Sunday, July 31, 2011

How I'm Preparing For Dressage Camp

I'm finally here, sitting in my trailer, ready for my first day of dressage camp tomorrow. After a long busy day we left home around 7:00 pm and arrived here at Fraser Equestrian Center at 8:45 pm. Doug has gone back home and I'm preparing for my first lesson at 9:00 am tomorrow. Here's how:
Inspirational reading - Dressage With Kyra, and inspirational snacking - three kinds of chocolate chip cookies, dark chocolate and burnt almond bar, and my bulk barn custom snack of hot and sweet cajun mix, honey peanuts and coconut honey cashews all mixed together. I think I should be eating healthy, but somehow intense riding, or thinking about intense riding = indulgence. Supper was the custom snack mix and diet ginger ale. Obviously the diet ginger ale means I'm serious about losing weight this week.

Here's what I am serious about - improving my equitation and getting a better connection happening with Rogo. I'm committed to working on that as hard as I can and pretty excited about being here to do it.
Tomorrow and through the week I'll tell you about my very accomplished instructor and also the great auditing opportunity I'm having this week too.
Hope everyone is having a good weekend.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What I Want To Remember About The Mental Side Of Competing

I loved to compete the first summer I showed. I was riding Savanah and I don't remember ever worrying about her behavior. She was completely trust worthy and we knew our work. I was nervous, but in a good way. Seriously my biggest worry was learning to do her braids.
Then, because Rogo wasn't ready, I showed my Appaloosa Dan at Training Level. Although Dan was trust worthy at home, he bucked all through our warm up at our first show. I don't know how I stayed on as he bucked and leaped while galloping the full width of the warm up and several times across the dressage ring, but I did. (When we got home I found a sore under the girth area that the vet said was an infected fly bite. He was fine when that cleared up.) At our next show the stall door wasn't screwed in properly and he got out and ransacked the barn - threw chairs around, ate other horses feed, kept horses up all night, pooped everywhere,... It was a nightmare.
Then I faced bringing Rogo to his first shows, with memories of Dan haunting me. Those bad memories became a physical sensation. As I looked forward to our first shows, even months before, I'd get huge, painful knots in my stomach. I was still incredibly nervous this spring. I confess, I actually had the second anxiety attack of my life the night before the show. Doug wasn't here so I called my mother to come to the house because I was sick, the room was spinning, and I was sure I was going to faint and fall down. I didn't know I was having an anxiety attack until it was over, and I wasn't conscious of being anxious. I can't even tell you for sure what I was afraid of - doing poorly in the test? loading and unloading? the warm up ring by the highway? all of the above? don't know. But Rogo did fine, after some initial unease warming up.
Then we went to the clinic. I don't want to jinx myself, but leaving for the clinic I knew he'd be good. I was much more relaxed, knowing this, and he was the best yet. Knowing we weren't competing, that it was just a learning experience even though we'd ride and be scored on tests, made a big difference. So this is what I learned - going to a show should be exactly like this! It's a fun learning experience. It's all in the attitude it's approached with.
I was listening to an audio tutorial of Jane Savoie's today that my dressage friend Cindy sent me. It's about mental preparation for a show and is so relevant to this. Interestingly in it she mentions visualizing your horse with relaxed, flopped ears, listening to you. I noticed my banner picture:

I want to compare it to a year ago:

Although neither picture is bad, he looks more relaxed this year. And while I'm still not as relaxed as I should be (hmm, why am I leaning forward?), I sure look happier! So we're on the right track. As an aside, it's interesting to see Rogo's frame changing.

