Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rating Report, Fitness Thoughts, etc

Okay. So here's the rating report, complete with lots of pictures!

After waking up at 4:45 and hitting the road with trailer in tow by 6:30 and the rally briefing up in Turner at 8:30, it was time to get ready for formal inspection.
To be perfectly honest, I probably put more effort into my first rally cleaning than I did this inspection. I cleaned my tack very well, but I didn't get at all the nooks and crannies with a toothbrush, so there was a bit of dust in the hard-to-reach parts of my saddle, which don't really see the light of day (or a tack-cleaning sponge). This was frowned upon, the only negative remark I got in my formal inspection, so next time a toothbrush and so forth.
But, the horse was clean and the wrap was great.

My group as we prepared to begin flatwork. Notice Pandora standing half-asleep. She was very quiet and obedient all morning, just a little tense and unwilling to work it out. Reminds me of how she was at Lily Glen sometimes - not bad, just not quite happy and relaxed. Still, she behaved herself very well. Examiners wanted more bend, but this is an ongoing issue as you all know. Something to work very hard on before my next rating, though I'd work on it anyway because that's what dressage is for.

(Speaking of dressage, I plan to call a local trainer sometime this week or next week to set up a lesson. Her barn is not too far from our boarding barn and I've heard good things about her, and MAN is it time for us to get some lessons.)

After a break for lunch, it was time for jumping. Pandora warmed up very nicely, calm and forward and controllable. The examiner had me shift my saddle forward a little, because she said I was setting it a little far back. I then shortened my stirrups.
When I got in the saddle, it felt like a dream, but I suspect this is because of shorter stirrups because I love love love the feel of my saddle when my stirrups are jumping length. It feels like I'm glued in, only in a flexible sort of way. So secure, just not the giant-knee-rolls-and-thigh-blocks type.

Jumping! Pandora was very very good, didn't try to rush the grid or anything. Things started out a little sketchy for two very likely reasons: 1. Pandora jumps rather poorly over tiny fences like the little X-rail we started with in the grid, and 2. We hadn't jumped with any regularity for quite awhile.
I didn't realize it until after the rating, but I really do need to jump more consistently. It's not that we can't do what the rating asks us to do, it's just...when you haven't jumped a lot lately, it takes awhile to settle into the groove, and at my next rating level I won't HAVE time to do silly things like weird releases and rounding my back for a few minutes until I get things straightened out.
She is FUN to ride on course. Fun fun fun. Forward and cruising but controllable, and if I ride her right, she waits to the fence. (This 'wait and not run through my hands' is what we don't have 100% of the time on XC. Thankfully we have all winter to work on dressage and stadium jumping, and if all that strengthening and suppling and gymnasticizing and obedience-ing doesn't help by the time XC schooling rolls around in the spring, THEN we will consider a slightly stronger bit or maybe a kineton. At this point I think it is a horse/rider/training issue, not a bitting one, but we'll see.)

Then straight from stadium work to a lovely splosh through the water to the XC course.

Pandora was very Up. I don't know what it is about this XC course, because it seems to be worse here than other places, but she gets Very Excited in a way that she doesn't usually. Not trying to bolt or anything, but that comforting sense of "I know if I give a subtle half-halt I'll get a response" usually goes away.

Mom didn't really get any XC pictures, so here's one my buddy took from the clinic two weeks before the rating. Same course, same horse, same rider.

Happy rider, tired horse after passing the rating :-)

XC is probably our weakest phase right now. She GOES, and she JUMPS, and she's not quite uncontrollable, but we have some serious work to do. She REALLY wants to run through my half-halts and jump terribly flat and awful to the fence. She really doesn't want to listen to me, and steering goes out the window in a way I don't remember it doing before. As in, she'll essentially totally ignore one rein and leg and drift like mad and not bend.

The rushing is what drives me nuts. I do not want my horse to rush to fences, at all, ever. I would rather start with too much forward than not enough, but still, this is very frustrating to me.

I thought we got this mostly killed when I went to the Brian Sabo clinic in September, but apparently not. I even tried his 'forward-back-forward-back' solution after fences, both at the clinic and at the rating, and it didn't seem to do any good. Pandora seems very tense about the whole thing, unwilling to relax and trust me to get us through it, but she's not unwilling to jump.

So here's my plan: over the winter, like I said, we'll work hard on dressage and stadium. This has several benefits. As dressage improves, jumping usually does too, because dressage works on all those awesome things like self-carriage (a DEFINITE must for Pandora to jump even halfway decently, and something she stops doing when she rushes like a madwoman), communication, responses to subtle aids, etc. And the stadium practice will give us, well, jumping practice. Jumping bigger, more complex courses with a forward controlled pace should continue to improve her jumping technique, her understanding of jumping while carrying herself, and waiting for the fence (as well as improve my riding to fences).

THEN, once the weather takes a turn for the better, we'll spend a LOT of time schooling XC fences. We'll trot fences, we'll canter fences, we'll always be calm and relaxed and I will work on waiting for the fence and making her carry herself all the way. I really think she just needs more XC miles to ease her anxiety. I'll take some lessons, maybe get over to Inavale to take a few lessons from Brooke.

Then if we are still having rushing issues, I'll start considering either a kineton ("puller" noseband that transfers some pressure to the nose from the bit) or a slightly stronger bit. The kineton would be a nice option because it's no harsher on her mouth, and I've heard some success stories.

