Sunday, June 30, 2013

Groton House Farm HT

After a month or so in dressage boot camp, Ky and I headed back into eventing land this weekend for one of Area I's most famous and traditionally prestigious events: Groton House Farm. Groton House was the first event I ever went to as a spectator 15 (!) years ago, back when it was truly one of the lynchpin events of the summer season, running big Advanced divisions that drew the likes of Bruce Davidson, David and Karen O'Connor, and Phillip Dutton in droves. 

These days Groton House definitely has a somewhat quieter vibe, only offering levels up to IP, but it's still a favorite in our area and the lower level divisions are always very big and hotly contested. I knew with Ky that we probably weren't going to win, but I was really hoping to come home with my first ever Groton House ribbon, as I've always had a poor showing for one reason or another, between missing a jump with Kiki a few years ago or leading going into the show jumping with Ringo only to have him stop at the first fence. 

Alas, we came home empty handed yet again, but just like at GMHA, the number only tells a small part of the story. In truth, I think our performance was miles and miles better than King Oak, and I couldn't be more pleased with the little dude. He was perfect in all three phases, I rode well, and we got tons of compliments throughout the weekend. Just no ribbon! So here's how it went down:


Of the three phases this weekend, this was definitely the most disappointing. I thought Ky warmed up really well; he was loose, relaxed, and as steady in the contact as he's currently capable of being. His transitions were smooth, and I was riding well and being really cognizant of my position. 

(So soft! So lovely! My hands are miraculously together and not in my lap! ALL THE WINNING)

Ky felt easily as good as he did in our better test at GMHA, if not better--he was smooth, relaxed, and didn't get stuck in the contact in the corners (which is sometimes a problem for us). I did make one very big mistake when I tried to keep him from drifting out on a trot circle by booting him with my outside leg... and instead prompted him to break into canter. D'oh! So I knew it wasn't going to break into the 20s based on that error, but I was really hoping for a solid mid-30s score based on how he felt.

(Nice relaxed free walk - and check out the birds swooping around in the background!)

And... we got a 40. And were 3rd from last in our division. Boo. Over the past few years, between IDA, Ringo, Kiki, and Ky, I feel like I've ridden waaaaaay more dressage tests than the average lower level amateur eventer, and I feel like I have a pretty legitimate claim to saying that I have a good idea of what a good test is and what a bad test is. This was a good test. The judge clearly didn't agree. Phooey. 

(Does this look like a 40? I thought not)

I usually am dutiful about picking up my test and poring over the comments for nuggets to improve on, but this time there was such a massive disconnect between what it felt like and what it scored like that I knew it was just going to be frustrating and depressing. So I left the test behind. I know what I still need to work on: connection, connection, connection. Hopefully next time around we'll get a judge that will appreciate our efforts a little more than this one did.


Now this is where the beauty of eventing comes in: at a dressage show, after a disappointing score like that, you have to somehow pull up our big girl pants, put that sour experience behind you, and get ready to repeat the whole experience again the next day. In eventing, you get to put it behind you by going cross-country!!! No comparison as to which is more enjoyable, haha.

(Getting a flying change in warm up - definitely not quite as classy as when I do it with Ringo!)

I thought the course looked up to height and somewhat peeky in places, but not overly technical. Ky is a spooky beast, so I felt like the course could be difficult for us, and that I was going to have to give him a really good supportive ride. But, if I could get him feeling confident, I knew it was going to go very smoothly. The only technical bit that gave me any worry was the water, which is pretty busy and hard to read for the horses at GHF, and was very similar to a water exercise that we did a week earlier in schooling and had some trouble with. 

But, I needn't have worried. Ky was AMAZING right from the first jump. I was really happy with my riding--I never picked, jumped up the neck, or lost my position, and I could feel Ky gaining and gaining confidence as we went. It was one of the smoothest and best cross country rounds I've had in years. I was beaming ear-to-ear by the end; Ky made everything feel sooo easy, the bogey water included. We came in nearly a minute under time without me pushing him at all, and he cooled out really well. Who cares about a crappy dressage score?? That was awesome!!!

(Dang. THE cutest.)

Show Jumping

I was a little nervous about the show jumping, as it is easily my worst phase as a rider. Ky is a great show jumper, but my nerves are awful. At King Oak I let my nerves get the better of me and had a clear but very hairy round. I really wanted a better round here, because after our amazing cross country the day before I was feeling like a move up to Training might not be out of the cards... but I had to have a good Novice show jumping round first. 