Maybe we've, Rogo and I, crossed over to being happy and having fun in our training and competing. Biggest goal met.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Loving Summertime

I had a couple of great morning beach rides two days ago. Feeling more confident after Rogo's good behavior when off property at the clinic, I took him on his longest hack yet, doubling our previous distance. We started out with practicing some basics in the arena - walk / trot / walk transitions, circles, trot / canter / trot (needs lots of work), etc. Then we went to the beach. Rogo is so cute. He wants very much to go through the open gate heading to the beach and keeps trying to head there. When we do go, he gets quite hesitant for the first few steps once he's through the gate. Then he gets with the program and off we go. I really trotted out going up the beach this time, but no cantering yet. I'm a big old chicken. I know he'll be fine, but slow and steady. Too many times I've pushed the envelope when things were going well, until they weren't going well. The sand was quite deep (wet) so it's good exercise as long as we don't over do it. We walk all the way home. About 2/3 of the way home I realized I was sitting into him wiht open hips. Yeah! I don't realize I'm not until I feel the difference. This brings me to saddle fit:
I had his saddle adjusted Fri. night at the clinic. I was quite bouncey (more than usual) when I rode there, but put it down to nerves. To work on it I tried to ride without stirrups before the beach ride and couldn't do it at all! Not even a slow trot, which I'd easily done before. After I got back from my beach ride I saw on his saddle pad that I was putting weight up front, not under my seat - bad and not me (I have many bad habits but I put my weight on my seat). I emailed the saddle fitter and she told me she'd put quite a bit of air in it (It's a WOW with air instead of flocking) and that it would make me bouncier. Not what I need! So now I'll give it a couple of rides and see what happens. She may need to adjust it again. On the plus side, Rogo is developing his topline nicely and likes his saddle so we'll sort it out.
After riding Rogo I rode Savanah bareback - also starting with some ring work (mostly trot / canter/ trot to try to help me get a better feel for Rogo). Then she and I headed to the beach. What a blast she is to ride - forward, but safe, with a nice comfy back for bareback. We did lots of trot and canter, with me focussing on balancing with my core and not squeezing my legs. I think I do okay on her. Why can't I transfer my seat to Rogo??? She was a sweety and seemed to enjoy the outing too.
Yesterday I rode Rogo in Doug's saddle (an Albion) to see if it made a difference. I can sit his trot better, so I may need some air taken out of mine. I also worked on Rogo's carriage and trying to ride more with my seat and legs. Looking where I go seems to be quite a help with this but anything faster than a walk still needs too much hand.
I'm really excite about dressage camp coming up the first week of Aug. Nervous as hell too.

Monday, July 18, 2011

First Clinic (for both of us)

It was so much fun! Honestly, I was in heaven. The facility was beautiful in a really welcoming, everything you could want in a facility without being ostentatious kind of way. It's off in the country, with trails, beautiful views, lots of big box stalls, friendly management, etc. As I mentioned we rented the big house there and people stayed over. We all ate together, had a talk on 'De-Mystifying Dressage' Sat. night, hung out under the canopy to audit when we weren't riding, and generally had as much or more fun socializing as learning.
The volunteers were incredible. Alison, who co-chairs the Board with me was the main organizer / manager and she never stopped running. Everything went so smoothly because of her. Sharon had organized the most amazing meals, i.e. made homemade muffins and jam for breakfast, and wonderful  lunches and dinners (the main one several of us cooked for). Mai and Barb scribed, Paula did some of everything - cooking, scribing, ring set up, horse help... You get the picture.
Here's a picture of the food:

Here's a picture of our Sat. night talk on De-Mystifying Dressage (accompanied by wine and double chocolate brownies):

And here are some of the rides:

