and 4x4/ATV races were right next to the side of the horse show ring, and of course any redneck male with an engine likes to rev it up and drive it all over to showoff.  Uggg.

Ellie was much calmer when we did a walk around into the show ring.  Because the ring is tucked into the corner of the grounds, you cannot walk along the outside of the far end.  It is just a weird set up.  And the ring footing.....well, let's just say the fair committee doesn't put time or money into it.  I knew what I was getting into before I got there, but I guess I still wasn't totally prepared haha.  Ellie was like WTF this is NOT a dressage show!  Haha I guess we are both becoming dressage queens.  

The class list and entry form both said an 8:30 start time, but neither the manager or secretary had arrived by 8:20, though the steward and judge were sort of standing around the secretary's booth looking confused lol.  When the manager did finally come screeching in around 8:30, she was pretty frazzled and seemed irritated there were six of us in line to sign in.  I didn't do a pre-entry in the off chance I changed my mind, so I did have to pay a small post entry fee.  She didn't even want to see our Coggins or vaccine certificate, just grabbed entry forms and checks in order to get everyone squared away.  At one point she said, "Well, this show doesn't even start until 9!!" to which I wanted to politely point out that indeed the paperwork all said 8:30, but I wisely just kept my thoughts to myself.  Whatever, lady.

I personally don't like in hand classes, but I thought doing two back-to-back would be a good way to settle Ellie.  We have worked on standing square, trotting in hand, and turns, so I felt like she would be fine.  Nahhh, she thought it was a waste of her time and had a hard time standing still.  She wasn't rude or naughty just a bit amped up and clearly confused about what we were doing.  We ended up with a fourth in Halter Horse/Pony, Open out of five (three quiet, been-there-done-that QHs placed ahead of us haha) and 2nd in English Horse in Hand out of four.
view from our trailer parking - Ellie is on the far left
Ellie really wasn't happy until we tacked up about twenty minutes later.  It was almost like she finally "got it" and understood why we were here.  Like, ok Mom, I know what you want me to do now!  There was no warm up ring or area, so I did my best to walk/trot/canter on a 30ish meter circle off to the side near our trailers.  No one else did any warm up beforehand and just went straight into the ring after mounting up (!!!), but obviously my horse needs a little time to get situated.  She was actually really REALLY good, staying calm and focused, trotting quietly and taking both canter leads when I asked.  We were parked/warmed up on the opposite side of where the booth and in/out gate were located, so I made the choice to move her over to the other side one class ahead of time.  She was looky but kept her composure quite well.  There were several minis there and she was not sure if they were her new BFFs or something to be intensely terrified of, so that was kind of interesting haha.

Our first riding class was Hunter Pleasure Equitation, with one class in between, and then MHA English Pleasure Horse and Adult Equitation back to back.  I figured we could do the first class and see how she acted; I had no problem scratching the pleasure and second eq class if needed.  There were two other riders in Hunter Pleasure Equitation, so it was a perfect sized first class for her.  We entered the ring and began to trot, and Ellie and I were in between the two riders with plenty of space.  Unfortuantely, before we had even made one lap of the ring, the rider in front of me fell off.  The horse was upset to have left his trailer mate, so he turned and galloped towards us along the fence line.  I was like OH SHIT! what in the actual eff can I do without getting plowed into???  So I pulled Ellie up and moved her to the inside of the ring.  I figured the horse would stop in the corner behind us where his buddy was tied and someone would grab him and that would be that.  


The horse bolted back towards us and I decided to get off.  As I was jumping down, the announcer called for us to dismount.  Yeah, no kidding.  I moved towards the in gate, thinking I wanted to be as far away as possible from this train wreck.  Thankfully, the rider was unhurt and after galloping about madly for several laps along the far side fence, the horse was caught.  I have to hand it to Ellie, though.  She was totally calm and unfazed by any of it, so to me, she had already surpassed my expectations.  A young girl by the in gate held Ellie for me while I remounted, and we restarted the class (the rider who fell off opted to excuse herself - probably a smart move).  Ellie was like, welp, OK, that was weird and just started trotting again like nothing had happened.  We nailed BOTH LEADS despite having to canter from the rail (instead of a 20m. circle) and she was just perfect.  We won the class!

cutest trot
you can see the ring is ummmm, a bit rough
She was also quite good in MHA English Pleasure though I got slightly complacent and she picked up the wrong lead going LEFT!  Our "easiest" lead haha.  Ah well, totally my fault.  I knew at that point I had blown the class of three, so I just gave her a good ride and took my third place ribbon haha.  The judge commented, "You looked great other than that wrong lead!" so I was thrilled.  

