Friday, June 29, 2012

Galloping Practice

I have been pondering my XC run at Groton House Farm, and asked J - who had a good vantage point for a large-ish sweep of my run - whether I had been going too slowly, or whether the person following me was going too quickly.

She confirmed that I need to add quite a bit more pace to get around, and also added that in order to get and keep that pace I'd need to get up and off his back more. Which I knew, so here's confirmation that it's my next focus.

T. did chip in that going clean comes first, then you add pace, but we seem to be more or less okay with that part (pending exposure & experience, of course), so I was ready to work on pushing him in the gallop last night.

I looped my stirrups (note to self: stop being lazy and punch more holes, already) and we headed off out back. He warmed up a bit sticky at the walk and trot, but was clearly pleased to be out of a ring. Once I had him moving out at the trot, we added in a bit of light cantering around one of the jump fields with me off his back, asking for forward but not reaching for much more than that. I worked hard on keeping my leg on, staying connected, and occasionally tapping him with the crop when he backed off.

Then we added in some more speed, and I worked on not just maintaining but urging him forward from my galloping position. I had a few heart-in-throat moments, which proves to me that a) his steering, especially left, is still not entirely confirmed and b) I still have some getting over myself to do in regards to riding at speed. Particularly downhill.

We weren't out there terribly long, but we were out long enough for my calves and thigh to start to burn, and when I pushed through that, we got to some really good stuff. He was really reaching for the bit and using himself better, picking up speed but without going completely unbalanced. We had a moment or two turning left, and I chose to sit down on him and bring him to a canter in some circles to get him off my left leg and more supple that direction, then sent him forward again.

(It's another symptom of our age-old differences between right and left. Tracking left, I get more power and straightness, but he is supple as a brick wall. Tracking right, he is wiggly and supple all over the place, but when I try to add in power and straightness, he drops out from underneath me. We cycle between those two sides every few weeks or months.)

We finished with a good hand gallop up and down the track, then walked back and had one last gallop up the track, and he was getting both a little tired and a little fresh. There was a moment when he put a foot a teensy bit wrong, and bobbled, and was so mad that he launched himself out of it without any urging from me, digging in for another gear and absolutely flying. When we reached the top of the track it took me several strides to bring him back and he practically pranced along the trail to cool out, he was so pleased with life.

The real lesson here is that he does have that gear in him, and when I can find it, he likes it. Now we have to be able to access it sooner and more consistently. Not only that, but earlier - we're not going to have the time or energy for that much running around in order to get there at a show. Part of it is definitely a fitness question, so that's the first we'll address, and hopefully in keeping up these sessions I'll unlock that gallop earlier.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Groton House Summer Classic Recap

Short version: GOOD BOY!

Long version: show prep was delayed on Saturday due to the failure of our apartment's central air mid-day Friday. I baked up a storm while the repairman cleaned the compressor to rid it of all its pollen build-up. I finally got to the barn around 3:30 and commenced prep, which was actually fairly straightforward. I've got a packing rhythm down now, and for the first time this season felt confident in everything I'd packed and gotten done. My prep ride was not good, and in retrospect should've been longer - I never quite got him through and connected, but we were in the outdoor and he was pissed about having to work harder in the deeper footing. I gave him an hour-long bath with both shampoo AND conditioner, and he looked fantastic - I even scrubbed his blaze and Quicksilver'd his hind sock to really bring out the white. He was miserable and furious the whole time, but that's pretty standard for baths.

Sunday morning we got off just a few minutes late, but it turned out I hadn't allotted quite enough time for tacking up and getting him ready by myself - as everyone else bolted for the Beginner Novice course walk and I didn't even have time to snag an Elementary kid. It was probably my fastest and most efficient show tacking up ever, and failed on two counts: his braids and my white breeches, neither of which was really presentable. I'm going to have to start braiding him for lessons to get practice back, and to figure out how to secure the running braid, especially the tail end - it's been pulling out mid-warmup and looking awful.