I'll put some more of Rogo and I on my pictures page for future comparisons.
So the feedback from the clinic is decidedly mixed. It will entail me shamelessly bragging to you about Rogo, and then admitting to being shamed into action for me. We rode Training Level 2 and 3.  First the good part - the clinician loved Rogo. She told me what a high quality horse he is, that she could see how sweet,  kind and willing he is, and that the two things together make him the horse everyone wants. She also said I don't have any problems to work on with him. How is that for high praise? My heart was literally beating out of my chest as I sat on him and she said these things. I've always thought he was special :) but to have a very well respected and highly experienced judge come in from Ontario and say it was so validating. She gave us a 7 for harmony between horse and rider because she said it's very apparent to her that Rogo likes me. This brings me to the bad news - me. I didn't receive any startling news that I didn't know, but it really brought it into focus. I tired much too easily, and I don't have a good seat on him with independent hands. Of course being at the clinic made it a bit worse, but it's very true. I've never learned to sit into him and be as secure in my seat as I am with Savanah and Dan. She says it's his big movement and that it will come, but boy, it's taking a long time. She said I need to get him to round so he'll work over his back more, but that it will come as soon as I'm riding him better and that there's really nothing to fix with him, just me. I need to use my seat and legs more and not ride with my hands so much. Okay, I have my marching orders. Already I have a plan, thanks to the amazing Alison. We're going to go to a 5 day dressage camp at Fraser Equestrian Center. SUe Fraser is a level 3 dressage coach and a judge and she's a great teacher. Her sister Jane (riding the Intermediare 1 test above) teaches with her and is very good as well. I'm hoping that will give me the jump start to get fitness and equitation on track. Then I'll get Doug to lunge me, maybe have some lunge lessons with Megan and sooner or later Joan will be back. Please visualize me sitting quietly and deeply, riding Rogo with my seat and legs :)
Just so I don't get too down on myself, I do feel happy that after four years with me my horse is sane, sound and happy. I've seen a few bright stars with much better riders burn out in that time.
I had the saddle fitter come to the clinic Fri. night to adjust Rogo's saddle (it's been a year since he got it and he's filled out). She also liked what she saw and told me his back / topline and neck are developing nicely. She is from the UK and is accredited as a saddle fitter and worked for many years in horse rehabilitation, so I trust her with fitting.
My final note is that I'm really getting much more comfortable with Rogo at new locations. I was desperately hoping he'd like to compete, because if he didn't I wouldn't (it's just misery for both horse and rider). He was so well behaved that it's going to go a long way to making showing fun. He loaded and unloaded quietly and smoothly, stayed well behaved during his first warm ups, etc. No lunging required, no mischief. I'm really a lucky woman.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Getting Ready For The Clinic

We're going to our first ever clinic on July 16 and 17 at Hobby Horse Farm. Lynda Southam, Dressage Canada M judge is giving a test riding clinic. We ride a test, she critiques it with us, and then we ride it again trying to improve our score. We do this both Sat. and Sun. I'm riding training level 2 and 3. I was thinking of doing level 1, test 1, since it isn't a show and is meant as a learning experience, but since I didn't have Joan to get me ready I scrapped that idea :( Oh well, we'll get to it soon enough.
It's going to  be a fun weekend. We arrive Fri. night. There's a big house there which our club has rented and then rented out rooms to riders and auditors (Doug and I are staying in our trailer with living quarters). We're providing all the meals. One of our board members is a great food organizer, and we'll all pitch in with prep and clean up. Sat. night several us us are cooking for - it will be a dinner for about 26 people. We'll bring wine, etc., and afterwards there's a Q & A with the clinician and then a talk - De-mystifying Dressage - by Jane Fraser. 
I'm really looking forward to it - all the learning and being around dressage people that you get at a show, without all the pressure and anxiety that I impose on myself. Also, camping with Doug, great people, evenings of dressage talk, good food and wine - heaven!
Rogo is coming along nicely. I've been re-focusing on getting him working more from his hind quarters and coming on the bit. Walk is very good, trot is aaaalmost there, and canter gets a couple of strides on then several with his nose way out. I think the canter will come and Joan says not to force it. She wants me to ask for a bit of collection on and off to help him get the idea. His canter must be getting more balance - he can counter canter circles and canter 15 m circles and smaller - all quite easily. Also it doesn't feel like it's on the forehand, so I'm thinking we're making progress.
I've never worked too much on sitting trot with him, figuring it would be much easier once he got round. My last ride I had several good intervals of sitting trot with him, a real break through. At one point he just felt so good I spontaneously thought "I'm going to sit" and wow, what a feeling. His back was up and he just carried me in a great big trot. I didn't even have to 'try' to sit. Normally I've found it very bouncy to try to sit, which is why I've waited. I think if this keeps up we'll be doing fine in sitting trot in a few months. The thing I need to remember is to keep him very forward and connected. I think he's becoming a dressage horse ... :)
I've been crazy busy planning our new horse property. Our new tractor should be here any day, Doug is getting an RV ready to put on the land for us to stay in while we're working on the site, I'm writing funding proposals, trailering our partner Megan and her clients to shows, etc. My blogging has suffered, but I miss it. It will get better soon.
Let me know if you have any questions for our Q&A session with the judge!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Come To Jesus With Rogo

