The Learning Curve

Last Wednesday when I picked Henry up from camp, Trainer hopped on him first to show me what she’s been doing with him and talk me through what I need to work on. On one hand I love watching her ride him, because she gets better results than I do. On the other hand, when I watch her ride him I can’t help but think “The odds of me reproducing this at home are slim to none”. Especially with the dressage work.

Dressage is obviously not my forte – I come from a hunter/jumper background, one filled with green horse after green horse. We’re officially at the point in Henry’s flatwork education where I’m floundering a bit… his level of education has caught up to mine. And, as Trainer noted, he’s really good at convincing me to take the pressure off of him, which means we’ve plateaued a bit. He’s improved so much, and he’s to the point where he can take some pressure, work through it, and come out the other side having learned something instead of just shutting down. I have to figure out how to ride this particular horse I’ve got at the moment.

Sitting there watching her do canter/walk transitions and counter canter loops (neither of which he knew how to do when I dropped him off a week and a half prior) I felt 51% determination and 49% dejection. The learning curve for dressage is so steep for me, at times it feels almost hopeless, and I get frustrated. I’m not a quitter, but this… this is the closest I’ve ever come to feeling defeated. Sometimes I long for the days in Jumperland where the flatwork part of the job was so much simpler.

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Then Trainer reminded me how much better and stronger Henry has gotten. In my head he’s still the mess of a horse I got two and a half years ago, or the powder keg I was sitting on last year that I couldn’t canter in dressage warm-up. There was a time when any little bit of contact made him put his nose on his chest. Or when just breathing a little too hard sent him spurting into canter. We started out with a big deficit, so it’s gonna take longer and be harder to climb our way out of it. There’s a lot I don’t know and there’s a lot I’m not good at. But day by day, ride by ride, we’re gonna keep trying, even if I feel like screaming on the inside. I know there’s a decent dressage horse lurking in there, and I feel like I owe it to him to cultivate that.

At least until they give us a form of eventing where dressage is optional…

Out of Focus

I dunno what my deal has been lately, but I just can’t get my brain in the game. It’s like I know what I should be doing, but my brain won’t stay present long enough to let my body know what to do.  This is obviously very frustrating.

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Probably not a good idea to pick the long spot into the really angled combination… instant regret…

I had this problem at Coconino both in dressage (when I forgot my damn test) and in stadium (when I knew I should turn and just… didn’t…). Really no clue what my damn deal is lately.

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Last night’s lesson was no different. I always knew what I should do, but actually remembering to execute it was an entirely different matter. I just kept spacing out. A couple times I even totally forgot where I was going (seriously, they weren’t long courses) and turned the wrong way. Like… cantered up to the fence thinking of turning one way, and then turning the other way instead, 2 seconds later. What’s the deal, brain?

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Luckily Henny is undeterred by my stupidity

Short of swallowing an entire bottle of Adderall (kidding, obviously. Unless you can do that…), what do y’all do when it seems like your brain is just totally checking out on you? This is getting super annoying. I swear I’m not THIS dumb all the time… (shut up, Bobby).

On a scale of 1 to 10?

I’ve been drooling over lots of tall boots lately, mostly ones that are well beyond my budget (because I dunno, champagne taste, story of my life?). That was mistake #1. When I remarked to Friend that I really liked the Tucci Marilyn’s (mistake #2), she was quick to point out that I could customize them. Like, what about a navy top? Two of my favorite words – customize and navy.

Off I went to Photoshop, trying to decide if I liked how that would look. Mistake #3, because now I’m googly-eyed in love with these things.

So on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “kinda need” and 10 being “OMG RIGHT NOW” (there’s no choice for “don’t need” because obviously that’s a stupid choice)…

how badly do I need these?

 

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Conditioning Schedule

In spring/early summer I had a lot of people asking me about Henry’s conditioning schedule. I wavered a lot about whether or not to share this, because I think that something like a conditioning schedule can be a pretty personalized thing and what it should look like varies a lot from horse to horse, level to level, sport to sport, or even month to month. I’m sharing it, BUT with the huge bold red letter disclaimer: This is just what we did.

