Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lesson With Kim - Transitions, Transitions, Transitions!

Since I last wrote, Ringo and I have been slowly and carefully working on trying to renormalize him in our arena, with moderate success. I can now do a full ride with him and actually work on things, whereas before I was 100% focused on just not dying and making it around the perimeter of the arena, but he still insists on giving the hairy eyeball to a couple things on the edge of the arena every single time we pass them. Per Mikaela's advice in the comments of my last post, we had the vet come out to draw blood for a Lyme test, just in case. Hopefully we'll have some answers soon!

In the meantime, we took a break from the Arena Of Death yesterday to over to the indoor down the road to have another lesson with Kim. In classic mystifying Ringo form, even though this would be a much more legitimate situation to be spooky in (being in a newer, stranger place, etc), he didn't care at all and was a total gem. Weirdo.

We started off with recapping our awesome Bronze Medal weekend to Kim and sharing out tests with her to look over. She was very complimentary (especially for the 8.5 we got on one of our changes!! Wahoo!!), but also picked up right away on some continuing trends in both tests that we could work on: namely, the quality of the trot, transitions in and out of the medium and extended trot, and transitions in and out of the shoulder in.

(Ringo's canter scores, complete with an 8.5 for our x2 coefficient flying change! The 6.5 is the transition back to trot -- clearly the canter is our speciality! What else would you expect from a horse and rider who both grew up more interested in galloping and jumping than tracing pretty figures in the sand?)

I brought up the feeling of Ringo being behind my leg, and Kim agreed that that was a likely culprit for why we struggle with the medium/extended and lateral work especially. If he's not really in front of my leg, I don't have the medium or extended "sitting in my back pocket," ready to pull out whenever I want it, and he's more likely to be stiff in a way that would show up in lateral work like the shoulder in.

So to start, Kim had us do some very crisp trot-walk-trot transitions:

My first instinct was to try to ease into the walk and then ease back into the trot again to make everything smooth: wrong! While perhaps a steadier approach, transitions like that weren't going to actually achieve the purpose of getting him sharper off my aids. Instead, Kim wanted him to come RIGHT back to walk and then IMMEDIATELY back into a bright, active trot, with no muddle steps in between. It was surprisingly hard! 

At some points, Kim had us add in some medium trot feeling on the circle as well to really get him cooking with gas:

In the medium trot, the focus for me was all on my hands: keeping them low and together with thumbs on top (no piano hands!!! A terrible habit I've picked up recently!!) and following forward--NOT pulling against him and shortening him! It was a hard habit to break, but the difference when I could manage it was big.

Once he was feeling more in front of my leg, the quality of his trot immediately became markedly better. I was able to slow him down and have him become more cadenced and floaty, instead of just inactive and shuffly like he usually does when I try to bring him back. We brought this new trot into some shoulder-in work, with the focus for me on smoothly transitioning from a 10m trot circle into the shoulder-in with no awkward adjustment period in between.

When we got it, it was awesome!

After a little break, we moved on to a little canter. Kim was impressed on the change in Ringo's canter even in the last two weeks: between all the spooking, I've really been working on the homework she gave me, and so was tickled that it showed! Ringo's more collected canter feels so powerful and effortless that I feel like I could float along forever: it's addictive. (Not quite as fun as galloping or jumping a perfect jump, but definitely the closest thing I've felt since transitioning to dressage!)

We worked on a little half pass, which, for video purposes, was mostly just a chance to show off how I'd sweated all the way through my shirt:


As it usually goes with me, just as I'm building some momentum, I've got to take a break for some reason. Now is just one of those times, as tomorrow I'm leaving for six weeks in California. I'll be working as a Teaching Assistant at a summer program at Stanford, catching up with friends, taking tons of photographs... and not doing a lot of riding. D'oh!

Oh well. Ringo will have a capable temporary jockey in my Pa, and hopefully I'll get a chance to swing a leg over a horse at least once while I'm out West. We're probably done competing for the year, so it will be a nice change of pace before we buckle down for a winter for working towards 4th Level!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Humble Pie

So, in the past few days since our amazing showing at Vermont Dressage Days... I'm pretty sure aliens have landed on Black Brook Farm. Or at least, that's what Ringo thinks!

After a day off on Monday and a nice easy hack on Tuesday, I pulled Ringo out on Wednesday for an easy evening ride. We hadn't gotten more than a few steps into the arena when Ringo's head shot straight up, eyes on stalks. The source of his sudden fear? The gazebo on the side of the arena... which has been there for as long as I've had Ringo. I gave him a quick pat and edged him past it, thinking our drama for the day was over.

