Sunday, May 28, 2017

Green Acres Horse Trials - May 7, 2017

Our first outing of the 2017 season was at Green Acres this past Sunday!  EDITED TO ADD: Clearly, this outing was weeks ago.  I have been sitting on this entry as a draft since the week we went, waiting patiently for the professional photog to get her pics posted (I went alone and had no personal media).  Well, still waiting for the pics to be posted, despite contacting her nicely last week and promising I would buy whatever she got of us.  :-(  I use the term professional loosely, because while I am sure she has a nice camera and a decent enough eye, I don't think she has ever done this before and well.......I get that life happens, but don't bill yourself as the show photog and never bother to post your pics.  Sorry for the mini rant, but that is why there are no active shots LOL!

I admit, I don't know what I was thinking when I sent my entry.  I thought spring was coming, but as always, the weather had other plans.  We haven't jumped XC since last October and this has been an incredibly wet spring in Maine, meaning my normal spring conditioning activities have been, errr, decidedly not normal.  My ring, which is really just a flat dirt section of one of the paddocks, it complete and utter mud and even the fields and trails are not really dry.  Thankfully (I guess?), I have a 1000+/- foot dirt driveway and and not-really-flat dirt barnyard area, so at least I have been riding her in long straight lines and sort-of 20 m. circles.  Maybe it has been a blessing that I haven't been able to drill ride test movements and could only really focus on transition, straightness, and lateral work. And lo and behold, we have finally accepted the outside rein.  THAT is a major accomplishment with this horse and to have control over her shoulders has been a huge breakthrough.  So perhaps the unorthodox routine has actually been beneficial!

So I sent my entry and immediately started regretting it the more and more it rained.  I never even jumped anything this spring until we warmed up for XC at Green Acres, which I don't really like admitting, but it's the truth.  Do not do this at home, kiddos.  My fields are way too wet and my driveway is way too hard (packed gravel).  NOT the way I would normally want to start the year, but honestly, after having such a confidence building first show season in 2016, I figured this would be a real test.  If we could navigate this, we could do anything LOL!  I also know Snappy has become fairly laid back and trusts me, so I felt safe making this decision. And let's face it, she can practically WALK over 18"-2' jumps.

Snappy was excellent in dressage warm up.  She knows her job in dressage and gave me all the lovely transitions and straightness we have worked on this spring.  She never got heavy in the reins, stepped well underneath herself, and acted calm and happy.  We had to do our test in the indoor, which made me slightly worried, but she marched right in and got to work.  A little girl on a pony decided to warm up during our test at the far end of the ring just as we got started, which I was kinda worried about, but Snappy seemed fine.  Thankfully, the little rider was under control and perhaps Snappy liked the company.  She did give the mirrors a bit of side-eye as we trotted into the ring to acknowledge the judge before the test started.  But she didn't dwell on it or let it affect her relaxation.  Of course, the minute we went by the judge she rang the cowbell (Snappy definitely thought about scooting when she heard THAT thing behind her LOL!), so we really only had one lap of the arena before we headed in.  

But WOW our test was much improved over anything we did last year.  We didn't overshoot centerlines (thank you, outside rein!) and we didn't have trouble correctly bending and accepting the bit in our circles (thank you, outside rein and Polyglycan!).  We did have a bobble during our first halt, where Snappy tripped and the judge marked it as "resistance" in the halt.  I laughed out loud because it was just so typical of us.  Way to trip yourself into the first dressage test of the season!  The indoor is older and I have always found the footing to be a bit uneven, so I am not surprised.  I admit I was not really too excited to ride for this particular judge, only because I think she can be a a bit stingy and gives barely any feedback. I understand using mostly all 6s feel safe to judges, but I do appreciate a judge who can use the entire scale if warranted; I once got a 4 on a canter depart (it was late and sloppy, so a deserving score) and a 9 on a centerline in the same test.  Not ideal, but certainly accurate judging!  And I think comments are super important in schooling shows, but I got barely any feedback and NOTHING written at the end of the test under collective marks or further remarks.  Oh well, not the end of the world.  I was floored to have scored all 7s with an 8 on our right trot circle (except of course, a 6 on our first centerline/halt/trip haha).  Our collective marks were all 8s (!!!!!) with a 7 on submission.  We ended up with a 27.5 and I was so pleased!  I guess Snappy really has improved, as this is 11.88 points improved over when we rode for this same judge at the same venue in July 2016!

