Friday, April 16, 2010

First things first: BEST PONY EVER.

He was a little stuck in the warmup last night, didn't want to move out, and I could feel the right hind lagging. So we marched, alternating leg pressure to time with his hind legs, asking for nothing more than a teensy stretch and bend in front. He was still sluggish moving into the trot, and we finally had a discussion that led to a bit of a hand-gallop, and after that he was easier to work with.

Lots of changing bend in the trot, and he's really coming into that nicely, switching over smoothly instead of going flat and hollow for a few strides of don't-wanna. I think I've gotten the knack too of supporting with the outside leg while switching to a new inside leg to really clearly tell him what I need.

Canter was really our shining moment, though. Once I found a good 20m circle to work (jumps are set out in the course for Sunday already, a bit tough to navigate esp. when L. was packing up the leftovers in the truck and was a moving target to avoid), he came into my hands beautifully. Downhill, yes, but not nearly as heavy as he could've been, and amenable to at least the suggestion of lifting his withers. He's coming sooner and sooner after the transition, too; used to take several strides to re-organize, and now in the first or second after a head-flinging transition he'll settle in.

Part of the transition is my difficulty: I really, really need not to give in to the temptation to tip forward and "help" him into it, putting my outside leg too far back. It feels like it works, but it just works in the wrong way. Sitting reallllly up straight and back gives him no options but to add more power and straightness to the transition to make it work.

I was happy with my body (straight and following) but NOT my seat and only occasionally my legs. I was asking him for difficult enough self-carriage that I had to keep leglegleg, and while on the plus side he was responsive to that and trying his heart out, on the minus side I got my brain tricked into inching my legs up and up and digging heels in, my old bad habit, instead of wrapping them down and around and supporting that way. And when I really SHOVED my legs down, I lost my seat. It was really hard to get that balance just right.

He was going so well, so quickly that after 10 minutes or so of working the canter, I put him on a long-rein stretchy trot. He was powering around so beautifully, and so clearly not yet tired, that I thought...well...and sat back and asked for the canter on a long rein.

And he gave it to me.

He just balanced almost on the buckle, reaching his hind legs under him, not flinging his neck up, not hanging on to the reins, just lightly and perfectly there in my fingertips. And every time I just twitched my fingers and gave a half inch, he took it eagerly, and oh, that canter - it probably didn't look like much, but I could feel, deep down inside it, a beautiful smooth rocking. And he was keeping it happily and easily, with only a little leg, and all of a sudden it was easy to sit, and my legs were long, and I had this almost-scary moment where I thought that this must be why people like hunter-under-saddle.

Didn't quite nail the down transition, but we made up for it in the change of bend and picking up the canter again going the other way: he came through instead of up, and was if anything even lighter and smoother. It was just so much FUN. We went around the ring just maybe twice, with a few 20m circles, and then he was done. He was so pleased with himself, and I couldn't have been happier. We went for a very short walk out back, he drank half the stream dry, and got a good rubdown and many many peppermints.

So, in summary? Best. Pony. Ever.

(I almost want to push the show forward just one week - look what we're working on, look what we could bring next week! - but that's part of the point of a dressage show, isn't it? A moment in time, and then you get another snapshot a few months later, and you compare them and are blown away. So the temptation to put it off until you can really nail it is kind of avoiding the whole lesson. But still, damn, for just a little longer...!)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

First things first: turned in my show entry for the barn's schooling show last night. Beginner Novice A and 2'0" jumps. Talked to T. last night and he said I should be concentrating on building from positive right now instead of challenging myself, which settled the decision in favor of 2' instead if 2'6". Which made sense to me, so: easier jumps it is!

Warmed up, and Tris was a bit snarky in the walk work, but settled into some really lovely trot. We worked on introducing even more roundness and collection, reallytruly getting him on the outside rein. Mixed success on that one; I still have a tendency to hang on the inside rein when Tris does his brick wall impression.

In the canter, my lower leg was MUCH better than it was in Sunday's jump clinic, so huzzah for that. (At least in the beginning of the lesson.) Consequently our canters were much better.

We ran the test, which went better than I had expected. I am falling into a tendency to wait on transitions until the exact right moment: there's something to be said for the requirements of nailing a transition at a letter, come hell or high water. I really quite like the test; it's a good one for Tris. Lots of kick-kick-kick and settle in, just truck along. It rewards good geometry and a workmanlike attitude, which is pretty much my niche. Tris, though dearly beloved, is not a horse to show really brilliant moments in dressage tests. He's much better at consistency and evenness.

T. mostly liked the test too, had a few pointers: I wasn't quite as accurate as I should have been, Tris's free walk didn't really click in until the second half, and my circles were a bit lopsided in the open part of the ring. But not bad at all other than that.

