Full Gallop January 2018 HT

The only thing I regret about Full Gallop’s January HT is that I have almost no media. Especially considering we kicked butt and took names. But between me allowing my wonderful husband to skip the show and the rain, well… pictures were hard to come by.

After having such beautiful weather for our XC schooling on Friday and our Ride a Test on Saturday, it was a little disappointing to watch the rain clouds come in for Sunday. But come they did and it started raining steadily by the time we were pulling into Full Gallop. Thankfully we didn’t have super early ride times for dressage and were able to relax a little bit. Gus was not thrilled about waiting on the trailer but I wasn’t thrilled about having a completely soaked horse before we even rode.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I think we are finally starting to get a hold of this whole dressage thing. If you count the ride a test we did on Saturday, we had two beautiful, quiet, and obedient tests. Gus maybe wasn’t brilliant or overly bold but they led to my best test yet. We got three 8s including one for our entry and one for our halt. I was thrilled when I got the scores. I was expecting to score somewhere in the 34 range but instead we got a 31! I may have let out a little squeal. If we can just clean up a few more things (like the canter) I could definitely be scoring in the high 20s.

After dressage it was time for our XC walk. I already knew there was a ditch on course and I was nervous. Until Pine Top, I’ve never had a real problem with ditches. Down banks? Yes. Oh lordy, yes. But honestly, I never thought we were ditchy which is why I just cantered straight towards the ditch in Pine Top’s warm-up and expected Gus to soar over. He didn’t and I ended up on the ground. That issue carried forward into our XC schooling on Friday and, while I got over everything, I was just a little bit nervous. LT told me to lean back, leg on, and let him trot it. I said okay and tried not to think about it too hard.

The rest of the course was fairly straight forward and not terribly big. At least it didn’t feel big since we had been jumping training size fences just a few days ago. The only other thing besides the ditch that I had to take a second glance at was the corner option for jump 14. We had the option of a fairly straight forward corner or a big upright bench thing. LT had us walk the corner. Gus and I have done all of one corner. Granted, we had no issue, but still… ONE corner! But since there was a very real possibility that we wouldn’t even get that far, I really wasn’t worried.

But first was stadium.

I was really happy with this stadium round. It wasn’t hunter pretty by any means but I felt like it wasn’t scary crazy either. Instead of getting crazy to the fences I was able to ride with more leg and more adjustability. There’s still a lot to work on with my posture but I think it’s starting to come together. The best part about it all was that we left all the bars up this time.

It’s the little things right?

We went straight to XC where I had time to jump a handful of fences before we headed out on course. LT wanted me riding really forward to the fences as Gus was still a little backed off. But once we were out on XC, Gus kicked into another gear. He was flying.

Gus ate up the ground and jumped boldly over everything. He did peak at the ditch but didn’t hesitate. By the time we hit the water, I knew we were going to come home clean and on time. It was just one of those rides. Even the corner felt like we jumped those all the time (though I’ll admit I didn’t get a good life and we ended up jumping the widest part of the fence). I don’t think I could have been happier crossing the finish line.

This was the perfect start to our 2018 season and it was just what we needed as a confidence boost after Pine Top. As a bonus, we finished on our dressage score and came in third out of eleven.

2017 Pine Top Thanksgiving HT – Day 1

I was super excited for Pine Top. Everything I had heard from people was that it was a great event and that they loved competing there. I’ll admit, I was a little over whelmed when driving up. The facilities, while perfectly fine, do not have the same sort of gravitas that a place like Chatt Hills does. Still, the scenery was beautiful and we got lucky with wonderful weather. Especially considering I do sleep in my open aired trailer!

My dressage time was mid morning which I was happy about. We had a good warm up where Gus felt light and on the aids. When our turn was up we began circling the dressage court. I was ready to go, Gus was ready to go. The horn sounded and I turned Gus into the gravel court and suddenly, Gus felt like he was going to fall down.

It was as if the life got sucked out of us. It took half the test and way too much work to get Gus going forward and supple again and, by the then, it was really too late. We did have some moments that I was proud of and I got both canter transitions so I was pleased with that. Gus was also willing and not overly distracted like he was at Poplar.

All in all, I wasn’t thrilled with our dressage test, but I wasn’t displeased either. There was nothing egregiously wrong with it. I figured we would score decently but not particularly low and I was right. We got a 37.

My trainer had never ridden at Pine Top either but she experienced the same loss of forward momentum going into the dressage courts. She had thought it was just her boy being a bit tough. But that sudden change from grass to gravel really sucks the forward momentum out of the horses. I wish we had known that going in so I could have ridden for it, but that’s part of the game I suppose!

At least there was stadium to look forward too. I thought that the stadium fences were set pretty soft, which surprised me after everything I had heard about Pine Top, but the course was trickier than it looked. There were a lot of rails coming down due to the smaller ring and a few tricky turns. I felt confident though after having a great warm up… sound familiar?

The first three fences rode well. We had a good forward pace to the first fence but I was very surprised that Gus felt like he wanted to back off. I kept my leg on and road the pace through the first tight turn to the second fence, the biggest oxer on course. But as we took a slightly bending line to the third fence I could feel the power waning.

Fence four and five were on a related line and my trainer had specifically told me to ride it in a forward, bold, seven… DO NOT GO FOR THE EIGHT. But we had lost all of our pace coming into four. As we landed I knew there was absolutely no way we were going to get the seven. So I decided I was just going to go for a nice quiet hunter-ish eight strides.

But Gus was so incredibly backed off and he was not listening to my leg. I had forgotten my spurs and Gus was taking full advantage of that. I should have gone to my stick but I wasn’t thinking. So we got to fence five not in seven and not in eight. Instead we put in a really puke of a half step and brought the fence down.

We got through rest of the course though I really had to sit and kick out of the two stride combination at 8. I do feel like I managed to get things together for the last fence which was something and we only had one rail which was kind of a miracle.

More than anything, I was surprised with how backed off Gus was. These fences were not high and were not overly decorated. They were really quite plan all things considered. But that’s where I have to be more aware and quicker to respond. I need to be proactive instead of reactive. I am a better rider than that and, more importantly, I want to be a better rider.

Sadly the rail moved me down from 7th to 9th but it did take the pressure off for XC since I figured I was firmly out of the ribbons.

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.

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.

Stable View June H.T. – The Orange Horse

So yeah… this recap is a bit late but this horse trial was too much fun to not share. Click HERE to remind yourself where we left off and let’s wrap this up!

Yup, that’s where we left off the night before Stable View. The ultimate of all #grayhorseproblems.

Thanks to my wonderful, amazing, not at all frustrating gray horse, I had to drag my trainer and team mate to Stable View by first light because this was not going to be a quick fix.

Until looking at these photos, I honestly had no idea I was wearing my “Dappled is the new black” shirt. Oh the irony.

I’m sure I was quite the sight, pulling up and unloading two orange horses. LT actually helped me get ready because there was just no way I was going to get him even semi gray again by myself. She even braided him for me, something I would never ask her to do in normal circumstances but was much appreciated. LT is amazing.

But you know… we got him mostly clean. Just that damn tail was left with a slight hint of orange. *sigh*

Can we just pretend it was done purposefully to match the rest of our colors?