Friday, 28 August 2015

Bury Farm Area Festivals

The last week has been focused on sorting my brain out a bit and preparing for our very first area festivals... and plaiting... lots of plaiting practice! My YO has told me that my plaits are crap (in the nicest possible way) and I've never learnt to do them with anything other than bands so after B looked so gorgeous at ALW I decided it was time to bite the bullet and start sewing my plaits. I was pretty crap but after another quick de brief I got the hang of it and then spent the next three nights practising. They are not Burghley worthy (yet) but I was pretty pleased and they looked so much better than my banding attempts so sewing is the way forward from now on.

Chilling in his stable between tests
I had a lesson with J the day before to run through my tests and work on sharpening him up as he can become a bit of a lazy toad and get behind my leg. Lots and lots and lots of transitions really helped and I was pleased with our run through. Points to note: don't stop riding, don't let him get long and enjoy it!

I'd booked a stable at Bury Farm and had always planned to stay over on the Friday night but I changed my mind and made the decision to drive up first thing on Saturday morning, do the arena walk and give B a couple of hours to chill before our warm up test. So I ended up leaving the yard at 5:30am to get there on time.. My little lorry sat nav took me on the most random journey past Whipsnade Wildlife Park and at one point I thought I was going to be driving through the park and had a little bit of a panic - I'm not sure B would have liked the monkeys climbing on the roof and would the lions have thought their lucks was in with meals on wheels (?!) - but luckily there was an option to continue on the 'normal' road.. crisis averted.

Big pats in the final halt
Due to our little diversion I had 5 minutes left of the arena walk so chucked the tack on and in we went. B was quite tense but nothing terrible and I was glad to have done it. He then had some time to relax in his lovely stable and I plaited him up and got myself ready. We had a warm up test (P15) first in the international indoor and after finally finding my way into the warm up I was really pleased with how he went and he focused on me immediately. It was soon time to go in and B tensed up as we went through the horse walk and into the huge arena which was decorated with flags, banners and flowers. I made sure I used lots of transitions to soften him up and make him more reactive to my leg and then they rang the bell. Our first centre line was a bit wobbly, our first 20m circle a fraction small and B was anticipating my leg a bit which made him tense but I was really pleased with the test and thought it was a fab warm up for our AF test.

At this stage it was starting to get rather warm and I was worried B would doze off before our AF test (P19). We had over an hour in between and so I watched a few tests and had a wander round before tacking B up and starting our warm up. We were outside for the AF and there was a lot going on so B was rather tense in the warm up. I spent the majority of this time trying to get him to soften and as soon as he did I worked on my transitions. It was soon our go and I felt rather nervous as I entered the AF arenas! The test was not our best, B was tense, I was concentrating on keeping him in the right pace rather than keeping him up together but by the time we trotted down the centre line I was delighted with him. He coped so well with the atmosphere, we did everything in the right place and I enjoyed the experience.

Too on the shoulder but check out the heel first landing!
All I wanted was to pick up my AF plaque and to not come last and that was achieved!! We finished up on 64% so our PB for that test so I can't be less than pleased, particularly in that environment. The judges disagreed slightly in their opinions with one having us in second place overall and another putting us way down the order and it was really interesting reading the viewpoints from the different judges and the points that let us down according to each one. The winners of the class were on 70% so we weren't hugely outclassed but I definitely need more ring practise as I just can't seem to manage to keep him together consistently throughout a test which is rather annoying but I will get there soon enough.

My plan was to have that as our last competition for a while but I have done a last minute entry into Fairoak for this weekend to practise my ring craft. Scores don't matter but I want to focus on my riding and work on keeping him together more before we have a break. We will then go to see G for a jump session and to try and work out this bitting situation before I go on holiday.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Average Aston le Walls

I was so excited to get to ALW I was like a kid at Christmas, waking up at 6am with those little excited butterflies in my tummy fluttering away. I'd done all my preparation and felt ready to put everything into practise and had my chimp semi under control (or at least he was quiet for the moment). We arrived with plenty of time to walk the course, have a look around and get ready. My lovely YO had plaited and quarter marked Buddy so he was looking mega smart and I was ready to show him off.

Looking smart in his 'The Herbal Horse' kit
He warmed up well for dressage, he had a few tense moments when horses came cantering towards him but he just went tense rather than doing a 180 like he used to. He was reactive and off my leg so I was pleased with him. I also felt rather relaxed which was unusual! As we went over to our arena Buddy tensed up and so I used the time around the arena to get him to relax again but as we came down the centre line he went a bit giraffe like but I got him back once we'd turned the corner. It was turning out to be a pretty sweet test until after our first canter when my mind went blank and I completely forgot whether I was supposed to be going across the diagonal or doing a circle! I stopped for a second and went for the circle option which was thankfully the right one. I was a bit disappointed to get a 34 as I thought it was a 32 test but I got a 0 for the stopped moment (!) and a 2 for my free walk as he jogged which I thought was a bit harsh but that's dressage and it was a mistake so I need to take it and work on it for next time.

