Wednesday, May 15, 2019

May 2019: Percentage Days/ Clear Rounds

The first year I owned Annie, we attended a Percentage Day/ Clear Round in June (2017)  and another in July (2017) as a means to get her out into a low pressure situation without the tension of a show. The first PD/CR day I took her to, I lost my nerve (and noodle), and we had a very difficult time working through the walk/trot tests. It's embarrassing, but it is what it is. Our second time out in July, Annie had been having canter lead issues, but we made our way out to the other side, even if it wasn't the most... cleanest riding.

As part of my 2019 goals I had wanted to attend more of the Percentage/ Clear Round Days hosted by the local-ish saddle club. A short 45 minute drive to school some Dressage tests and pop over some jumps seemed like a fun way to spend my Saturday, especially because I wanted to prep more for shows.

Things started out quite well - I schooled Annie the evening before and she felt actually pretty darn good. We rode for about 30 minutes and called it quits after some really nice canter leg yielding.

I headed out to TBC Fairgrounds in the morning, and had to make a small detour to pick up another roundbale for the horses. It made me slightly late to the Percentage Day events, but there were enough riders that it didn't impede my ability to ride tests. I got tacked up, let the organizers know I was there, said hello to a few friends, and then hopped on.

Annie felt... tense.

While we have ridden in the large outdoor arena for Anthony clinics, we have not played in the Dressage arena much. I'm not sure if it was the hustle and bustle of the grounds (during clinics, at most we see maybe 2-3 other horses) or something else, but I knew the day was going to be a bit frustrating.

I rode the horse I had tho, and made sure I didn't back down when she decided to start cross-firing in the large arena. She seemed more interested in what the other horses were doing, and was refusing to bend. I kept on her, insisting she do The Thing. I was fair tho, bc #ZenNinja.

We headed over to the ring to do our first test - TL 2 - and I just knew it was going to be a shit show. Annie felt tense and argumentative, which was a very bad combination in the arena.

I debated posting the videos, but maybe someone will get a good laugh at how terrible it is?

There isn't much to say, really. She was tense, cranky, and NOT having it. I had issues with bend. I had issues with steering. I had issues with her lead. And I had issues with her sucking behind my leg (hence the canter down centerline). 

I'm not happy with this test, and I'm having a hard time just shrugging it off. I think we scored a 56% from the volunteer judge.

In the moment, I was pretty proud of myself for not becoming unhinged. I simply just kept riding, kept asking, kept insisting, and kept being the #ZenNinja I knew I could be. After the test, we wandered back over to the jump arena and worked on her leads, cross-firing and bend. She settled into a nice rhythm in that arena after expressing some #feelings at the canter.

I felt pretty positive and headed back to the arena for TL 3.

This test was marginally better, and we scored at 61.4%.

Some moments felt good - especially that last canter. But the rest of it felt like I was trying to get a dog to drop a bone - futile and ending in someone getting bit.

I still insisted, still rode my mare, and I'm a bit disappointed she didn't really meet me halfway.

But, I guess it is what it is. I have a few ideas to work on this - one of them being to erect a Dressage sized arena in our community ring to practice the actual figures and to practice working in a "smaller" space. We do not have access to a Dressage ring, so I am always amazed at how small the sandbox feels when we go show. The next thing is to incorporate more stretching into our warm up - long, low, and reaching over the back. Next on the list is hauling out to this very arena and riding in it when no events are occurring. And lastly - keep attending these "fun" days for exposure as this was our first "show" outing of 2019 (our last one was in August of last year).

Aside from that, I'm not really sure what else I can do to encourage her to relax and work over her back. I have to hope and believe it gets better, because otherwise I'll just spiral.

I opted to finish on that note, as the final bits of our ride were pretty decent, and headed back to the trailer to strip tack and throw on our jumping gear.

Annie seemed happy enough to wander back and hang out while they went through the trot pole rounds and I opted to pop her through the 18" (low X) round that was offered. She was a bit of a butt-head when I asked her to head to the arena, passed other horses and enter the ring on her own. A little tap of the whip and we went through the gate and were off.

Overall, a pretty consistent and quiet round. The objective was just getting her in and out of the ring multiple times to prep for flat and jumping classes. Having to stand quiet in between rounds can be a task in itself for young horses, but Annie handled it well and seemed quite happy to be in the jump ring. We had a minor bobble coming down the line, but otherwise it was a decent round. As the rounds progressed, I became more and more insistent on her respecting my turning aids, especially when coming out of that plastic jump line.

Onto the first 1' x-rail round and again we had some minor discussion at the gate. Otherwise she felt pretty good here - I was more insistent about her respecting my half halts (note heading towards the brown jump). Our turn into the plastic jump line was better, but I def hugged the right side all damn day for whatever reason, haha. The bending line rode quite nicely as well in this one.

Our second time at 1' x-rails. She felt good, but def wanted to rocket off after a few jumps. She was a bit pissy because I had made her stand at the in gate to wait for our second round and she was quite sure she was going to die being all by herself. Regardless, I made her do the thing and she begrudgingly complied.

I initially was going to just stick to the cross rails, but something inside of me sparked and I decided to go for the 2' division as well. Truthfully, I had A LOT of fun cruising around at this height and it actually felt comfortable. Aside from the bobble at the plastic jump line (and subsequent rail), we coasted through quite easily. Unfortunately tho, a few horses Annie had decided to be besties with were taken back to their trailer to head home and mare objected strongly to that. A few times in some of the videos you can hear her neighing at them and I had to make a few extra circles when we first rode into the arena to get her attention back on me.

Our second round, I really pushed for the long, sweeping circles, and she did a pretty good job of respecting that. She was quite responsive to the half-halts as well, which made my job easier. We had a weird bobble at the plastic jumps again - she was pulling hard to the right, and I responded by pulling left... and right? Wtf. And then when we landed, she just lost gas and decided to see if we were done. We recovered quite well tho and the last line rode nicely. 