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This was June’s schedule, which is pretty typical of what our normal spring/fall schedule looks like these days. Rides get shorter later in the summer when it’s a million degrees, and when the ground is bad (ie too muddy or too hard/cracked) the gallops pretty much go out the window. Right now our schedule looks pretty much nothing like this, but next month things will ramp back up to more of a full “competition season” schedule.

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Some notes:

  • With that schedule Henry was very fit, probably over-fit for his level. I try to err on the over-fit side due to his respiratory issue, and especially in prepping him for AZ since I wasn’t sure how he’d handle the high altitude.
  • Before an event there’s a bit of a ramp down in the schedule.
  • Everywhere that says “walk” = forward, marching, on the aids. Not ambling around on a loose rein.
  • “3 x 4” means 3 sets of 4 minutes each.
  • “long trot” means no walking or breaks, just a solid chunk of trot.
  • The speed of the gallop sets depends on where we are in our schedule, but usually somewhere between 400-450mpm.
  • Road Hack is mostly forward walk with some trotting.
  • Dressage rides are usually about 45min with very little walking.
  • This is not set in stone… if something comes up things get shuffled around, or if we need to work more on one particular thing, days can be substituted (for instance, now we’re going to be doing 3 days a week of dressage, one jump day, and one or two conditioning days – so switching from a conditioning-heavy schedule to a dressage-heavy schedule). The calendar is really just a guideline to make sure we stay on track and fit everything in.

 

Henry’s Camp Report

The day I dropped Henry off for a week of “camp” with Trainer, I almost felt a little bad. He hadn’t been ridden much in the few days beforehand, a cold front had just blown through, and he had already been a bit full of himself lately without those factors. I mean… I did warn Trainer that he might be a little frisky, so ya know, all’s fair? There was at least 1.25% feeling of guilt hidden somewhere deep down inside, but it didn’t stop me from cackling maniacally as I pulled out of the driveway.

Y’all already heard about the first update on day 1: “I didn’t die today, but… it was touch and go for a few minutes.”. Sounds about right.

I think he must have realized his situation, because the next day he came in missing a shoe and a bell boot. Jokes on him, the ground out there is so soft and sandy that missing a shoe was not enough to get him out of a dressage ride.

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3 shoes, 3 bell boots
He got to do counter canter and simple changes and Trainer sat the trot and worked on the transitions. Basically a true Henry torture session.

Things continued to stay challenging and serious. Obviously he’s very stressed out being away from home.

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5 more minutes

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yes, these are the pictures I get from camp
He got his shoe put back on (ripping off another bell boot in the mean time, for good measure) then had a jump school on Saturday. So very grateful for people taking pictures for me (thanks Amy!) since I couldn’t be there. Trainer reported that he was a bit lazy and careless at first but as the jumps got bigger and he got better about jumping from the base, things improved. He has square poles and placing poles in his future.

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little jump = not impressed

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jumping from the base is hard

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finally trying a little
I was originally planning on bringing him home on Sunday, but since we got so much rain I elected to leave him there for a few more days. At least there he can still get turned out and ridden… it’s going to take us a little longer to dry out here. But I did need to get up there and a) bring him more food, b) try out The Unicorn before the trial period was over, so I drove out on Sunday for a quick dressage lesson (in between rain storms) instead.


Summary – he’s trained me very well to tiptoe around his tension. Time for him to learn how to work through pressure instead of catering to him and taking the pressure off the moment he gets tense. It’ll take a while to retrain that instinct in me. He was pretty good though, and The Unicorn was PERFECT! YAY! No more saddle shopping.

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Let’s just agree to ignore my awkward pad situation here
She did another dressage ride yesterday…


then he’s got a jump school today and another dressage ride tomorrow before I go pick him up, followed by a jump lesson on Thursday before Trainer heads out to AECs (side note, I was feeling ever so slightly sad that I qualified at N but couldn’t go, until I saw the courses. Now I’m fine not going.). I think Henry is pretty pissed that he’s currently living at a facility with an XC course and he hasn’t gotten to school XC at all, but that’s what he gets for being so good on XC. Poor Henny.

 

 

 

Adventures in Barnsitting 

Normally barnsitting is a pretty sedate gig. Small barn, out in the country, well behaved horses that are used to their routine. Not much to it. Things kinda just flow and there are rarely any hiccups or surprises. This time though… this time was just weird.