We walked for a bit after the test and Tris did NOT want to pick up and work again. We need to break a bit the pattern of warmup - walk - work - done. He's not amused when he gets two breaks, and usually the second work isn't great at all. It's important for both fitness and training though that he learn that he CAN and SHOULD come back on the bit even if he's a bit tired and has decided he's done.

I worked mostly on canter transitions, especially the trot 20m, canter 20m, down the long side piece that's in the test. Just a few minutes in holding the right lead canter got ugly, and I kept pushing him HARD, got a little more pissed off than I should've, but was still progressing, not regressing, even breaking multiple times. Once he gave me his neck and stretched out, I brought him back and we had a power trot on a long rein around a few times. Et voila.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Two rides to talk about, with good meaty work (mostly).

First ride: lesson on Thursday. Dicey to begin with; I had emailed with J. about taking the spot (had to miss Tuesday b/c of class) but never got confirmation, and I am occasionally nervous about talking to T. about these things and then thought I got a yes but he didn't say anything for the first 20 minutes and...anyway, it worked out eventually.

Started in the walk for a loooong time, 15 minutes of stretchy and get-your-ass-in-gear, working the hind legs up, not letting him get away with anything with his shoulders. It was occasionally frustrating - he often wants to escape into the trot instead of marching in the trot, so I had to walk a fine line between keeping his energy contained in the walk and stifling him. The walk is tough to work on sometimes, because you can end up breaking it by over-restraining, especially with a lazy horse like my pony.

Trot work was good, not great; took a little while to even it out, he was trying to laze along whilst hopping and doing a brick wall impression. T. got on me about really wrapping my legs around him and using them to channel that, pressing him up to reach for the contact instead of kicking him per usual, more of a steady go-go-go with nowhere to escape, and he had a couple of really nice patches. The head-jerking from the weak right hind was only very minimally present, so it seems I've found the fix for that. Hooray!

Canter: overdone a bit per usual. Left depart felt good, right depart felt up and down but at least present. He stretched and loosened in the left - we're starting to get whole 20m circle tours in which he thinks it's okay to give his neck to me and will spiral in and out and I know that sounds like baby stuff but you really have to ride this horse's shoulders to believe it. Right was at least cooperative; not as good as left yet, I think he's only slowly getting stronger on that right hind. He has the thrust but not the lift, which is what he needs now to really work on that canter. I also need a better seat + leg cooperation to help him get there: homework for both of us!

Yesterday was...okay, I guess. He was tired and a wee bit sore, and I would've given him bute afterwards except...the tub that the vet dropped off expires in 7 days. So I didn't want to open what I'd be asking him to replace anyway. Anyway: curried a yak's worth of hair off of him as well as a pig's worth of mud, and he was VERY pleased to get all that attention - we're talking 30+ minutes of currying alone to really dig in there. Lip drooping, legs squared, ears floppy, other things all hanging out...he likes to be spoiled.

The downside was that this was all during dinner, so while tacking up he stomped his foot and tried to snake his head for his grain; a loud "Tristan, NO" and he whipped his head back to center and stood rigid, clearly sulking for all his worth. Did not move a muscle except to open his mouth for a bit, and gave the world's weariest sigh when I led him off.

Riding outside, I'd just intended to get him somewhere good and be done, but that somewhere good was frustratingly difficult. He was very hoppy in the right trot, kept trying for canter, so I let him blow out for a few laps, somewhere just below a hand gallop standing up in the stirrups, knuckles on his neck, trying to loosen that back up. He got one more brief canter and then no more excuses; he's capable of saying eff you, so the fact that he only said "eh, okay" when told to stay and work on his trot was my sign that he could now. Trot eventually settled into something SUPER nice, low neck, hind end up through the withers, power and cadence. Felt really really good, both ways, though a bit more discussion to get there and stay there to the left.

Then I ruined it with the canter. Surprisingly, right lead went rather well; picked it up easily, held it for me, softened a bit, didn't try to throw his shoulders to China. Left lead was...ugh. So choppy I kept double-checking my lead, refused to relax his neck, actively bolting out the right shoulder (across the ring and almost into some HUGELY tall jumps, the horse does not stop for nothing, he really would have gone through them). So I kept after him, and worked the transitions instead of the gait, and when he gave me some semblance of a calm(er) transition with an obedient 20m circle, we were done. Bit of a hack to cool out, then his first hosing down of the season, hanging out for a while to make sure he was cool enough to get his grain.

I've got an entry form for the home show on the 18th, am settled on the Beginner Novice A test and I think 2'6" fences. My other option is 2'0" fences, horse will trot over and/or through. I'll confirm with T. at the jump clinic tomorrow, and then fill out my paperwork and check. Trailer also came back certified sound, so we will hopefully start to get out and do some trail riding (turkey farm!!) and cross country schools over the next few weeks.