Warmup was good, not great. It had some nice moments and was in a good place near the end. We needed a bit more suppleness than we ever got. When we trotted around the ring prior to starting he gave bug-eyes to the judge's house, but we turned and trotted back the other way and he was already over it. We started our test, made the turn at C, then turned to go across the diagonal - and got rung out.

I was completely baffled, and walked back to the judge. "You're meant to cross the ring directly at B," the judge said. I stared at her, and said "I thought it was a diagonal?" and my brain completely melted down, thinking oh God, if I've memorized this test completely wrong, and how am I going to ride all my diagonals as direct lines, and she said, "You're riding B, right?" and I said, "Yes, B. But I really thought it was a diagonal." The judge paused and said, "Novice B, right?" and I felt a huge wave of relief. "No, Beginner Novice B."

Now that we were on the same page, I circled off the long side, back down the center line, and started my test over. I'd lost some connection and rhythm, though, and was flustered, and on top of never quite hitting my stride in the warmup meant it was not the best test I've ever ridden. It did have some nice moments: I was really pleased with my accuracy, making a point to distinguish circles from corners, nailing my diagonal departures and arrivals, and really letting him shine on those diagonals. The left canter was a dud - flubbed the lead, unusual for us, and then meandered down the long side - but the right canter felt good. The final centerline and halt was good.

After the dressage test we had some downtime, as I untacked him, organized jumping equipment, and put him back on the trailer. I settled arrangements to meet my stand-in coach for the day - Denise from my XC lesson last week, as my times didn't work out to make the general Flatlands one - and then even had a few minutes to chat with people and relax.

Then we went on the XC course walk and my semblance of calm went up like a puff of smoke. It was a solid Beginner Novice course - Denise said that King Oak in the fall will be comparable or even perhaps a bit easier. It was still a good move-up course but this was a big leap of faith I was taking, transitioning up to BN so quickly. Tris and I have a long, solid partnership, we've been working to expose ourselves and get off property and stay focused, but this was still not a decision based entirely on safe, solid, reliable mileage.

I brought my camera, but was too busy suppressing my gag reflex to take pictures, and there are no pictures online that I can find, so a verbal description will have to suffice. First jump was a nice, inviting big log uphill, and then a turn left to a bit of an airy three-log pyramid on a fenceline, with a bit of a downhill on the landing. Curve left over a little barn-like coop, and then land and turn right and a bit of a run across the field to what I think was a maxed-out rolltop. This was the first jump of any size and it was the one that I was most worried about. Land from the rolltop and enter the woods, then go left through a gate and over a tiny little ditch. Continue along a trail through the woods, turn a hard right and go down a bit of a steep, rocky, hill, at the bottom of which a sharp left loop and over an open log fence of some size - basically another log coop with zigzag logs across the front. Come out into the back field for an option: big, almost Novice-sized flat-topped coop or a smaller adjacent one. Curve right uphill for a cute little brush fence, and then downhill again for a solid red coop. Through the woods, curving left, and out of the woods off a small drop with a downhill away back into the field, then a hard right back into the woods, up and out the other side and turn left over two related fences, both hanging logs - I believe four or five strides between. Through a bit of a tree line, and down a steep hill into the water complex, which is gorgeous, but we were only doing a mandatory crossing. Cut left after the water to come up around a hill to the right, for a little red bench, then left over a rock pile topped with a log, then uphill over a cabin for the final fence.

It was a solid course. I'm not sure what I expected, but it got in my head in a pretty good way. I walked from that to the stadium course, which was also solid: fairly straightforward lines, but a couple of full-on BN airy oxers. That did not help the knots in my stomach.

I tacked up and got him ready with the help of one of the barn grooms for the day, and we walked up to the stadium warmup, where we stood quietly in the shade with Tristan's nose on an XC jump that wasn't on the course. He was near to falling asleep, and I talked to T. for a few minutes, asking him if he had any particular advice for Tristan for the XC course ("Point him at the jumps. Keep your leg on."). Then it was time for us to put in a few jumps, and oh, did I ever eat the first few. Leaned, didn't keep my leg on, stared down the jump like it was going to eat me - a tiny little crossrail, mind. T. got after me, and cleared it up, and we had a couple of nice jumps over an oxer, and then waited again. I was more or less completely numb waiting, and then went into the ring, and saluted the judge, and picked up the canter and...locked on the first jump. WHEW.

