Monday, April 29, 2013

Tom Moss, Miracle Worker

Tom Moss is an older guy, a lifelong horseman with those archetypical hands that speak to a lifetime of soothing nervous animals and long hours spent at the sun. After a long career at the track, he has an intangible shadow of mystery about him: he's a guy who's clearly seen some stuff and had some experiences. Tom Moss is our equine dentist.

And Tom Moss is a magic man.

Ringo felt like a new horse after having his teeth done yesterday. Tom works without power tools or heavy sedation (though Ringo, being the nervous and head shy creature that he is, did require a little jab), and managed to give Ringo a brand new mouth in 20 minutes of work.

I should rewind a little bit. Ringo has been doing fine recently, but has definitely been feeling a little more squirrelly than usual in the left rein. It was always something I could work through, but I felt like I  had to ride with kid gloves on all the time, especially to the left, or else I would get a dramatic display of locking up and tense behavior.

But yesterday, after Mr. Moss smoothed out what were apparently some pretty epic hooks on the left side of his mouth, Ringo went around happy as a clam (and I could ride with kid gloves on anyway, since he wasn't the slightest bit strong). We had some of the best relaxed canter work I've ever felt on him, and successfully worked through our 3- and 4-tempis in both directions (though we still definitely can't do them well enough on the first, second, or third try to feel comfortable about doing them on command in a test yet!) What a great feeling :)

(Ray basking in his awesomeness after a great ride)

And did I mention it was sunny and 70ยบ? Heaven, man. Heaven.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dressage at Mystic: 4th Level, Baby!

We made it! Today Pa, Ringo, and I bundled up and headed off to Gales Ferry, CT, for my first dressage show of the year and our first attempt at 4th level since our DISASTER outing at Hossmoor last spring. I was a little nervous and my expectations were pretty guarded, given our last performance at this level, but I was hoping that all our work over the winter would be sufficient to boost us up into the more socially acceptable score ranges. I was really hoping for that first elusive Silver Medal score, but I didn't want to get my hopes too far up for the first show of the year when Ringo could easily be frisky and less than obedient.

And indeed, he was a bit frisky and at some times (including very nearly running away with me in both medium AND extended canters) a little less than obedient at others (including an EPIC spook-spin-prop legit 5 seconds before I entered the arena), but in general he was fabulous. He feels so much better on the whole than he did even last August when we last showed, and certainly is miles ahead of where he was last May when we last tried to move up to 4th. So for all that I thought our test lacked some finesse and control, I was mega pleased.

Mercifully, the judge agreed! We ended up with a 63%, a great score given the slight bobbles and craziness that plagued most movements. Wahoo! First score for our silver medal down, and a great start to the season. Good boy, Ray :) I'm so excited for the rest of the season!

And now, for some pretty pictures courtesy of my amazing groom, Pa:

 (Look at that topline! Real!)

(Yeehaw! Even though we're both a little crunched in this picture, I'm so pleased with how he's coming underneath himself while staying filled out at the base of his neck - our winter homework has paid off!!)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Backache Blues

Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post - I was very thrilled! And I'm sorry for lack of better documentation. Unfortunately Robin and I pretty much rode at the exact same time, making picture-taking impossible. That may end up being the case at the next show I bring Ky too as well... but we'll get pictures of him eventually ;)

Meanwhile, I've been busily (and excitedly!) getting prepped for Ringo's and my first show in eight months this coming Sunday, where we'll be heading back to Mystic for their rated dressage show. In general I've been feeling really good about where we are fitness and polish-wise... until the last few days, when we both seem to have hit a small snag in the back department. Booooo.

Basically what's happened is that Ringo's back has changed shape as he's gotten fitter, meaning that my brand new saddle doesn't fit him as well as it did when I bought it. Boo #1. Then, in the struggle to try to nip that not-quite-ideal fit in the bud, I tried a bunch of different pads, some of which I think ultimately pinched him worse than if I'd had nothing on at all. Boo #2. Now, while he's not cringingly, falling to the floor levels of back sore, he's definitely not feeling 100%. Boo #3.

(But dang, isn't he looking handsome)

To add insult to injury, I slept on my shoulder funny a good five days ago now, and have been in constant, aching back and shoulder pain ever since. I'm pretty sensitive to tweaks and cricks that, because of my previous injuries and general misalignment, tend to spiral and fester for a long time instead of resolving naturally, so I can't say I'm really surprised... but it's a pain. Both figuratively and literally. So, boo #4.

So for the next week, both Ringo and I are on the back treatment plan. Ringo is getting handwalking, ice, and aggressive blanketing (to try to keep his back warm in between work outs and ice), and I'm getting a twice daily date with a foam roller and a lot of yoga and stretching exercises (and a good dose of pain killers). Fingers crossed that we can both be feeling better by the weekend!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

First Show With Ky!!

Today, after 15 years of knowing each other and 6 months of forming a partnership, Ky and I did something we've never done together before: packed up our bags and headed off to a show. Together with Robin and Kiki, we drove down to the Mystic Valley Hunt Club in Connecticut for their spring 2-Phase schooling show. Ky and I were entered in the Novice division, which for this show was a Novice dressage test and then only a 2'9" show jumping round, which I was hoping would be a perfect start to our competitive season. But I was still definitely a little nervous as we pulled out of the driveway this morning to head down!

