Fair weather friend?

This picture taken by Caitlin pretty much sums up my day. We were at the show, but missing from action.

Well, the show season is a wrap, and for me, it ended with disappointment.  Yesterday’s IDCTA championship show was a complete bust for Derby and me.  He loaded and unloaded beautifully, an settled in nicely.  But once we got tacked up, left the warm barn and out into the crisp, breezy morning and prepared to warm up, Derby became unglued.

The problem began with a tippy mounting block, which tipped as I stepped up into the iron. I got a bit hung up and am so glad my friend Brittany was holding Derby, limiting how far he could go with me clinging like a monkey to his side.

That incident upset him, and he developed horror of the mounting block. Great.  I walked him around for a while as the clock ticked down on our ride for the championship, and then – with Christy feeding sugar cubes and Brittany holding him, managed to mount.

The warm up ring was busy, but we’ve handled that before. However, yesterday Derby just wasn’t with me. He wasn’t going to relax and walk, so I started to trot him.  We changed directions a couple time, and I put him on a circle to get some control over his hind legs.   But it quickly felt like it was going to go south as Derby started to feel uncharacteristically light on his front end.  His neck was like aboard and there was no softening.    It felt like it was escalating to me, not improving. We didn’t last long.  I dismounted, because I felt like we were going to become a menace (and risk) to the others in the warm up, and ourselves.

I was bitterly, bitterly disappointed.  The show venue was beautiful, and I was so happy that we hand managed to qualify.  Our work has improved daily.  I really felt read to put in a great ride. But, as they say, man plans and God (and your horse) laughs.

I walked Derby around a bit, and he got worse and worse.  So we went inside, and I put him on the longe.  He got a good workout in the quiet indoor longe arena.  I took him back outside.  Any better?  No.  He was right back to his bad behavior, refusing to even walk nicely out of the barn. We walked all over the show grounds, and while he did settle enough to grab a few bites of grass when we were out of the center of the action, when we got near the warm up, he became unhinged again.

Once we got back home, I saddled up and rode my clean, shiny horse in my clean, shiny tack, in my white britches and sparkling boots.  We had some really nice work,  though Derby was pretty tired after his excursion and various inappropriate expenditures of energy.   He started to fuss and I put my leg on and gave him a swat with my new (longer) whip.  He came to, and we ended on a really good note, with some lovely trot work into a very good, on-the-bit halt.

I’ve concluded that (for now) he’s a fair-weather show pony.   Our three earlier outings in the spring and summer weren’t as bad as our two fall trips.  And past experience strongly suggests that Derby does get squirrely when the temperatures initially dip.  So I’ll focus my efforts on the earlier shows next year.  We’ll save cold-weather outings until our partnership (and my skills) are truly solid.

The 2013 season begins tonight at 6:30 sharp.



Ups and downs in front of the judge

After attending several shows at the beautiful Sunflower Farms in Bristol, WI as a spectator, I was really excited about showing there last weekend.   We were fortunate to have a gorgeous day, and there were some bright spots for Derbs and me.

However, there were a bunch of challenges too, which started right off the bat when my sloppy horsemanship resulted in Derby taking a high-speed, unaccompanied tour of Silver Fern before I could even get his braids in.  I had left his door ajar when I went in to curry him as he ate his hay.  The other horses were being turned out, and Derby decided that he’d rather be outside with his pals thaninside eating hay.  He was all wound up, and proved to be the very devil to catch. I finally got him back inside, and braided, but he was still fizzing with energy, so I put him on the longe before loading up.   I was so unhappy.  This was not our routine!

Thankfully, Derby loaded easily, and the trip to Sunflower was uneventful.  He settled right in and resumed his breakfast, and was as cool as a cucumber.  Things were looking up.

Cool in front of the judge …for the moment.

Because I had the first ride of the day for our team, I didn’t have time to linger.  I tacked Derbs up, and we went for a walk around the grounds, giving him a look at the rings and in gate before strolling over to the warm up.   Derby was extremely composed and was being a very good boy.
The warm up went pretty well, but we kept it short, because our second test was soon after the first.  Fairly satisfied, we walked over to the in gate for our first test, Intro A.

Our 8 halt.

Derbs went straight in and went around the outside of the ring, greeting the judge with no problem.   Entering the ring, I could feel a little tension but he wasn’t bad at all.  In fact, I had to give him a bit of a crack with the whip as we started the first circle because he was a bit behind my leg.
However, he was leaning on my inside leg a lot, and I struggled to get him to move out throughout the test.

