Monday, February 27, 2017

Well, We Tried?

Yesterday was the dressage test day. Everyone on our dressage team for Dressage Anywhere met up and filmed our tests. And it was rough on Casey and I...

The day started off with things going not quite right for Casey and I. In the cross-ties was was being a butt; stomping her hooves, pretending like she was going to kick, really unusual behavior for her. When we were trying to warm up in the arena she continued her bratty behavior; trying to bite ponies, pinning her ears at everybody, and acting super spooky at literally nothing. This is surprising because Casey almost never spooks. She doesn't like dogs running towards her, but shadows and random objects? Normally no problem! Yesterday, however, was a different story and everything was terrifying.

Eventually I just gave up on the idea of warming up, because rather than calming down, Casey just seemed to be getting more and more worked up. I decided to just let her stand and observe, hoping that would chill her out. But that didn't work either...

At this point I was feeling like there was really no point in filming our test, but since I had driven out and put effort in already I decided to just suck it up and try. Our first attempt was pretty awful. She was still being spooky, was not working with me at all, and in the middle of our test the barn dog ran out from the side of the arena (remember how I said she spooks at dogs?). It was a hot mess. There were some nice-ish moments, the stretchy trot in particular, but overall it was horrid.
Pretty sure this isn't a dressage move...
Goodish stretch trot
Cantering wasn't a part of the test, but canter we did
Even though we dd a bad job, pony still gets pats and love
Since I had to try again, Casey and I had to wait for everyone else to get their first tests filmed. In the meantime though the weather became insane, there was rain, there was snow, there was crazy strong winds... really not the most ideal conditions. Eventually it was our turn again and we did our second attempt.

This time it went a tad better... she listened a little bit more, but still overall was being really hard to work with. We struggled with the free walk (Casey was jigging almost the whole time) so we will get slammed on our score for that movement, and overall she (and I) were too tense and just not in sync.
It doesn't look as bad in screenshots
Medium trot
More trotting
Working on the diagonal line
We still had head-tossing,but at least her head is slightly lower?
After our second attempt, I called it quits, knowing it really wasn't going to get any better than that knowing the conditions, and decided to send in that video for scoring. I know that I won't receive a good score on it, but Trainer said that at least it gives us a starting point so that we can track our improvement.

I'm really frustrated with the whole thing, because I know that we can do a million times better. We have done that test a million times better. But that day was just not our day. I don't know what came over Casey, whether it was the crazy weather, or just the different environment, but she's never been so hard to ride. It's especially disappointing because she has been so great to ride lately. I'm trying not to be so tough on us, but I wish that we had done better. It's hard for me to even watch the videos because all I am seeing are our flaws.

Attempt #1

Attempt #2

I don't want to end of such a bad note, so here's the good in this. Our first dressage test is done! We will never have to do that again! Even though the situation was not ideal, Casey and I did work together to get through it and we did improve from the first test to the second test. Also, this situation was informative, because it showed us what we need to work on. We really need to work on riding in situations that are a little bit more hectic. I always try to ride when the barn is quiet, but maybe I should try to ride at times when it is busier to help Casey get used to the chaos. And even though she may not be a dressage pony yet, I think we will be able to get there!
What the heck is this snow?!
Casey is confused
And both of us are miserable in the cold

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My horse is a BOSS

I had the best lesson tonight! Ok, now that we got some of my excitement out of the way, let's talk details...
Super tired and happy post-lesson
My lesson started with Trainer having us work on basic bending at a walk. Nothing too fancy, just trying to get Casey to bend in a circle while staying really relaxed. Trainer pointed out that I keep too much tension in my legs and that I need to remember to just keep them relaxed. One of my ankles is a lot weaker than the other one (stupid HS varsity soccer injury) and I think I've been overcompensating for it's lack of flex by trying to force it down, but that just makes my whole leg tense up.

After working on bending at a walk, we moved on to a trot. Trainer emphasized that I should ask for the trot when Casey is actually in a nice relaxed bend. We got some really nice upward transitions. We also worked on downward transitions, trying to really get Casey to listen to my seat and vocal cues instead of having to rely on rein pressure as much. This is a tough one for both of us, because downward transitions are not the easiest for us, but we made some really nice progress.

