November Poplar Place HT 2017 – Stadium

For as much as I hate Poplar’s Schooling Show stadium courses, their recognized courses are always a lot of fun and tend to really suit Gus. When there are big open spaces between the fences I tend to let him get long and strung out and we pull rails. Twisty courses are much more our style and this course was all about the turns and the approach.

That being said, stadium is still my weak point. I’m getting better, and I was pleased to see that the Novice sized fences looked normal sized, but I still struggle with confidence issues. Especially when things start getting hectic in warm-up. There were more falls then there should have been at this level. The icky weather might have had something to do with it but I was still surprised at the carnage both in the warm-up and the ring.

Even with a refusal at the oxer in warm up (I hope we’re not developing a complex!) I felt pretty good when we got into the ring and I rode hard to every jump. We may have gotten a little crazy to some of the fences and Gus wasn’t really willing to be soft, but we made it through with only one rail. Jump 7 was an oxer set on its own with a long approach, see above but I let Gus get long and we pulled it down. Darn.

Coming into the two stride, Gus wanted to refuse and we got right up to the base as I pushed him over it and then kicked my way out of it. I know we knocked the rail there two but it did stay up and that’s all that matters!

After we finished, I took care of Gus and high tailed it down to watch a couple of team mates ride the Beginner Novice course. I was stunned at how little the fences looked. And I say that not take away from their accomplishments or anybody riding at that level but rather as a marker for how far I’ve come. Just a few weeks ago I thought those fences were huge and scary. Now they look like speed bumps.

This sport continues to surprise me in how much of a mental game it really is.

November Poplar Place HT 2017 – Dressage

I only had one goal for Poplar: end with a number and get another qualification ride for the Heart of the Carolinas N3D.

Between work and Pax I had been so busy leading up to Poplar that I didn’t feel prepared in any sense of the word. Even arriving ended up being a mess after getting stuck on the freeway in bumper to bumper traffic and almost run off the road by a semi who hadn’t left himself enough room to stop and thought veering into my lane was a good idea. It was not. But thankfully we made it thru okay.

So you see, I was pretty sure this was going to be a shit show and I had decided to just not care.

It was definitely a surprise then that I got in the ring on Saturday morning for warm-up and had a compliant and obedient horse under me. The temperatures had dropped with a bitter breeze blowing through and usually Gus needs a warm-up the day before to get all the crazy out oh him but he got right to work. Was there maybe a chance that I wasn’t going to blow this show?

Turns out, no, there was not. As soon as we got into the ring, Gus went back to his old spooky self. It wasn’t an awful test but it was not fluid and it was not connected. I was battling pretty hard to maintain any sort of connection though I felt pretty good about the canter transitions and the down centerlines.

But Gus was looky and he was not with me. I knew we weren’t going to score well. We left the ring and I shrugged my shoulders. Sometimes it’s just not your day, right?

LT was pretty positive though. She had seen some good moments and was proud of how I rode to get through the sticky stuff. It wasn’t going to be my best score ever, but she still seemed hopeful.

I was the only one not surprised when I picked it up to find a 40.0. Basically 6’s across the board. Oh well, can’t please every dressage judge.

Under Review

Pax doesn’t have a name.

I’m sure they called him something on the track but he has never officially been given a name with The Jockey Club and now the pressure is on. OTTBs, as we know, come with a whole range of crazy names. Some cute. Some silly. Some are just “huh?” But those are the names they came with and I’ve never had to take the credit for one.

Now I do.

Now I’m the one who’s going to be responsible for naming this baby and it’s a little terrifying!

Especially when you take a look at The American Stud Book Principal Rules and Requirements  around naming. After reading the very short document, I now understand why OTTBs can be named weird things like Candy Space Center (a filly I seriously looked at before deciding I couldn’t live with the name). Some of the rules are easy to understand (can’t name a horse the same name as one who has won the Kentucky Derby), some are not.

For example: In part 6 (Naming) Section F Number 9 – Names clearly having commercial, artistic or creative significance [are not eligible for use].

What. The. Fuck. does that mean?

I actually have a name that I’d like to use. It’s latin which means that I’d need to provide a translation to The Jockey Club when I register the name and there’s no guarantee that they will accept it but I hope they do. And over the weekend I submitted that name to The Jockey Club and it is currently under review!

But, in case they don’t accept I’m on the hunt for a mother name. The problem is that I’m so set on the name I do want, I can’t even think of anything else. So I need your help! What would you name Pax if he was yours?

The Basics

Last night was one of *those* lessons. The ones you don’t want to have. One of those we’re you’re frustrated, the horse is frustrated, and even your unflappable trainer is frustrated.