All in all, I wasn’t terribly happy with my ride, because (as is so often the case) we’re doing much better work at home.  But there were a couple bright spots.  We got a 7 on one sticky transition from trot to medium walk that has been a problem for us all season. That 7 represents a huge improvement.  I also got my highest rider score, with a 6.5, up from the 6’s I’ve been getting this year.  But the real surprise was the score for our last centerline and halt.  We got an 8!  My first 8! Yes, I was pretty thrilled by that.  We wound up with a 64.5%, which is our best score of the year.

We went back to the barn to chill for about 30 minutes, before heading back to the warm up.  This time, Derbs felt awesome.  We had some very nice work, and between that fact and his steady performance in the first test, I was feeling really confident about the second test.  I was looking forward to getting into the ring and really riding for a score.

Derbs, it turns out, had other plans.  He melted down on me, spooking at everything he saw, whirling and scampering around willy-nilly.  I got him past the judge’s stand, with the help of some enthusiastic coaching from judge Caryn Vesperman.  We went back and forth in front of the stand, and I thought things were under control as we headed for A.   He started the shenanigans again, and after hemming and hawing for a second I withdrew.  There were a lot of people and some other horses in close proximity, and I elected to stay safe rather than upset and possibly injure others.

Back in the warm up, after the melt down.

I dismounted, and stomped off to the warm up ring like a petulant 8 year old to go back to work.  I mounted up, and put him to work. And once again, he was great.

I won’t kind you, I was (and frankly remain) very annoyed with Derby and disappointed with myself.  I wish I could have ridden him through that naughtiness, because he wasn’t legitimately scared. He was evading.

Back in the barn, Derbs was pooped.  I untacked groomed him, and left him in peace with a pile of hay.  But no cookies.  He didn’t earn extra cookies this time around.  The extra cookie bag remains in my tack trunk.  I’m saving them for the show when Derby is a good boy from start to finish.  And then, there will be cookies.  An obscene amount of cookies!

Video from last week’s show

Christy kindly took video of my rides at last week’s show.  Here’s our winning ride (60.6%) at Intro A.   We were really unsteady going down the centerline – a huge horsefly was buzzing Derby’s head, and at one point you can see his head pop straight up. Argh.  But once we get off the centerline, things improve.  Toward the end of the test we develop a bit more energy across the diagonal and into the second trot circle.

What I like most about this test was the fact that I was able to make quick corrections, getting him back on the bit pretty quickly.  We do need to get a lot more energy and connection going, which is the subject of this week’s lessons!  Overall the test was pretty steady but lackluster.  While Derby is no Totilas, I’m not showing off his best gaits.  On a non-fancy OTTB, I will have to learn to show his gaits to the very best advantage if I hope to get some really good scores.

An Ode, and Some Inspiration

Christy and Liam

I spent a blissful day up at Silverwood yesterday, watching Christy and Liam, as well as a few other friends and lots of area pros.  It was a big “two shows in one” weekend, running three days, and some big names were in attendance.  Ken Borden was there with Rashka, who’s been a USDF HOTY for the last three years running, at Training, First and Second, and it’s easy to see why this horse has more than 20 scores in excess of 80%.  Yvonne Barteau and and her Grand Prix powerhouse GP Raymeister (who, incidentally, is Rashka’s sire) are always fun to watch, and they didn’t disappoint in the musical freestyle I caught.

As much fun as it is to watch grand prix riders on fancy warmbloods, more than anything I still enjoy watching OTTBs go down the centerline.  For me, Christy and Liam stole the show, garnering two more scores toward the bronze medal (yay!!!!) and really illustrating what teamwork is all about. It was a hot day, and the footing at Silverwood is deeper than at home. Christy rode her first test conservatively, to ensure she had gas in the tank for her debut at Second Level.  They put in a good ride and got the score they needed before going back for round two.

During that second warm up, Christy commented that she could feel that Liam was getting tired.  It really didn’t show during the test, however – as usual, the two were in beautiful synch and harmony.  After the ride, however, it became clear that Liam had given Christy his all.  When I took him out to graze and cool off, he was reluctant to leave his stall, trudging slowly (that’s so unlike him) with his head drooping.  Poor boy!   He had been right there in the zone with Christy, and had left it all on the field.  He perked up when we showered him with treats after he had a bath, though.  He knew he had done well! I was overjoyed when we learned that Christy had indeed earned a score in excess of 60% at Second.  She’s halfway to her bronze!  It’s pretty exciting.