But then, he spooked at the flowers beside the ring. Then, the jumps in the ring. Then poles piled in the grass on the other long side. Then the other horse we were riding with.

The spooks got progressively worse and worse, until Ringo was running sideways/backwards across the arena, alternatively threatening to rear, then buck, then spin, then rear again. What the heck?? Ringo had literally not done more than briefly bat an eye at our farm's llama, Diamond, since arriving home over two weeks ago.

Seeing that we were going nowhere fast, I hopped off, grabbed a lunge line, and took him over to the round pen. He trotted and cantered totally calmly on the lunge, licking and chewing as he went. Hmm...

I led him back to the ring (which was now devoid of jumps, as my dad wanted to drag the ring as soon as I finished). I didn't even have enough time to get both feet in the stirrups before he started running backwards again, humping his back and threatening to rear. Again, WHAT THE HELL??! I popped off again, put him back on the lunge line, and brought him over to the corners of the arena that he was finding so terrifying.

We spent about a half hour walking, and then trotting, back and forth in hand, until he could at least walk beside the offending poles and gazebo without trying to jump in my lap or have his eyes explode out of his head. I tried to keep everything very calm and progressive, though I did have to get after him very hard whenever it looked like he might harm me in his own stupidity (which happened a few times, unfortunately).

I got back on and repeated the same walking and trotting process under saddle. It was just so mystifying. What was he spooking at?? Why were these things that he had gone by dozens of times this summer alone suddenly death-defyingly terrifying? I have no idea. He didn't even come close to returning to normal, but there was some improvement at the end. I was definitely a bit... perturbed... but was happy that I had managed to keep my cool throughout the ride.

The next day I took him for a hack in the park to clear the air a bit from the frustration of the day. Out in the park, which is legitimately wayyyy spookier than our ring, he was almost perfect. We did a full flat school, and though he was a little looky at some hedges, it was nothing like the day before. Ok, maybe crisis averted?

I walked back to the house on a long rein, then decided to make him walk up to the sheep pasture at the top of our riding field just to make sure we could do that. Ringo got about 30 feet away from the sheep (who he has walked up to many times), snorted, slammed on the breaks, spun backwards, and threatened to rear. NOT. ACCEPTABLE. BEHAVIOR.

The only way I've been able to successfully deal with Ringo's rearing habit (which was quite bad at times when I first started riding him) is from the ground--any sort of mounted reprimand just leads to more rearing. So I jumped off and gave him the biggest smack on the belly I could muster. That definitely woke him up! After getting his go button reinstalled on the ground, and then letting him watch and graze beside the sheep until he was sufficiently calmed down, I hopped back on, and was happy to discover that he walked on a long rein all the way around the pasture, and then all the way around the perimeter of the ring before quitting.

Today, I headed back to the arena with a mind for business. The first time he balked at the poles at the side of the ring, I hopped off and smacked him on the belly again. Then, I got back on and rode as if nothing had happened. This approach seemed to work pretty well: Ringo gets really wound up when I get after him when I ride him (his feelings get hurt very easily), so I have to be very zen when I'm on his back, but he does occasionally require a sterner reprimand for TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE AND DANGEROUS BEHAVIOR.

For the rest of the ride he continued to give the gazebo and poles on the ground the hairy eyeball, but there was no more dangerous behavior. I still sort of wanted to tear my hair out at the end, as we still failed to complete a single circuit of the arena without some sort of episode, but in the grand scheme of things it was a huge improvement. Oh, Ringo... Always keeping me humble.

The more I think about it, I think the spooking comes as a result of him falling behind my leg. It's a different response than the nappy behavior he'd done at Stanford, but it comes from the same problem. I feel bad for being so hard on him these past few days, but this truly is absolutely unacceptable behavior that could easily become dangerous.

I'm bummed, because in a week I'm leaving for a job in California for a few weeks and so won't be able to ride. I'd rather not have to spend my last week with my horse kicking his a**. But I'd rather face it head on now than wait for it to be a big, big problem later. We'll see...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Three Year Conformation Comparison

It's been a summer tradition for a few years now to get some conformation shots of Ringo, with the hope that every year will show some improvement in his somewhat naturally rangy topline and musculature. Let's take a look:


Here, Ringo had just been diagnosed with a major bowed tendon, explaining months of strange and frustrating behavior and signaling the beginning of a loooooong rehab process. He had already been on stall rest for just over a month when I took this photo, but didn't look too bad all things considered. His weight is a little low and his neck topline is almost nonexistent (in fact, it looks like it's been put on completely upside down), but it could be much worse.


