Monday, September 26, 2016

XC Clinic - September 11, 2016

NOTE: I have been waiting to publish this post until I am sent pics, so if I do end up with pics someday, I will post them!  ;-)

Snappy and I had a GREAT time at a cross country clinic at Rest and Be Thankful Farm on September 11, 2016 with a local Preliminary rider.  I knew I needed to find a way to school her over XC jumps before we ever tried a full 3-phase and this was the perfect place to do so.

After a summer of sunshine and drought conditions, Sunday morning's sky threatened rain.  Not exactly the best weather to have a "calm" cross country schooling haha.  We arrived around 8:25 AM for our 9 AM lesson and no one else was there yet.  The wind was whipping and I was slightly worried that Snappy would be wound up between the weather and being alone.  I took my time getting my tack and cross country gear organized before I unloaded her.  By 8:45, I decided to just start getting her ready because I also did not want to be late.  I was just saddling her as the other two riders arrived.  I took my time and got her to the ring to begin a warm up at 9.  She was a little looky at the farm's three horses who had just been turned out (and were leaping about), but she was actually quite calm.  It was nice to have a quiet horse when I was honestly expecting a dragon!

The wind died down and it became humid.  It may have only been 75 degrees, but it was muggy.  We trotted around a bit and the clinician asked me about Snappy.  She mistakenly thought she was a Thoroughbred when I said she was on the track, and honestly I let her think that.  I told her I just wanted a good experience for Snappy's first time over cross country fences, and that I wanted to do as much as we could.  The other two students were young riders who boarded and rode with the clinician, so it was a pretty laid back group.  There should be photographic evidence at some point, as the parents were snapping plenty of pics and I was told they would be shared on Facebook.  

The clinician, Audrey, was great and I really liked her immediately.  She was positive, upbeat, and helpful.  For warmup, we started with just a rail on the ground at the trot and then a crossrail.  Snappy wanted to just throw her body over it because it was tiny, but Audrey encouraged me to slow my posting down to get her to the base in order to have her "sit" back and use her body over the jump.  We ended up with a much better jump and I was pleased to already see improvement.

First, we started with a small log, which Snappy had to stop and walk over LOL!  I guess I much rather have her break to a walk and carefully step over it than have her run out or freak out.  Of course, this technique won't work over larger fences haha, but I was happy that she was at least willing to try even over something that worried her.  I hesitated to really drive her over the fence with my seat, as I might if we were in a competition, because this experience was about letting her find her confidence in her own time and own way.

We trotted over the log in both directions several times until it was completely ho-hum.  We added a small rail/stump jump a few strides out, and again she broke to the walk in order to step over it the first time.  After that, she jumped both fences in a row from both directions.  So far, so good!  I could tell she was thinking and trying, which is exactly what this lesson was for!

We moved on to a rustic plank type of fence, which she hesitated at for a moment but popped over easily.  Audrey added a small stadium crossrail fence near the edge of the field, so we had to jump into the woods (light to dark) and then back out (dark to light), which she did easily.  Then we put jumps together; we jumped the crossrail into the woods, turned and came back out, and then turned left to go over the rustic plank.  I was super happy that Snappy was so calm and willing; there are times we have jumped in a field both at home and at 2-phases where she gets extremely wound up.  I wonder if it was because she was with two other horses and several people.  Regardless, I am happy because a good experience now will help in the future.  She never offered to canter and backed down from my gentle canter aids after each fence.  I was OK with that, because it kept her mind calm, but I would have liked to have tried a little canter after a fence.  Oh well!  

At this point, Snappy was completely chill and unconcerned about the entire idea of jumping things other than stadium fences haha.  Next we walked over a tiny ditch and then trotted/jumped it.  A lot of horses have problems with ditches but Snappy popped right over it without hesitation.  Granted, it wasn't huge but she did not even hesitate.  We went up and down a bank, which was also great.  The first time up she got a little stuck (as in, what do I do now?) but she quickly figured it all out (as in, how to get down haha).  I like how Audrey encouraged calm and quiet repetitions.   