But I needn't have worried. Ky was a total professional all day (besides screaming his head off for Kiki as soon as they were separated and continuing to do so on and off for over an hour until they were reunited... bad poneh) and got gold stars at every turn. We arrived later than I was expecting and I ended up having to throw all my tack on and race down to warm up with only 8 minutes or so to spare before my ride time, meaning that we barely got time to trot and didn't even get to canter both directions before we went into the ring (basic amateur-hour mistake - I was mortified!).

So, Ky wasn't quite as steady and forward as I've been able to get him the past few days, but he was still extremely polite and workmanlike. Given that I was almost ready to throw in the towel with the little dude on the flat just a month ago, I was thrilled. We ended up with a 36 which, while not the best score in the world, is a great baseline for the beginning of the season.

(the little dude and I after dressage - he doesn't look too thrilled, but I swear he was having a good time! Meanwhile, I was pretty obviously having a blast)

He was then absolutely, unbelievably perfect for the jumping, despite the fact that I naively thought that the jumping would actually start on time (instead of 35 minutes late) and so didn't get off, meaning that poor Ky had to wander around the warm up for a solid 45 minutes before it was our turn to go in. He jumped fabulously, and while I did make two sort of laughable mistakes, it was the sort of round where I finished feeling very confident in our ability to jump a little higher than that in future. Yay!

Everyone else in our division also jumped clean, meaning that we all ended on our dressage scores and I wound up in 3rd place, winning the wrinkliest yellow ribbon I think I've ever received (it literally looked like it had been stored in the bottom of a laundry hamper for a few months before the show), but I couldn't have cared less because it was Ky and my first ribbon together as a team!! Eeeee!!! It's been a long time coming, and I'm so very, very thankful that we finally made it. We've got some homework to do, but I'm really excited to get working before our next outing at King Oak! Good boy, squirt!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lesson with Ky: REDEMPTION

On Tuesday I brought Ky back for our first lesson with Kim in well over a month. I didn't write about my last lesson with him because it was, frankly, very frustrating. I had been working diligently on my homework from the time before and thought that he was going pretty well, only to have Kim pretty much dash that assessment within the first few minutes. 

There were, I'm ashamed to admit, some tears involved in this realization. I just felt like I'd been working so hard on this horse for over six months now, and I had absolutely nothing to show for it; in many ways, it felt like he was actually going worse than he had when I took over the ride. Kim, in her great patience, listened to my whining without too much complaint and then put us to work trying to find a system that was going to work for us.

In that lesson, it felt like we tried 15 different things in rapid succession to try to make him more steadily submissive in the contact: being super following with the hand, being a little firmer and making boundaries with the reins, leg yielding, upping the tempo, slowing the tempo down, etc, etc. For the first 50 minutes, nothing felt like it was even remotely working, and Ky got sassier and sassier as we bopped around with him bouncing off the reins and feeling like a disjointed, semi-feral monkey-creature. Not good.

Then, in the last five minutes of the lesson, Kim had me try one last strategy: really exaggerating the bend to the inside on a smaller circle until I felt him release in his jaw, then immediately rewarding him by releasing back to normal bend and circle size, then repeating as soon as I felt him locking up again. And wouldn't you know... it actually sort of worked. We were pretty much out of time at this point and couldn't investigate further, but I left feeling like I might have a good plan going forward.

So for the past few weeks, I've been sticking to that plan, riding softly and steadily when he's going well but pretty aggressively over bending him and making it clear that I was not pleased with the situation when he started to go rogue on me. For about 2 weeks, it was pretty slow going. I felt like I spent more time on the small circles than off them. There were arguments. There were tantrums. There were blow ups. I kept trying to be as zen as possible and not get mad, but stick to my guns.

And then, it got better! About a week ago, the tantrums stopped, and the need for strong overbending became less and less. All of a sudden I could do whole laps of the arena in sitting trot with nary so much as a twitch of correction. The feel I had in the reins changed dramatically, from like trying to keep a leash on a bounding dog that trying to get away from you to, well, like riding a horse! Ky suddenly became more forward, less likely to loaf behind my leg, and more amenable to half-halts. It was like I was riding a new horse.

But... I still had my doubts. After all, I'd gone int my last lesson with Kim feeling good. What if I was just deluding myself all over again? Now that I'm back home and riding outside again, I don't have mirrors to check my progress. For all I knew, I could just be spiraling further and further down a rabbit hole of sketchy pseudo-riding. So when I arrived to my lesson with Kim on Tuesday, it was with mixed confidence at best.

(Ky and I hacking home from our lesson on Tuesday down a pretty springtime country lane... bliss, though I can't wait for there to be leaves on the trees again!)

To my utter delight, Kim confirmed my suspicions: the corner has been turned, and Ky is now going beautifully. Yeehaw!!!! I was so, so happy. For maybe the first time, I really feel like I acted as a trainer for this horse, and improved it for the better. It was awesome.