We had two hours until XC, and then we were to go directly to stadium.  I had already walked the courses before dressage, so I had time to relax and organize my tack. Good gracious, it takes me time to get back into the groove of showing after a winter off!  I unbraided Snappy, too.  I really like not having to rush between phases. As much as I like to dress and tack up "properly" for each phase, it is kind of nice to have both jump phases back-to-back in the interest of time, especially when you are an hour and a half away from home.

Relaxing at the trailer
I tacked up a bit early before our 3:10 XC time, because I figured it would be good to have a quiet warm up with Snappy just in case.  I have also found at Green Acres that if you are ready to go early, they tend to let you go early.  We jumped the cross rail a few times and she was fine, like it hasn't been since last October since she last jumped LOL.  Of course she was fine.  :-)  I have to say, this mare is smart and once she understands something (and TRUSTS me), she has zero anxiety and is all business.  She can be stubborn though, so she has to decide on her terms, never mine.

As I thought, the rider before me (the first rider in our division) was not ready, so when I wandered over to the startbox, the starter asked if I wanted to go early.  Yes please!  I was slightly nervous about XC, but only because we honestly have no schooled many different types of XC fences.  She has mostly seen coops and logs.  Some of the fences on Green Acres' XC course are shared with the next higher division, so again, not teeny tiny logs we could walk over if needed.  I knew the only bad thing she might do is stop and we could probably pop over most of them if needed.  I also knew if I just rode her forward, sat up and kept my leg on her to each fence, she wouldn't hesitate.  It is all about my purposeful leadership.

My poorly drawn map so I would remember where I was going!  Imagine about thirty other jumps in that small space and you get the idea.  When I walked it, jump 4/7 was flagged with both numbers on the same side and no red flags.  Super confusing and I had to ask how to ride it to be sure.  I started to draw the other jumps and realized it was way too crazy to understand.  This is bad enough haha.
She left the start box quietly and easily took fence one, a small log.  There was a deep muddy section here before fence 2, which she decided would be safer to walk in than trot through (I don't blame her).  And, being the last division of the day, it was quite pockmarked with hooves already.  It threw off our rhythm a bit, but she locked onto fence 2 when we went through the gate between fields and it was as though her brain clicked.  Ohhhh, we are doing this jump thing now.  Got it!

The front field at Green Acres is quite full of jumps, and even more so because it was the only dry spot on the farm for XC (they closed the back field and trails) so I knew I had to be really clear in my aids.  She wasn't always sure which jump was next because there were so many in front of her, so my goal was to ride her straight and purposefully.  Fence 3 was an actual fence, not just a little log and then we went around the water jump and back up across the field.  She was looking around a bit, trying to figure out where I was aiming her (and the photographer was standing right on the edge of the field/driveway).  While she definitely looked at the person, the water jump, and the huge Training level table we had to meander through, she never sucked back, got spooky, or tried to dart to the side, which made me so happy.  There was a time this would have made her mind go into overdrive, but I am grateful she trusts me and looks to me for guidance now instead of allowing her incredibly high sense of self preservation to kick in.  Jump 4 was uphill back towards the start and then we went over Fence 2 again, but this time from the opposite direction marked as Fence 5.  

We had to go around the back side of the field for Fence 6, a coop, and at that very moment the farm's skidsteer was trying to pull out a rig that had sunk in the mud.  She wanted to look at the commotion, which was only a few feet away with an electric fence in between, and I feel as though I steered her a bit too hard to the left but I didn't have a choice if I wanted a good approach to Fence 6.  It was a skinny coop, and she almost felt like she would hesitate (because now the skidsteer mud debacle was hard to see because it was behind us), but she went forward from my leg and didn't question me.  

From there, it was through the middle of the field to Fence 7, which was really just Fence 4 in the opposite direction.  Then we had to go close to the paved road and do Fences 8, 9, and 10.  Fence 8 was a big log but with fake flowers stuck on the top.  It was honestly the only fence I felt she might be worried about, but she just went over it like a good mare.  Then we had Fence 9, a double wooden rail, and Fence 10 was just Fence 6, the skinny coop, in the opposite direction.  Fence 11 was Fence 1 in the other direction as well, and then Fence 12 was just past the start box.  So honestly, four of the fences we jumped in both directions, which was a good thing for us!  