Ky was a little deceptive in warm up: he felt nice and energetic as ever cantering around, but at the first few jumps I pointed him at I was surprised at how little adjustability I felt like I had. Normally Ky is like a little accordion: it's almost too easy to shorten and lengthen his stride, to the point where I have to be super careful to not touch his face and inadvertently shorten his stride to nothing right in front of the fence. 

(Jumping beautifully, but only from a gappy distance - not ideal!)

But this time, I felt like I had nothing: it was either move up to a long one, or chip. I moved up a few times, but was a little disconcerted that I didn't have a good deep distance in my arsenal. In an attempt to get some adjustability, I came around a few times and really forced him to add. It was a little rough feeling, but fortunately it paid off, and by the time I went into the ring I felt like I had my usual accordion pony back again.

(Chunking a deep one, but I'm super happy with my defensive position - check out that moving towards automatic release!)

And our round was great! He added in the last two lines, but I knew that he might and made sure to really sit up and adjust the balance in the first few strides, then not jump up his neck at the end. The result was that he jumped super cleverly out of the deep distance both times, logging a smooth clear round. Mission accomplished!!

(So clever)

We finished in 11th place, but I couldn't have been happier with Ky over the whole weekend. I wish the judge had taken more of a shine to us, because otherwise we certainly would have come home with a ribbon, but such is life. It was a massive performance improvement from our last outing at King Oak, and that's all that matters!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

GMHA Dressage

So the bad news first: if you look at the results bar on the side of this page, you'll see that, between the four rides I had over the course of the weekend, I only broke into the 60s once. In terms of raw scores, it was one of the least successful dressage shows I've ever had. 

In a more qualitative sense, however, I could not be more pleased with the weekend. Both my horses were absolute stars, I rode well, and together we produced the best tests we were capable of producing. Both Ky and Ringo are works in progress right now, so it wasn't surprising that we weren't blasting the barn doors off the competition from a score perspective. But they both produced exactly the tests that I was hoping them to do, so I have absolutely no problems with not getting winning scores this time around.

(Definitely no complaints!!)


What a star. I literally have nothing even remotely negative to say about Ringo for the entire weekend. He was perfect. He came to each test calm, relaxed, and ready to work, and responded to pressure beautifully. He got a little tense in the arena the first day, but was markedly improved by the end of the weekend. It was a night and day difference from our lesson on Tuesday, where I'd felt like I was barely able to hang on; on both Friday and Sunday, I felt like I could sit down and ride and Ringo was right there ready to do what I asked. It was magical.

(Also, check out my sexaayyyyy shadbelly!! I took my old pikeur shadbelly and found silver buttons and grey suiting fabric, then had a local tailor make new grey points and a new grey collar for it - I think it looks so smart!! All four tests I got back commented on how well presented and turned out we were)

(Ringo getting exuberant in the changes, pretty standard)

There were some weak spots, but they were the usual suspects: medium/extended trot (though we did get a few 6s and 6.5s!!), walk pirouettes (where I did get one 3, ugh), and canter pirouettes (here we got a big range, from 3 to 6). In both tests I also made a few careless errors that ended up being very, very expensive in terms of breaking the 60% barrier--in the first test, I let the shoulder-ins get wobbly and lose the bend; and in the second test, I dropped the curb rein and proved completely incapable of picking it up again, which one judge did not appreciate and commented on multiple times.

(Ringo got 7s on his extended canter again, keeping the streak alive!)

From a scoring perspective, I was a *teensy* bit disappointed to not get a qualifying score towards my silver medal, but honestly no more than that. I scored 58% and change both days, placing 4th and 2nd, which is a totally respectable score for a first time out (especially for a first time out for both horse and rider!). I had two judges each day, and one judge actually gave me a 62.5%! So I know I'm on the right track. We've just got to keep building strength and finesse. 

 (I love this warm up picture - we both so relaxed and loose)

Good boy, Ray!!

 (Sigh... if only I'd picked that curb rein up!!)

(My favorite picture of Ringo from the weekend in the middle of the 3 tempis - look how hard he's concentrating!)


This was Ky's first sleepaway show in years and years and years, and his first USDF show EVER. So obviously, my expectations were... modest. I basically was hoping to stay in the ring every day and not humiliate myself. Ribbons and good scores were totally secondary to that. 