I think it was one of the best stadium rounds I've ever ridden. It flowed, I got my distances, and I was so determined to get up and over everything that I had plenty of leg. We had a small bobble coming to the second-to-last when we didn't land with the right lead and we had a stride or two of fight about picking up the correct lead, but we nailed it, and then I was so relieved to be coming toward the last jump that the distance wasn't great, but we did it.

We walked down to XC, and we had a bit of delay so they could keep the numbers of people on the course down, and then they told us to go. I composed myself a bit, and pushed him forward into a trot. We were a bit lacking in impulsion for the first fence - which Denise had suggested we trot, but we landed and we were away. My nervousness translated nicely into laser focus, and there was nothing in my head but forward, forward, forward, and steering. There were a couple moments when his shoulders drifted, but I got them back immediately. Our direction on the course walk had been to land going away, much like our XC school, and we accomplished that on a few fences. There were a few moments when I trotted him - through the gate and over the ditch (which he jumped BEAUTIFULLY, clean and economic and landed cantering), down a few of the trickier hills, over one jump Denise had suggested we trot as it came after one of those hard downhills and picking up the canter on a tight turn would've stretched our balance.

We had a few rough spots; the big red coop going into the woods came right after a dirt road. I had thought that Tris might jump the road, actually, and was urging him forward, but he skittered a bit at it - not a stop or spook, more like a moment of uncertainty that there was new footing underneath his feet - which threw us off our approach, and though I had urged him up and forward again he knocked the jump hard with his front legs. He recovered quickly on the landing, though, and didn't seem too stung, so we kept going. When we emerged up the hill, we were called off by the jump judge to be overtaken - I didn't think I'd been going too slowly, but so it goes. Then there was a fall on course, so we were a little while in re-starting. I didn't give him a great approach to the fence, plus he was tiring, and that first fence was a little awkward. I urged him forward for the second, and he cleared it easily.

We trotted down the hill to the water and he went bug-eyed on the approach, but I kicked and kicked and kept him pointed at it, and eventually we trotted in, went back to a walk briefly in the water, and I praised him to the skies and then picked up the trot again out and the canter again going up the hill. The last few jumps were great, and then - since I had jumped the right-hand side of the last fence - there was a split second when I wrestled control of his shoulders back to stay pointed between the finish flag.

I was really, really proud of him, and could not have asked for a better go of his first full Beginner Novice course. He was pretty tired, just stood to be untacked and sponged off, but his breathing came back down quickly, and after he was sponged a few times my father took him for a bit of a walk around the parking lot. When he came back he was completely cooled off, and I put him on the trailer to hang out and rest in the shade, and made much of him.

The rest of the day was pretty relaxing - I spent some time watching other warmups, with friends, and watching the scores go up. Our dressage score of 37.6 had us tied for seventh place after dressage, but after the jumping phases we moved up to third. I hadn't expected to finish in the ribbons; I was aiming for finishing on our dressage score. I was pleasantly surprised and quite proud of Tris. The only confusing spot of the day was when I looked at my dressage test - and we'd received a four on our free walk. His free walk is usually his shining gait, and I had thought ours was pretty good that day. Ah well.

Home, where I turned him out in his pasture for a long drink and a roll, rubbed him all over with liniment, and gave him a gram of bute with dinner. Back to work on Tuesday for a flat lesson; our next show is a dressage schooling event on July 8.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lesson Notes: Consistency and Following Aids

So I'll be honest: I was more than a little nervous about Tuesday night's lesson. Though all signs pointed to Tristan recovering completely from whacking his hoof on Saturday, and I felt that I'd acted appropriately in treating it, even his brief bout of unsoundness from the abscess has me paranoid.