Snappy was fantastic!  She was bold, forward without being spooky, and listened to me.  She trusted me and did what I asked without any anxiety.  I felt so proud of her!  We went directly over to stadium and put in another solid round, mostly just two big circles of nine fences.  I appreciate a straightforward course to start the year.  She definitely would have gone around the puddles in the stadium ring if she had been allowed to, but I was happy she stayed forward and plopped through them all simply because I asked.  

So majestic (thank you, All Ears Selfie app!)

I am excited about the rest of our season!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ten Questions for May

Taking a lead from Bel Joeor, I am going to copy her "Ten Questions for May" post.  I changed my blog URL recently to match the title change, so I have noticed my readership is low.  That's ok, since I really do this more for my own record keeping than anything else.  But because of that, I don't expect much of a true "blog hop".  ;-)

1. What are your summer horse goals?
This summer, my plan is to enjoy a few horse trials with Snappy, do some lessons/clinics/XC schools, and hopefully compete in Area I Schooling Horse Trials Championships in August.  Here is the current qualifying list, but they have not put in last fall's Hilltop scores or last week's Green Acres scores, so we are not yet on the list.  I am pretty sure we are all qualified, but I want to see it in writing for sure.  (Stay tuned for a show recap once I get pics to post!)

2. Do you have any tips or tricks for fly control?
I don't think any fly spray really works that great, but I generally use either Endure or UltraShield Green.  I started using EquiSpot when Dreamy was diagnosed with Lyme years ago and I do think it helps.  I also do the Spalding Lab fly predators around the farm.  Last year was a BAD summer for flies and I was convinced I was wasting my money until my farrier remarked how few flies I had compared to other barns he visits.  I was shocked because I thought we had it bad; turns out it would have probably been worse had I not done the predators.  And my horses do wear Cashel fly masks, which seem to fit them the best, but they don't seem to tolerate fly sheets very well.  When I ride, I use the little silly fly hats and like the ones from USG the best, generally just sticking with black (though I may or may not have just contacted If the Bonnet Fits to see about ordering a custom green one to match our XC colors...)

3. How often do you bathe your horse?
Snappy gets bathed before each show, so that is one to three times a month during show season.  I hose her off after every ride.  Dreamy, now retired, generally gets a bath a year in the spring and maybe one later in the summer especially if it has been super hot and yucky.

4. Do you have any upcoming travel plans? Equine or otherwise?
It is really hard to leave the farm overnight, so I don't have any overnight show plans right now.  A friend of mine was asking about going to Acadia National Park with the horses, which I have done several times, so that may happen this year but definitely next.  We may spend the night with the cattle for a pull that is about 3.5 hours north, but we'll see.  My oldest son remarked that he has never stayed a night in a hotel before, so maybe we will do that at some point this summer (and hotels are always better than spending the night in the horse/cattle trailer!!)  

5. What is your favorite way to beat the heat?
I love the heat, the hotter the better.  But we do have air conditioners in the bedrooms because it is much easier to sleep in comfort.  I love going swimming and spending time at the beach, so I hope to do that more with the kiddos this summer.  On hot days, I generally wait to ride at night when the sun goes down and the worst of the heat has settled down.

6. Do you do anything to prevent your horse from sun-bleaching?
Nah.  I did do the paprika based supplement Blackenall one summer with Dreamy, but I wasn't super impressed and it was also not USEF legal, so once I started showing rated, I stopped using it.  She actually stays quite black in the summer and I noticed that she more easily fades from leftover sweat than from the sun, so I always hose well after rides and even at night turn-in if they have sweated standing still during the hottest summer days.  Snappy just turns from a dark bay to a bright bay in the summer, so I am good with that LOL!

7. How hot is too hot for you to ride?
If the horses are sweating while standing still, I tend to either not ride or limit the ride to a light hack in the woods (where it is shadier).  I also will often wait until after dinner and youngest son's bedtime of 7PM before I ride, so the sun is setting.  My ring gets direct sun all day, so riding in the blazing sun is not fun for anyone!

8. How important is sun protection for you riding or just in general?
I wear a sunblock based moisturizer all summer and I am super vigilant about my kiddos wearing sunscreen.  I admit, I am not always as careful about my own skin as I should be.  I tend to put sunscreen on in the morning and never reapply on myself.  

9. Have you ever gone swimming with your horse?
Yes!  When I was a kid, we would swim the horses at a nearby lake all the time.  I trailered out to a lake a few years ago to play with my old mare Reva and I have splashed/cantered through the beach surf with all my horses.  There are not many safe places to really swim with horses, despite a large number of lakes around.  Most are not set up for horses (or parking trailers!)