We stayed in the ring for Adult Equitation, and this time it was just two of us, and I had already beat the other rider in the previous eq class.  We nailed our leads again, although this time she ran into her right lead canter a bit because I was determined NOT to let her pick it up incorrectly.  I didn't care as much about the fact it took six trot strides to get the canter, because she has just started to step into the canter here and there, so to me the lead was more important.  And of course, they ask you to canter from the walk in shows like this, which we haven't even thought about starting yet, so we had to trot a little into the canter.  

love her!
We won the class as I suspected we would, and I was sooooo proud of Ellie!  She definitely was fried a bit in the morning when we arrived, but she settled down so well in the riding classes.  We were done just before lunch and it was exactly the experience I had hoped for!  I could not have asked for a better horse and the fact we got five out of six leads correctly in the show ring (plus all the canter leads in warm up correct - which accounts for four more times!) was really encouraging.  I almost did the walk/trot classes with her instead of the WTC, but I knew this would be a small enough show that we could just do WTC.  I really don't want to baby her at WT when I KNOW she can canter.  Plus, the fact that we have done a canter at a show in Intro C (albeit about ten total strides in the entire test LOL) would have made some folks complain had we done walk/trot because you are not allowed to show walk/trot once you canter at an MHA show.  Which is funny because you can do Intro B (walk/trot) and Intro C at a dressage show...but I digress!  Even though I am not remotely trying for MHA points and year ends, I did not want to give any of the regular complainers anything to bitch about.  I'll just leave it at that! 😝  Though I will say it is nice to not be stuck at walk/trot!!

I think I will try to fit in these types of shows as much as I can (though maybe minus the in hand crap classes), in order to continue giving her opportunities to experience new venues and open classes.  

If you turn on the volume while watching the video, you can hear engines revving in the background.  And that is with them ON the track, so you can imagine how loud it was when they were all starting them up next to the ring and heading over.  I have no idea why they had to start and rev engines a half hour beforehand, since it is not exactly like ATVs need to be warmed up like a horse LMAO.

I sent my entry today to do a Training 1 test and Introductory level 2-phase at another new-to-Ellie venue for the end of July, so that is our next adventure!  

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Our First Official Jumping Lesson!

While Ellie and I did enjoy a XC clinic earlier this summer with Daryl Kinney, Wednesday was our first official jumping lesson with Babette Lenna!  It has proven difficult to find a jumping instructor, so I took the chance to officially meet her and give a lesson a try.  I know of Babette from the New England eventing scene and had a feeling she would be a good fit for me, but this was the first time I rode with her.  One of the things I also liked when I checked her website was this: Babette's approach is driven by team spirit, taking part, learning, improving, and having fun.  The B Eventing team is built on camaraderie and supporting one another.  If that is not perfectly in line with everything I believe in, I don't know what is!

Babette comes to a local-ish private farm once a month to give lessons (local as in 50 minutes away #ruralMainelife) and when I realized this, I jumped (haha) at the chance to ride with her.  She is based out of Gathering Farm in MA, so having her come a bit closer to me in Maine is really great. I am hopeful to make Babette an integral part of my journey with Ellie into eventing.

I have ZERO media from this lesson, so here is Ellie from our ride at home on Friday
Our first lesson was this past Wednesday, July 11, and because Babette cannot make it up to during the month of August (sad face), then we are going again on July 25.  I feel as though she will be able to give me enough "homework" to tide us over until September.  Plus, the farm owners' daughter has been a horse friend since we were kids, and she kindly offered to have me down anytime I'd like during August to ride with her.  She has been riding with Babette for eleven years and has evented through Prelim herself, so I know she would be a great help, though she doesn't teach lessons.