I know I brag too much about Rogo's sweet personality, but guess what? He has a flaw. Yes, it's true, unbelievable as it sounds, there's one bad thing he does. He runs away on the lunge line when he doesn't want to work. He has since the first time he was lunged. I've never been strong or skilled enough to hold him when he was really determined to get away, and thus he's learned he can do it. Trust me, I've worked hard to bring it too an end. I've gone months with no incidents, always to have him slip back when I thought it was safe. I'm sure I don't need to tell you this is a dangerous habit - horses aren't equipped to make decisions about where to go in our world.
I've never ended a session because he ran away - he always has to go back to work. Also, although you'd think that this would lead to big time bad manners across the board, it doesn't - he's kind, soft and safe to be around in every other way so I guess I let it slide for too long.
The two main things I've done to hold him on the lunge when he's really determined to get away are:
  1. thread the lunge line through a girth strap and up to the bit, so that if he tries to run he'll pull his head around (this would require side reins so the bit couldn't pull through, or putting the lunge through the nose band and bit and fastening it back on itself), and 
  2. thread the lunge line in one bit ring, around the poll, and fasten it to the other bit ring, so that if he tries to run he'll put pressure on the bit and poll
If I do this, he learns not to try to run, but eventually when I stop using these stronger methods he goes back to  running, especially if I push him at all. I wonder if anyone else has had this problem and if so, how they've fixed it?
Anyway, a couple of days ago he ran twice in a row and I just had it. It's very dangerous to him/others  and at best he isn't willing to work at all when he does this. So I put side reins on to keep him from getting his head turned out (a prerequisite to running off) and put the lunge line through his bit, around his poll and into the bit on the other side. Then I worked his ass off. I insisted on instant and complete obedience - walk, trot, canter, trot, woah, trot, etc., etc. and step smartly when you do it and do it NOW. He was very taken aback. He's never been pushed that hard or had me demand instant and complete obedience.He tried to run several times, couldn't do it, and then did the best work he's ever done on the lunge - beautifully round, hind quarters engaged, gorgeous gaits. 
I won't say I'm happy about it. Being demanding with him doesn't come naturally to me (maybe with others, but not with him lol). And I'll also quickly add that I don't believe that being tough and demanding all the time with him is the best approach. He's a confident boy which has it's advantages and I don't want to 'break' him as such (even writing that makes me cringe), but we need to come to an understanding that he doesn't defy me by running away whenever he feels like it. I'll have to find the right balance and it's going to have to be stricter than it has been.
I'm sure it's no coincidence that our ride the next day was amazing. Big beautiful gaits and responsiveness to aids - love it. So there's my confession - I was tough with my baby and although it didn't feel great I still think I did the right thing. 
Today I rode Level One test 1 for the first time and he went through it without a hitch, although it needs polish (going into the corners more, more pronounced lengthenings). Doug took some pictures and much to my dismay Rogo's nose is still stuck out - yuk. I desperately need a teacher to keep me on track. Doug helped me and will help me again tomorrow. If it isn't too awful I'll post a video for future reference :)