He came out his usual self, sticky and fussy in the warmup but giving me good moments, and once he settled in we were right back where we had been. I focused on leg yields in the warmup, asking him to step over without rushing, without blowing through the outside rein, and with bend. It took some time, but after a few good leg yields our overall suppleness increased.

Our focus for the lesson was on two-way communication and consistency, maintaining a length of rein that allowed me to feel his mouth constantly and not giving quite so much in reward. T. talked about how the getting there aids are different from the maintenance aids. I need to be focusing more on the latter now. Instead of constantly picking up and dropping the connection, I need to find the bridge to keep the connection all the time.

There were some really, really nice stretches in there, when I felt that we were completely and totally engaged with each other, my aids were spot-on and instantaneous, my core was fully engaged, and he was working with me instead of evading or fighting. There were also some uglier moments. The canter might - maybe - be finally coming along, creeping slowly toward balance and self-carriage.

We also ran our test for Sunday, Beginner Novice B, aka "when in doubt, cross the diagonal." Ugh. I didn't like it any better riding it than I had reading it, but there are some nice moments in there for us. The canter transitions at X, however, do not help at ALL. T. liked it overall and praised my accuracy, but my rhythm was off. Our half-turn to the final halt was great, but I blew it by rushing the halt, which meant we overshot G and he landed crooked.

Tonight, we'll work a bit in the back fields with his new bell boots, I'll get started on packing/prepping the trailer, and we should be good to go for Sunday. We go dressage at 8:06 (second ride of the whole day), stadium at 10:54, and cross-country at 11:04.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Scarlet Hill Photos & Videos

One of the benefits of having M. "squiring" (his word; apparently grooming sounds boring) was that I got to hand him a camera and document the XC school. There are only a few photos after the fall, alas, because he kind of freaked out, but so it goes.

First up, two videos. The first was our first attempt at going forward after a jump, which resulted in the little bucks there. The second was our second try, with me keeping his head up and really sending him forward. I like the second one better, for obvious reasons!


Second, a few photos. I'll post them in order with my thoughts.

 Warming up, with a little bit of a run.

 I like our distance. I do not like my upper body, or my release. My crappy release will become a theme.

So the goal was, after landing off that jump, to get a good head of steam up, make a wide turn, and head back over the same jump. In this picture you can see my biggest and most constant challenge galloping him: keeping him straight, especially through his shoulders.

 Better, more forward jump! Even worse release and upper body.

Better distance, good forward jump, a bit of height...holy crap my release sucked.

And then, the jump that undid us. You can see two things here: how I was angled and off-center, and the slight shift in Tristan's body that is him thwacking his RF. (Actually, three things: I'm leaning, which is why I'm about to eat grass.)

So then we rebuilt our confidence with this little jump, over which he is much scopier and centered and I am not leaning quite as much.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

95% Perfect: Cross-Country Schooling at Scarlet Hill Farm

With Tristan completely sound for a dressage ride on Friday night, we went up to our scheduled lesson at Scarlet Hill Farm on Saturday. The trip went well, and we got there with plenty of time to tack up and walk around a bit.

We started the lesson with a bit of trotting and cantering around, and then some small and medium-sized jumps singly. Denise pinpointed our problem almost immediately: Tristan tends to land from cross-country jumps and think he's done, often coming back to a trot. Part of it is his laziness, and part of it is my fault, leftover from his grab-the-bit-and-run days. In order to build a rhythm out on course, though, and to really work on his galloping, we'll need to figure out how to land, kick it up a gear, and then come back for the approach to the next fence, all strung together and repeated.

So our task for the first 20 minutes was to get a good, forward approach, land, and gallop off straight. I was to make a really big, exciting deal out of going forward, straight. We're still dealing a bit with his tendency to fling his shoulders every which way as an evasion. As Denise put it, if he's going sideways, he's not going forward.

For the first jump with this strategy, I cantered him up a hill, really zeroed in on the jump, landed, and immediately cheered him on forward - so he threw a party on the landing, as they say, dropping his nose and throwing in a few bucks out of excitement. He's only done that a handful of times, and I couldn't stop laughing. He's still Tristan, so we're talking mostly speed bump bucks that he stopped as soon as I pulled him up. We tried it once again, and this time I kept his head up and urged him forward, and he found his galloping gear a few strides out. The idea is that teaching him to land and go forward will also help improve our approach, and improve his scope as a consequence.

