Thursday, August 30, 2012

Northern Lights Dressage

We had our second rated dressage show this past weekend: Northern Lights Dressage, at the Washington County Fairgrounds. 

We got to the grounds early in the morning after I had about 4 hours of sleep the night before, as my ride time was 7:29 am.  Ouch is that early!  Once we got there I had about 45 minutes to groom, braid, change, tack, and warm-up. I got about a 6 minute warm-up. Not NEAR long enough. But, as Julie said, I managed to pull a lot of stuff out of my butt with what little horse and warm-up we had going into that first test. . . .

So in Training 1 we managed to come out with a 61.25% somehow. I really didn't feel we deserved it as he fell out of the left lead canter for a stride or two and was very tense in his free walk, so when I tried to push him for more activity he broke into the trot. But, the judge seemed to think we had some nice moments too. She gave us a few 7's on our left trot circle, right canter circle, and final halt. She gave us a 4 on our stretchy circle with the comment of "needs to stretch foward and down to contact."  Well of course that is the obvious comment for us at this stage.  We didn't have a fantastic stretch in that first ride, so I think 4 or 4.5 was pretty accurate. We got a 5 on our free walk with the same comment as the stretchy trot circle. I think that's fair because it wasn't fabulous with how tense he was in that first test. We scored pretty nicely on our collective remarks, 6.5 for gaits, 6.5 for impulsion, 6.5 for submission, 7 for rider's position and seat (lol, yeah right! like I deserved that!), 6.5 for rider's correct and effective use of the aids, and 6.5 for harmony. Her overall comments were "Nice moments. Horse is nicely forward. Keep working on getting neck softer at the base and stretching." Okay, no surprise there, that is our continuous battle- stretching down. Overall, the test wasn't bad, but I figured it'd be right around 60, not 61.25. . . but I won't complain.
Second test, training 2, was judged by a different judge. She was harsh, and I scored 58.214%. Ouch. I thought that was probably about my best ride. We didn't score anything higher than a 6.5. She gave us a 5.5 on our strethcy circle, which I felt was only a tad bit better than the first test when I got a 4. . . so I dunno. 5 again on free walk. This judge seemed really focused on Louie's neck being too high. Her overall comments were "nice pair, but he needs more correct acceptance of bit with more supple bending left and right."

Third test, training 3, was under the same judge as the first test, but this was in a different arena. Louie was a firecracker. He was great in warm-up, but he was STRONG as soon as we entered the arena. He kindof went into park horse mode- looking, stiffening, and scooting/shying at things as soon as we entered the competition arena. A lot of other horses from our barn had trouble in that arena too- there was a lot more going on around the outsides of the arena there, but who knows what their issues were. Anyhow, I guess it looked better than it felt. Other than our geometry being a little off because my horse was not between my aids, we had a lot of impulsion and a decent test. We had a really nice stretchy trot, but she still only gave us a 4. . . I'm not really sure what she wanted because as you can see from the photo below, we had a decent stretch, and even had some contact, even though Louie wasn't pushing his nose out into the contact. She gave us 7's on our first halt, left lead canter depart (commented "uphill depart"), left canter circle, and medium walk. We got a 6.5 on our free walk this time, but only 5's on our right lead canter and second canter-trot transition (which was late and bracy). I actually thought our right lead canter circle was really nice, I actually got him to relax his neck down in the canter a bit. She thought his neck looked braced in that movement.  We got 7's on gaits and impulsion in that test, overall comments of "nice forward test. work on getting neck softer and through the base especially in transitions." We got an overall score of 61.2%, which I felt was accurate as an overall, even thought I felt out stretchy trot was a 7.. . . .

So, as you can see, some inconsistencies from one judge to the next. I still think my best ride was probably test 2, which I scored so poorly on. . .. Julie was a little upset with the judging (we had 6 horses there from our stable) as it was overally rather harsh, inconsistent, and not explained (I had several movements where we had a comment of "nicely forward" with a score of a 6- so why didn't we score higher??).

