Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ready Or Not.

The last two rides I've had on Suzie I wanted to try some different things and how she responds to them. First and foremost, I ditched the new bit I had just bought and returned back to our old one. No sense in trying to get her going well in that when she went perfectly fine in the one I currently have - especially not before a show. Perhaps next year we'll use the new bit more, but for now we will stick to what we know and what is comfortable.

One of the rides I did so bareback, which I cannot say was smart, but it was productive nonetheless. Unfortunately, the riding arena was rented out during the weekend so I had to school in the back pasture which isn't very big, nor does it give us a lot of room. I made do with what we had and worked on more of our Reining exercises. I also got a really nice slow lope from both directions - one I hope to emulate in the show.

We worked a bit more on the piecing together the spins and even worked on some roll backs (from the jog). She is getting it and is becoming more and more consistent which is great. I did notice that after we did some loping she was fired up a bit in the contact for jogging, but I made it work and really pushed her for some quality.

On Sunday, I opted for more of a "Western Dressage" day than anything else and I really hammered down into our transitions, getting a nice jog and "frame". I wanted her to bend through the circles and really settle into a quality jog. The problem was that the pasture is bumpy and is not flat, so there are small includes where she would reach her head up to climb up the incline. So, it wasn't ideal for being consistent.

But despite having to work in a cramped "arena" with less than desirable terrain, Suzie and I prevailed after we had a few arguments over our walk-jog transitions. Mare wanted to throw her head up before going into the transition and fought with me as I applied rein and leg and continued to push her forwards.

After we had decent walk-jog transitions, I moved to jog-lope and finished off with some rollbacks at the lope down the long side of the pasture. She did well and although she doesn't necessarily pivot in them, she does as well as she can.

And lastnight I popped up on the mare and we did some Dressage exercises and ran through the pattern again for Reining. Unfortunately, we had a pretty shitty pattern because Suzie decided to porpoise her head into my lap and act like a gymkhana horse. So I went back to schooling her instead of fighting and fighting and she settled a bit... but not much. We ran through it twice and our fast lope circles were just a huge fight - she was not connected through the bridle, was hollow, and just braced against me.

...And then it dawned on me.

She knew the pattern.

So, I had to go to the other end of the arena and threw the whole pattern out the window. I had to mix it up and "surprise" her so she wouldn't know what was coming next. This really seemed to work well and she responded MUCH better. It still wasn't 100%, but I found that our slow lopes are really coming together so I was pretty happy with that. I just have to remember that fast lopes don't have to be gallops like the pros - I can just simply do an English canter and call it a day.

The Takeaway Notes:

- Remain calm and relaxed; it really helped me when I was struggling for a good walk-jog transition. Our jog-lope transitions came out much better because I was able to relax and focus.

- Lift the reins and apply leg during the walk-trot transition, as well as the jog-lope transition. Apply the rein and direct her INTO it with my legs.

- When cueing for the lope, remember to SIT and engage the outside rein when asking.

- Remember to pause after the maneuvers in reining.

- Don't pretend to be a pro Reiner when we ain't one. The fast lopes do not have to be gallops.

And with that, the horse trailer is packed and we head out this afternoon for the BVX.  It's an accurate guess that you guys probably won't hear from me until Monday unless you follow my Instagram account. Please send us good vibes for a positive and fun show experience!

Monday, August 24, 2015

'Cause Every Western Horse Needs...

I've mentioned before (countless times I'm certain) that Suzie is not an English horse.

I repeat:


But yet, the inner tack-hoe in me can't seem to pass up a good deal.

The tack-hoe in me makes excuses and what benefits I'll reap in purchasing said object.


Bates Innova.

In roughly ten to fourteen days these beast of a saddle will be joining my collection simply for the fact I cannot contain myself. Just start calling Suzie, "Valegra".

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Big and Fast, Slow and Small

Tuesday night the red-mare and I set forth to the riding ring to work on some lateral and dressagey work (dressagey is a word, right?). We hadn't schooled in the ring for about two weeks, so I wasn't certain how productive the ride itself would be.

She has a pretty good amount of reach for such a short horse.
Unfortunately, we didn't have the best schooling session and had to work through a lot of resistance issues (namely due to the new bit I was trying out). Suzie felt very, very fresh which in itself was a good thing, but also a hindrance during the times I was trying to get some good lateral work in. At first, I attempted to focus on Dressage work - diagonals, leg yields, 20m circles, etc - but the mare would have none of it. She was listening and complying, but she just felt like an electrical cable... ready to spark at any moment.