I also watched two other OTTBs.  Linus, a 10 year old that evented Prelim last year, went out at PSG and I-1.  He is a magnificent athlete and is a tempi-change machine.  His owner, Carol, says he’s the most athletic horse she’s ever had, and that dressage comes naturally for him.  Watching Linus, who carries a spectacular amount of muscle on his light Thoroughbred frame, is truly exciting and inspirational for anyone who loves Thoroughbreds.  What he lacks in extravagant gaits he makes up in athleticism and enthusiasm.  It’s going to be a fun summer watching him.

Kelly and Bubba execute a very pretty stretchy trot.

Our friend Kelly also had her green bean, a 5 year old OTTB she’s nicknamed Bubba, out for his first dressage show at Training.  He’s done a couple baby combined tests, and is showing a lot of promise.  However, he had some greenie moments during his test, taking exception to the judges booth and spooking whenever he came near C. Kelly rode with tact and empathy, staying quiet but insisting upon forward.  As much as I loved watching Liam and Linus, Bubba’s test was inspiring for me.  Kelly did a wonderful job of keeping the horse on the aids, and had some very nice moments, including the pretty stretchy trot pictured to the left.

The Thoroughbreds all acquitted themselves very well, and garnered compliments from onlookers, who admired how light and refined they appeared in the ring – the differences really are evident because most of the horses doing rated dressage shows are heavier warmbloods and draft crosses.

This morning I uploaded all the video I took yesterday, and watched all the rides once again.  Then I put on my britches and headed out to the barn, where I rousted Derby from a late-morning nap in the sun.  With visions of Bubba’s stretchy trot in my head and Christy’s words from last week’s lessons ringing in my ears (“He needs to be rounder.  Rounder still.  Half halt.  Again.  Again. Soften the inside rein.  Inside leg on. Half halt. Again!!! MAKE IT HAPPEN!”) I paid attention to differentiating between bracing contact and good, roundness. I half halted, and half halted, and half halted, but I was able to get Derby’s back up, and best of all, I was able to hold it.  Getting and maintaining roundness will be the absolute key for us in the coming weeks.  Everything is so much easier when you’re operating from that essential “ready” position, with a forward, round, connected horse.


A #FAIL, a win and a second.

We got some good work done in the warm up.

God, where to start.  What a day!  Today we went with a few barnmates to a nearby schooling show.  It had a great turnout, which you always like to see – but the warm up ring was chaotic.  All of the Green as Grass/Intro classes went in the morning, meaning that the ring was full of either green riders or green horses (or in some cases, both.)  There were two horses I was steering clear of, and a handful of kids that weren’t really watching where they were going.

The warm up ring was a zoo. I hated it but Derby was totally cool.

It sucked.  It was crazy and I hated it, but Derby was a total star.  He was as cool as a cucumber, and we had a great warm up.  I was really excited about our test, because he felt great and things were going very well.

Until they weren’t.

Things became very un-okay in a heartbeat, when Derby spooked – and spooked hard – at something in the corner.  Normally, he takes me with him but I simply couldn’t stick this one.   Nope.  I wound up in the dirt, scarily close to one of the horses I’d studiously been trying to avoid – a hot-potato giant green warmblood that was spending most of its time light on its front end and backing up.  I did think for a minute that I was in for a good stomping.


…and here we go.

On my way down.  The horse to my right is the stompy warmblood.

It took me a minute to determine that I was okay, and initially I told Christy that I was going to scratch. But really, the fall didn’t hurt and I didn’t get stomped by the big scary warmblood.   I felt fine, so I shouted to Christy that I had changed my mind, and she managed it with the show crew.  I got back on and out we went.

Derby was pretty tense but we had some nice moments.  I was able to get him to listen and round and engage – not consistently, but more than I did at Silverwood two weeks ago.   We brought in a 55%  which would up being good for fourth, out of a class of eight.  Not bad, after all.

My next ride was a bit more than an hour after my first, so I untacked Derbs so we could both chill a bit.  We did a minimal warm up (but were able to go by that corner with no further incidents) and rode a better test, garnering a 60.3%.  This second ride netted us the red ribbon for second place.

We got a 7 on this free walk. 🙂

It was a fun day, and we made some good steps forward, not the least of which was managing a decent test after that harrowing warm up. I’m going to shoot for another outing mid-June.


First Show: Energy, Tension & Inattention

We had some great energy, coupled with some tension that I didn’t manage well.