Here's my view on bitting up: I would really prefer my horses went in a snaffle for everything. She's a sensitive horse and a snaffle is plenty of bit for stadium so far. But - I am NOT opposed to bitting up a little. When I did gaming in OHSET with McKinna, I faced the same dilemma. She went in a D-ring french link snaffle, and for the most part she was fine, but I didn't have the control I needed. She'd tune me out, so to get her attention I had to really floss her teeth, which she hated so she'd throw her head and get angry.

I bought a very mild curb and the problem was gone. She knew the bit was there. If she tried to blow through my hands, I had more than enough power to convince her otherwise, especially compared to the snaffle. I didn't have to get rough with her face, and she didn't throw her head, but she respected that bit. I did probably 99% of my riding on very, very loose reins. I could sit up and say "whoa" and barely touch the reins and she'd stop.


If it comes to it, I will see if the psychological power of a stronger bit helps. I suspect I won't even need to go there after a whole winter of hard work. And if I do, I bet I can use it to get the point across (yes you WILL carry yourself all the way to the fence and yes you WILL wait for the fence and NO you will not completely ignore my half-halts), then return to the snaffle.

Anyway. Random thoughts there...

On another note, after that fairly disastrous clinic a few weeks ago, I decided I really need to be more fit for this. Part of the reason the clinic was so frustrating for me was that after 30 minutes of sitting trot/canter with no stirrups, I COULDN'T RIDE anymore. I was shot. I was falling into bad habits, leaning on Pandora's neck in two-point. In the second riding session, XC, everything was awful because my horse was tired and I was tired and she was jumping very poorly because neither of us could hold the other up. She was rushing because she wasn't in self-carriage and I couldn't stop her and it just...sucked. (I had also been sick the whole week before, which may have contributed to the whole worn-out thing.)

Under most circumstances I won't work that hard. But it at least got me thinking about rider fitness, and how I really should be more fit. I do need to build up more self-discipline in terms of spending time in two-point and riding without stirrups (ugh, so hard when there's not an instructor making you do it!), but I also need more cardiovascular fitness. So I started running.

It's not that exciting. Twice a week, after I get to campus but before I go to class. Tuesdays I go to the rec center and run on a treadmill, Fridays I run up and down 4 flights of stairs in the building where I work. I figure I'll work up to more - I practically have to, my mom runs all the time and has done half-marathons, so I'm pretty pathetic compared to her - but it's a good start and it's maintainable. Soon I'll throw in some strength training too. I'm making my horse work hard, so I better be fit too!

I may take a PE class at school this spring. There's all kinds of cool ones. I'm wavering between Yoga, which is relaxing and a hard workout all at once, and some kind of martial art because how cool is it that I can go to class at school and learn to fight? Neat neat neat.

This has been a bit of a long and rambling post, but ye gods, I don't have any riding things to write about! I've ridden twice since the rating but both times only at the walk because her shoes were pulled and she's touchy at the trot. We've been working hard on lateral work, but nothing I haven't talked about before.

She is seriously looking the best I've ever seen her. Her spine BARELY protrudes from her back any more. Her butt is getting round. She's shiny. I love it. The flake of alfalfa we've added has made a huge difference.

Okay. Off to study some more biochemistry if I can talk myself into it, then bedtime. I am so lame for a college student, bed before 10 on a Saturday (on Halloween Saturday, and also "Ducks Just Beat USC By 27 Points And We're #1 In The Pac Ten" night), but you know me.


Leah Fry said...

You have been busy! I like the pic of you and Pandora.

SprinklerBandit said...

Go Ducks!

As a Bronco fan, I have a selfish interest in your team winning this season. ;-)

I like your philosophy on bitting. It seems that most people either put a curb/kimberwicke/pelham in the moment their horse goes forward or they absolutely refuse to ever even consider doing something that might make Precious uncomfortable. Happy mediums are good.

Meghan said...

I think a lot of horses have XC-related anxiety/anticipation. A lot of them get rushed over fences, galloped too fast, etc. A girl who boards at my barn has a little pinto pony who used to be ridden by stupid kids who would "race" him on the hunt field. So now when he sees a jump, he's all "Must go fast, fast, fast!" and she has to retrain him to slow down and not rush fences.

I have to be careful to never pull back on both reins with my mare. If I start to put even a little pressure on both reins, she inverts and starts rushing, probably because she was ridden by people who were constantly on her mouth, and also kicking her to make her go forward. It's hard when you don't know your horse's full history.

I'm in the same boat as you with lack of lessons. I haven't had a lesson since I got Sofie, as my preferred trainer doesn't have insurance, and the only other trainer I would even consider using is way pricey. Still, we're making good progress on our own. It's not like we need to be "perfect" or "show-worthy" to do a little dressage and have fun.

Promise said...

I recommend yoga for riding...I've been taking yoga for about 2 years now and it has really improved my flexibility...I don't feel like I lock my hips the way I used to, and I am better able to keep my shoulders back, etc.

manymisadventures said...

SprinklerBandit - I try to keep an open mind, training-wise. Especially with bitting. I guess my experience with McKinna and gaming just showed me that it's not always cut-and-dried. I didn't even have to USE the extra power that bit gave me. She was calm and relaxed on a loose rein the whole time, but in a softer bit, I'd have to get up in her face.

Meghan - that is exactly why I want to take her schooling! Pandora is NOT a naughty horse, so I strongly suspect that all her rushing and ignoring me is anxiety, not general brattiness. Plus she's so light and soft on the flat or in stadium. I'm hoping that if I take her schooling a couple times and do some very low-key, calm riding, we can make some good progress.

Promise - you are right. I love yoga. I took a yoga class for PE in high school and it was great. Maybe I will buy a couple yoga DVDs and do some workouts at home.

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