We ended the lesson with playing in the water complex.  Well, I thought it would be the end, but Audrey wanted us to string together all the fences into a mini course for our end.  YES!  I was anxious to see how Snappy would act having to leave the group and jump everything "alone".  We started in the water by just walking around.  She hesitated at the edge but went right in.  Then we took turns trotting into it and out, just taking the easy entry and exits.  Audrey set up a crossrail at the edge, so we trotted into the water and jumped out.  Snappy was like UMMMMMMMM wait, what? but she did it with extra leg encouragement.  Yay mare!  I was slightly nervous about jumping INTO the water, mostly because this was NOT a place I wanted to fall (CHILLY COLD WATER FROM THE HOSE!), but she did it effortlessly.  

We waited our turn to try the course and graciously went last, as both young riders had found their own confidence instead of wanting me to go first.  They were super cute.  We did the log, stump/rail, bank, ditch (over and turn back over), crossrail into and out of the woods, plank, and then the water (trotting in and jumping out), for a total of nine fences.  I am SO proud of Snappy, because she willingly left the group and did every single fence with confidence.  (Both young riders did a great job as well, so it was a good lesson for us all.)  I could not have imagined a more perfect first XC experience for her and now I am excited to potentially return to the farm for an Ultimate 2-Phase this fall (dressage and jumping, which will be a mix of stadium and XC fences).  It will be a perfect way for us to end the year.

Friday, September 9, 2016

600th Post!

I don't have a snazzy and concise title, mostly because this post is going to be about several different things.  But it is the 600th post ever on my blog!  Whoo!

First, I realized that my videos from the August Esprit 2-Phase did not load via Blogger, so I went back and added them into Vimeo instead.  Not that anyone is super interested in seeing our baby level dressage and jumping, but now they are there.  :-)

I've seen a lot of progress recently with Miss Snappy.  It's funny how you can feel as though you have plateaued and nothing is changing, and suddenly things come together.  She is no longer having spooking fits about hacking out, which is LOVELY.  It is easy to forget she spent the first twelve years of her life either in a stall or on a perfectly groomed racetrack, so things like boulders and trees can be scary.  She is finally able to hack around on the buckle, trot a little without dying, and cross a tiny stream.  We have ventured out further than the Christmas tree farm next door, riding up and around a trail near the edges of Mt. Cutler.  So there are good sized hills but nothing too overwhelming.

I introduced her to a one stride and a bounce (during separate rides), both of which she fumbled through at first and quickly figured out.  She is not a bad jumper, she just needs experience and time.  I think once her canter is more balanced, her jump will improve even more.

Speaking of canter, that is finally starting to come together.  Still not ready for public viewing (haha), but I am now able to canter and then do Other Things afterwards without her melting down.  She CAN canter and she will pick up the correct lead easily enough, but anything after we have cantered was a nightmare.  It's all in her head, so she needs more time and patience.  But sometimes the act of dealing with her after the canter was just too much (not too much as a rider, but just too much for me to want to deal with mentally as well).  But the last three times we cantered, I was actually able to have her walk and trot afterwards.  It is still a bit rushed and nervous, but she is realizing OH I can still bend!  OH I can still trot like a dressage horse!  OH I don't have to chew my bit in half because I am so mentally wound up!  It's quite a bit nicer and gives me hope LOL!  