The other slight stress factor was that I had signed up Ky to get measured for his USEF Permanent Pony card at this show, which, while not a huge deal whether he got it or didn't, meant a few extra hurdles to jump through over the course of the weekend. The measurement process is pretty official, complete with a jog overseen by a vet and a measurement on PAVEMENT ONLY with an official 'metal-shod' USEF measuring stick (that apparently costs $400!! WTF?!). It's also an all-or-nothing deal: if you get measures once and flunk, there's no redo. Ky was out of control during the entire process, screaming his head off and generally acting like an idiot because he was separated fro Ringo, but mercifully passed with a centimeter and a half to spare! Phew! Ky is now officially a pony in the eyes of the USEF and so is eligible for the pony-specific classes I'm hoping to enter him in later in the summer (though his behavior definitely served to remind everyone present that, measurement or no, he is certainly a pony at heart).

(Classic Ky, making his feelings toward this boring dressage stuff perfectly clear)

Given his general craziness in the stable area all weekend (he screamed constantly, barged around, and even broke out of his stall at one point), it was sort of shocking how well behaved he was when I actually got on him to ride. Every time I rode him, either schooling or showing, he was calm, happy, and willing to go to work. I'm hoping he'll relax a bit in his stall as the summer progresses, but if he's going to be calm in one place, I'm glad he's chosen the ring!

 (Looking like a little buckskin Andalusian schooling on Friday!)

 (A photo in which Ky looks adorable and I show my inability to keep my reins at a reasonable length. Again.)

The first day he warmed up AMAZINGLY--literally the best he's ever been, ever--and then lost it a little in the arena. It was the end of the day and the judge was a little over it, so we scored a 56%: not the best score, but since the winner of our class only got a 59%, obviously not totally out of league with everyone else. And he even got a shiny white ribbon for his trouble! Good boy!

 (Struttin' - and look how well he fills up my leg, all things considered - how can this animal be only 14.1hh??)

The next morning I had to get on Ky literally right after getting off Ringo, so I still had PSG on the brain and rode accordingly--I was on fire! Ky rose to the occasion and was a very, very good boy. He was a little tenser in warm up but only a hair, and maintained his composure much better in the arena itself. We scored a 63.7% (an almost 8% improvement in one day!!) and came 2nd in our division and were only a whisker off 1st--way to go, little dude!! 

(I love this one - the colors are so pretty!)

So overall, it was an amazing weekend. We didn't win it all this time around, but we laid the groundwork for a really good summer to come. Of course, I couldn't have done it without great coaching from Kim and great grooming, driving, and overall emotional support from Pa (and great photography, too! The man's a quadruple threat). I can't wait for the next show! 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Another quick pause before diving into GMHA recap (I HAVE SO MANY PICTURES, GET PUMPED), to thank Carrot Top from Little Bay Horse for nominating me for a Liebster Blog Award! 

The Liebster Blog Award is a way to recognize blogs who have less than 200 followers. Liebster is a German word that means beloved and valued. Here are the rules for accepting the award:
  1. Thank the person who nominated you and include a link back to their blog. 
  2. List 11 random facts about yourself. 
  3. Answer the 11 questions given to you. 
  4. Create 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate. 
  5. Choose 11 bloggers with 200 or fewer followers to nominate and include links to their blogs. 
  6. Go to each blogger's page and let them know you have nominated them.
Eleven Random Facts About Me

