Monday, June 29, 2009

Beware the White Poodle

**New video to your right. Check it out!

Well, we survived our first licensed show. I might even venture to say we thrived, once we got past the white standard poodle that is. Every show has to have its obstacles, right? We arrived at the show around 7:30am, about a half an hour later than I was hoping. Now that we have a dog it takes extra time to finally get going in the morning. Meh. Thankfully, B cooperated pretty well in the loading process or we may not have even had the opportunity to test the recognized show waters. You never know with babies....

Anyway, once we escaped the clutches of the standard poodle we began our wander down to the outdoor warm-up ring. K, so what's the story with the poodle? I was hand walking B with his longeing gear on when he stopped dead, his eyes bugged out of his head and he snorted. You'd think I just threw him into a Lion's den. He seriously lost it. If I wasn't so rushed for time I probably would've laughed. Instead I secretly cursed the man with the poodle. We were able to get out of that situation without making too much of a scene. Just one leap backwards. One thing about having a horse that's 18 plus hands is one leap backward is enough to get the attention of quite a crowd of people.

The next obstacle in our gauntlet known as a breed show was a barely there yearling. Oh ya, super fun. This baby was leaping in the air and generally having a pretty fantastic time torturing his 12-year-old handler. All I needed was the 12-year-old to be handling the lion-poodle and I would have had a real show on my hands. We braved past the baby, baby and luckily the warm-up had a soothing feeling with only one other horse.

When I put B on the longe, I told myself, whatever tension you have in your system let it go, now. Right now. I knew that B would feed off any nerves, tension or hesitation I reserved. Right there, I let it go. He longed fantastically. Super stretchy, soft and loose. I hoped on and he felt even better. Before I knew it, we were called to the big indoor ring.

My ever-supportive and ever-adorable husband loaded all my stuff up and walked with me to our licensed debut. He is a self-proclaimed horse show pack mule. I highly recommend everyone get one.

As I entered the ring, I realized that all of these people had been in the ring warming up. Ya, didn't quite know that you could warm up in the actual show ring. Oops. There were banners, people walking around on the metal stands, crowds at every end, flash photography, videography and many other distractions. How was Mr. B? Absolutely rock solid. He glanced at the banners and perked his ears at the people, but he remained super awesome soft, loose and forward.

The challenge came when every other horse in my class was tiny. By tiny I mean under 17 hands. ha ha. Is that my bias speaking? We ended up playing the passing game for most of the class. My biggest question about riding him in a flat class was how would he be with a bunch of other horses cantering around him? How was Mr. B? Awesome. We even passed people, circled, turned in and out and he never even questioned my requests. Near the end of the class, the judge asked for a stretchy circle and B was so loose and soft already that he stretched down and out, lifting his back like dressage riders often only dream about.

The results? Third. Not great, but the judge commented that it was really close and we had the best stretchy circle by far. My real satisfaction came as I watched the video and saw this fabulously happy, soft, loose, 100% correctly trained horse that I was lucky enough to ride.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Priceless Perspective

We had our second horse show on June 14th and I'm happy to report that B was cool as a cucumber. Within a few minutes of being off-loaded he was happily munching grass and enjoying the warm, breezy summer air. We arrived just before lunch time so he a chance to hand walk around the ring. I even ran beside him straight up centerline and didn't pass out immediately following. It's like running beside a smart car, only faster and more powerful. There were a couple other youngsters in the ring that weren't as well behaved as B (wow, can you believe I just said that about my 4-year-old? ha), but it was yet another good experience for him to learn that just because one horse spazzes out doesn't mean he must spazz out. Good pony.

