Wednesday, May 29, 2013

First Run Through of the PSG

Yesterday was an exciting day because Ringo and I did a full run through of the Prix St George test for the very first time!

...Actually, not quite. I've tried going through the PSG a few times now, but always in a super nebulous way because there have been so many pieces that simply haven't been there. It's been along the lines of, "well ok, the pirouette should theoretically go here, but we'll just make a small circle back to the corner instead in the meantime," or "I guess the tempi changes would go here, but let's just try to get across the diagonal with a single change without dying and call it a day this time around."

(We did do full sets of 4s and 3s out in this big lovely field the other day, which was definitely a confidence boost)

But yesterday was different. I warmed up very lightly, just enough to get Ringo feeling light and spry without tiring him out (a real concern for this test, as his fitness still isn't great and the hardest movements come thick and fast). After a quick walk break, I did a few of my favorite walk to half-step (ish) transitions to really get him thinking about stepping under with a long neck, added a touch of whip a few times behind the girth to get him a little more active behind, then came back to walk, took a deep breath, attempted to hitch up my big girl pants, and picked up the canter and set off. I was riding at home in my totally not standard size arena, so did my best to approximate. Here's how it went:

A Enter in Collected Canter
X Halt-Immobility-salut. Proceed collected trot.
XC Collected trot.

It doesn't seem like it should be that hard, but the collected canter entrance is something Ringo and I have really struggled with. When I first got him, he had a somewhat mystifying habit of pretty much grabbing the bit and bolting down the centerline, no matter what gait were going (or even if we were just turning up the centerline to then do something else like leg yield back to the rail). I eventually got this bad habit under control at the trot, but the canter still remained problematic. He would just start racing the second we turned toward C, making it inevitable that we'd have a crappy halt and a bad first impression to the test. Thankfully the pirouette canter has been super helpful in this, and as he's gotten stronger it has improved a lot. He was still a little squirrelly, but way, way better.

C Track to the right.
MXK Medium trot.
KAF Collected trot.

My medium trots re not great right now. They're not awful... but they're not going to score well. I wanted to work on the medium and extended gaits with Kim in my last lesson but we didn't get around to it, so I'm still hoping to get some tips before GMHA. I know it's a rider problem, because he's stronger than ever and I HAVE produced a good medium on him before. I'm just messing up somehow and I don't know how to fix it.

FB Shoulder-in left.

Good! This is our easier shoulder in direction, so I really tried to show off by having be a little slower and more cadenced like I've been working on in my lessons. It was a little wobbly because I was asking for more, but I think I can polish it to something very respectable in the next few weeks.

B Volte left (8m)

This was a time when I wish I had a real arena, because I have no idea how accurate the size of my circle was. I just tried to make the smallest circle I could. That said, it was actually a pretty good circle all things considered, as small circles are often one of those stupid movements that should be easy but that I mess up by making Ringo tight in the back or getting lazy with my geometry.

BG Half-pass to the left.
G On center line.
C Track to the left.

Kim has really been working on the half-pass with me, especially to the left (my weaker side), and wow! It really showed! For the first time, this movement actually felt sort of... easy? I can't say that too loudly or I'll jinx myself. But it was good to know that, when Ringo and I are on, we can do this with no problem. 

HXF Extended trot.
FAK Collected trot.

Same commentary as the medium. I need some rider help.

KE Shoulder-in right.

Our tougher direction for the shoulder in, so I need to be super smooth with my aids or else Ringo will fuss and get tight in the back. Ok, but room for improvement.

E Volte right (8m)

Same as to the left.

EG Half-pass to the right.
G On center line.

Boom. Swag, baby. This felt really good. I love how the volte sets you up for a good half-pass. 

Before C Collected walk.
C track to the left.
F Turn left.
Between G&M Half pirouette to the left.

You know, the half-pirouette actually wasn't that bad! This is a movement we've struggled with allllllll the way since second level, because when I first learned it I didn't ask very well, so Ringo learned a bad habit of sticking and pivoting with his hind leg instead of stepping around. Now even though I've learned to ask better, he still wants to stick, so I have to be proactive without making him tight. I actually got the balance right this time, and it felt good!

Between G&H Half pirouette to the right. 
GM Collected walk.

Darn, I got a little ahead of myself. This one still needs work.

MRXV(K) Extended walk

I've been a little conservative with my extended walk so far this year, which is stupid because it's one of his best natural gaits and so I should show it off. I tried to go for it this time, and need to remind myself to be bold on show day too.