  1. I'm left-handed but my handwriting is so awful that I can write with my right hand and, except for being a lot slower, the difference in quality is minimal. 
  2. I graduated from college in 3 1/2 years and precisely the minimum number of units to graduate; in order to get that minimum, I had to take a 1-unit class called 'Strengthening the Heart Through Compassion" my senior year, which mainly involved me falling asleep on the floor during guided meditation every day. I barely passed. 
  3. Until the age of 12, I wanted to be a hobo when I grew up. 
  4. I've traveled to all 50 states in the US, and visited 42 states in 2012. 
  5. In addition to horses, my family also breeds cairn terrier show dogs, and owns the highest pointed cairn terrier of all time; he also won the world dog show in Paris a few years ago and got to have his picture taken in a beret in front of the Eiffel Tower. 
  6. I was a tri-varsity athlete in high school (XC, Squash, and Track), a fact I now find hilarious as I couldn't break a 10 minute mile if I tried. 
  7. I've recently started playing the banjo. 
  8. I actually enjoy riding in the rain. Like, a lot. 
  9. I had a fish named Fluffy when I was a kid. 
  10. I've been a vegetarian for over 7 years now, and have never eaten a fast food hamburger in my entire life. 
  11. That being said, I worship In n Out's grilled cheese, and it is probably one of the things I miss most about California. 
Eleven Questions for Me
  1. What's the last book you read cover-to-cover? The Blue Fox, by Sjón, which I finished just a few days ago! Sjón is an Icelandic author famous for being Bjork's lyricist - three of his novels just got translated to English this spring and I've now read two. They've both been bizarre, lyrical, and sneakily enchanting. When I was reading The Blue Fox, I didn't feel like I was enjoying it, but it lingered with me long after I'd finished. 
  2.  Have you ever broken a bone, and if so how? Yes, several. I broke my femur when I was 3 years old falling off of a bunk bed, my wrist when I was 12ish getting bucked off a naughty pony, and my neck when I was 18 when my horse fell on top of me. 
  3. If you could choose any super-power, what would it be? Flight, obviously :) 
  4. What would you change about the horse world that doesn't have to do with animal abuse or money? I would eliminate equestrian (or at the very least eventing) from the Olympics, because I think the pressures of conforming to the Olympic format have been the major factor in moving away from the traditional long format test of horsemanship that is the eventing I grew up with, love, and miss. Additionally, I think the pressures put on the horses to try to make an Olympic team are too much, especially when the competition ends up being a lackluster test of actual cross-country skill compared to the sport's annual four star events. 
  5. What are those 'Baby on Board' signs for cars really for? I believe they are meant to indicate that there is a young child in the car and so alert to other drivers that they should drive extra cautiously and safely around them. What I don't really understand about that explanation is the premise that people would normally be driving dangerously around one another and only the presence of a baby would change their behavior… so I guess I'm lost too. 
  6. What are your three favorite words? Many to choose from, but I guess 'vexillophile' (lover of flags), 'quetzalcoatl' (Meso-American bird god), and 'esperluette' (the French word for 'ampersand') rank pretty high up there. I like chewy words with lots of consonants and vowel changes. 
  7. What's the most 'out there' thing you believe? I believe in the ability to have premonitions of the future and in the oracular power of dreams. 
  8. Describe the last time you laughed out loud - some time this morning while Pa and I were feeding (probably at the cat, who is a favorite subject for mockery) 
  9. Mares, geldings, or stallions? My experience with stallions is limited, but of mares and geldings, definitely geldings. I wanted to be the kind of person who loves mares… but I'm not. 
  10. Who would you most like to go on a trail ride with? DUALLY. 
  11. What's the most ridiculous thing you've bought for riding or horses? My shadbelly. It was expensive as hell, and is by far one of the toughest things to explain to non-horsepeople, for sure.
Eleven Questions From Me
  1. If you could travel to any place in world, where would it be and why? 
  2. If you could live in any historical period/location, where would it be and why? 
  3. If you had to change to an entirely new equestrian discipline, what would you go to? 
  4. If you could have a ride on any famous horse in the world competing right now, which would it be? 
  5. Describe your dream barn. 
  6. Favorite non-horsey activity? 
  7. Which is better: the book or the movie adaptation? 
  8. Can you cook? If so, what can you make? 
  9. Favorite color? 
  10. Describe yourself in 10 years. 
  11. How did you first start riding? 
Eleven Nominations for the Liebster Award
  1. Viva Carlos - I can't believe this blog doesn't have 200 followers. Cannot believe.
  2. Poor Woman Showing - I love Carly's horses and how honest she is as a writer and a blogger
  3. Charlie and Me - Charlie. Is. Adorable.
  4. Life of Riley - In addition to having a brand new pony, a brand new husband, and tons of pretty pictures to document both, Niamh is also an artistic badass and made me one of my favorite possessions of all time a few years ago: a multi-layer paper cut of Kiki. And she can do it for you, too!
  5. A Mile High on Horseback - Emily has such a positive and kind attitude towards the world, even when faced with challenges that would make me want to curl up in a ball and give up; she's an inspiration.
  6. The Journey Begins - I love Jennifer's use of pictures and videos to tell her story
  7. Pacific Coast Eventing - This is my friend and old roommate's spin-off blog from her popular On Track for a CCI* that she kept for several years - she's got an adorable (and talented!) young horse now in addition to her awesome old man, Eddie, and it's so fun to watch them progress
  8. Molly Rosin and Havarah Equestrian  - Molly is an ex-Californian professional now based in PA; I love how many pictures and updates she posts of her busy, event-filled life.
  9. Perception Unearthed - This isn't a horse blog, per se, but its writer is an equestrian (we met through the Stanford Equestrian team) and it is simply too amazing to overlook. Rachel is a Rhodes Scholar, all-around genius, and two years ago decided to go through the process of getting a cochlear implant after having profound hearing loss in both ears for her entire life. Her blog is (no surprise) unbelievably well-written, thought-provoking, and inspiring.
  10. Capture the Light  - I actually bet this page has more than 200 followers... but you should check it out anyway because Wendy is one of the most amazing equine photographers in the business. Uhh. Maze. Ing. 
  11. Chasing the Dream - This blog got nominated with me, but it's too good not to mention again!
Phew! Tonight, I promise I'll get around to GMHA, but in the meantime I've got some ponies to ride. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Mountaintop