Not much going on this month.  Our busiest show month was August and now that I am back to teaching, I try to keep things manageable.  We have a cross country clinic and a third 2-phase at Esprit this month.  I would LOVE to try a real horse trial in October but the one I can do isn't the best place to introduce XC.  Don't get me wrong, it's a great course, but it is not a simple jaunt around a field for a greenie.  I don't want to take her on a windy, woodsy trail and not give her a perfect first XC experience.  The farm that has a perfect XC course for her does not have any October events.  :-(  So instead we also have a choice of two different 2-phases, which might be better.  And one is called an "Ultimate 2-Phase", so the jumping phase will be a mix of stadium/XC jumps.  It is at the same farm where we have our XC clinic, so I am thinking THIS might be our last show of the year.  We will just have to wait until 2017 to try a real 3-phase!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Esprit Equestrian Center 2-Phase II - August 28, 2016

Snappy and I competed in our third 2-phase at the end of August, again at Esprit Equestrian Center.  She was super good this time around, not afraid of the indoor at all and jumped around the stadium course in a much braver fashion.  She was, however, deathly afraid of the pretty brush boxes made out of pallets.  So she spooked at them before we started the course, as we were trotting by on our way to jump #3 (and I stopped to let her take a look at them), spooked at them when we went by on our way to jump #5, and then of course wanted to suck back and avoid them altogether on the actual jump they were at #8.  Ohhhh mare!  

I was happy with how she felt in dressage, and we were sitting in 2nd place in our small three rider division with a 32.81.  We jumped clear for a second place finish overall!  We are headed to their third 2-phase at the end of September.  

Ready for dressage!  Her head looks huge at this angle hahaha!
Hard to get good pics in the indoor, but my son tried his best!
Ready for stadium!  

You can see her spook at the brush boxes before we even begin the course and then three more times afterwards.  Foolish mare is scared of the weirdest things haha.

Monday, August 22, 2016

State of Maine Dressage Association Show - August 21, 2016

Coming off last weekend's strong showing at Scarlet Day Farm, Snappy and I headed to another SMDA show at the Hollis Equestrian Park.  We did the May and June shows there, so I knew she would be comfortable at the venue.  Snappy was great yet again, earning two more blues for her growing collection.  

Intro A - 1st place out of 4 with a 67.813%
Intro B - 1st place out of 5 with a 68.438%

The tests were obedient and accurate.  I really want to clean things up enough to move up to Intro C and Training 1 next year, but time will tell.  It is tough to have a time frame in the back of your head because horses progress at their own pace.  And I am certainly no professional trainer, so it takes me double the time to teach my horses anything LOL!

I am still extremely pleased with this mare, but I will honestly say that I just wanted to break 70% again and would have been happy to come in dead last at this show in order to do so LOL! It's not about the ribbons, it's about the scores!  I know, I know, still really strong scores.  But now we have completed four SMDA shows, which is the minimum to qualify for year end awards.  I plan to skip the September and October shows and just do a few 2-phases and maybe a full event before we quit for the winter.  (And the September SMDA show is the same day my husband pulls his cattle at Farmington Fair, so I opted to get my scores early enough so he could attend that pull.) Man, I wanted to have a 70% average in both tests!  We are sooooo close! Our Intro A average is 69.92% and Intro B is 69.84%.  Such first world problems hahahaha!!  

Dressage Show
Intro A
Intro B

SMDA May 22
1st place out of 3
2nd place out of 6
High Point Senior Rider
SMDA June 12
1st place out of 6
2nd place out of 9
High Point Standardbred
SMDA August 14
1st place out of 4
1st place out of 5
Reserve High Point Rider
SMDA August 21
1st place out of 4
1st place out of 5

Overall average

But enough foolish complaining!!!  We had an AWESOME first year of showing dressage.  If you had told me a year ago we would have this much success, I would not have believed you.  Heck, just five months ago I was unsure this horse would be able to do a respectable dressage test, never mind earn great scores and ribbons!  I seem to have a knack for taking unridden Standardbred mares and getting them started at low levels.  :-)  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Scarlet Day Farm SMDA Dressage Show - August 14, 2016

I took Snappy to her third dressage show last weekend, at a farm I have never been to (seems to be a theme with me this year, to try new venues!).  The new owners have done a great job with the older facility, and I really liked the superb footing and easy parking.  All the volunteers were friendly and helpful, which is always a huge plus to me.  And I knew it was a good place when I saw the huge sign in the indoor (their warmup area) that said BE KIND.  Not a common trait for much of the horse world, so it was refreshing to see!!