Next came cantering. We aren't focusing on specific things in the canter yet, because Trainer says that Casey doesn't really have the muscle strength yet to do a lot with that, but we did a little bit of bending. Trainer made numerous comments about how good Casey's canter has gotten (she hasn't seen us canter in a lesson in probably two months), which made me pretty proud :)

Now to the good stuff, the jumping! Trainer had us pop over a medium sized cross-rail a few times each direction. Then she set up a jump line which was a one stride to a one stride. We only went over this twice and then I think Trainer had a change of mind because she set up a new line that had bounces. By the end of the lesson it was a quadruple bounce to a one stride oxer.

I have very little experience with bounces and I had no idea if Casey had ever seen a bounce before, so the first time going through was a tad nerve-wracking (I was just praying that she wouldn't try to jump it as a crazy wide oxer), but I should have had more faith in my pony, because she handled it like a champ. The bounces also really helped to set me up well for the oxer.
Engaged horse booty
I honestly don't ever know how to describe the experience, but going through the line, Casey was light, really picking up her feet, and rounding over the jumps really nicely. It made it really easy to ride as well because she had a really nice rhythm going. The oxer just keep going up and up and Casey just kept jumping better and better. By the end of the lesson we had gotten to an oxer that was 3 feet high and probably 2 feet wide. And Casey made it feel like we were flying. It was really magical, and it really just showed me how freaking awesome my horse is. I know that she has talent, but she really blows me away sometimes when it shows up like that!
She's such a boss :P

By the end of the lesson Trainer gave me some really good feedback. She told me that she really liked how I rode the line, because I was floating my reins and just letting Casey do her thing. She also told me that I should make a point to set up bounces for Casey when I jump out of lessons, because it is encouraging her to jump really nicely and will strengthen her bum and get her off of her forehand.

She recommending doing a bounce line twice a week and running it through 10-12 times. I usually jump two days a week (out of the 5-6 total times I ride) so I will just make a point to start setting bounce lines for myself. I am still a newbie at setting my own lines, so after hopping off Casey I made sure to walk the line myself a few times (for my own future note: bounces are 3 normal steps, the one stride after is 8).
Post-ride queen awaiting her treats
I think that this lesson was really what Casey and I needed to get us back on track. It's been so long since we had a jump lesson that I was running out of things that I knew we needed to work on and I really like getting feedback! Plus, this lesson really was a confidence-booster. Casey and I have been working up to jumping 3 feet on a more regular basis (right now it's about every other week and just a single jump at a time), but that huge oxer really felt like nothing because Casey was jumping so round. If we can keep jumping like that then 3 feet won't be a challenge at all!
Her front end just kills me with how good it looks
Do you like using bounces as a training aid? When's the last time that you had a lesson where everything just clicked into place nicely?
Soooo many baby carrots for the best horsie

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Dressage Test Fail...

I've avoided writing about this for two days now, but it's time to talk about what happened with our dressage test.

For the past month-ish Casey has been a dream. She has a good attitude, she is willing to work, and she is fully cooperative. She also just seems to be really happy. A big part of that is that she LOVES the current bit that we are using (it's a Myler Combo low-port bit). We have gotten to the point that she responds to the lightest rein pressure. She also no longer is bracing against the bit (which was perhaps our biggest problem during the summer/fall). 

BUT... this bit is not dressage-legal.

There are zero riding photos from this, so enjoy photos of Casey eating cookies to accompany this tragic post

So for our dressage test I had to resort to using her old bit, which is a copper-coated, oval link, D-ring snaffle bit. And even though this bit is supposed to be really comfortable and kind to horse's mouths, Casey was beyond offended that I would dare to use this bit on her.

Casey's response to the evil bit was to completely forget how to horse. She resorted to all of our worst habits and completely forget how to use her body. We had giraffing around the arena (when she holds her head really high), tongue constantly over the bit, incessant pulling on the bit, and total refusal to bend (or stop...). And that was just her head! Her body was just as much a hot mess. She forgot how to listen to leg pressure, fell-in at corners, was super tight and tense in her back, and basically could only barrel straight ahead.

It was a frustrating ride, because Casey was getting really tense due to the bit change and I was getting really tense in response to her getting tense and so our communication was just not there. We did run through the dressage test a few times, and things did slightly improve, but not much.