I remember, as a young and eventing-obsessed child, lying in bed at night and staring up at the posters of famous event riders that I'd taped to the ceiling over my head: Karen O'Connor soaring over a massive hedge, Phillip Dutton coolly stepping off a drop the size of a small cliff face, Bruce Davidson making it look fun and easy on horse after horse after horse. At the time, I could barely jump 2'6" without dissolving into tears. The upper levels of eventing were so far away, it was like they existed on another planet or in another reality. I imagined myself at the foot of a very tall mountain whose peaks were hidden in swirling clouds. Somewhere up there, the upper levels loomed. All I could do, at the very bottom, was start climbing. 

Over the next eight years I plodded along, sometimes improving in leaps and bounds, and sometimes wondering if I was improving at all. In 2003 I got Dually, and with his guidance I was able to climb faster and further up the mountain than I ever had before. He had gone preliminary before and knew the way; all I had to do was follow and learn. In 2006, I did something I never would have thought possible all those years ago lying awake at night looking at pictures: I completed my first preliminary horse trial. Less than a year later, I completed my first FEI event and qualified for the North American Junior/Young Rider Championships.

It was as if all of a sudden, after all that climbing, I had broken through the swirling clouds that had obscured the mountaintop when I'd first started. The summit was still a long way away--farther, in fact, than I knew it was realistic for me to believe I'd be able to go--but for the first time I could see all the way to the top. It was an incredible feeling.

When I first got Ringo, I thought for sure that he was going to be the horse that was going to take me all the way to the top of that mountain at last. Of course, that didn't end up happening. Instead of climbing to the top of the eventing mountain, we found ourselves back below the clouds again, an injury grounding us firmly on the valley floor and wondering which way to turn. Starting in dressage, it was like beginning the entire long, slow, climb all over again. I often wondered if, like in eventing, I'd ever even get a glimpse of that mountaintop again.

This weekend, after years of hard work, lessons, tears, and victories, Ringo and I cantered down the centerline of our very first Prix St George. Just like in eventing, it feels like we've finally emerged above the clouds. The very top of the mountain is still far, far, far away--farther than I will likely ever go. But I am proud, and overwhelmed with thankfulness for my horse, my parents, and the wonderful people in my life who got me to this place. The view is wonderful.

(Full show report to follow!)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lesson With Kim: Set Phasers to "Survive"

Today Ringo and I had our last lesson with Kim before GMHA; since I missed riding Ringo with her last week, we definitely had a lot of things to iron out before cantering down the centerline on Friday. Long story short: Kim helped us a lot, we did a lot of things well... but Kim also drove home that I should keep my expectations realistic and conservative for the weekend. This pretty much confirmed the way I was already feeling: I made her laugh when I told her that I couldn't really overstate how modest my expectations are!

But really, I was pretty pleased with how things went. Ringo was actually quite tense and spooky for whatever reason, even going so far as to do some pretty dramatic bolt/spins away from the spooky door at the end of the arena (that alas we didn't catch on tape - isn't that always the way it is?), which I was actually ok with because it meant that I could have Kim help me work through his behavior when he's at his worst. He's been soooooo good at home recently that it's easy to forget that he can still be a naughty little monkey from time to time, so this was a good reminder!

Kim had us warm up by doing just some nice easy shoulder-in down the long sides; whenever Ringo wanted to spook at the end of the arena (which was... every time), she encouraged me to overbend him to the inside, put him in a firm but not mean shoulder in, and leg yield him as purposefully as possible back over to the rail, while showering him with praise whenever he behaved well. He never completely settled down, but he got a lot better, so it was very good practice for how he might be at the show. The upside of his spookiness was that he was actually more expressive than usual, resulting in some pretty nice shoulder-in when we could contain the bad behavior:

At the end of the video, we started working on one of Ringo and my weaker moves: the medium/extended trot. After seeing the pretty poor effort shown above, Kim had us focus and work on that movement specifically for a little while. She gave me a better step-by-step strategy for me as a rider for riding the extensions: come through the corner collected, drive him INTO the reins for a few strides, then release that power into the extension... instead of just sort of vaguely chucking him across the arena, which had been my plan up until today. 