My trainer was able to make it for our first test and she made sure there was no slacking in the warm-up. Unfortunately, the transfer from the firm footing of the indoor arena to the deep sand in the outdoor would quickly proved too much for my baby cake. The moment B stepped from the grass into the big arena it felt like we were battling quicksand. During the test, he would relax and soften into my hand only to then trip. Poor B. Although, much sympathy was lost during the first canter tour when he broke. I was so unaccustomed to this behavior that I barely knew how to react. He lost the canter near our transition point so I decided just to ride it out. I thought it must have been a freak incident, so I wasn't worried about the second canter transition. Ask and you shall receive, right? Ya...not so much. I brought my leg back to politely ask for the canter. Nothing. I squeezed with both legs. Nothing. Mind you, we are now about halfway down the long wall when we are supposed to circle at A-abort mission. I decided to take the -2 and fix this problem. I asked a second time and he picked it up. Oy vay. All I could think was, ah geeze, here my coach has made a special effort to come see me and it's a bloody disaster. We saluted and left the ring with a smile, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of it.
I met my coach at the other end. I immediately said, well that was a disaster. And, here's a perfect example of why everyone should have a quality, experienced coach. Her response? Not really. Arrrrhh? She said, he simply had difficulty with the deep footing. He's just 4 and 18 plus hands. He needs to build strength. The real relief came when she said that my decision to throw in the circle was the best decision I could've made at that moment. Whew. She reminded me, it's a schooling show. You're here to school. Awww perspective. I later watched the video and realized it didn't look half as bad as it felt. Once again, whew! We walked away with a much deserved 58%. The judge's comment was what I'll take away from the test though, "Once he gains strength, he'll be a star!" I couldn't agree with you more Nancy. ;0)

Our second test was much improved as I knew what I was up against. Only one trip and no breaks. We has a little "discussion" during our initial trot around the ring that involved a couple half bucks in, but luckily I won that one. We rounded that test off with a 63.6% and a third place. Not too shabby considering.

We spent all this week riding outside, up and down hills and around the driveway when the footing was too wet. It's a fun time in his training. He knows his ABCs, now it's time to put them to use. Next Sunday is our first licensed show-Materiale and Suitability. Not much will change training wise this week. A lesson tomorrow then lots of hill work again.

What lesson did I learn in our latest adventures? You can't put a price on a great coach.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Really B?

I guess the first event of note is my latest tumble off my pony. Yes, again. I'm making up for a good four years of not falling off...I'm due. Last Thursday, I thought I'd try riding B without longeing him first. I've been gradually longeing him less and less and I haven't had a problem so why not right? Famous last words. The last time I rode B without longeing him first was at least eight or so months ago and it was the first time I fell of my munchkin. I took B into the arena, lined him up beside the mounting block and stepped into the saddle. We started walking and I thought to myself, what a nice forward walk. Red flag! Red flag! Ya, B was just picking up steam for his rodeo episode. He was on a long rein down to the buckle so it was over before it even started. The bucks were at least slower and having fallen off him the same way three times before I had lots of time to think. I literally thought, do I A) try to ride this through and possibly get thrown into the wall, which by the way was coming closer and closer, or, B) do I bail? Plan B it is. I tried to bail on about the third buck but he jumped toward the wall: Abort! Abort! The next buck I did my best to wait till his feet were on the ground to roll off. I landed on my butt and hopped back up to stop the mayhem. His eyes were as big as saucers. My pony was wiggin out. I stopped the mayhem but he was definitely scared. Fine. Back to the longe line. 

What did I learn from this episode? Ya, ya, ya, longe before I ride, but what I really became aware of was B's girthyness. B holds his breath on the cross ties when I do up his girth. Not in a I'm a 20 year-old school horse and I know better way, but as in a oh my god, oh my god, oh my god kind of way. I can barely get the girth up to the third hole on the cross ties and it goes up to six once he's worked. I think when I got on, he was still holding his breath, so the saddle felt ├╝bertight. This added with me on top equalled panic zone. Meh. We're just going to take it easy on the non-longeing thing, eventually weaning him off by walking him around a lot and moving the saddle on his back first. I haven't tried it yet, my butt needs time heal. Good news is I only had a bruise on my upper thigh and knee, but other than that I was no worse for wear. Whew!

I rode the next day and he still had the I'm scared look in his eye so we took it easy. By Friday we were out in the open field walk, trotting and cantering. I had my lesson on Monday and he was a good little solider. With youngsters I'm learning that you have to relish in the good and stomach the bad...and as my coach says, it doesn't hurt if you bounce well either.