Before K Proceed in collected canter left.
KAF Collected canter.

Gah, another test where we have to strike off to the left, our markedly worse direction for that movement! I have to be 1000% on my game to make sure he's relaxed but collected in the walk, STRAIGHT, and going forward into the reins. Or else it's not pretty. If I don't get a good strike off (which this time around in practice, I didn't), I MUST use this first short side to get him going well or else the wheels. will. come. off.

FX Half-pass to the left.
X Flying change of leg.

I wish we could do this movement going the other way, with the right half-pass coming first, but here we are: beggars can't be choosers. So I need to go super deep into the corner, get his shoulders coming out of the turn first, then ride positively with more leg than rein to keep him supple. Surprisingly, the flying change has always gone pretty smoothly when I've practiced this movement, though I need to not take it for granted and make it as smooth and accurate as possible. 

XM Half-pass to the right
M Flying change of leg.
MCH Collected canter.

The main problem I had this time was Ringo anticipating the flying change and so spoiling his (naturally very nice) right half-pass. I need to sit chilly and really guide him here to keep him on track.

H Proceed towards X in collected canter.
Between H&X half pirouette to the left.

THIS ACTUALLY WENT REALLY WELL. I WAS SHOCKED. I don't know how Kim would have rated it, but I was super thrilled.

HC Counter canter.
C Flying change of leg.

This change can get a little hairy if I don't settle and straighten him first. Fortunately this is quite similar to the Fourth level test, so at least we've practiced it a lot by now.

M Proceed towards X in collected canter.
Between M&X Half pirouette to the right.

AGAIN. THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED. SO PLEASED. The circle was a little big this direction but he was more relaxed; that's always going to be the balance I'm going to have to strike, so I'm going to talk to Kim about which end of the spectrum I should lean towards on test day (I'm thinking bigger but more relaxed).

MC Counter canter
C Flying change of leg

Same as the other way. This is his easier change, so I need to be mentally sharp to not take it for granted. Then after the change, I need to really charge him up through the corner so that he won't be too slow or quiet coming into the tempi changes.

HXF On the diagonal 5 flying changes of leg every 4th stride.
FAK Collected canter.

The last change got pretty tense and up and down, but you know what, it was pretty good considering some of the ugly attempts I've had at the 4s in the past. Ringo and I both find the 4s harder than the 3s (more time to get tense anticipating), so it's something we've just got to keep working on.

KXM On the diagonal 5 flying changes of leg every 3rd stride.
MCH Collected canter.

Surprisingly good! Again, the very last one got a little tense, but in the grand scheme of things I wasn't complaining!

HXF Extended canter.

Ringo's boss move. I've just got to let it shine.

F Collected canter and flying change of leg.
FA Collected canter.

Ringo is actually pretty good at this move, but I've got to make sure I get him all the way back and listening to me before the change, or else he'll change super sketchily and tear off through the corner. Not good.

A Down center line.
X Halt-immobility-salute.

Ringo was definitely more tired by the end of the test and we had a slight return to our centerline bolting problems, but to a tiny degree compared to before. I could still work on our canter-halts too, but in general it wasn't bad. And most excitingly, WE DID IT!!!!! WE FINISHED!!!


So in general, I'm thrilled. Obviously it's easier to do at home where Ringo is calm and relaxed, but this was a huge confidence boost, as up to yesterday I wasn't sure if we were actually capable of stringing all the movements together, regardless of the location. There is a lot to improve in the next two and a half weeks, but I'm not feeling (as) foolish for entering now. We might still bomb at the show, but if so it will because of nerves/tension (which we can only fix by going in the ring and trying to work through it) as opposed to just being flat-out unprepared. I'm ok with that for right now. In fact, I'm getting excited!!

(In other news, my cat has started going on rides with me - very clever kitteh)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

King Oak Horse Trials


(Very happy)

But seriously. That was SO. MUCH. FUN. Ky was a total champ all day, loved being at the show (and took full advantage of a full afternoon of undivided attention being paid to him, ample hand grazing opportunities. and tons of candy time), and did everything I asked of him and more.