Then, we worked through the entire walk tour of the PSG, with specific focus on the walk pirouettes. This is not an easy movement for us, but Kim had us think about making them way too big to start, then only closing them up when he stops sticking and pivoting, and this was the end result:

Not bad!! Now just to do that with the pressure on in the actual test.

After the walk, we went on to do the whole canter tour in one go so Kim could see if we could do it. Here was the initial result (minus the opening counter change, which was... sketchy, but fixed on later work):

The consensus was that this actually wasn't bad. He was super wound up about the far end of the arena again (hence the craaaaaaaaaazy flying changes at C) and felt pretty wild, but heck, except for the 3s, he did it all. The pirouettes actually weren't awful! They're never going to be the highlight of our test, but they exist and are acceptable. We'll take it!

Unfortunately, the changes quickly went from sketchy to INSANE as Ringo got more and more worked up with the difficult work, as evidenced here after another pirouette attempt:

Ringo is pretty sensitive about the changes and I really struggle at containing him when he starts feeling the pressure. Kim told me to just go around the arena doing changes while keeping him under control to try to reassert to him that he should really listen to me and not just melt down and start leaping around the arena. The result is this fairly hilarious blooper reel (see if you can spot the unintentional 1-tempi and the moment where he comes verrrrrrry close to clocking the wall in a moment of extreme exuberance!):

Sigh. Ray. It's really not as hard as you want to make it sometimes. Obviously the goal for GMHA this weekend is to prevent him from ever getting to this tension 'red zone' in the first place. But the fact of the matter is that the changes do really naturally wind him up, and sometimes I can keep a lid on him... and sometimes I can't. 

This was the part of the lesson where Kim really stressed to me that my expectations should be realistic this weekend: Ringo and I are perfectly capable of producing lovely clear tempis all the way up to 2s when we're both relaxed and on the same page, but the chances of that happening this weekend at our first attempt at the PSG are... low. So for this time around, I need to just try to keep him as relaxed and on task as I can, and ride it out if necessary. I'm totally ok with that and ready to do it, but it was good to be reminded of it today.

So overall it was a bit of a wild ride, but hopefully a good prep for the weekend to come. My expectations may be modest, but I'm still very excited!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Mystic Dressage: We Survived!

Long story short: My horse is a genius, I need a little work, and we're now halfway to the silver medal!!

(Yay!! Good boy!!)

So basically I was a wreck all week; my back is doing a lot better in a basic pain sense (as in it doesn't hurt to breathe anymore), but now I'm just incredibly stiff and tight and feel like a creaky tin robot. As a result, I didn't ride very hard all week, and I was increasingly in two minds about whether or not going down to Mystic for our (hopefully) last attempt at Fourth Level would be worth it.

Then, on Thursday night, the skies opened up. And it proceeded to tip down rain for all of Friday and into Friday night. I tentatively packed up the trailer and cleaned my tack, but as I lay in bed on Friday night and listening to sheets of water lash against my window, I couldn't help but feel pretty fatalistic about it. I had visions of impassable quagmires of tendon-ripping mud sucking us down into oblivion. I made up a ton of excuses as to why I wasn't going to enter, then finally drifted off uneasily to sleep at 3am, ready to back out the next morning.

(Look, the judge was actually smiling as she watched us! Definitely better than the grimaces I've occasionally noticed in the background of some of my less illustrious tests...)

But then on Saturday morning, between checking the weather and my dad's positive wheedling, I decided to pull on my big girl pants and at least give it a shot. If we got there and the arenas were awful, sure, we'd scratch. But why not give it a shot? So I quickly cleaned up Ringo as best as I could (having not given him a bath the day previously in my negative attitude).

And, of course, it turned out to be a perfect day - the sun shone, the footing dried out just enough to be absolutely lovely, and Ringo was a total star despite a pretty nonexistent prep earlier this week. The show was pretty quiet so I had my warmup all to myself, and while I wasn't feeling up to really pushing Ringo to his absolute best, I was pretty thrilled with how loose and relaxed he felt.

(So beautiful!)

As we walked over to the arena I got a big blast of nerves: had I made the right choice to come? Was I adequately prepared? Did I have Ringo in the right frame for the test, or was he too low? But the only way to answer those doubting questions was to go in the ring, so I took a deep breath, wiggled my ears (my pre-test ritual to test to see if my neck is relaxed enough), and headed in.