For years, SMDA only held their shows at the local equestrian park, but recently have been allowing private farms to host affiliated shows, so there are now TONS of opportunities for riders to earn year end awards.  I did not attend Scarlet Day Farm's first affiliated show this summer in July and I cannot attend their September show, but I do hope they will host shows again next year!  

Snappy is such a pain in the ass to prepare for a horse show, but she totally redeems herself in the ring LOL!  She cannot eat her hay or grain the morning of the show, because OMG I AM IN MY STALL AND NOT TURNED OUT SO SOMETHING BAD MUST BE HAPPENING.  She stands there and chews her tongue (her only vice) the entire time.  Once we arrived, I did take her for a walk around the back of the indoor to the outdoor (competition) ring so she could take in the sights.  She did settle into the new environment well, but she still stands there at the trailer with a full hay bag and chews her tongue instead. Sometimes she will paw the ground.  SIGH.  This is just her and it really hasn't gotten any worse or better this year, and I will say this is exactly what she used to do in the paddock before a race.  So whatever, mare.  I do give her a tube of Gastrogard the morning of a show in an effort not to allow her ulcers to completely regenerate LOL.  

As soon as I tacked her up and got on, she was fine.  There was someone lunging a horse at the canter at one end of the indoor (even though the show paperwork said NO LUNGING) and there was a nervous horse on the other end trotting a circle.  So it was not the ideal setting to begin a warm up, but I have to hand it to this mare, she marched around like she knew exactly what was expected of her.  Once the lunging was over and we had space, we had a great warmup.  

Intro A - 1st out of four with a 67.5% (our lowest score so far LOL)
Intro B - 1st out of five with a 70.94%

Right before I left, I ran into the current president of SMDA, there to compete at First Level with her new horse I hadn't met yet.  I haven't seen her in a few years, especially since I haven't shown since 2013, so it was nice to catch up with her!  She took a pic of us with our ribbons and asked if I would do a write up for the "Member Profile" section of the upcoming club newsletter.  Sounds good to me!  :-)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Would You Like the 25 Cent Tour?

In my effort to catch up the poor, neglected blog back in January, I did a catch up post in photos.  I have kept a huge Facebook album (only 349 photos haha) from the beginning to end of our house and barn project.  I finally remembered to get updated photos of the barn the other day (last ones I had were from December 2015 when we moved the animals home), so I figured I might as well share them here, too!  

I love looking at other people's barns and there are many things about my tiny barn that I really like.  I wish it were bigger (of course!) but for what we had to work with for a budget (not large haha), I think we did a heck of a job!  It is easy to still look around our property and think, geez, I wish we could finish this or I wish we could fix that, but it's a work in progress!  

Year End Ribbons I could not bear to cut!  You can see Reva and Sparky's year end ribbons on the wire wreaths (upper right).

Dreamy's year end ribbons on wire wreaths

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Searching for the Elusive Canter...AGAIN!

I spent YEARS and YEARS working on Dreamy's canter, as I was always working against her breeding and race training years.  I wrote an entire post about cantering your Standardbred back in 2009.  I am not saying it wasn't worth it, but I had believed that my next "show horse" after her would be anything but a Standardbred.  Don't get me wrong, I love the breed, but it's really time for me to move on.

Of course, what we think it going to happen in our life and what actually happens it not always the same!!  LOL!  I could write a book about that!  Snap Dancer fell into my lap and I couldn't say no.  Now that I am down to two horses, Dreamy being the other one at age 25 this year, it's not as though I have a lot of choice if I want to show.  It's either don't show or show Snappy.  I didn't show for two summers, both 2014 (deliberately took the year off, save for two little shows, one for each horse) and 2015 (pregnant!).  Obviously, if I wanted to hit the show ring again, it would be with Snappy.