Ellie was sooooo good settling in at the new farm.  We arrived and I set about tying her to the trailer and brushing her in order to tack up.  I wanted to see if she could mentally handle just casually doing the thing, instead of me having to take extra minutes to handwalk her and give her time to settle.  I figured I could do the handwalk routine if needed.  But Ellie stood right there and was super relaxed from the get go.  I cannot ask for better than that!  And what a HUGE change from April the first time we ever landed at our dressage lesson barn and she got off the trailer and strutted around passaging in place with her tail over her back and fire coming from her nostrils haha.

Once I got to the ring, Babette and I chatted about Ellie, what we have done so far, and what my short and long term goals are.  I told her about her refusals at the clinic and how I did not want to have a repeat of that. Babette started by just watching us warm up at the WTC in the ring, and she was immediately able to pinpoint our strengths and weaknesses on the flat.  It was really satisfying to know that she and Beth are on the same page.  Because Babette is not just a jump rider but an eventer, all her work is grounded in dressage, and this makes me insanely happy.  

One thing she did recommend that we have not started in dressage lessons nor have I done much on my own is to begin asking for different gaits within the trot, getting her to begin to sit and compress in a more baby collected trot, then making a clear transition to working trot, and then lengthen her stride in trot, then back to a working trot.  She emphasized to make the transitions clear between the three and to not worry about how long we maintain the smaller or larger trot for now, but to aim for correctness.  Ellie cannot hold the more collected or lengthened trot for more than a few strides for now without getting heavy or speeding up, but it is definitely something I can start being more mindful about incorporating into our rides.  I did not feel as effective in my jump saddle as I could have been in my dressage saddle, plus there were several jumps in the ring, so apparently I have become a full fledged dressage queen who prefers empty rings hahahahaha.  But it was really good work and soon she was trotting in that new lovely trot and picked up all her canter leads (!!!).

Babette had us start by jumping two crossrails set six strides apart.  At first we trotted in and she had me maintain trot throughout.  The first time through, Ellie jumped them both super slowly and like they were three feet tall.  It was the funniest thing and I assured Babette she normally never jumped like that, even when we jumped over new jumps at the clinic hahaha.  But then Ellie decided to jump like her normal self, so we cruised over the related distance in both directions at trot and then she had use trot in and canter the second one.  

Then, Babette raised the second fence to a small 2' vertical.  We came through and Ellie got a little wiggly, so our path to the second jump was extended and we ended up compressing our canter when I corrected her drift to make it a seven stride haha.  We did it again and made the six.  Then she placed a little flower box underneath the top pole, and again we did it fine.  Then she took off the top pole so it was just the flower box.  Ellie decided to look down at it the very last minute and chipped in.  LOL weirdo horse.  We did it again in six without a problem.  I liked how Babette coached me throughout and then periodically checked in with me to ask me how it went.  I like that she pushed me to examine my riding rather than just coach me the entire time, because I ride on my own most of the time and obviously can only lesson with her once a month.  So having her ask "So how did that go?" really helps me analyze both what went well and what we need to change because I need to do that between lessons.  I have taken so many more dressage lessons in my life than jumping lessons that I need to start thinking for myself about my jumping as much as I think about dressage work (if that even makes any sense).

that face 😍
My biggest take away in that small exercise was when she said, Ride the canter, not the distance. Like, oh right, if the canter is a good canter, the distance will be there.  And when we had mistakes in our canter, that is when we added a stride or had a chip.  Huh.  It made sense, because one of the things Denny Emerson drilled into me during my time riding there several summers ago is that getting the right canter is everything.  I love when something I already know meshes with something new and it all clicks.

After this, we moved out to the XC field, where she had me walk through the water to see how Ellie reacted (she marched right in and had no issue).  We did a little trot and then bigger canter out around in a large circle, with me up off her back and going over the rolling terrain.  We did a little tiny log tucked in and shaded by trees and bushes, which at first Ellie was like ohhh no, this is a scary spot.  So instead of letting her refuse, I just made her walk over it.  Yay for tiny logs LOL!  We immediately reapproached and she hopped right over it.  We also did a second tiny log with no issue.  Babette then had us string together the shaded log, then looped a turn to trot through the water, cantered up over a knoll over a small vertical stadium fence that was out there, then through the water again, and then over the second log.  I loved her emphasis on good dressage basics when jumping, asking for things like an organized trot and canter.  I really liked how she phrased this because it helped me think and prepare her for each jump as well as the in between.  

