Monday, 20 October 2014

Dressage divas (or not)!

The nights are drawing in now so I am limited to schooling after work - the plan is to get up early and have a few rides before work in the winter but I am awful at getting up early so that will be a struggle I'm sure! The focus over the last couple of weeks has been to prepare for our dressage championships.

Stride length difference - shod vs barefoot. Can you guess which is which?!
We had another clinic with Warren last weekend - I have been so busy with work that I'd not managed to see him in between my last one (I like to have a private session in between usually just so we can have some focused attention). I wanted to work on straightness and building on what we'd been doing previously and luckily that's what Warren had planned! We warmed up over an upright with two poles on the floor in an A frame. B started drifting to the left and so Warren got me to correct it but I didn't feel I quite had his left shoulder in control. This came to bite me later in the session when we were asked to string some fences together - Buddy said no, dropped out through that shoulder and I came incredibly close to hitting the deck. I had enough time to think 'I'm coming off' but somehow managed to get my leg back down and back in the stirrup. Go me! But this showed up the issue so I really concentrated on keeping my left elbow tight but he ran out again. Third time I grabbed my neck strap and kept my leg on - Warren had also put another pole on the other side - so Buddy popped over. We came round a few more times and popped it without an issue. 

Throwback pics - Top is the first week he arrived as a 4yo - bottom 4 years later as a fit 8yo
We then focused on angling fences, first one on its own and then a double Then stringing a course together and Buddy was awesome. The poles really helped him focus and I wasn't distracted by them so it was great. Warren gave us some great feedback and was pleased with how B looks and how he is performing. He did mention that we may need to consider our bitting arrangement shortly as B is a big, strong horse and we want him to listen when I check him. After our eventers challenge I had wondered if this was coming but I like to try and school my issues first but my size vs B's is a no brainer really ;o)

Next step was onto the dressage champs. I was really excited about it but our prep hadn't been ideal as I've been abroad with work but the plan was never to win but it was great to have qualified. B has been a bit of a twit recently about warm ups and he was wired when I got on, every time a horse came towards us he stopped and span. I couldn't get anything decent out of him for 10-15mins. When he relaxed the trot felt good but every time I asked for canter he shot off. We got a bit of work in but it definitely wasn't enough so I decided I'd just have to do a bit prior to them ringing the bell. I knew that this could really affect our test but I had to work with the situation I'd been given.

At the Dressage Championships - Looking the part if nothing else!
I was actually really pleased overall with his test. The trot work looked (the joys of mirrors) and felt super - and got complimented outside the ring but our lack of canter prep failed us again as he struck off on the wrong leg on the right rein and then broke twice. He just wasn't off the leg enough. I expected to be hammered on my canter marks (although what he did show was super) but we've definitely done worse tests. I was then absolutely gutted to be given our worst mark ever at prelim and we were in the bottom half of the order (I thought we'd come last but just looked at the results and there were a few beneath us - wahoo!). The comments on my sheet were confusing - lots of good, very good and excellent comments scattered across the sheet but with marks of 4-7 across the board. I'm ok with being given low scores (although I do think it was undeserved in this case - bar the canter obvs) but the comments must reflect this. But hey ho, dressage is an opinion and I mustn't take it so seriously but it is really hard when you have worked so hard, are clearly getting better and then the scores are getting worse!

Finally - a double clear!

Once again we've been keeping really busy between competing, training and just having some fun!

Our last out was to a local equestrian centre who were hosting an eventers challenge. This consists of 9 show jumps and then straight out onto the XC course for another 10 fences. I'd entered the 85cm class as Buddy is so blase around 80cm now and we've been schooling over 1m at home so he's more than capable. Plus I was debating entering a BE90 before the end of the season so thought it could be good practise.

We had relatively late times as we were running in the second last class so a nice leisurely morning getting ready and no plaiting as it was jumping! I arrived with plenty of time to walk the course so watched a few show jump in the smaller class before heading out to XC. The SJ was well built and up to height with some spooky fillers but nothing that concerned me, although there were faults and falls all over the place. I started walking the XC and I was pretty shocked. As it turned out the 85 and 90 course were exactly the same so it was up to height the whole way round. It would definitely give us the test we needed!! 

It was soon time to warm up and so we wandered over. There were 6 or 7 people crammed into a 40x20 and it was chaos. Buddy has got funny in the warm up after a few near misses out eventing. If someone canters towards us or next to us and we are next to the fence he panics. I get tense in the warm up too so that doesn't help but the crazy state of affairs was not making life any easier. There was one pair who had their trainer/mum there and they hogged the fences - with lots of shouting for good measure. She galloped into the oxer and the pony stopped so she hit the deck. This happened again and at that point I left the warm up and it was winding B up. I managed to get back in and pop a couple of fences but B was incredibly wound up by this point so it was a bit pointless. 

We trotted into the first as our warm up hadn't been great (!) and then B was off like a rocket - I struggled to get him back for the turns but we made it round clear - just! Then out to the xc - we jumped out of the school like a rocket. I brought him back to trot for the first fence which was a simple collection of upright logs and then kicked him on to the second which was a huge table. It was in a dark and spooky part so back to trot three strides out and then kick (and shut eyes) and we flew. Sharp right turn to a log in a water trough (odd) and then five strides to the step complex. Buddy has only ever done one step down in a comp but this was two bounce steps up - one stride and then two steps own. I was a bit anxious about this when I walked it as I wasn't sure how B would react but he popped up and I just sat back, kept my leg on and he popped the two down. Next was a ditch with an alternative skinny brush. I had decided to take the option and he had a look but jumped no worries. Kicked on to the bank - up there, small step up and then down the other side and onto the final fence - a nice triple bar. As I crossed the finish line I suddenly realised that we'd gone clear! Wow. I think we both needed the extra difficulty - one for B to keep his mind engaged and for me to actually ride every stride! Results came out and we managed to nab second place and won some money. Very pleased! 

The next day I decided to take B to a sponsored ride, it was supposed to be 10 miles but I'd heard it was only 7 so I decided it would be ok even after his hard work the day before. I almost regretted my decision halfway round the woods as it was incredibly stoney. I wouldn't have done anything but walk on it (but there were jumps as an option!) so it was taking a bit longer than I thought. We made it into some fields and managed to have a good canter and popped all the fences - he was a keen been which was lovely and he felt like he was locking on to his fences. I was worried that he would be a bit foot sore the next day as the terrain was a bit challenging but he came out without a care in the world so I guess I need to stop worrying about it!

I decided that I was going to end my season without entering another event and focus on training and getting ready for next season. B feels really good, we've got our dressage championship coming up and work is really busy at the moment and I don't want to do it unless I can focus completely on it, especially as it's a step up. 

Plan for now is to continue with lessons, B is going to have a holiday and then we will have a quieter time up to Christmas and then kick start again in January with some JAS and jump training. Before I know it the season will be starting again :o)