This time around, Ringo was just emerging from rehab and had come back into full work less than six weeks previously. We were gearing up for our first show back: First Level at GMHA Dressage Days. The biggest change here was his weight. He looks a lot rounder through his entire body, and his neck looks much more substantial (though that might also be partially the picture, given whatever he's straining his neck over to look at!). His hindquarters are also significantly bigger than in the 2010 picture, a result both of being a little fatter and having just come through a long, slow rehab process with lots of hill work.


I think Ringo's shape has changed pretty significantly here compared to the previous two photos. He gives much more of an uphill impression even just standing on flat ground: the entire area at the base of his neck and withers have filled out enough that they change the entire balance of his body. Weight-wise, he's somewhere between 2010 and 2011, which is probably for the best as he was a stitch thin in 2010 and a stitch fat in 2011. His neck, while certainly not big and cresty (pretty sure that's just not in his DNA!), looks so much more substantial than in did in 2010, and the musculature looks way more correct than it did in 2011.

Here's a side by side comparison:

It's a subtle change, but I'd like to think that the hard work is paying off. I'm excited to see what 2013 brings!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Vermont Dressage Days



Yay!!! I'm so, so thrilled. The weekend went amazingly; Ringo was as good as he's ever been and felt unbelievable. I was most pleased with how he came out on Sunday morning, as he's sometimes gotten tired and a little sour on the second day of a show, and while he was not quite as bright, instead of getting tense he just buckled down and tried harder. We rode Third Level Test 1 both days, a test we've done a few times now and that I was finally getting to feel like I've learned how to ride.

(Looking good coming in to our shoulder in)

So, to back up a little bit. Pa and I drove up to beautiful Essex Junction, VT (near Lake Champlain and pretty close to the Canadian border) on Friday night to get Ringo settled in. I'd never been to this venue before, and was pleasantly surprised to find it small but well laid-out and organized, with good footing and tons and tons of warm up. Plus, Ringo looooved his cozy stall, and settled in almost immediately.

The next morning was an early one to get ready for my 9am ride time, especially since I planned to ride him briefly in the morning before I got on for my official warm up. He felt great both times I got on him, but I have to admit that I was incredibly nervous. I wanted that last bronze medal score so badly. I felt physically ill with apprehension: not the weak legged, butterflies-fluttering, am-I-going-to-die nerves that I sometimes get before cross-country, but a dizzying and feverish weight of pressure that makes my head spin. 

(Twinkle toes!)

Trotting around the arena, I felt so weak I wasn't sure I was going to be able to sit the trot. Instead of torching and pressuring myself further, I chose to trot around the outside of the arena in an easy rising trot (where normally I sit and try to get one last run through of all the hardest movements), taking big breaths, wiggling my ears (a good way for me to make sure my neck is relaxed), and thinking positive thoughts. It worked! Ringo did not get tense at all, and when the bell rang, I simply walked a few strides, collected myself, and struck off in sitting trot. 

(Trotting down the centerline)

The trot work went really well, barring the medium and extended trots, where I rode quite foolishly. I've developed a bit of a mental block about the medium trot and need an instructor's help to get over it. But our transitions in and out of shoulder-in were much improved, and I learned from my mistakes at Hossmoor and really focused on being clear and consistent with my bend and going deep into my corners (I could see from the tracks that I went deeper into the corners than anyone had before me! Score!). 

(I really focused on my left wrist, too, per Kim's advice... but as you can see, I wasn't always perfect)

After a somewhat tense walk, we had one of the best canter tours I've ever had on a horse, ever. Ringo was lovely, and his changes especially were a highlight. It was a real thrill to get rewarded in the scoring too; Ringo scored all 7s and 8s for his canter, and got an 8 and an 8.5 (!!) for his two flying changes. Good man!! We finished on 67.7% and won our class by almost 6%. 

(Halt win!)

I was so relieved, I almost cried. I then had a massive adrenaline rush and release, and got so sleepy that we went back to the hotel after putting Ringo away and I slept like a dead man for over an hour. We finished up the afternoon with a trip to the Ben & Jerry's factory, a long hand graze for Ringo, and dinner in town.

The next morning was pretty much the same routine again, though I chose not to do a pre-ride as I wanted to save his energy. As I said earlier, I thought he did feel a little tired, but I was really pleased with his attitude, as he just kept trying and trying. I wasn't nearly as nervous, as I'd already secured my bronze medal, so tried to practice maintaining intensity without getting stiff. I thought the test went well but I thought I made a few more careless mistakes and so wasn't sure how it would score.