I was super pleased with him in the dressage. I know that he's still not ready to produce a blow-your-socks-off barn burner of a test, but it was really exciting to feel in both the warm up and the test itself that he's actually close to being able to do so. Today I rode him like a real dressage horse: deep deep deep into the corners, sitting, daring him to be as flexible and cadenced as he possibly can be. He fumbled a few times, and especially lost it a bit in a few of our transitions, but dangit, he really felt like he was almost there, and (best of all) I was really impressed with how hard he buckled down and tried for me. I know that if I can get him really bending consistently through his body and nailing his transitions, he's going to start getting real competitive, real fast. We can do it! For where we are in our training now I thought the judging was thoughtful and fair, and that our midpack position after the first phase was pretty accurate given the rest of our division.

(We've got some length of neck issues, but I think we've got the uphill quality to the canter pretty much covered!)

(I feel like we look like a pair of British show hunters... I am not opposed to this look, haha)

After dressage I got a chance to walk my course... and get really, really nervous. Since when did Novice jumps look this huge??! I passed the 2 hours between dressage and show jumping in a state of low to mid-level butterflies, and while I then felt OK during warmup, I got VERY nervous right in the two minutes before I went into the ring. It didn't help at all that the rider in front of me got eliminated and that a bitter wind had kicked up, making the already small and spooky show jumping area at King Oak even flappier, noisier, and spookier. Gulp.

Fortunately Ky grew an extra three hands or so as soon as we got into the ring, and made it really clear that he could have gotten me around a prelim course as long as I managed to steer him semi-accurately from fence to fence. This was actually easier said than done, since Ky, though jumping beautifully, was spooking at everything in sight, making our steering abilities somewhat nonexistent at times. Still, we finished double clear, and I was massively relieved. Show jumping was easily the phase I had been the most worried about, and Ky stepped up to the plate absolutely beautifully. It was even sort of fun!!

(Perfect creature)


After that, I was really excited to go cross country. Ky was absolutely amazing again, though still very spooky (to the point of almost ditching me in the trees a few times as we galloped between fences). He was also quite peaky at the water and allllllmost thought about stopping (though I was proud of my riding to get him through no ifs ands or buts) and I rode like a total pillock to the last fence, resulting in one of the crappiest jumps I've had in a looooong time,  but other than that I had a complete blast. The jumps that I'd thought looked massive earlier that morning now looked totally doable as I cantered up to them. It was the best feeling.

(Classic Kate and Ky problem: foot below belly, in danger of skimming top of fence)

(Blurry, but a picture of Ky totally owning the table that I could have sworn was approximately 18' high when I walked my course this morning)

In an added bonus, Ky finished on his dressage score and moved up five places to finish 3rd in a big (15-horse) Open Novice division. Wahoo!!!! I don't think we're ready to move up any time soon (or at least not until we can gallop from jump to jump without me fearing sudden spook-induced death or canter through the water without major growling and crop usage on my part), but I'm so, so excited for our next event together. I'm feeling so lucky to have this awesome little horse in my life, and so thankful for my wonderful parents (including Pa who was back as my groom and photographer today) for letting me compete him this year. Next stop: Groton House!

(I've got a Ronald McDonald theme going on so far this year in my results - no complaints!!!)

 (Pa and my mighty little steed)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Video From XC Schooling

My friend Anna made this video of our group schooling with Jane last week (she's the rider in the light blue vest and the supah fancy black horse). Ky is mixed in with all the others so there's not a ton of footage of just him, but you can get a good sense of the sort of stuff we were doing:

The camera died about halfway through, so after we finished in that field we went on and did a little half coffin, a mini slide-type jump, and dropped into the water a few times. The little dude was, as you can see, perfect :)

In other exciting news, my times for King Oak are up! And I don't have to get up at the total crack of dawn!! And it really feels like I'm going to an event again, after a year and a half!!! More exclamation points!!!!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Some Ky Updates!

It's hard to believe, but Ky and my first real bonafide horse show together is now only a week away! It felt like winter would never end, but it seems like we finally made it out safe and sound :)

I've been so, so pleased with how Ky has been doing recently. His flatwork has been improving by leaps and bounds and, while my expectations are still pretty guarded about our ability to perform in a possibly spooky and tense show atmosphere, I'm feeling really positive that we won't embarrass ourselves in the dressage next Sunday.