We did get some good moments in the Dressage work but she didn't seem like she settled very much. Her steps were quick and short, and she certainly was not reaching over her back. She felt fractious and kept tripping over her own feet. Instead of fighting about it for much longer, I quickly moved into our Reining work.

By this time I noticed Suzie was literally dripping sweat, it was just rolling off of her and down her chest. We had hardly done any real difficult work and it wasn't necessarily hot out. The tenseness and resistance just oozed out of her in the form of sweat. I remember when Geronimo used to be like that... any amount of nervousness and he'd just sweat buckets.

This is her "I LOVE RUNNING" face. Ears pricked and a
pep in her step. Yea, I think she likes Reining.
 We ran through the pattern for the show three times and I managed to get some good, calm work from her but I could feel she was still amped up. She was blowing hard, but I don't believe it was because the work was difficult - I simply think she was just over-reacting and being a bundle of hotness. Her walk felt like she would break into a jog at any second and her eyes were wide and expressive. She had that "gawking" look to her, much like a two year old in a new setting would.

I took some video and some of the things that jumped out to me to fix were:

- When making a big and fast circle, I need to have her GO. The lope in the video had little to no difference to her small and slow circle.

- Slow down her small and slow lope. She needs to show a difference in the gait and I need to remember to prepare for this at least 2-3 strides out from the center. Do not wait until 1/2 of the small and slow circle goes by to get it right.

- In the spins, use the outside leg to push her over but be careful that she isn't doing a turn on the haunches. Open the rein and make her pivot.

- Remember to SIT DOWN during the stops and in the rollbacks. Push down into the stirrups and remember to collapse through your spine as if you are deflating. Do not lean back in the saddle - the stop will NOT work.

- Always keep looking around through your turns.

- Pulling back on your inside rein during the lope will not drop her head (idk why I keep doing this!!). Need to ask by lifting the reins UP and bumping with the legs.

See what happens when you actually LIFT your reins and use your seat?
Ah, things start to come together.
I called it a day after playing around with our roll-backs (which suck) and we carried on home for the evening. Mare was hosed down, fed her mash, and turned out. It was a pretty shitty ride, but I suppose those do happen and tomorrow will be another day?

I've also decided to switch back our bits because I figure, why change up a good thing that was working? Especially so close to show time. We have seven more days left before we haul out for the BVX - no pressure.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mini-Pony is Back in Action

After an exceptionally and unintentional hiatus from the cart, I hitched Spud back up on Sunday evening. Initially, I was just going to ground drive him but the BF convinced me that even after nearly 1.5 months off, Spud would be good as gold.

And BF wasn't wrong.

You could tell he was a wee bit rusty, but that was more or less by default. He's green and hasn't been rigged up in a while so he braced a bit and leaned into the halts more than he should've. And in truth, the drive was relatively simple and I didn't ask much of him other than to be steady. He was more than happy to oblige and trekked home like the golden child he is.

Thank goodness, because two days earlier he made me want to send him to the auction (I kid). Basically, I tried to bring him and Suzie back into the barn after grazing in the front for a bit. Spud decided he didn't want to be caught and instead of just staying within the area, the little shit-head decided to gallop down the driveway and onto the road.

Super smart.

He also got a bath a few nights ago 'cause he was filthy.

 It went from me following him quietly and calmly to chasing him so he'd get off the fucking road. Then after I managed to get him back into the backyard I spent the next 25 minutes walking him down because he figured I was going to kill him. I ended up cornering him with the help of Ty and haltered him. He got loose and took off galloping again...

 This is Ty not helping.
Thanks Ty.

I caught him and did some "roundpen" work to defuse him (I don't have a round pen so I just "lunged" and made him switch directions and that). It worked after about 10-15 minutes and I turned him loose afterwards.

So ya.

Thank god he wasn't a shit-face for our "first drive" back into it.

Pony is unamused.
We also re-furbished Spud's carts single tree. BF and I sanded and restained it after filing down some of the edges so the traces could attach in easier. It looks pretty darn dapper, considering. Now we just need some badass wheels to go with the whole set up.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Every Good Play Needs a Game-plan

In terms of recreational sports such as football, soccer, hockey, etc, all athletes have a game-plan set in their heads. They have an idea of how they will face the "play", but at the same time have to be able to alternate on the fly.

I am a large advocate of pre-planning, especially when it comes down to high-stress activities (horse-shows anybody?). Jumping in with both feet is sometimes permitted, but certainly not acceptable in all lights of life. Showing a nervous horse is not exception.

