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?

 

Area III Champs at Chatt Hills – Dressage

I didn’t have high hopes for coming out of Area Champs with a ribbon. Not when there are 17 riders in your class and they’re all good. Not when you know dressage is a hit or miss. But I did kind of hope. Our ride at Stable View (which I will some day get around to recaping) had been absolutely beautiful. I knew that if we had another test like that, we had a chance.

But I also knew I was going to be battling the heat and humidity with a ride time of 3:22. Lovely.

Still, I was excited and I headed off to warm-up hopeful. And warm-up was perfect. Hot. Dusty. Blessedly short. But perfect. My hope started to rise. We could so do this.

Then we got into the arena and Gus fell apart including mini bucks as I asked him to enter the area where all the dressage tests were. I honestly don’t know what his deal is. He could care less about the horses in warm up. He could care less about the judge’s booth (he has never once even looked sideways at it) but we get in the dressage ring and suddenly he can’t bend right to save his life. Or move off my leg.

The three things I was happy with were: our right lead canter out of the diagonal which was ironically the only time he was willing to bend, the fact that he kept his head down in the free walk instead of giraffing, and our halt was as good as it has ever been. Otherwise, it was bad. Gus just could not even deal with dressage apparently.

I admit that it looks better than it felt as I received all 6’s and 7’s except for a 4.5 on the free walk/medium walk for jigging and a 5.5. on the medium walk prior to that for being behind the vertical.

Annoyingly enough, this only seems to happen at Chatt Hills. Not that we’ve had great luck elsewhere but the complete 180 is a Chatt thing. I am thinking about having my trainer take him to a schooling show here and just ride every test she can (and blow them if she has to). And then I’ll do the same.

Partly because I had to get ready for XC and partially because I really didn’t want to know… I wasn’t too concerned about checking scores. I knew that wasn’t good enough for a top 10 placing. Sure enough, it was a 39 and change. And we were sitting in 15th.

Trot – Stretchy Trot – Lengthened Trot

After the schooling show at Chatt, my trainer has been very focused on the free walk for Gus. It’s a very frustrating element for the two of us because we can get great stretch and reach at home but the minute we get in the ring, that goes buh-bye! LT wants us to go to a schooling show and ride in a bunch of tests and, if we have to, throw the test to school that dang walk in the ring. I know she’s right but I’m loath to do it because I don’t like throwing anything. Maybe I’ll have her ride him…

Normal medium trot

While we aren’t making a lot of progress at the walk, I feel like our trot work is coming along very well. It’s all baby work at this point but I’m super happy with the try I’m getting.

I’ve never had a lot of luck with the stretchy trot but Gus is starting to like the opportunities I give him to reach down and out. We need to still work on the out… okay, we need a lot more out! … but it is coming together one step at a time. Even better, I can actually transition between the medium trot and the stretchy trot without turning Gus into a giraffe.

Not our best stretchy trot but at least photo evidence of it being worked on

We have also begun to work on lengthening our trot. I know it’s not needed for eventing dressage for a while (training level?) but it is definitely helping Gus learn to use his hind end and push. LT’s favorite exercise for this is to stay on a 10-15m circle asking for more and more push behind but not letting him out. Then when I feel like I’m riding springs, I let him go down the long side (or diagonal) still pushing for more but just letting that power go forward. It is not easy for Gus or for myself but the few steps we get are fun! And each time we work on it, things get a little better.

Knee action! Baby lengthenings!

It may not look like much now but we’re building the foundation for really great dressage work in the future. At least, I hope we are!