By the end of the lesson, my trainer tried to point out all of the positives, like how much better the last run-through of the test had gone, but I was just in a negative space about the whole thing. I think that I was just disappointed in us, because I had run through the test many times with Casey before and so I knew that we had done a bad job in comparison. It's really rare that I end a ride feeling so negative, but I felt negative that night. I think that I was just frustrated with the situation. It wasn't Casey's fault and it wasn't my fault, and it wasn't my trainer's fault, but knowing that doesn't change that I felt that we should have done better.

The next night I came back out to ride and I decided to keep things really low-stakes. My goal was to just have a positive and fun time with Casey. We switched back to our normal bit, and just like magic, all of the sudden my unicorn horse came back. She went so beautifully for me and we had great communication. It was validating to see that our failure the night before wasn't reflective of where our relationship is currently at (and it also showed me that I need to get a different bit for her for dressage rides).

Since I still need to film my dressage test for this month, my plan is to try again next week, this time with a bit much more similar to the one that Casey loves. In the meantime I am going to just try to have fun with Casey and work on strengthening our communication with each other. My goal is to get to the point that I can use the slightest aids with her and still get a response. Obviously this is a long-term goal and improvement won't happen in a week, but if we can get to a happy place before trying again maybe it won't go so terribly next time!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Jump Schooling

Yesterday I was just going to have a light hack on Casey when one of my closest barn friends showed up at the barn! I mostly ride alone (90% of the time) and so I am always psyched when I get to ride with other people, especially when they are my friends!

My friend and I quickly decided that we should have a fun day of jumping together. I was going to ride Casey and she was going to ride our trainer's mare Ava (who is Casey's BFF), since her mare is brand-new to her and is no-where near jumping ready. We warmed up by just doing basic trot and canter work, and right when we were getting ready to jump the man who works at the barn showed up with his awesome professional camera and asked if we wanted some photos of us jumping. We of course said yes, because who doesn't love getting awesome jump photos?
Warming up
We had a blast just messing around over fun jumps. I set up all of the jumps at different heights and different angles so that we wouldn't have to reset the jumps at all. My friend only jumped the lower crossrails (since she wasn't riding her own horse) and after she finished jumping she acted like a trainer for me, giving me feedback and coming up with tricky things for me to try with Casey. It was really nice of her to do that since she definitely didn't have to, but I think that she had fun too!

Since it wasn't a formal lesson, I'm not going into tons of detail about what we did, but here were my main takeaways (the vast majority of these are really the insights of my friend): 

- Casey's canter is fricking phenomenal right now and is a pleasure to ride.
To die for canter
Looking good horsie!
- I need to remember that even though Casey is a hot horse, she still needs leg added while on course.
Soooo exited for crossrails!
I swear she looks so happy in every jumping photo
- Casey struggles with rollbacks. We have been focusing so much on collection on straight jumping lines that now it is really apparent that we also need to focus on balance around turns in-between jumps. So more roll-backs in the future!
She is sometimes the queen of the struggle bus
- My horse is crazy talented. Even though I was asking her to do new and "scary" things, like jump a mega crossrail made out of the white planks that she despises, or do three roll-backs in a row, she was totally willing and able to do what I asked of her as long as I supported her.
She hated this thing, but jumped it anyways

- My position has made a lot of improvement, but I still have a lot of work to do (look ahead rather than at the jump, stirrups are definitely at least a whole too long, yadda yadda).
Just need to remember to look straight ahead
- Casey's jumping form is getting really nice as long as she has the right distance and angle to the jump. If conditions are less than perfect she struggles a bit (yet she doesn't always listen when I try to help...) I think that this will be improved just by gaining more experience, but if I keep giving her challenging things to work on, then her progress might be sped up.
Literally the cutest
Really it was just a perfect day. I had so much fun, and I know that everyone else did too. I love days like that :)
My giddy smile says it all :)
What's your perfect riding day?

Dressage Babies

And by dressage babies, I'm referring to Casey and me. Just a forewarning... I am going to be talking about dressage in this post, a discipline that I am very new at, so I am probably going to use the wrong terms or just not know what I'm talking about. You have been warned...

Such dressage babies that this was our "good" attempt at coming straight down center-line. Yes, I know we aren't centered...

Since I obviously don't have enough stuff going on in my life... I decided to join my barn's dressage team! It was totally an impulse decision as Casey and I have ZERO official dressage training and we are totally under qualified to be on this team, but due to the set-up and situation we are able to be a part of it anyways.