The lesson itself focused mainly on straightness (now that I've got him unlocked from the overbending, I've got to make sure I don't lose the outside shoulder) and then running through a Training level test to practice what I need to do to make corrections when I don't have the freedom of adding in another circle whenever I need it. I was especially pleased with the test run through, as there were a few ragged moments, but with Kim's advice I was able to manage them and keep the test from falling apart.

This is still a skill I struggle with as a dressage rider; I grew up riding so passively on the flat that, when I ran into trouble in the test, I would invariably either let it snowball into chaos or, in an attempt to 'fix the problem,' turn the test into a tense battle royale between me and my horse (shockingly, neither approach scored very well). So it was extra gratifying to feel like I'm getting better at my test management, even if it's just in a practice test in a lesson.

(Ky says, 'ooh, doing dressage the real way in these new spring temperatures is hard work!!')

Ky and I celebrated our lesson victory by doing a quick but very fun jump school yesterday, including taking a quick gallop up our hill and jumping our log pile a few times. Ky definitely thought that was a lot more fun than flatwork, haha. I'm now feeling a bit more ready for the 2-phase we're going to this weekend... fingers crossed for good weather, good confidence, and well-behaved ponies!

(Though it's raining and crappy today, we've actually had the first real spring-like days of the year this week, complete with *gasp* green grass and flowers!! At last!!!)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Growing Up

It finally rained last night for the first time this spring, and so this morning was one of those magical times where my dad and I could literally see shoots of grass where there hadn't been any the night before and flowers starting to bloom where 12 hours ago there had only been stubborn and dormant buds. It was a lot like the scene in My Neighbor Totoro where they sprout their garden overnight into a mighty camphor tree, only better because it was real and happening all around us:

But I digress. The true purpose of this post is that I did some major spring beautification with Ringo yesterday, and took some conformation shots for comparison afterwards. Watching him transition from event horse to dressage horse over the past few years has been equally amazing in its own way to watching the spring bloom (but unlike the natural phenomenon, it did NOT happen overnight!!). It's been a long, slow, arduous process, but I finally feel like our hard work is paying off.

So, to review, here's Ringo in July 2010, a few days after he went on stall rest for the bowed tendon that ended his eventing career:

And here he is today:

Side-by-Side comparison:

As always with Ringo, the changes are subtle (fortunately, it's not like he was in awful body condition to start with!), but I think there's a lot to see. 

1) Neck: Ringo is never going to be a big cresty warmblood, but his neck has subtly but definitively changed shape. In 2010 he had a pronounced underneck muscle and zero topline to speak of, making his neck look like it was put on upside down. Now that ewe neck vibe has been completely eliminated, and his neck looks significantly more substantial and filled out. Additionally, he has at least an inch of crest that he didn't have before.

2) Weight: Ringo was still a tucked-up event horse in 2010, and in the ensuing 3 years I've struggled really hard to get him to a rounder, more relaxed body shape. I'm really happy where he is right now: hardly fat, but significantly more filled out than he was before (check out the difference in the outline of his belly now and then)

3) Hindquarters: Ringo is not the most naturally uphill horse, and has a pretty high natural croup. In 2010, this problem as exacerbated by the fact that he didn't have a ton of muscle on his hindquarters; looking at that picture, it's no wonder that the collection in the canter has been such a long process for us!! Now his hind end, while hardly massive, is significantly more bulked up and rounded out. It's still a lot of work to shift the weight onto that somewhat raised back end, but we've at least got the muscle power to do it now.

4) Cosmetic: Dude. Check out his tail in 2010. Ratty like woah. I just banged it 15 minutes before the 2013 picture was taken, and must say that, for a skimpy little TB-esque tail, it's lookin' mighty fine.

It's just a waiting game at this point for Ringo's lovely black summer coat to come in (and hopefully not get too quickly bleached out again!); now that's he's all trimmed up, it's starting to feel real that we're going to a show in a week and a half!!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Consider Spring Sprung

I don't want to jinx things (it did snow briefly on Tuesday...) but springtime appears to have finally come to New England! It's been a long winter, but all the snow and cold makes these warm sunny days seem even better. Now just for the grass to get green again, and we'll be cooking with gas.

 (The state park that we hack in is closed in the winter for cross country skiers, so it feels awesome to have it open to horses again!!)

 (Riding outside again... at 6pm!)

 (Ringo still has some winter fuzz, but his summer coat is starting to gleam through - plus I'm so thrilled with his weight and think it's the best it's ever been)

(Me and Ky out for a hack with Weezy, one of our cairn terriers)

In exciting news, I finally entered my first events of the year!! Ringo and I are headed to Mystic Valley Hunt Club for our second attempt at 4th Level Test 1 (with hopefully better results than our disastrous initial debut at Hossmoor a year ago!) in two weeks, and Ky and I are off to King Oak in early May for my first event in over a year and a half. SO. EXCITED.

The one bummer of the past few days was hearing from Oxford that I didn't get into my top choice college, and that I didn't get the scholarships I was hoping for. Oh well. It means a little more waiting and little more worry, but it's going to be worth it in the long run. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...