(Nice collected canter)

Imagine my surprise, then, when I looked at the board and saw I'd gotten a 68.5%, for another win! I didn't get any 8.5s, but I got a lot of 7s and 8s and very few 6s and only one 5. I think the relaxation and consistency made up for the small mistakes this time.

So needless to say, I'm thrilled. This might be my last recognized show of the year just due to some scheduling issues, and I couldn't be happier with the result. Now we can head into the winter focused on moving up to 4th level and beyond! =)

(Perfect creature)

Thanks again, Ringo - what a wonderful, perfect horse. I can't believe the amazing luck and kindness that brought him into my life. I'm truly blessed.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Kim Lesson: Boot Camp Begins!

Wow! I needed that. On Tuesday I went to my first lesson since June, and my first lesson with Kim since December. I told her upfront that I wanted a boot camp overhaul, especially with my position, and she delivered! It was the most intense lesson with her I've ever had, and I left feeling exhausted but armed with a great sense of what I should be working on before I see her again.

We started with warming Ringo up at the trot while focusing on maintaining a steady, active tempo but being able to change his outline from stretchy to more 'up' without resistance. You can see us working on it here:

This is something he's gotten a lot better at this year, as I've made it a big priority right from January. He used to get tense very easily whenever I tried to take the reins back from stretching, no matter the gait, so it was good to feel him get better and better as we went along here at the trot instead of tenser and tenser.

We then did the same thing at the canter:

In the canter, I still definitely struggle in letting him 'down' into a stretchy canter without him either quickening or breaking to trot. It definitely shows where I need to keep building strength going forward, but I thought with Kim's help we still got some good work.

From there, we went to work on something that I've been struggling with recently: the shoulder in. I know that I've been struggling because my position has been failing me somewhere, but working on my own I haven't had a great idea of what I was doing wrong or how to fix it.

Kim immediately picked out a few key things for me to fix: my wandering left wrist, which tends to get very curled and turned over; my too-mobile lower leg, which is caused by not being totally engaged with my seat; and my shoulders, which tend to collapse to the left. This was a lot to work on! Here was an early shoulder in attempt:

He was getting stiff in some of the 10m circles because I was getting stiff in my body and collapsing to the inside. By being a stronger in my body, there was some notable improvement:

After a quick break (more for me than for Ringo, as I was feeling the burn from the improvements to my position Kim was giving me!), we moved on to the canter to work on some simple change, as we will be showing 2nd level this weekend where those are required.

Kim had me start out by develop some of the most collected canter I've ever gotten out of Ringo. I thought we were off to work on some pirouettes for a second! When we did second level last fall, I definitely was not able to produce this level of collected canter at any time, let alone in a test in order to produce a good simple change.

Overall, Kim was super complimentary of Ringo's improvements in the past year, commenting that he looked like a different horse. It's great to hear that my homework has been paying off! Now if I could get my riding back to the level I want it, we'd really be cooking with gas.

I'm a little nervous for this weekend, but am excited to get back in the show ring again. Let's go, Ray!!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

I'm finally starting to feel rested again after my trip home and immediate trip out to Millbrook... just in time to head up to GMHA in Woodstock, VT, on Wednesday to jump judge at the annual GMHA Training Three Day! The Training Three Day is one of my favorite USEA programs and is a big goal for me and Ky, so I'm excited to give back on a year where I can't compete myself. But, with a 6:30am call in Vermont, it's going to be another early morning and long day.

In the meantime, I've been having a blast riding not only Ringo, but Kiki and Ky as well! Kiki has been leased out to my friend Robin, who actually bought my horse Sam from me a few years ago, and who is a wonderful and experienced rider. They've been doing great together, which makes me so, so happy. Robin has been away on vacation for the past few days, so I've gotten the ride again and have been very happy to feel the progress Robin has made with her.

Ringo has been going better than he has in a long time. He feels very relaxed, supple, and happy in the bridle. I'm delighted with the bit change I discussed a few weeks ago. It was an immediate night and day difference in his way of going, which hasn't faded in the weeks since the change. My dad was kind enough to come out and take some photos of us riding a few days ago, so you can judge his progress for yourself =) :

(Tongue out, Ringo's usual M.O.)

(Big smiles after some stellar changes across the diagonal - I think Ringo looks fiercely pleased with himself too)

(Oh hello, uphill canter! Too bad I've decided my hands need to be in my crotch for some reason)

(Stretchy times)

(Man. I look stupid.)

(OK, admittedly, I got a little showboat-y here, and did a few one-handed changes, trying to channel my inner Reiner Klimke - good boy, Ray!!)