A side-by-side comparison of Suzie at a show VS schooling.
Left: Tense, bracing, wrong lead, counter-bent, high poll.
Right: Loose and relaxed. This is what we want to achieve.
 When I was filling out my entry forms for the BVX, I had to keep Suzie's abilities in mind. Not only her athletic ability, but her mental capacity as well. Sure, at home and in lessons she is sensible, quiet, and even "dead", but at shows she is a whole 'nother demon and I have two significant and important regulations to follow.

1. Make it a good experience for the both of us.

2. Finish on a good note.

That's it.

It doesn't include ribbons and it doesn't include doing our best. Because ya, horses will make you humble and in order to work through the tension issues she has, I need to be open to changing up what I'd normally expect in a schooling ring. That's not to say she can run around the arena bucking and galloping like an idiot because she has a bee up her butt. She still has to try her best and I still have to actively ride.

A friend remarked how funny the difference between Suzie in the warm-up vs Suzie in the show-pen was and her advice? Go to more shows.

So I scanned the show entry form and started to formulate a plan that would allow both of us to "dip our hooves" into the water before dunking our heads. The show is four days long (Thursday - Sunday) and I need to be practical about it as well as not overdo it.

High alert Suzie.
The plan is:

WEDNESDAY - Trailer to the grounds.

THURSDAY - In-hand classes (4)
  •  Halter, AQHA and Open.  
  • Showmanship, AQHA and Open.
FRIDAY - Western Dressage (2)
  • Training Test 1
  • Training Test 3
SATURDAY - Flat Classes (1)
  • Trail, Senior (BCHQ).
SUNDAY - Reining (4)
  • BC Heritage Beginner Reining, Pattern B (Non-Pro)
  • BC Heritage Beginner Reining, Pattern B (Open)
  • Never Won a Buckle 
  • BVX Freestyle, Beginner

Some classes are subject to change (ie. Trail) and I did my best to incorporate classes that would only have us in the arena and avoid the congested Western Pleasure/EQ classes. I also wanted to start out with in-hand classes and work up to busier rings/classes.

I also have another plan in my arsenal, after speaking and brain-storming with a few other show-savvy friends. While I am not a total believer in "drugging" your horse for competition, this may be a good option to help us cross that gap and start to make some real head-way. Omega Alpha's "Chill" is not illegal in competitions and will not make a horse test positive for anything so I don't have to be concerned about that possible outcome. It more or less comes down to moral obligations and personal beliefs.
Omega Alpha "Chill"
This may be our ticket to a "calm and happy" Red-Mare.
I've been a large advocate of not using anything that alters performance and admittedly, have thought less of people who did. But I never dealt with a consistently show-fractious horse and never had to use anything more than Rescue Remedy. So now I'm in a situation where I have to think back to my two goals, readdress and realize that sometimes getting a little bit of 'extra' help to make it a positive experience may be what we need.

Now we have less than two weeks to fine-tune ourselves and tentatively dip our feet in. Anyone got a snorkel just in case?

Monday, August 17, 2015

3 in 1 Breed Show Review

*I've been waiting to see if any photo media would surface, but it seems as though no one managed to snap any photos of myself and Suzie. Additionally, I am still waiting for the placings since my memory is a bit foggy on some of the classes.*

 Three days before the show we buckled down in more English-esque schooling. Suzie was still quite resistant to the contact but after really pushing her forwards and in, she seemed to settle. She was being good, but I could just tell that she wasn't happy about the contact. And I can honestly say that Suz is certainly not an English horse. Not by any stretch.

Bathing the night before.
I wasn't really able to ride for much of the week leading up to the show mostly due to the fact that it was on and off raining. I finally chose to brave the rain three days before the show and started to school more intently on the English way of going.

Evidently, English-style riding is certainly not Suzie's forte and I knew going in to the show that I should have no expectations. I simply wanted to cross off a few of my own personal goals which included:  keeping Suzie calm/cool, and being in control and having a good show experience. There was no real need for placing - I simply wanted to give Suzie a good experience and to see how reactive she'd be in an effort to prepare for the BVX show at the end of August.

The morning of the show, I was skeptical about how Suzie would be, but was hopeful it'd be a successful outing. We arrived about forty minutes before the first class, which was Halter. After neighing and carrying on, about twenty minutes before our class, Suzie decided to start eating her hay. I was pleased she was starting to settle down and quickly ran through some impromptu Showmanship schooling prior to heading into the ring.