We were working on turn on the forehand to the left and nothing felt right. Nothing felt good. I was flustered. Gus was threatening to cause problems. And even LT didn’t know what to do for me anymore. I think we had all reached a point where none of us wanted to be in that lesson anymore.

I don’t blame LT for being fed up with me. Dressage lessons have been hard recently. I used to enjoy dressage even if it was not quite as entertaining as my jumping lesson but lately they have felt like a chore. It felt like we had stalled out. LT felt it too and eventually last night she let me have it (in a totally deserved way of course). That brought me over the brink too and I felt the tears come as I tried to explain why I was frustrated.

All I could think of was “I don’t know how to do this.”

“Well of course you don’t know how to do this, that’s why I’m teaching you.”

But I realized that it wasn’t this exercise that I had meant. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to do a turn on the forehand. It’s that I don’t know how to do dressage. I don’t have enough natural talent to feel when I’m doing something correct but have just enough to fake it through the lower levels. I’m a fraud.

For years I’ve been in dressage lessons and trainers will tell me to do this or do that, open the inside rein, move the shoulder out, spiral in, put his haunches on the inside track and I will shift my aids until they say “good!” And I will leave my lesson happy thinking how cool it is that we’re working on trot lengthening or some other fun thing. But then I will climb into the saddle to practice this and I can’t repeat the feeling. I can’t figure out when I’ve got my horse forward versus fast or if we’re riding a little shoulder in versus his shoulders just falling in. I don’t know what I did to get it the first time and, with no eyes on the ground to tell me I’m doing it correctly, I can’t feel it.

And even as LT was trying to not let her frustration with me show, I realized that I didn’t know how to even explain all of this to her. I didn’t know how to explain that no one ever taught me the basics of dressage. Yes I grew up riding the hunters but put me in the sandbox and everything feels very different. I almost never have a problem getting my correct lead in the jump field but ask me to do it on a 20 meter circle at B and it’s a 50/50 shot I’ll get the wrong one.

So when LT put me back on a 20 meter circle and asked me to spiral in, I swallowed my pride and said told her I didn’t know how. That seemed to surprise her.

Oh, I know what spiral ins and outs are. I know what they accomplish. And, I guess, I’ve been doing them (sort of) for years. But until last night, I never knew how to do them correctly. Meaning, I never knew what the right aids were. I didn’t know where to put my legs or how much pressure I needed on the inside versus the out. I didn’t know what to do with my reins or how to use my seat. Maybe I was doing some of the corrections naturally but I couldn’t have told you what I was doing.

We walked through the aids one by one and, as it turns out, I did know more about doing a spiral in than I thought. But there were also pieces that I was not doing or even knew to do, like bringing my outside hip to my outside rein  just as I was bringing my outside rein to my outside hip to form a wall around the outside shoulder. And when I put all of those aids together, they were the best spiral ins I’ve ever done. I was actually spiraling instead of feeling like I was dragging Gus into a smaller and smaller circle.

LT has always been great at explaining how to accomplish things but she didn’t know that I was missing some of the basic dressage fundamentals and she can’t fix what she doesn’t know is a problem. To be honest, I’m not even sure if I knew it was a problem myself. All I knew was that dressage was becoming more and more frustrating as LT was expecting more. It wasn’t fun. I had reached a point in my dressage journey where I could no longer fake it, even if it was happening subconsciously.

Knowing what the problem is now isn’t a magic fix, of course, but I do hope it’s the first step down the right path.

Pax

New Kid now has a barn name: Pax!

And I LOVE this guy so much. He is so sweet and has been, so far, very willing. He definitely has baby race horse manners meaning he is just a little bit pushy and doesn’t know anything about how to behave like a grownup horse but all of these things are fixable.

Last night we had our first ground work lesson with LT. I’ve done some ground work before but have been largely self-taught which led to some mixed results. Dandy always reacted well but I’ve never been able to do much of it with Gus. He is very resistant and I just didn’t have the knowledge to get past it.

That’s where LT comes in. She is very good with her ground work and already just in working with Pax last night she has made a huge difference in how I handle the rope when asking for backing. LT noticed that when I was “marching” I was pulling, just slightly, the rope towards me and, since Pax is so sensitive, this was actually telling him to come towards me. Instead I need to be very deliberate in throwing the rope towards him. This little detail made a huge difference.

We worked on three things last night: the first stage of backing, disengaging the hind quarters, and desensitizing to the stick. I was very impressed with how Pax did although we did come to find that he’s very very sensitive. This could be a problem under tack but it’s a problem for a different day.

For the next week or so, my continued goal is to keep working on Pax’s ground work and give him all the love. I’m really liking this little horse.