Oh well.  Overall, Louie did a pretty decent job considering the circustances and not getting sufficient warm up time.  I had hoped for some 63-65% scores, which I think we could have received had there been different judges, but I will be satisfied with the fact that my horse did a pretty good job, and did make some notable improvements from the last show.  We also had the prettiest braids at the show.  Mae and Jill helped me to do some really cool rosette braids, which I will look forward to doing again sometime!

For now, we will start preparing for our stable's schooling show coming up this weekend, where Louie and I will be riding first level, test 2! 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lesson: Bend to Stretch

Catch up time:  the past 2 lessons have been pretty bad.  We were working on a "square" exercise with turns on the forehand at each corner of the square, but the way we did it was really confusing Louie.  So, I'm not even going to explain it because every time I've worked on it, things have not gone well for me and Louie.  So, with a show coming up in a week and a half, I need to just get it out of my mind and focus on show stuff- like contact, stretching, and transitions. 

Today we worked on several exercises all in the same "vein."  Louie wasn't stretching down and into the contact when we first started (that's thanks to the square exercise), so we went to our go-to cure for above the bit- sideways.  We worked on a fair amount of shoulder in.  We trotted a 10 meter circle, then took shoulder in down the straight away.  Well, Louie likes to lift up above the contact when I ask for the shoulder in on the straight away, so we would immediately bring him back into a 10 meter circle, thinking "stretch" then return to the shoulder in on the straight away once we got the contact back and the head down. 

We then worked on stretching on our center line, thinking just a little bit of bend, but not actually doing a bend.  Just open one rein and apply one calf ever so slightly.  Part of my homework is to figure out which side I can get a better stretch from, so that I can enter from that side at the show, and can shoulder in right up to it if I need to to get a better stretch down that center line. 

The other thing that we had to really focus on was keeping the hands wide.  Louie tends to stretch down much better if I widen my hands a bit.  So, when we hit the straight away and wanted to do shoulder in, I had to take my outside rein off the neck a little bit like a leading rein.  This made a big difference in keeping him on the rail.  Also, I need to think about using my calf for the shoulder in, as if I get too pinchy in my knees or thighs, he lifts up above the bit as well.

We then worked on a nice little exercise of sitting trot on a 10 meter circle.  Julie would count out 6 strides, then we were to walk on the 6th count.  So, this is to sharpen our downward transition, keep us riding forward into the downward transitions, and improve our being "on the aids."  To get the downward transition, I need to remember not to beg and use a huge cue or pull on the reins.  I just need to think a little half halt with my epigastrium and inside calf to get the transition.  If I ask for a downward transition, but don't get one, I need to go sideways off the inside leg (this replicates the square exercise that we dislike so much).  In the show, I can just lean forward and "whisper in his ears" (ie exhale audibly) and he'll downward transitions super easily, but we really need to work on this as we haven't had good downward transitions lately. 

Then we worked on the same 10 meter circle exercise, and instead of walking on the 6th stride, I did a half halt thinking "almost walk" on the 4th stride then ask ONCE for canter right after that.  If he doesn't canter, I can't ask again or beg, I just need to play around to discover where the right buttons are for up- as well as for down-ward transitions.  The same is true of the downward transitions.  After 6 strides of canter, downward transition with wide hands, inside rein and inside leg.  Doing this exercise we finally got some decent canter-trot transitions (which have been non-existent the past 2 weeks). 

My homework for this week is to work on stretching through bend, even if it's invisible bend (ie center line), with wider hands, straight center lines with stretch, and transitions by counting my strides and being ready and able to transition up or down at any point.  (One note on that- I need to mix it up and not always canter on the 6th or 4th, but sometimes, stop after 2, or if the canter is good, keep going for a few more strides- Louie is way too smart and he'll figure out this 6 strides thing in a right hurry!).  I am hoping I can get enough good cantering in to be able to ride the entire figure from the training level tests, which involve a fair amount of canter.  I need to also keep the canter I want to ride (rather than the crappy one Louie likes to offer) by sitting in with my seat, laying my whip, and riding the canter from my center.