We want to be part of the dressage team so that we can be fancy! (this is only partially in jest)
My barn's dressage team is for a worldwide online dressage competition called Dressage Anywhere. It is a British organization that runs monthly competitions in dressage in many levels, ranging from Intro level tests all the way to Prix? level tests (fancy stuff). You can compete as an individual or a team and there is no commitment to compete, you just get to compete as you wish. Basically you register for free and every month they post the test options. If you want to compete you have to film the test in your arena and then send in the video and the money to compete. The price to compete varies based on the level, but basically its $15-20 per test. You can compete in as many or as few tests in a month as you wish. If you are on a team, they take the top three scores from your team each month (meaning Casey and I will probably never have our scores counted towards the team as I doubt we will be in the top three).

Dressage Anywhere

Even though we are not actually a dressage pair, Casey and I have been learning snippets of dressage here and there. In our lessons, we have been learning basics and in my spare time I watch other people's dressage lessons. So even though we are not dressage-rs I feel as though we have potential to be. The test that we are going to be doing this month is the Intro level test. It is only walk and trot and is fairly easy. I'm going to be having my lesson on Tuesday night to film the test (so that I can submit the video), but I have been spending the past week preparing for it.

Our Intro Test

My way to prepare for the test is:

1. Learn it on paper. I printed out about 10 copies of a dressage arena and then sat down and drew out the test on paper (until I thought I kind of knew it).

2. Memorize test. Once I thought I knew the test, I then tested myself to see if I actually did know everything. If I could draw it out on the arena paper without having to refer to the test, then I knew it. (Note: You can have someone read the test to you, but since I wanted to practice on my own, I needed to memorize it).

I had to memorize it, so that we could practice it on our own!
3. Practice on horseback. Once I had the test memorized, I went to the barn and tried to run it through a few times with her. I'm glad that I did this on my own at first, because I made stupid little mistakes, or Casey would get confused about what I was asking her, and it gave us the chance to work out some of the major kinks.

4. Work on test with trainer (haven't done this yet). My plan for Tuesday is to go over the test with my trainer watching so that she can give me specific feedback. Once I've improved the test with her feedback I think we will be ready to film.

For instance, I need to ask trainer if this actually is a "working" trot, because I really don't know!
I'm not really nervous about this competition, because it's just for fun, it's reasonably cheap, and it's both my and Casey's first time ever doing a dressage test so I have really low expectations. I am planning to film in a private lesson rather than doing the whole team film time (because Casey gets amped with many horses around), but I think we'd be fine even filming with the others. I just want us to have fun and I am curious about what feedback the judges can give us.

Like, what will they tell us about how we can improve our trot?
I'm super excited to get to try a new discipline. I know that many hunter/jumper people are not at all into dressage and that many people find it boring, but I think that dressage is awesome, and even the little bit that I have learned has helped me tremendously in my riding and jumping. I'll let you all know how it goes on Tuesday!

Can it really go so bad when really it just means spending time with my horse?
Have you ever tried a new riding discipline? Which one? What did you think of it?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

SleekEZ Grooming Tool Review

I don't know about the rest of you, but my horse is shedding like crazy. Even though we are still technically in winter, and it is still freezing cold, and all of the other horses are holding onto their winter coats for dear life, my mare is done with winter and her winter coat.

Literally every single day I go out to the barn and have to spend at least half an hour currying her to try to get all of the loosened hair off. It's terribly frustrating, especially because nobody else seems to be dealing with this yet. In my frustration, I turned to the internet to see what options there were to make all of this shedding much easier. I found many reviews for a grooming tool called SleekEZ and decided on a whim to purchase one.

My SleekEZ

I purchased my SleekEZ from Amazon, because free 2-day shipping. 

There are three different sizes of the tool, 2.5 inches (which retails for $13), 5 inches (for $16) and 10 inches (for $20). I honestly didn't know which size to go with so I went with the medium size, 5 inches. I think that this was probably the best bet, because it is big enough to cover large areas in a short amount of time, but small enough that I can get to the nooks and crannies fairly easily. I think that the 2.5 inches would take much too long to groom with and the 10 inches would be really unwieldy (although the 10 inches is the recommended size for horses so what do I know...).