We then put together a few jumps, in some nice big loops of the field, and I was happy with everything except one piece of my own riding. I didn't find as many places as I wanted to get off his back, for a few reasons. One, I'm not in the kind of shape I want to be in, and didn't feel like I could both balance and ride effectively. Two, related, when I got off his back I didn't have the kind of connection that I wanted in order to keep him forward; dropping back into the saddle helped me bring him forward and up - and then put me in the right place to gather him again for the fence.

Then we strung together six jumps in a row, in a big wide circuit. The first three went beautifully, and after that we had a bit of a downhill run. He was feeling a bit fresh, and a bit off-balance, and at the foot of the hill Denise had given me the choice between a BN-sized jump that was a bit spooky, versus a jump that she thought was 2'9" or 2'11" - definitely Novice-sized - but rampier and much more straightforward. When I looked at it from up the hill, it also looked like the line would be easier, the turn wider and flatter.

However, I hadn't anticipated being off balance from down the hill, and I both backed him off a little too much - feeling too fast, though I really wasn't, and also a bit in my head, as it was bigger than anything we'd jumped yet - and didn't get my line, angling him a bit to the right and not really channeling him straight over.

We still would've been fine save for one final thing: he dropped his right front leg ever-so-slightly and caught his hoof hard on the 4x4 on the top of the jump. Again, still fine, except this was the foot that had just abscessed, and I'm sure dinging it that hard stung like hell. He landed, went OW, and stumbled hard - never falling! - but just enough for me to be thrown forward on his neck. I had a moment or two of trying to save it, and then decided to bail, rolling over his shoulder and landing shoulder-hip-head. I completed the roll and went straight to my feet, to see him hopping around and not even wanting to put the RF on the ground.

I had a moment of sheer panic and checked over the leg - no hair missing, no scuff on the boot at all, and then I saw a scrape on his hoof. Denise made it down the hill, and we stood him for just a second, then walked him about, and then I got on and walked and trotted him for a second. It had clearly stung like hell, but wasn't any kind of permanent problem. We then proceeded to walk and trot a few times over the smaller barrel fence, the "spooky" one (he didn't care) in beautiful form, and then we went up to play in the water, just in case his foot did start to ache again.

He did GREAT at the water, everything I could have hoped for - went right in, trotted around, trotted in and out. Then we put together another small course that involved jumping out of the water over a small long, looping around a few small jumps, and dropping back into the water over the same (barely 12") log - which he's never done before.

Again - GREAT - and not only that but he jumped out of and dropped into the water SO WELL. Like a pro. Set himself up for it, didn't launch, didn't hesitate, slowed down but only a hair, and I was so stinking proud of him. Unfortunately after that loop his foot really was achey - sound at the walk and trot, but clearly not quite up to galloping and jumping. I asked if we could pop him over a ditch while we were there (he has never indicated any signs of being ditchy, but I wanted to cover my bases) and we did so.

As Denise pointed out, he was jumping much better and more cleanly after whacking his foot. She said wryly that it's a tough lesson, but sometimes they need a bit of a wake up like that. He even got close to cracking his back and getting scopey over a little red house jump. It's really too bad that he started getting sore again, because he was starting to go really well, but I got everything I wanted out of the day, and we'll be back next month for more.

He stood quietly to get untacked and bathed, and I rubbed liniment all over, including his RF hoof and sole, figuring why not? When we got back to the barn, I settled him in and soaked his RF again to get some of the sting out, then gave him bute and asked the morning feeder to give him more. That, plus some rest, should put him right as rain.