Now, I love this little mare.  She's easy to ride, despite the fact that I have not put THAT much time into her before this year.  We spent the late winter and spring just becoming steady enough to do Intro level tests and that has been fun!  Maybe I should just be happy with that and be done.  But I could realistically have her as my "show horse" for several more years.  I AM NOT EVER becoming one of those riders I see on Standardbreds that stays at walk/trot for the rest of forever.  If this mare cannot handle cantering at shows, then I won't show.  But see, I like to show and well, I guess we might as well try cantering and see what happens.  If I am going to canter in 2017, I've got to work on it now.

2 August 2016
As like it was with Dreamy, once you begin working on the canter, the trot (and sometimes everything else) goes to hell.  Snappy is not confident AT ALL in the canter yet, so it makes anything after the canter just horrible.  We forget how to trot like a normal horse, we forget that we know how to bend, we think we need to chew our metal bit in half (tension in the jaw OMG!), and everything is just AWFUL in her little world.  I have to remind myself this is all normal and that Dreamy was the same way.  Trot pics taken BEFORE we cantered that night, BTW.

2 August 2016
The first time I cantered Snappy was the fall of 2014.  Remember, she sat for the entirety of 2015, as I got pregnant in January, had the baby in September, and I think I toddled around on her five times at the walk for 20 mins before winter hit.  My body wasn't exactly in riding shape, nor was her's!  So I probably cantered her ten times total (MAYBE?  I am being generous) before this year.  Her canter in 2014 was actually kind of frightening.  At the time, our barn was not finished, so I was keeping her at my husband's great grandmother's farm, where our riding area was a large field.  If she had wanted to dump me, it wouldn't have been a good time.  I mean, it was a lovely field and I miss having it to ride in, but it wasn't exactly a confidence building round pen or flat, safe, fenced riding ring LOL!  I would ask her to canter and she would TROT as fast as she could possibly go on unlevel grass.  It was as though I had turned her to go a mile.  I knew this was obviously because of her breeding and race training, and she had NO idea what a canter cue was, so it was just about getting something resembling a canter stride and praising her profusely.  I also used a large hill in the back of the field to encourage her to canter, but it still wasn't great.  It felt as though both her hind legs were pushing off the ground at the same time.  I'm not a huge fan of longing, so I just did this under saddle every few rides or so and called it good.  

This year in 2016, I only focused on what our Intro A and B tests would require, other than basic lateral work and sitting trot kind of stuff.  When I realized she was going to pan out as a low level show horse, I also realized that it meant I should teach her to canter.  It was the end of the June when I finally bit the bullet and asked her to canter.  She wasn't horrible, it wasn't as scary as it was in 2014, but it was still going to be a lot of work.  sigh  

2 August 2016 - not horrible but not great
I sometimes wish she could just be easy, but then I remember that there is no fun in that (right?  right).  Her left lead is actually not horrible, just needs balance and a MUCH better transition.  But she can actually hold the gait well enough to go 2-3 times around our little riding ring area.  Her right lead is much weaker and she can hold it almost once around.  Twenty meter circles still stress her out a bit, as she did fall on the longe line (hate them) cantering to the right and while I know it would be good for her to practice the gait without me on her, I am just not a fan of longing.

2 August 2016
So far, she has been picking up the correct leads (I hate writing that because now I have jinxed myself and she won't haha).  Right now is just a matter of building strength and confidence, and I know I can do this.  I am pretty sure SHE can do this.  Worse case, we stay at Intro B and C next year, as Intro C has just enough canter for us to not feel like total walk/trot losers LOL.  I'd love to do Training level in 2017, but I am keeping it real.  Who knows and maybe I will look back at this and laugh at myself for being so worried (or maybe for being naive haha).  But I like to keep track of my progress and this helps!