(Mouth open, but I really like this one for some reason)

So the good about the test: Ringo was perfect. Perfect. PERFECT. It was one of the few tests I've ever had where I felt like he was absolutely relaxed, absolutely listening, absolutely willing to do whatever I asked him to do.

(What a perfect fancy beast)

The bad? I asked him to do some pretty whack things! Seriously, it was one of the least accurate and poorly planned tests I've ridden in a while. All my half-pass angles were wrong, I almost forgot several movements, and I always felt like I was a half step behind every aid I was supposed to be giving at any given time. Ugh. Not the best feeling. Fortunately Ringo just sort of kept muddling along and covered a lot of my bad piloting, but I left the arena pretty unsure of my score, and quite certain that a bad score was going to be completely my fault.

Mercifully, thanks to Ringo's AWESOMENESS, we still managed to score a 62.5% even with my totally wonky riding. Hooray!! Not only does that mean that I've gotten both of the required 4th Level scores for the Silver Medal now, but Ringo's relaxation and attentiveness in the ring also really gave me confidence that, with some better riding on my part, the move up to PSG this coming weekend might not be totally embarrassing and laughable. So a total success!

(Another show, another great extended canter from Ringo - I actually thought this was one of our best extended canters ever and was a little bummed that the judge thought it was too quick; oh well...)

Now I'm off to get as much instruction as possible in the coming week so that I can hopefully improve on my performance a hair at GMHA - Ringo doesn't need to change a thing, I just need to catch up with him! Definitely not the worst problem to have :)

 (A little blurry, but Ringo trying very hard in our second flying change)

 (Perfect creature!!!)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

Sorry, super cheesy Game of Thrones reference for the title, but after last week's epic episode, how could I resist?? I also have to say that "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken," has been my little personal mantra of late as I've tried to keep trucking along with my very sore and unhappy back. I gritted my teeth and went to my lesson with Kim today, and while I was feeling a little bowed and a little bent by the end, I certainly wasn't broken :)

I decided to take Ky to my lesson because he's significantly less strong compared to Ringo and I can do most of my work with Ky in rising trot, whereas with Ringo I really need to be sitting to do good work, and sitting is... not in the cards at the moment. It's been a long time since Kim last saw Ky, so I was really hoping that she'd agree that he's been improving in leaps and bounds this spring. And despite my pretty bad and stiff piloting, he was perfect! And Kim definitely agreed that he's a new horse compared to six months ago - yay!!

Also excitingly, my dad was able to come out and get some videos of my lesson for the first time since the winter, so I actually have some visual evidence of his improvement. Unfortunately my phone ran out of space pretty early on so we didn't get the end of the lesson (when, of course, Ky was going much better!), but I'm still super pleased with how he looks even in the early work. Here's a warm up leg yield and some early canter:

Also, check out my new helmet cover! I decided to upgrade to celebrate my acceptance to Pembroke College at Oxford, whose sporting color is cerise... a fancy way of saying hot pink. So for this last summer of riding, my colors have shifted from grey and white to grey, pink, and white - I think it looks pretty sharp! And it's definitely visible, haha.

And here's some leg yield the other way:

I was super pleased that Kim complimented me on the progress we've made in our leg yields since the winter. When I started riding Ky it wasn't obvious that he understood what the leg yield was all about, so I had to go back to ground work and start all over again with the lateral work. Now he's actually schooling baby half-passes at home; it's so cool to feel how far he's come.

Here was some more canter to the right:

His canter actually improved a TON after we ran out of video (classic), to the point where it was actually feeling legit fancy and not just 'training-level frame' fancy. The way we improved the quality of his canter was by improving the quality of the transitions, especially up from trot. This isn't surprising given all my lessons over the winter with Ringo, where the transitions have proved key in improving the strength and jump of his canter. Like with Ringo (but to a larger degree), Ky tends to tighten his back, pop his head up, and actually jam his shoulders down in the upward transition, which means not only that the transition itself is ugly, but also that we've started off on the wrong foot for getting the best possible canter.

(The little dude lookin swag)

By really paying attention to the upward transition and making sure that I'm being a little firmer than I think I need to be, we were able to have a sort of cosmic breakthrough on the quality. Kim said it was easily a 2 point difference on the score we'd receive on our transitions, and my Pa (who finds watching dressage lessons akin to monitoring paint drying) actually whooped and clapped! Wahoo!! By the end of the lesson we were getting the good transitions much more consistently, and I think I've got a good idea of what I need to do on my own over the next few weeks. 