My dad was super nice and came out to take some videos of us last weekend. Check out the progress from earlier this winter! I know we've definitely still got a long ways to go, and I'd still not call him anywhere near confirmed in the contact, but man, he's so much more pleasant to ride now. The nicest change is his general attitude towards work; he used to feel so resentful and behind my leg, and now he bounds along beautifully. Good boy! Here he is starting out to the right:

And then trotting to the left (our more difficult direction) and then cantering a bit to the right: 

And then finally cantering a bit to the left (again, our more difficult direction):

What a good little dude :) Then to make matters more exciting, this past Wednesday we went on our very first cross country school!! Eeeee!! We went up to UNH and met with Jane Hamlin and had an amaaaaaazing school; we did a lot of Novice questions and Ky handled them beautifully. We even ended by dropping into the water a few times, which isn't something I think he's done a lot of in the past few years. Super star!! I unfortunately have no evidence of his awesomeness, but here's a picture of Ky looking studly and proud of himself afterwards:

Man, I love this little horse. He's given me so much confidence back over the past few months. Even at the beginning of the school I was thinking that some of the Beginner Novice questions were looking pretty scary, and by the end I was eyeing some of the Training questions and thinking that they weren't out of our league. I'm still pretty nervous about the stadium (not my speciality), but I'm definitely getting excited for getting back out on a real competition cross country course for the first time in a year and a half next week!!!

Stanford at IDA Nationals

Last week I drove out to beautiful South Hadley, Mass, for the IDA National Championships. If you read the blog last year, you'll remember that qualifying for last year's nationals was one of the biggest and most exciting accomplishments of my time in college... but that my actual performance at Nationals was, for me, pretty disappointing. I've since been able to put the experience into a much more positive perspective (I mean dang, I got to travel across the country to be the very first person to represent my university at the highest level of my sport... definitely nothing worth being sad about!), but I remember pretty clearly the crushing feeling that was walking out of the ring and not feeling like I'd done my best. 

This year was super exciting because it was the first time that Stanford had ever qualified as a team, which meant that there was a strong contingent of four riders (including one of my best friends from college) and our beloved coach, Rachel, headed my way. I helped found the Stanford Dressage team four years ago, and honestly wasn't sure that I would see the day where our rag-tag and underdog crew of riders would make it to nationals together (seriously, our team has 8 eight riders total compared to others in our area that have 40+, we have no dedicated dressage team horses, and there was a not insignificant amount of time where our 'equipment' consisted of 3 saddles that were literally stapled together and that would literally fall apart as you rode in them).

I came out to Mount Holyoke on team day to cheer them on, and while I wish I could say that they went on to blow the competition out of the water in the sort of massive blaze of glory I know they're capable of... that didn't quite happen. Stanford ended up coming in 12th of the 12 teams that qualified, finishing with 4 very respectable top-10 individual finishes. So it was a little bittersweet, and I know that my (former) teammates were feeling the sort of disappointment that I felt a year ago.

But am I disappointed in them? Absolutely not. In fact, I felt like my heart was bursting out of my chest, I was so proud of how well everyone on the team rode, dealt with problems as they presented themselves, and stayed bright, cheerful, and positive even when it became clear pretty early in the day that the show wasn't going their way. I hadn't seen them ride since January when I came out for the Stanford home show, and was blown away by how much everyone on the team had improved even since then, and even with the added pressure of being at a national final. There was so much poise, grace, and good sportsmanship going on that I could barely process my pride in this wonderful team that gave me so many wonderful memories in my time at Stanford.

I'm very certain that Stanford Dressage will be back at Nationals in the future, even better prepared and ready for domination than they were this year. This was just the first step! Stanford Dressage, I love you, miss you, and am forever indebted to the skills you gave me as a rider and as a human being. You guys rock.

And now, pretty pictures!

 (Senior Kristen Malinak led off with a 7th in Open on a horse that was a legit clone of my draw from Nationals last year)

 (Struttin' in warm up)

 (leg yieldin')

 (Getting some elevation in the medium canter!)

 (Boom! Swag, baby)

 (Patrick warming up his tricky little draw in Upper Training)

 (Patrick warming up under the watchful eye of coach Rachel, who was a vision in Cardinal)


 (Getting the most out of his draw)

 (looking good, Patrick!)

 (Patrick is this year's dressage captain/team mom/all around badass)

 (Sophomore Tori Greenan on her gorgeous (and massive!) paint in Lower Training)

 (Looking great in warm up! Too bad I cut off part of Tori's head...)

 (So fancy!!)

 (Our Intro rider Monika getting some half light through the door in warm up)

 (Monika is such a beautiful rider!)

(Looking great)
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