In the meantime, I am off to Dover to get myself a new helmet (it was due anyway, 3+ years old and dropped a few times) and him some bell boots to go cross-country in from now on...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Declaring Victory

Tristan walked and trotted sound on the longe line on Tuesday night, and when I examined his foot, there was no pus at all. We'd been going back and forth on whether the pus was some sort of weird moist environment reaction to the meds in the poultice, or whether it was drainage. The poultice had dried thoroughly and stayed stuck to the bottom of his foot during Tuesday, even though he lost the rest of the boot, and so created a mostly-sealed environment. No pus inside that means I am confident that it was drainage after all.

Wednesday night I rode, and while he felt all sorts of stiff and hinky, he also felt even in the way he struck the ground, which T. confirmed, through the walk, trot, and canter. It makes sense that after a week off and on stall rest he wouldn't feel great. I stayed on long enough to confirm to myself that a) he wasn't sore in his feet at all and b) his whole-body issues were related to the stall rest, and I could feel how to work through them. I didn't want to push him too far and make him sore after being still for so long. I soaked his RF one last time, since I was there anyway, and took his "DO NOT TURN OUT" note off his door.

C. checked in on him last night to clean out that foot, and reported that while he was sick of having his feet messed with, he looked good otherwise. I'll go down tonight and focus on stretching and straightening and working him through and getting him ready to go XC tomorrow.

Not an ideal place for a lesson - mentally or physically - but I feel good about his soundness, and I will present our challenges to the trainer before we begin. If he shows signs of soreness or it's not going well, we'll pull up. I do hope we'll be able to school productively, though, as this is our confirmation/confidence-booster before going BN at the Groton House Summer Classic next weekend.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sound (ish) again?

After five days of soaking and poulticing, last night I put Tristan on the longe line and he looked sound at the walk and trot - a bit fresh, even. I soaked and poulticed one last time, and left instructions to keep him in today.

Tonight, I'll tack him up and see how he feels under saddle. I've also put a call in to the vet to clarify. He never had what I would call significant discharge from an abscess; he had white pus in the cleft to the left of his frog, but I'm not sure if it was from an abscess or some goo from the poultice.

Here's the real complication: the farrier looked at him on Monday, and his opinion is that Tris is just all-around footsore up front. He said he couldn't find any particularly reactive spot on the hoof that would indicate abscess, and believes Tris should go in front shoes.

I am really reluctant to do that, for a variety of reasons. He's never worn shoes before, save for the six week experiment with bar shoes before we turned him out. He's certainly worked more often and for longer than he is working at this point in his life, though not at the level of difficulty/athleticism that he is getting to now. The vet both a) pinpointed problems to the RF and b) did a set of radiographs to check sole depth, and was happy with that sole depth. Last but not least, I can either afford to shoe him or to event him this summer. There are not funds for both. If I don't event him, I don't need to shoe him. If I event him, I can't afford to shoe him. It's a nasty little Catch-22.

In the meantime, we'll see. If he's sound to ride tonight, I'll soak again, and check on Friday night. I'll check in with the vet and see what she says about the footsore/"good depth of sole" debate. I need this XC school on Saturday as a last run before Groton House, but if he's not sound - he's not sound, that's that.

Fingers crossed.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Baby's First Abscess

So...I haven't yet managed the rest of the Hitching Post writeup. Life intervened. This week, life intervened in the form of Tristan coming out of the stall for his Tuesday night lesson and, within a few seconds of walk work, getting very, very lame. I have never ridden a horse that head-bobbingly lame. So cue panic attack on my part.

I was pretty sure I'd felt a bit of heat and swelling in his right hind, and T. said he thought RH or LF, so we started cold hosing the RH. Then we added soaking. Then I hit my wall and called the vet out for Thursday afternoon - I was flying to California for a wedding on Friday morning and needed more certainty before I left.

The vet flexed him all four around, and saw him lame on his right front. Then she determined that he was very very sore to hoof testers, and he was very noticeably off on the longe line, and suggested radiographs of both fronts just to make sure, and to check his sole thickness on the RF.

Both front feet looked ok on the screens, and she palpated his RF fetlock to kingdom come. Everything combined pointed to an abscess in the RF, so his protocol was soaking, poulticing, bute, and stall rest.