It started almost immediately, with a possum drowning in the water trough. Luckily the girl that cleans the stalls found that one, because giant rodents aren’t really my thing and EW.

Then Texas got a super weird cold front that dropped the temperature almost 30 degrees. This made the horses a little… uh… frisky. The stallion in particular, who is normally impeccably behaved and a total puppy dog, spent one entire evening thinking it was breeding season and he had business to attend to right now. If you know what I mean. It took a good hour of “discussions” to get his brain plugged back in and settle him back down. He never acts particularly studdish, so that was totally strange. He was back to his normal sedate self the next day.

Butt scratcher or muck fork? #perspective #itchy #stallion #trakehner #horse

A video posted by The $900 Facebook Pony (@the900facebookpony) on

 

Then another night I walked into the tack room to get cookies for the horses, and when I flipped on the light I saw a snake. A snake that was in the middle of devouring a rat. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TACK ROOM. Have you no decency sir? Not gonna lie, I screamed and leapt back out the door, just about crapping myself in the process. Then I realized I really had to make sure that the snake wasn’t poisonous. I very slowly crept back in, an inch at a time, verified that it wasn’t an extra scary snake (just a regularly scary snake), apologized to him for interrupting his dinner, turned the light back off, and shut the tack room door. I was very careful entering the tack room every time after that.

Also, why was it suddenly monsoon season in Texas? In August? We got 10″ of rain in the past week!

So then it kind of makes sense that one morning I found a frog sitting on my boot. That was the same morning that I opened the back door and a spider, a BIG spider, fell mere inches from my head. I’m glad he didn’t actually make contact, I would’ve hated to have to burn down the newly renovated house.

Another morning I was filling water buckets before I left for the day and found a rat drowning in one. Like literally he was on his tiptoes and just his little nose was sticking out. He kept trying to jump but wasn’t having any luck. I pulled the whole bucket down and tossed it out, and the poor rat (I know they’re gross rodents but still, poor drowning rat) took a little while to get moving before scampering off. As I was scrubbing the bucket all I could think was that I better not find a damn snake eating that damn rat later…

The wildlife, man. What the hell?

 

Review: Ogilvy baby pads

Finding the perfect saddle pad seems to be ridiculously more difficult than it should be. The right shape, the right thickness, the right colors, the right features, the right materials… it seems like most of them fall short somewhere.

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I’ve had a lot of baby pads over the years, and while I’ve had a lot of luck with the very thin BobbiGees baby pads for schooling, I want something a little more substantial, a little sturdier, and a little more beautiful for showing or lessons. Since I’ve been a long-time fan of my Ogilvy half pads I decided to give their baby pads a try, too.

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I’ve had the dressage pad for quite a while, about a year and a half (with heavy use), and the jump pad for about 6 months. While they were originally purchased for showing, I find myself reaching for them pretty regularly. The construction is exactly what you’d expect from a brand like Ogilvy – very high quality. The materials are top notch, with a soft anti-fungal, quick dry bottom layer and a sturdy, stain-resistant polycotton top layer. They aren’t as thin as a traditional baby pad, but not as thick as a normal saddle pad, more like right in the middle. For me it’s the perfect thickness. It holds it’s shape, but it doesn’t add a lot of bulk under the saddle.

after 2 weeks of Arizona, pre-wash!

My favorite feature of the pads is the very high cut wither profile. Biggest pet peeve ever is a saddle pad that binds down on the withers, and these offer several inches of clearance. I’ve also managed to keep these pads pretty stain-free, considering how much I use them and the fact that they’re white. It’s definitely easier to keep them clean than my other white pads, they seem to not absorb so much dirt.

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My only suggestion would be to add girth loops (you can do that!) when ordering. My dressage pad has them and it never moves an inch, but my jump pad can sometimes bunch up a little bit, especially on XC. Girth loops definitely would solve that problem, and make everything just a little more stable in general.

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Considering the quality of materials and the fact that you can customize them (so many colors), the starting prices of $37 for the jump pad and $47 for the dressage pad seem more than fair. I’m seeing almost no wear on either of my pads at all, despite heavy use. I’ll definitely be purchasing more of these! Pretty sure I need the eventing profile pad. And a new color coordinating cover for my dressage half pad. And then a new dressage baby pad to match it. And, and, and…