The SleekEZ is made out of poplar wood and a metal blade. The wood is the handle and honestly is probably my only complaint, because I have little hands and the wood is just a little bit too wide for me to comfortably hold. I wish that it were just a tad narrower. That being said, I am still able to use it, so it's not reason enough to not buy the product. The wood is also water-proofed so it should stand up to years of use even in rainy Oregon.

The SleekEZ is really great for grooming, because it gets SO much hair off in each swipe. It is exponentially better at hair removal than all of my other grooming tools (rubber curries, metal curries, etc). The magic of the SleekEZ, I think, comes down to its metal blade. It sort of looks like a saw with short teeth, but rather than all of the teeth facing straight up, they are very slightly angled so that about every couple of centimeters the teeth point very slightly in different directions.

The metal blade

The recommended use of the SleekEZ is to use it first on the horse and then follow it with a soft horse brush. I use the SleekEZ and then I follow it with a rubber curry on all of the areas that I won't go over with metal (so legs, face, spine, anyplace that is bony essentially), and then I follow that with a soft brush. I am now using it daily and will do so until major shedding is over (and probably after).

The SleekEZ was designed by an equestrian, so probably had horses in mind in its creation, but also is usable on cats and dogs. Obviously, if you wanted to use it on smaller animals you would want to go with the smaller size. I personally own a horse, a dog, and a cat, but I'm only using my SleekEZ on my horse so I can't vouch for its use on other animals. I would assume that it would function similarly though. 

Another angle of the product

Other last notes about the SleekEZ are that it is made in the USA (so if you like supporting American companies it has that going for it). Also it has a lifetime warranty, so if you buy a SleekEZ and it dies then theoretically they will replace it for you. Other users say that using the SleekEZ regularly makes their horse's coats very shiny, and although I've not been using it for very long, I can see how that would be true, because it takes everything off the horse, all of the dead hair, and sweat, and dirt.

Super efficient at getting all this hair off!

Overall, I definitely recommend this product. It makes grooming much faster during this awful shedding season and is a really solid product. I've also been showing it off to my barn-mates and they all think it's really cool as well! 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Bitting Issues

When I first got Casey, one of the most obvious of her bad habits was that she would constantly put her tongue over the bit. It didn't matter how high or low the but was in her mouth, or what type of bit it was, or how I used the reins. It was almost like her calming habit, kind of like how little kids have to carry around their blankies.

After a lot of experimenting I landed on two bits that I could use with Casey that decreased the tongue over the bit issue. We used an copper oval link snaffle bit for quite a while that she really liked and then we also were using a roller link Myler Combination Bit. Gradually the frequency at which she put her tongue over the bit decreased. She got to the point that she would only do that when she had to do something that was hard and required a lot of thinking. Eventually the habit seemed to entirely disappear.

Myler Combination Bit - Roller Link
I'm bringing this up now because after her really long vacation caused by her injury, this bad habit has resurfaced and is getting worse. She has started throwing her tongue over the bit multiple times during a single ride and takes her sweet time in returning her tongue to where it belongs. It's really frustrating because I don't know why she is doing this again. The times that she is doing this don't seem to have a pattern the way that they did before and so I'm not sure how to change the situation.

Things that I tried to fix it are: tightening the bit straps, loosening the bit straps, trying multiple different bits, being lighter on the reins, trying to distract her by lateral work (which had mild success), and "punishing" her for it by hopping off and grabbing her tongue for a couple of seconds. 
Today I tried yet another bit. It's still a Myler Combination Bit, but it has a slight port to it. The purpose of the port is to give her tongue a bit more space. She did seem to like this bit better, but she still put her tongue over it twice in the span of half an hour. My current plan of action is to keep her in this bit since she responded most positively to it.

Myler Combination Bit - Low Port
It's interesting when talking to other people about it, because they sometimes give me other ideas. A women at the barn today told me that her horse had this issue and it came down to a back soreness issue. I really don't think that this is Casey's problem though so it wasn't too helpful. My trainer/Casey's prior owner said that Casey just never go over this with her. I'm not willing to give up in her about this though because I have had success with her before.

My current theory is that Casey does this when she is feeling stressed, usually from me asking her to do new or complicated things. I think that it came back because she had such a long break that she isn't used to our routine anymore. If my theory is right than just being consistent and compassionate with her will solve the problem. Plus the help of the ported bit!

Me? Difficult? No way!
Anyone else have bitting issues with their horse? How'd you end up fixing it?