I've never soaked or poulticed a horse before, so that was new. He'd stood ok for his soaking of the RH, but was a holy terror for the first soak of his RF - soaked me, the barn aisle, and basically everything but his foot for the first 10 minutes. He was much better for his second soaking, and was fine for the poultice.

Then I flew to California, and had a series of small breakdowns, one of which ended in messy tears, about abandoning him, especially after I ran into some obstacles nailing down a Friday night helper. Luckily, we have a lot of very, very good people at the barn who are helping take care of him. I'm still out in California today, but flying back Monday night and get to finally help take care of him myself.

I'm helping a friend with her toddler on this trip, and exhausted, and my coping skills are not good after the roller coaster week, so of course I'm having huge anxiety problems about my responsibility or lack thereof as a horse owner, about how he's in pain and I'm not there to help him, and until he actually starts draining I'll be nervous that it isn't really an abscess. I'm also worried about our scheduled XC school coming up next Saturday - that was supposed to be our prep run to go BN at Groton House. Next Tuesday is my withdraw-without-penalty date for Groton House, so I have to decide whether to chance it.

Oh, and the vet bill? Let's not speak of that. There goes the beginnings of my savings for a new car.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hitching Post Recap: Dressage

...and then life intervened, whew. I haven't even turned on my home computer since Monday, much less been able to work from it.

Back on track. Tristan woke up on Saturday morning disinclined to participate in the day's activities. He paced his stall, followed me around while I cleaned it around him, had hoovered up his grain but was fussing too much to really eat more hay after that. I cleaned his stall as best I could - he'd tracked hay a fair bit, next time I'll know and bring a hay net - and put him on the trailer. We got to the grounds about 6:50. My goal was to get on by 7:30.

Thank goodness I had some help getting him ready, because he would. not. stand. still. He's typically a little fidgety in new places to be tacked up, but this went beyond the pale. He was flinging everyone who hung onto him every which way he could. Eventually we got tack on him, but it took three times as long to do a running braid in his mane - and unfortunately it looked terrible - because I couldn't get a grip with his flinging about.

He was a hot ticket in his warmup too, and I fell into my typically nasty trick not wanting to put leg on because he was so reactive. Please understand that Tristan's reactive is an order of magnitude smaller than most horses; I prefer him that way. He is spooky and light so rarely that it unnerves me when he is. I can out-stubborn my horse all day long, but as soon as he gets reactive, I feel like I'm riding a horse of spun glass and hesitate to apply firm aids.

Luckily, T. talked us through it, and pointed out that when I actually put my leg on, firmed my reins, and rode him, he was going nicely. If I'd had another 15 minutes I might've really settled us in, but the warmup was not terribly productive. We moved down to the secondary warmup and did some trotting. I opted out of cantering down there to avoid problems with the little kids on ponies without steering.

I felt good about him once he was in the ring, though, and overall, was happy with my test. He was responsive and mostly willing. The first left canter circle was terrible; sort of a 15 meter egg shape instead of a proper circle. After the free walk, though, I felt great about everything. I knew we'd nailed the free walk, which is one of Tristan's favorite things, and I felt great about the right trot circle and then, bless him, he gave me an right lead bang on cue. My halt wavered a bit but I waited until he'd settled and gave a full, proper, measured salute.

(Pet peeve: riders who slide into a halt and nod and fling their hand out to the side in .25 seconds while their horse is still jigging. I halt, confirm he's settled, put down my hand, half count, put down my head, half count, and then bring both back slowly. Then I look at the judge, then I drop the reins.)

The judge said it was a really nice test, and T. said afterwards it was really quite pleasant. He has said in days since that Tris wasn't carrying any tension at all in his hind legs, and really produced a nice, rhythmical test, which was great news. Though I didn't know it at the time, we scored a 32, with an 8 for the free walk and, astoundingly, an 8 for gaits. Thanks to my hare-brained wavering during the halt, we got a 5 for that - apparently I managed to completely miss X.

One of the barn moms was kind enough to email me a few days later and say that she'd videod the second half of Tristan's test, so here it is for posterity. It starts with that lovely free walk.