Off to show jumping and B was feeling rather sharp as I walked down to the warm up. I hate SJ warm ups and so I know I get tense and B was really playing on it so I started jumping quite quickly after going in. He was feeling bright over the cross pole and I had it my head 'shimmy, fanny, leg' after my lesson with G but I really struggle to let go when B charges the last stride and with the stress of competition I held instead of shimmied and he was just crashing through all the poles. He respected the oxer I popped so I went in hoping that the fillers would back him off a bit in the ring.

We ended up having two poles as he was just fighting me. They were my poles as I just didn't ride well enough.. I was defensive into the first (no idea why as he was so onward bound), he charged to the second, we had a nice jump over 3 and 4 (as I actually rode) then got close to 5 and took the pole with his front legs. Watching the video I let my reins get far too long, I should have shortened them several times round the course but I didn't and so they got long, he got long and that's why we had the last. Annoying as they are my poles but I think I might also need to have a look at the bitting again.
Galloping towards the last
Quick change for me and onto the XC. I had a feeling he was going to be rather exuberant and I wasn't wrong. We warmed up well, he was super sharp off my leg and stormed out of the start and locked on to the first fence. He then took the bridle and we were off! Flew over the second, got a bit close to three as he wasn't really listening to me, over the house at four, didn't blink at five then spooked at the water (!) so came back to trot and we picked up canter on the other side and I kicked on to 6. 7ab was a step up, drop down and he had a hesitation at the top but a kick and we were off again to 8 which was a lovely wide oxer which he ballooned but was getting pretty strong at this point. Twisty turny round to 9ab which was drop to skinny and I couldn't get him back to the bouncy canter I needed to pop off the drop and get to the skinny and so he flew off the drop without leaving us the space to get to the b element and we glanced off it. Popped it fine when he realised he had to jump it and then kicked on to the corner. People had asked me if I was going direct here and it hadn't even crossed my mind to do the alternative - he'd been fine at BCA and he flew this one too! I kicked him on and we had a gallop to 11 and took this out of our stride, onto the max dimension (110cm) brush which was the only thing that backed him off and we had a much more controlled jump over 13. My arms and core had started to ache by this point after all the setting up and trying to balance him into the fences and I relaxed going into 14ab and ended up having 2 glance offs this fence too where I just couldn't hold him together and then we galloped home and over the last.

I wasn't especially happy with my performance as I knew I could have ridden better and we wouldn't have had the run outs at 14ab but I couldn't have done anything about the first one. I know I still don't ride as well at a competition so that will come with time but I also need to have a look at the bitting again as I think I need to either put two reins on the Pelham or find something else and as I struggle with one set of reins (!) I think I'll really struggle with two right now. I am delighted though that he is really starting to look for his fences (usually from the next class up) and is thoroughly enjoying his XC now so that's my positive from the day. Realistically I think he finds this all a bit too small and too easy and he is probably ready to step up but I'm not completely comfortable taking that next step as I will need to be totally positive, help him out a bit more and as I haven't ridden competitively at 100 level for 15 years it feels like a big step for me and where things become a bit more serious.

Buddy's just read his upcoming schedule!
We've got area festivals this weekend and then no competing for a few weeks as I'm going on holiday and he's got a busy time coming up after that with RRR, Moreton Morell which is our next BE, Regional Finals for Team Quest then Littleton and Broadway BE to finish the season.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Managing my chimp

Odd title for the blog this week but totally relevant so bare with me...

After our BD outing last weekend I had to do a bit of analysis on me. Although I've been out competing far more recently I realised that I have been mainly doing dressage as a team effort and this is a whole different mental ball game than competing as an individual. I was frustrated that I'd let old demons creep back into my warm up but actually all I'd done was let them snooze for a bit - I'd never actually addressed the original problem.

So, on to managing my chimp.... I read a great book a couple of years ago called 'The Chimp Paradox'. It was recommended to me by another rider and I also thought it would really help me at work too. In a nutshell it helps you to recognise when your emotions (chimp) are taking over from your logical (human) brain and gives you strategies to manage the process. The chimp reacts 7x faster than the human so in times of stress or high alert your chimp goes mad and reverts to emotionally triggered responses.

Focused whilst schooling
After analysing what had changed I realised that my chimp had got out of control and I needed to do something to fix it. So out came the book but after taking two days to get through a chapter I realised I needed the audiobook so that I could listen in my 'dead time' travelling and just before going to bed. I've been listening for almost a week and it has made a big difference already. The start of the book runs through a list of questions that we often ask ourselves and after answering yes to the majority (!) I realised that not only was my chimp out of control in my equine life but this has crept into my work and home life too. So I'm taking charge and learning how to manage my chimp much better and so hopefully he'll be far more co-operative over the next few weeks and months!

