Monday, May 28, 2012

Hitching Post Recap: Friday Journey

Historically, I am a white-knuckle hauler. I have an overactive imagination, a slightly cranky pony, and an older rig. Add those things up and usually the most stressful part of going anywhere for me is the ride there.

I spent last week getting ready for the trip. Water was done by Tuesday; I wrote and re-wrote a shopping list for the tack store to replenish supplies; I wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote an overall packing list and a tight schedule for Friday morning.

Mostly, all went well. I was out late Thursday night finishing packing and cleaning tack, but it all got done, and I was in bed by 12:30.

Alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. on Friday and I was on the road a little before 7:00, where I hit tons of traffic, which put me about 30 minutes behind my carefully mapped schedule, which was where I stayed for the rest of the morning, alas. Friday's activities included a short trail ride, a bath for Tris, then a run out to pick up shavings, a new pitchfork, and on impulse buy, a broom just for the trailer. Total: $50 (!?!?). Then a swing by the grocery store for some food and ice for the cooler, then back to the barn, where I probably could have gotten on the road by 10:45, only 15 minutes behind schedule, but the rest of the barn's trailers were waiting to all go together, so I figured I'd join the caravan.

Granted, I left the caravan behind almost immediately; as it turned out, they all took a totally different highway route. I was relying on my old standby college route, 95 to 93 to 89, which went just fine. Getting off the highway to the farm was a bit strenuous, as at one point I missed a turn, pissed off the GPS, and had to cross a river on a single-track industrial bridge that looked like its underpinnings had all been washed out by Hurricane Irene and then replaced with potholes and occasionally some gravel. So that was less than fun.

We still arrived at Hitching Post a good 15 minutes before everyone else, though, and I set out riding things while waiting for everyone else. When they arrived, we all tacked up and rode together in the ring to loosen the horses up and get them used to the environment. It was also a little mini warmup ring experience, complete with choking dust clouds. Tris actually felt great, so we only worked for about 25 minutes or so to keep his brain in his head and keep him loose, then hacked out for a bit, down to the stadium ring and put his nose on a jump or two that were not part of our course but served to familiarize him again with the idea of XC jumps.

I put him back on the trailer and we walked the XC course. I took photos, which helped my nerves later when I had a bit of trouble falling asleep - I reviewed the course on my camera a few times and talked myself through a course walk. I'll post them when I recap XC. It was a cute little course, not a gimme, with some nice questions and a water crossing. I started mentally preparing myself for a refusal at the water crossing, but also walked my line a few times and focused hard on thinking about keeping him straight and moving.

We also walked the stadium course, which was a little odd, a little tricky, with lots of different combinations to it. Then we headed over to the farm where we'd stable overnight, which was an utterly charming little farm with a 165 year old barn and gorgeous pastures. Tris settled in immediately, and I threw him hay and filled his water; he ate and drank normally and loved his end stall - he could hang his head over the door and look outside or watch what the goings-on in the aisle. I groomed him for a while and squared away my truck while everyone else groomed and braided.

We all went out to dinner together, which was really nice, and then when we came back we topped everyone's water and I threw Tris some more hay to keep him content overnight. He drank quite a bit of water at the farm, which was fantastic; he's usually not a good drinker while away from home. I also picked out his stall to make it easier for myself the next morning.

It was really nice being so close to him overnight; I could wander back over in my pajamas and give him a kiss goodnight, then tuck myself into the backseat of the truck and review my course for the next day. I was out cold by 10:30, which was really  nice.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lesson Notes: Rhythm and Consistency

I've known for some time now that Tristan's best dressage scores would come not from flashy movement, or superior training but from consistency and accuracy.

Last night, we took some great big steps toward achieving a consistent forward rhythm throughout our ride. I started out focusing hard on keeping him relaxed through his back right from the first step, and slowly, slowly ramped up his walk work. In all, we had easily 20 minutes of walk work in which I gradually asked him for more, took in more rein, and stepped him through his hind end more.

That paid off almost immediately in the trot. As T. commented, Tris has definitely been flashier and moved better, but he's never maintained such a solid commitment to the bridle from his hind end throughout. He had good activity and maintained a sense of forward. I was trying to keep two things in mind for my leg: one, not to nag, but instead to be a constant presence and to make individual leg action purposeful and quick; two, to anticipate his ducking out moments and remind him that he had to maintain, not back off, when asked for more bend and more roundness.

The payoff were a dozen or so strides at a time, in a few separate instances, in which all of a sudden the activity and spring and swing in his hind end increased exponentially. I was a bit caught by surprise, as I think he was: all of a sudden there was a lot more to deal with. I tried to mostly stay out of his way, keeping the reins very light and keeping my leg on while not asking him to do any more than what he was doing.

We ran through our test - Beginner Novice A - for Hitching Post this weekend, and T.'s only criticism was that I'd botched some of my figures, and made roundish squares instead of proper circles.

After the ride, I filled up the water buckets for my trailer and spent some time organizing my new travel trunk. Tonight, I have a shopping list at Dover, I'll organize my trip paperwork, and create a final packing/schedule list, and tomorrow, we'll have a conditioning ride and I'll finish prepping my trailer.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Conditioning Miles

So here's sad: I've spent about the last day and a half wondering why my calves are a bit sore.

Then I remembered that I spent about an hour in the half in the saddle on Saturday. Oh yeah...

Really good ride overall. Nothing fancy. Friday night we went for a long hack, and Saturday we did conditioning sets. Schedule went something like this:

20 minutes walk
10 minutes trot
5 minutes walk
10 minutes trot
5 minutes walk
10 minutes trot
5 minutes walk
3 minutes canter
5 minutes walk
3 minutes canter
cool out w/ trail walk

I was pleased with both his willingness and his fitness. I'm enjoying that point about midway through the second trot set when he clicks in and settles down to business and starts to tick right along. By the time we picked up our third trot set he was really enjoying himself, stretching into the reins and giving a nice big strided gait.

This week, we prep for our first overnight show, at Hitching Post Farm in Vermont. I'm getting a bit nervous. We're entered at Grasshopper (tiny baby jumps) so the show itself shouldn't be particularly stressful, but I am not a good traveler with horses. I worry, constantly, even more so when it's my own horse. I worry about packing, and about hauling, and about settling in, and on and on. I'm working on packing lists and timetables and have emailed everyone to confirm everything, but I won't be settled until Tris is home in his own stall on Saturday night.

If all goes well, we're due to move up to a schooling show at Beginner Novice in late June, after a few cross-country schools and dressage tests.