It was heartening that I was able to make it through a whole lesson, though I definitely was feeling pretty crappy by the end. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to show this weekend, but I'm still keeping my fingers crossed! Hopefully Ringo will play along and not be as strong as sometimes has a tendency to be...

(New helmet cover and... a new helmet! I actually have had this new helmet for a few years but have only worn it a handful of times. My old helmet was getting super disgusting but I was waiting to get the new cover before replacing it: a lucky decision, as I probably would have wanted to consider getting a new helmet anyway after my fall on Sunday!)

(Seriously, which would you rather put on your head??? Sorry old helmet (which in this picture has switched from the left side to the right side), but it's a no-brainer)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Bad Luck Triple Play

So... yesterday didn't quite go according to plan. You know the phrase, 'bad luck comes in threes?' Well...

First, I woke up yesterday morning around 7 to the sound of barking. Now, this in and of itself isn't too abnormal, as we have a lot of dogs, and they love to bark. But this barking was different: wild and out of control. I came downstairs a short while later to find out that, for once in their lives, our dogs had actually had good reason to be barking their brains out, as two stray dogs had come onto our property and attacked our two miniature ponies. Fortunately the littler mini, Nick, was fine, but the older and larger one, Hallmark, ended up with several 1"+ deep puncture wounds in his jugular and at least 20 smaller wounds all over the rest of his body. He's going to live, but it was a long morning with the vet getting him all stitched and stapled up.

Then, my dad and I went out catch our two little lesson ponies, as I teach lessons to a group of 6-8 year olds every Sunday morning. They are pretty difficult to catch but Pa and I have a system that's been working like clockwork for the past few weeks. Yesterday, though, we slipped up and the ponies ended up getting away from us, getting loose, and running briefly out onto the main road! My heart literally stopped, especially since they are small enough that I could imagine a car not seeing them until the last minute when it was too late. Mercifully my dad was able to corral them back onto our property before any damage was done, but it was definitely a scary moment.

Finally, my friend Robin came out to ride Kiki for the first time since her wedding a few weeks ago (!!), and because of the heat we decided to go for an easy bareback hack. I hopped on Ringo with just a saddle pad (not an actual secured bareback pad) and we set off. Both the horses were much spookier than usual right from the outset because it was extremely breezy, so there were lots of crackling branches and flapping signs. I was getting pretty annoyed with both of them being so jumpy, so after Ringo had just spooked at yet another sign, I decided to get after him a bit and gave him a big boot in the ribs to remind him to get his act together.

Well, this was a mistake. Ringo, already in a spooky mood, decided to take my correction as an excuse to spin hard and then bolt briefly off, juuuuuuust hard enough so that the saddle pad slipped over too fast for me to be able to rebalance myself. I thought for a few seconds that I was going to be able to save myself: I still had my calf over his back and both arms around his neck, but he was still acting really squirrelly and I didn't have a good enough grip on his neck that I could use my arms without cranking on his face, which I was worried was going to make him rear or spin again. So, after some fruitless struggling, I fell... flat onto my back, onto a paved road. Ouch.

At first I didn't feel much pain at all, and I immediately found a place to get back on and we finished our ride with no problems. I then got on Ky to do some flatwork. Unfortunately, about 20 minutes into my ride with Ky, I began to notice that my back was hurting. A lot. So much that I couldn't take anything but the shallowest possible breath without enduring excruciating pain. I finished up my ride as quick as I could (Ky was also being mega spooky, and my control at this point was minimal because of my back pain) and alerted my parents to the situation, and we decided I should go to the ER to make sure I hadn't broken any ribs. At this point, I was on the edge of a panic attack because I couldn't really breathe at all, and the pain was intense.

(The neck brace was just a precaution because I have chronic neck pain already and landed in the neck/back area - I thought it was a low blow that the shortest setting on the neck brace was "neckless" - really, ER? Isn't that adding insult to injury??)

Just under 3 hours, a few X Rays, and some serious pain meds later, I was headed home again with the best diagnosis possible, given the situation: no majorly broken ribs but possibly some hairline fractures and definitely a fairly substantial chest wall contusion. I'm pretty bummed as it was such a stupid fall and I'm now quite sore and the recovery time is anywhere from 2 weeks to up to 8 - gahh!!! Definitely keeping the fingers crossed for the 2 week end rather than the 8 week end - I'd really rather not have most of my last summer at home with a sore back just because my upper level dressage horse can't handle a paper sign!! >:(

Grr, Ringo....
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