Our first class, All Breed Halter (Mares) and I cannot remember how many of us were in the class. I think there was 5 or so? We did not place in this class which I was OK with, since there were some pretty nice horses in there. Suzie was well behaved in the class despite not setting up for inspection that well (although you could truly say it was more pilot error than horse error).

Awful trailer photo.
 Second class was Open Showmanship (Senior) and there was about 12 competitors in there. Suzie and I placed 5th. I was pretty happy with that, considering we had a little blip while weaving through a set of cones where I turned her sharper than necessary and she fell back down to a walk for two footfalls (we were supposed to be trotting).

Next was the AQHA Halter classes - Amateur Aged Mares. Suzie was a bit older than the other horses, I think. Also, we didn't set up very well either. I also found out that with the Registered horse classes we were being judged by two judges, which was a bit weird but a bit neat too. So we placed 3/3 under both judges for this class.

AQHA Showmanship ran afterwards and we had a pretty bang on pattern. There were three of us in the class. Our pivot was a bit messy but it was decent enough. , but we placed 1st under one judge and 2nd under the other judge.

After a break, Hunt Seat Eq (Open) was our next class and it was a pretty simple pattern. We botched our one transition after the cone, where Suzie decided to turn into a porpoise. We redeemed ourselves for the rest of the pattern, which was good. I honestly do not recall our placing in this class, although I think it was 7th or something to that effect. The class had about 12 other horses in it.

Hunt Seat Eq (AQHA) began and she was hot off my aids again. She felt a bit unhinged and nervous so I did my best to try and regulate her uneasiness by steadying with my outside aids and really trying to compress her. She resisted against the contact and although we completed the pattern without major faults, she was rushy, tense and bracey the entire time. Imagine my surprise when we placed 1st out of 3 under one judge and 2/3 from the other.

Mid-chew. Hooray for lack of media.

Both English Pleasure classes (Open and AQHA) were going to be our bigger challenge since we would be showing with other horses in the ring with us for the first time. I wanted to keep it simple and try to really calm her down and relax her brain. She fought with me the entire trip in the Open class and at one point pigrooted and halted very suddenly in the corner after I asked her to bend and be supple right before a canter departure. She took enormous offense and the remainder of our classes consisted of her looking like a spooked Ayrab.

Despite her "hotness", I didn't feel in danger at any time... It just felt like I was sitting on rippling ocean; every inch constantly moving with agitation and at any moment a small storm could break out. Any cue from my legs sent her bursting forwards and any rein contact caused resistance.

In truth, we were a hot mess.

But we did have good moments. When I remembered to sit the hell up, relax and RIDE we felt better as a team. It wasn't the best, nor was it anything truly note-worthy, but it was better than previous shows and rides.

It was a good experience, although I hesitate to truly show Suzie in a breed-show again (there was nothing wrong with the organizers or any of the classes, I just felt as though the classes were quite different from what I was used to). We did get what we wanted and that was experience. The placings were just icing on the cake and obviously, if we are placing and placing somewhat well, we are doing something right... right?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Game, Set, Match.

I've been absent from the blogging community for the better part of a week (and truthfully, haven't even had time to rationalize and prepare my August "goals" list... yikes!). Never fear, because I come bearing good news, a slight cliff-hanger (holding out for some media and a re-affirmation on my placings) and minimal photos.

Mostly this blog post is about the plans I have for Suzie this month and what we hope to achieve. I will be blogging about our last show, which was on Saturday, and re-capping what had happened and how we did. I am still waiting for a list of our placings and hopefully a photo or two, so I'll hold off for another few days.

But the exciting news is that I have officially decided to take Suzie to the BVX fair this year! Remember the show I took Tally to? Yep, that one. Initially I was going to take Spud in it for the Driving classes, but I haven't even driven him since the clinic in June. The cart needed some repairs and it was slow going trying to get it all sorted out. Partly because I'm lazy and partly because I've been enjoying riding my mare. I figure Spud needs a few more miles before I make his show debut, not that I am concerned he will be bad, but I want it to be a good experience and I certainly want to get more miles under his belt (especially with other driving horses around us, which is something he struggled with in the clinic). Little Mini-Man is 5 - he has many years of driving left in him and it certainly won't harm him to not be shown this year.

I've just completed the entry forms for the show and I've decided to take it easy this year with the class-load. Last year with Tally I just felt so rushed and drained - I chose way too many classes and paid the price in the end (Tally didn't care though). With Suzie, I'll have to be very careful that I: A) make it a pleasant experience and B) don't overdo it. These factors will play a huge role in our success.