We played one last time at the 2' division, as we were permitted to due to the dropped rail in our first round. Annie felt much more amicable in this one, and despite still calling for her BFFS (approx 44 seconds in), it felt like our best round. She was happy to adjust herself when I asked, and although we still didn't get a great turn into the plastic jumps, we had a much nicer exit then all the other rounds combined.

I chose to finish there, despite having one more ticket for another round. We had some really good success in the jump ring, despite having some issues in the Dressage court.

Overall, a day well spent and I made some mental notes as to better emulate some relaxation and better cooperation. I don't imagine it'll be an overnight fix, but we'll start small and build from there. I counted the jumping as a spectacular win, because I actually gave my mare a really nice ride over the fences and didn't loose my noodle when the jumps went up in height.

As always, I appreciate any helpful or insightful commentary from those who have experienced similar issues with their horses!


  1. All in all I'd say you had a very nice day. I think Annie just needs more exposure to shows to experience other horses around and different rings etc. I'm not a trainer by any means but what usually worked for me was to get there early and maybe ride around the show grounds on a loose rein and show the horse different areas of the show grounds. If that wasn't possible I might longe for a bit. By longe I don't mean chase a horse around to tire them out but do a controlled longe at walk trot and canter to loosen them up and get them listening and knowing it's time to go to work. The key is to get them and yourself to relax and the main thing is to not care what anyone else thinks about you or your ride or your horse. Do the best you can both do and you're ahead of the game! Nice job.

    1. Thank you, GM. I appreciate it. I think you are right - more positive outings, more low pressure settings.

      And agreed - longing is such a useful tool provided you utilize it effectively. I know if I just chased Annie in circles, she'd be that much more amped up vs calmer and quieter.

  2. Bridget went through a really similar phase - You might be different but my coach was of the opinion that Bridget sussed out pretty quickly that I wasn't going to be as tough on her at a show (I didn't want to make a scene, lol) and thought the rules were optional there and the distractions a great excuse to zone out. I did find that in the end it was just a matter of repetition and I bet your Zen attitude will have it all solved soon. FWIW I thought you two did great!

    1. I think it is a mixture of that - because truthfully, the first year and a half I had her, I was very tentative about really *riding* her. I would whisper suggestions to her in the ring and she'd basically go, "No thanks." Haha.

      I'm sure the next outing will be better, but I'm like "Oh god what have I done?!"

  3. aww she looks SO steady and balanced by the end, and like it's seriously easy for her haha. it may have felt tense or antsy, but you did a good job of giving her a nice forward ride, always giving her somewhere to go. she honestly might be the type of horse to benefit from added challenge in some scenarios (so long as the extra challenge doesn't throw *you* off your game, but that you can still keep giving her the same steady forward ride). honestly tho, seems like a pretty excellent day with the horse steadily learning and improving from one round to the next!

    1. I def am glad she managed to get her head back into it's rightful place near the end, which is why I chose to end the Dressage portion there.
      Thank you for the compliments - sometimes I worry I am only hindering her ability. I kinda just rode it, and pretended she wasn't fussing so much beneath me. Hopefully the next outing is much more improved.

    2. definitely - the picture from where i sit (literally thousands of miles away) is so so different from where you started. seriously, have you done a side by side comparison of your earliest tests? i know her tail is swishing and she might feel crazy tense, but her entire balance and carriage is so different, you should be proud! esp considering your area's "season" is so much shorter and more limiting, there's a lot to be happy about in this progress -- the improvements are happening ;)

    3. Thank you Emma, that's so nice to hear <3 Sometimes when things are right in front of your face, it's hard to see the bigger picture, haha.

  4. I know now everyone likes to do it, but for most of my horses, just a few minutes on the lunge line when I first get to a new place helps them get the tension out. Plus it warms them up a bit, so they're ready to go when you get on. Maybe something that could help a little.
    Good for you for staying calm, and just riding your horse. It's so hard to do when they're not being as good as you know they can be.

    1. I'll keep that in mind, Stacie.
      Thank you! It was hard but I'm proud of myself haha.

  5. Seconding Stacie's comment about lunging. I have a horse in training who is a lot like your mare in the dressage tests, and that seems to help her. LOVED watching your jumping videos and so proud of you for maintaining your ZenNinja mindset despite some bobbles. Great work!

    1. When you say lunging, Dom, I would assume you mean lunging as Grey Horse suggested - not just running aimlessly around, but actually working?

      Does your client horse require a schooling warm up beyond that as well?

      Thank you for the suggestions, I do appreciate it!

    2. Yes, working in a productive manner. We do side reins with a lot of transitions and changes of direction. Usually takes about ten minutes to get her nice and settled. Her owner likes to do a mounted warm up as well, but that's more for the rider than the horse.

    3. I've started to implement this - I don't have side reins but I do have a neck stretcher so I've been using that just to get her more readily reaching into the contact and as soon as she stretches out and down, I give her a very positive "Yesssss, good girl."

  6. I think your ideas to haul out more and get varied practice as well as recreating that small space at your home arena is a solid idea!

    1. This is the year of going places and relaxation!

  7. I think hauling out and getting to more events is always a big help with most horses. Speaking from experience, even my 18yo gelding gets a bit tense if we haven't been out in a while. Even though he has been shown his whole life. I also need to lunge him - working on transitions, etc. - to allow him to move and look around on his own. No craziness allowed, but he can look around and get used to things.

    1. My 21 year old ex-barrel mare would get CRAZY at shows, haha. I converted her to an English and Western (reining) mount and our first few shows were... bad haha.

      Thank you for your input :)