10. What’s on your summer wish list?
Not much in terms of shopping, as I already bought a bunch of fun swag with a little Christmas money I was gifted.  I bought a new dressage coat, two new browbands, a BoT mesh sheet, and a new embroidered pad for XC.  My wish list is really more about having a fun summer playing with horses and spending time with my children!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

OK, Bloggers, I need help finding a belt!

Alright, I know there are savvy horse shoppers out there in blog land, so I am looking for help finding a belt to match this dressage coat.  It is from Annie's Equestrienne Apparel and it is my most favorite Tiffany blue!  

Of course, I already had Amy from Dark Jewel Designs create the perfect matching browband.  If you are looking for a fantastic custom browband at a great price point, check out her Etsy site!

Now I'd love a belt, preferably a ribbon belt a la Mango Bay style!  Please help me out, Blogger friends!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Planning A Show Season and Setting Goals for 2017

Every year, I try to create a realistic yet challenging show season for myself and my horse.  I try to set goals that are attainable, fairly specific, and FUN!  I could show every weekend, but that is obviously not realistic (and truthfully, it's a lot of work , strain on my horse, and not as much fun to show after a while).

With Dreamy, I had a weird urge to prove she could "do it all".  We did dressage, eventing, and fox hunting, as well as dabbled in the pleasure/hunter rings and attempted team penning a few times.  We even tried sidesaddle and won an NEHC pleasure class.  She won a lot of awards in a lot of different divisions and disciplines and gave me some of the most incredible horse experiences of my life.  We did things others probably never thought we would (maybe included) and I hope I helped show someone out there that a Standardbred really is a good choice in a horse if you put in the time.  And WOW, did I ever put in my share of blood, sweat, and tears with her.

With Snappy, I don't know what to do this year.  I love dressage shows, but she is not ready to move up to Training level just yet and there is no use riding the same walk-trot tests as last year.  I don't need to accumulate blue ribbons and high scores by staying at the same level. That is boring and silly!  I also kind of want to take her out into the pleasure ring just to prove she can do it, but they are not my favorite types of shows and cost more than I feel like spending (because chasing points includes overnight shows).  It is soooo tempting to do the MHA circuit and try to win all the STB awards with her like I did with Dreamy (and Reva), but part of me just doesn't care about it anymore.  And oh my god, why make myself do in-hand classes again???  LOL

I really just want to event and do dressage shows, but I want to event at BN level and dressage at Training/First.  Snappy isn't quite yet ready for that yet and that is OK.  Instead, we will spend the year bopping around at the local, unrecognized stuff which is totally fine (and cheaper!), because the more I can expose her to in the world, the better.  But I can't help but feel stuck at tadpole level and I cannot deny the feeling of wanting to just have a horse that can easily canter.  But nothing worth doing ever comes easily, and I know it is simply going to take her time to develop a canter so we can move up.  I have patience, I just have to remind myself that I do.  This really has nothing to do with my horse and more about me as a rider.  ;-)  I feel I should be riding at a higher level, but my horse cannot.   It is as though we are too good for the low level but not good enough to move up yet.  It is an uncomfortable feeling.  I have always just stuck by my horse and done what they are capable of, because I cannot bring myself to get rid of a horse just to move up as a rider.  I know riders do it all the time, but I feel obligated to do the best I can to develop my horse along instead of giving up.  But let's face it, I have had moments this year where I have just wanted to buy or lease something that can easily take me BN/Novice. 

I want to find a way to carve out time for regular lessons.  As much as I love having my horses at home, I have found myself recently longing for a barn family and an instructor close by.  I have a great dressage instructor I can start up with again who is about 30 minutes away, and of course dressage lessons are important, but what I wouldn't give to have access to an eventing barn/instructor close by.

So of course, my biggest goal is for Snappy to gain confidence in her canter, because that is the only thing standing in our way of moving up.  She CAN canter and it really isn't bad, she just gets so much anxiety about the entire thing.  Her anxiousness makes her canter get rushy and unbalanced and then her trot work afterwards is JUNK. This makes sense, since she spent so many years on the track where it was NEVER ok to canter, so really I just need to figure out how to unlock that mental key.  With Snappy, it has always been about careful repetition to learn a new skill, and I am hopeful that by the fall, her canter will be solid enough to show Training level dressage/BN eventing.  

And of course, if you are going to foxhunt someday, you've got to know how to gallop!  ;-)