We moved a little further back in the field to two small connected jumps made out of stacked poles, one that was super teeny and one that was 2' right next to it.  No problems with the tiny fence but we had the same stop as we did in the clinic at the higher one.  Ellie just drops to the walk and moves over to the left when she does this.  It is literally the most calm refusal ever.  It is not a huge deal where she is refusing out of fear, I just totally drop her at the last moment.  This happened twice before Babette offered to get on.  She was so straightforward and kind about this whole thing because she immediately realized what I was doing and why I was doing it.  She hopped Ellie over both fences a few times and gave me a huge pep talk, which I really needed to hear.  

She reminded me that I am a great rider and have all the details to make things happen, but I need to trust in myself to give Ellie that confidence she needs.  I am getting to the base of the fence, then jumping ahead and throwing her away, like ohhh noooo bigger jump, here horse, you figure it out.  And that is NOT what I do with smaller jumps at all or with the same size (and larger!) stadium fences which is the weird part!  It is almost as though I am afraid to get in her way and therefore I give her all this "room" to do it herself, but I can't do that. And I don't know why I do LOL!  I have jumped 4' brush fences at a dead gallop while foxhunting, so a stupid 2' vertical fence made of natural poles stacked on top of one another isn't exactly scary to me.  I need to remember that the slightly larger 2' solid fence is TOTALLY within our wheelhouse and that instead of having that small doubt in the back of my mind, I need to ride her right to the fence like I did with every single other fence we had done so far.  Ellie figured, welp, if she is going to drop me, then I must save us and not jump it because if she's in doubt, I am in doubt too.  Babette reminded me that it is OK if things get a little messy in training and that it doesn't have to be perfect, but I have to keep riding her the same way no matter what, because I have the tools to do that.  She said something like, "You don't like it when things get a little chaotic, do you? You are just like me and I can see it."  Like, how do you already know my inner self already?!  I have just started to get to know and understand myself well over the past five years or so hahaha.  She told me I was a great rider three times and that I have done a fabulous job training my horse, which was really nice to hear as a reminder that I am capable.

Babette said all of this in a kind and supportive way, so I never felt like she was lecturing me or getting after me.  But she also wasn't being all overly coddling either, which I cannot handle.  It was the perfect thing to say and in the perfect way for me as rider.  It was a loving kick in the pants, and even though I already knew that Babette was going to be a good fit for me before this point, this completely solidified that I am going to try my damndest to ride with her as much as I can for as many years as I can.  In a way, it was almost crazy how easily she could tell what I was feeling, even though I myself wasn't sure I could articulate it.  And as complimentary as she was of how much I want to give Ellie good experiences and take my time to ensure she has no holes in her training, she reminded me I cannot baby her either.  She said she sees so many riders who would just push this mare along because she is so good and so easygoing and willing, so while I am doing the right thing, I also cannot let it hold us back.  

cutest nose
Instead of that tight chest feeling of wanting to cry, I felt uplifted and supported.  We trotted right in and jumped the tiny fence first, and turned and went over the larger fence three times.  OH FUCK YEAH.  Babette pushed me in the exact right way and it worked for me.  I was able to put the mare in front of my leg, KEEP MY LEG ON AND NOT JUMP AHEAD, and just jump the damn thing like every single other fence we have jumped.  Ohhh right, so if I ride her like I actually know how to, she jumps it too.  Huh, funny how that works.  This lesson really was exactly what I needed, and I am excited to see how this partnership with Babette continues.

So needless to say, I am pumped for this new adventure and am really glad we are going back in two weeks.  Now maybe after a few two phases this summer, we can try our first real event this fall.  YAY!

Has anyone else had one of those lessons that just made things totally click?  Maybe connected with an instructor that gave you the confidence you needed to progress in your riding?  Or said the right thing at the right time to help you get over your inner critic and just ride the damn horse already?