The first big test for this will be our 2nd BE90 this weekend at Aston le Walls. I am mega excited, its been two months since BCA and I've been working really hard on our jumping and flatwork to make sure we are completely prepared and ready to go. However, the biggest challenge to overcome is that naughty chimp sitting on my shoulder telling me I'm not good enough. I have a good friend in the same section as me and that is my worst nightmare! I hate competing against people I know - it's all ok if you both do well but if I do badly it's something that really affects my confidence for a while and that's not what I need a week before area festivals.

Jumping the stegosaurus.. As you do!
In preparation I have already set my goals for the weekend and know what I need to do to achieve them. I took B XC schooling at Boomerang at the weekend as I needed to do some ditch and drop schooling as there could be a ditch (the March event had a ditch at fence 3) and there will definitely be a couple of banks so drops were pretty critical. It was my first time going solo XC for a long time so I was determined I was going to stick to the bigger fences and prove I am more than capable without an instructor to hold my hand and tell me what to do.

It was a fab session, all the videos are on our Facebook page so you can see for yourselves but I was really pleased with both of us. He was keen but manageable in the Pelham so this will continue as our jumping bit and we didn't have any stops which was great for our confidence. Watching the videos I can see I am still being too upright in my position (comes from being ready for a stop) so I need to trust B more and bend through my hips but that will come in time and with more tokens in the confidence bank.

No chance of touching this!
For the rest of the week we have a jump lesson with G on Weds and then a flatwork session with J on Thurs so I can run through my test for Sat and practise my AF tests too. We have lovely times on Saturday as we aren't dressaging until 14:25 so I'll have a helper/photographer with me so regardless of the outcome you should have some pretty pictures to look at!!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Mind over Matter??

The weekend started with another flatwork lesson with J. I wanted to focus on creating a warm up strategy for the next day that I could practise and then tweak if necessary before AFs and also to run through the tests as J has a 60x20 school. It was a really useful lesson as we focused on a few areas of the test that we thought would cause issues. Our transitions from canter to trot are still pretty scrappy and we realised I was riding a bit wonkily across the diagonal in canter so we did a few exercises to help - it's not a short term fix but will get us there in the end. I was also having a blonde moment about the left canter and was really twisting my body which meant B was striking off on the wrong lead so we spent a few transitions working on that too and it was much better at the end. I went away feeling confident for our competition the following day.

Aunty J riding
It was a reasonably early start to get to the venue on time - its around a 45 minute drive from the yard and my first test was 9:30. We arrived with plenty of time despite me driving past the entrance twice (!) and it is a beautiful venue. I tacked up and jumped on and we went into the warm up. There was a lovely horse warming up and my little demons started whispering in my ear. I shrugged itoff and focused on getting B supple and soft. He was feeling pretty on side so we didn't do too much, I just made sure I had control of his shoulders as there are lots of circles in P15!

The warm up started getting busier and that niggly demon was getting a bit louder... I felt hideously outclassed by the horses and the riders, they all looked incredibly slick and professional. So I stuck to a circle for a bit. Then it was time to go in... I gave B a good look around the arena, the bell rang and it was time to start. I rode pretty shabbily to be honest and would have lost marks for inaccuracy across the board but overall it was an ok test. I came out and the warm up had filled up with even more stunning horses and riders so I made a quick exit back to the lorry to give B a breather before our second test.

I got back on with 10 minutes before my second test and as soon as I entered the warm up I started riding like a complete backwards idiot. Poor B. The test was pretty meh, the transitions down to trot were really shoddy, my second 15m circle was more like an egg and in my final 20m circle showing some streching I fought to keep his shoulders from sneaking in. It was not our best by a long shot and I left feeling a bit disappointed that I'd ridden like such a complete numpty and let myself get affected by something so stupid.

I took B back to the lorry and wandered back to grab a bottle of water and my sheets. The first test was up and I was astounded to see that we'd won the class (our first individual BD win) - annoyingly just shy of a regionals qualifying score of 66% - then they put the second test up and we were pipped into second place. I was completely surprised by the result as the other horses were really, really smart but then I guess anything can happen when you get in the arena. I was also delighted that even tests that I knew weren't our best scored well and the judge wasn't particularly generous either and there were more 50's than 60's in both the classes. 

Although it was lovely to come back with great placings I was disappointed that I allowed myself to get sucked back into getting psyched out in the warm up and not believing that I am either good enough or competitve enough to be there. It is something that I need to get sorted before AFs as there will be some fantastic combinations there and I need to ride for me and ignore everyone else. I also have a few accuracy things to work on over the next couple of weeks and so I will be having plenty of lessons and using J's 60x20 school.