 She get's hot and tense in the show pen (literally the show PEN. She is just fine in the warm up... as I will divulge into with my Show Recap blog-post) and after talking with a few friends, the only way to fix this is to SHOW! She does not exhibit the same level of tenseness and hotness in the warm-up arena as she does in the ring. So, taking her weaknesses into consideration I've come up with a plan that will give her plenty of time to absorb the area, as well as time for us to shine (hopefully?).

The plan is to load up and haul out the Wednesday evening after work and let her get settled at the grounds. She's been to the grounds before (remember, I brought her with me when I took Spud for the Driving clinic) so she is familiar with the stalls and HAS been stalled there previously. It won't be a shock for her other than this time there will be much more activity going on. Hoards of people, children, dogs, horses, cows, etc. Mayhem and panic and all that.

Need to channel this!
 Thursday morning will be our strictly in-hand showing day. I've signed us up for two classes of Halter and two classes of Showmanship - it's something easy, fun (somewhat), and low stress for any horse. It'll put us into the "competition" mode without jumping in with both feet. I plan on schooling her at the grounds during the evening on Thursday to see where she is at. I don't think she'll be bad at all - she'll probably be quiet and calm just like usual.

So for Friday I amped it up a bit more with two Western Dressage Training Level tests. Barely anyone around here rides Western Dressage so there won't be a huge amount of spectators (I remember last year when it ran there was literally no one over there watching), I won't feel nervous about other competitors, the warm-up arena won't be crowded or highly stressful, and we will be in the arena alone (ie. no other horse's to ruffle her feathers or cause shenanigans). It'll be a good indicator of how to proceed and what I need to work on.

Day three is a bit undecided still, as I have absolutely no desire to go into Western Pleasure classes or Horsemanship classes. Just not interested in the crowded warm up arena and being in the ring with other horses (you'll understand why in my show recap). I want this to be a good, positive experience. I don't want to push too hard... so I tentatively signed us up for one Trail class. If she is feeling good and quiet, I'll go in it and if not we'll scratch. This will be our only class for the Saturday, which leaves me a lot of free time to enjoy the fair, as well as school before our other classes on Sunday.

Which brings me to Day four - Reining day. I've entered four Reining classes and all are "Beginner" classes because I'm an idiot and can't ride with one hand. It'll be a good experience because we'll have more spectators, more horses around us, a crowded warm up pen, etc. I feel like on Day four she should be ready for this. And as if tempting fate, I've signed up for a Reining Freestyle as well.

It may not all go as planned and I don't want to get my hopes set entirely too high. But I feel like I'm giving her the best possible shot at success and sometimes we just have to run with it. Life is too short to be afraid or play it safe. My horse isn't dangerous, I'm a little crazy.... so let's do it?

Ready... set.... go?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Oh, The Irony.

She's totally over being an English pony.
It’s almost like my last blog post was tempting the fate of the worlds and was meant to serve as some sort of reminder that irony works in mysterious ways... Thankfully, it has nothing to do with Suzie – she’s fine, I’m fine. But, it sounds like my work schedule is going to be changing in September and what would have been days off are simply no longer.

So the show in September I was planning on attending and competing English in? Yah, looks like I’ll be working. Not necessarily as saddening as it sounds, because I was a bit frustrated that Suzie and I were doing so well Western and then I’d have compete English in September since the show isn’t going to offer any Western classes. I understand, but gah!

Of course, I haven’t received an iron-clad answer but the gist is that hours and days are changing pretty fast. I work in Construction, so this isn’t necessarily a surprise or alarming to any of the Craft or Non-Manuals like me. This flip-flopping I’ve been doing between showing English VS Western is seriously getting old and I really only have two options at this point.

If I want to show Suzie Western, it’ll have to be at the BVX where there is a multitude Western classes available (including “Beginner Reining”). The Breed Show I am attending this coming weekend does not have “Beginner” Reining classes (and I honestly have no desire to show in Western Pleasure) so that’s one of the reasons I’ll be competing English. One of the other  reasons is the simple fact it’s a Breed Show and English/Western classes are pretty similar in sense of movement and head carriage. And lastly, it’ll give me a good idea of what Suzie will be like in a “real” show setting since the BVX is the biggest of them in my area.
Needs more leg.

So I have some thinking to do. Do I take Spud to compete in Driving at the BVX or do I take Suzie?

The deadline for the BVX is August 15, so I have until then to decide. No pressure or anything.