For comparison, here is a side-by-side of Ringo in February and Ringo in August:

I think the uphill quality of his canter has improved drastically, as has the quality of his step behind. I, on the other hand, look a bit of a scrub... but that's what my lesson tomorrow will hopefully start to fix!

My dad repeated the favor this evening with Ky, whose lessor is also on vacation for the next few days. Man, this little horse is special. He'd had a couple days off and isn't ever pushed very hard on the flat with his current lessor, and he came right out of the barn late this evening (well, besides some major spooking, but no matter, haha) and went to work. His lessor has done a great job getting him into shape and he felt much fitter than when I rode him in May. I can't wait to start our adventure!

(Again, the hands in the crotch. Get your act together, Erickson!)

(Oh Ky, you so fancy! Meanwhile I look like a real scrub)

(Work it, ponayyy)

(I actually like my position here)

(here too! And he looks so uphill! Giving Ray a run for his money!!)

(My perfect carousel pony)

His lessor has the reins until the end of the month, which I'm more than happy to give her as they have had such a wonderful partnership over the past two years. She started riding Ky following the sudden death of my horse Boris, who had transitioned into a new career as her first horse at the time of his passing. They have been wonderful partners and friends, and I'm so happy that they've had each other in their lives.

...But at the same time, I can't wait for him to be mine!!!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Milbrook Sojourn

I took an epic day trip to Millbrook, NY yesterday to watch the Advanced and take some photos for an article for the Chronicle. It was an exhausting day but a really fun one; Millbrook is my favorite event of all time and, as always, it absolutely gorgeous and the course looked like a blast to ride.

On the flipside, I was pretty unhappy with how I shot the day. I had a lot of misses and a lot of pretty meh photographs, and I'm not sure why. Was I rusty? Tired? Fried from a 3.5 hour trip getting there? Probably a combo of all of the above, but the end result was that I'm pretty nervous, as I don't have a huge number of good pictures to choose from for my article. D'oh! It was a good lesson in being sharp and adequately rested for next time.

Here are some of the ok shots I got:

 (Emily Van Gemeren and Berkley in the Intermediate)

 (Cute pony in the Young Rider intermediate)

 (Lisa Barry flies the big table in the Advanced)

 (Colleen Rutledge and Shiraz cutting a beautiful picture against the rolling Dutchess County hills)

 (My friend Caitlin on her way to a clear round in her first advanced!!)

 (Megan O'Donaghue looks pleased with Pirate)

(Pony Power!! This horse is a half-brother by sire to Ky and goes Advanced - speaks well to the little dude's athletic potential!)

I'm getting pumped, because on Tuesday I'll have my first lesson since early June!! I think Ringo's been going well, but I can't wait to get some professional feedback again. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Bye Bye For Now, Middleburg

In a rather sudden turn of events that I won't go into here, I've come home to the farm in Massachusetts for the month of August. I'm going to miss Middleburg a lot; I've never been to a horsier place in my entire life (and am not sure one exists!). I loved my little house, loved the farm Ringo was living at, and loved the people I worked with at the Chronicle. Oh well. On to the next adventure!

Here are a few photos from my last weeks in the village. As you can see, it's a pretty shabby place... ;)

 (Out hacking on a sultry Virginia afternoon)

 (Playing some bocce with the Chronicle staff)

 (Ray enjoying his giant pasture, that he had all to himself)

 (Sweaty Ray after a 100ยบ afternoon ride in the indoor)

 (An awesome Horse Park sunrise while covering Young Riders)

 (Me with Bruce, enjoying my first ever official Chronicle assignment!)

 (Braving some rain to shoot Young Rider dressage down in the main Rolex arena! So cool!)

 (Freestyle night at Young Riders)

 (Sunrise on our last morning at Young Riders - the Horse Park is so beautiful)

 (umm... it got toasty in Middleburg from time to time)

 (Ringo looking fly and ready to go)

 (Our last hack - so purdy!!!)

 (Leslie and her awesome new pony, Orlando, who is mega mega fancy)

 (One of the barn's new kitties, Velcro)

 (Velcro and Zipper facing off over some twine)

(Olympic fever was alive and well at our house on Jay St)

I'm off to Millbrook, NY, for a whirlwind day trip tomorrow to get some photos and coverage of the horse trial there for the Chronicle, then will have a brief week to get settled in before leaving for my first dressage show with Ringo since May!!! I'm a little apprehensive (I'd really rather not repeat the '4' on rider of the last experience... sigh), but am excited to get out showing again. I'll be going up to northern Vermont to a venue I've heard good things about, but have never been to before. We've got two shots for that last bronze medal score. Fingers crossed!
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