Well, the first show for the year is in the books, and it was a great learning experience.  My rides were scheduled for early afternoon, but were pushed back when a huge thunderstorm rolled in, dumping a ton of water on us and delaying the show for a couple hours.  After that, the schedule went to hell, as a lot of people scratched. Instead of simply rescheduling the rides, we had to listen to for our names over the PA system – they were calling 4 riders at a time.  When you first heard your name, that meant you had about 30 minutes before your ride.

Energy was not a problem.

It started raining again as I mounted up for my first ride, and despite the fact that I had walked Derby around the show grounds twice in the morning, before the storm, I had a very tense, jiggy-horse walking over to the ring and going into the warm up.  Energy was not a problem – Derby was really forward but not scarily so. However, he was not at all tuned into me, and I really struggled with his tension – and inattention.

Derby’s neck was like a board and my half-halts were not going through at all.  I worked some transitions, trying to get him dialed in, and really could have used more time because the warm up was 50 kinds of ugly.  Thinking “It is what it is,” to myself, we headed for the ring. The first test was Intro A, which doesn’t require a halt at X upon entering the ring.  That was a good thing for us yesterday, because I’m not sure it would have happened.

Right bend? Nah, I prefer mugging for the camera.

I really tried to allow him to stride out and go forward, which I did achieve at points, but I was not able to ride precisely or emphatically (?) enough to deal effectively with the tension.  For most of the ride, Derby’s ears were pitched straight ahead.  His attention was riveted elsewhere and my aids were not effective enough to soften him.

We got though the test and headed straight back to the schooling ring.  I redoubled the emphasis of my aids, sticking the spur into his side with some real – shall we say – vigor.  At that point the message did get through and he started to soften and respond to my aids.  We got some better work and spent about 10 minutes working on relaxing and transitions.

Since my next test was originally scheduled an hour and 10 minutes after my first, I took Derby back to his stall to chill for a few minutes.  The horse I had when I pulled him out and mounted up for our second walk to the ring was entirely different.  He was relaxed, ears flopping, and we walked quietly to the warm up.

Our second warm up started out really well. Derby was relaxed and listening but still had really nice energy.  The half-halts were starting to work, he was keeping an ear turned back toward me, and I was getting some marvelous, round trot from him.  I did some transitions within the gait (little trot/big trot) and was totally excited by the awesome gaits I was getting when I let him roll.  Here, finally, was my show-ring trot.  It felt great and I was totally looking forward to redeeming ourselves.

But then, inexplicably, the tension returned.  I don’t know what happened, because there was no real change in weather, and the other horses in the warm up were all being totally cool – no one was melting down.  But suddenly my nice, relaxed, floppy eared horse vanished.  The head came up, the ears were immovably forward, and the neck became rigid, with the muscles underneath bulging.

Working trot, giraffe-style.

Crap, crap, crap.  I went back to transitions, which had gone to pot.  I tried some spiral-in/spiral out, and had a few hopeful moments as I struggled to keep my right leg draping around the horse, inviting him to wrap around it.  But the hopeful moments were fleeting, and I was pretty much back to where I was before the first test.  We walked, I tried some free walk, which is something we’re getting pretty good at, but nope – to free walk you need an honest connection, and when I invited him to stretch, I got no response, because I had no connection.

The second test was no better than the first, with one exception – I did actually manage to get him to soften and round a bit on our trot circle to the right.  However, we committed a variety of sins against geometry, wove drunkenly down the centerline and played a little hokey pokey (put your right haunch in, put your right haunch out …) at X.

The test scores (60 and 59.5) were, in my opinion, inflated – even by schooling show standards.  And the commentary was what I expected, nailing us for tension, lack of harmony, the rider’s ineffective aids and fairly astounding inaccuracy.

But, there were a few wins.  I was happy that Derby did have some relaxed moments, and happy that I was able to do a little effective schooling.  I need to get much faster at developing and deploying my own responses and corrections, certainly, but the fact that I was able to figure some stuff out is encouraging.  I’m happy that during those few nice moments in the warm up I was able to produce some fancy gaits.  And best of all, at no point in the day did I feel scared or intimidated.  Annoyed, yes. Frustrated, yes.  But skeered?  No.  And that’s coming from my growing confidence is Derby, who really is a very good boy.  His biggest problem is his pilot!

A fun (and successful!) first show

Red ribbons for me, and a giant bucket of cookies for a very deserving Derby.

Today was my first outing with Derby, and though we didn’t produce the best test we could, the day was an unqualified success. And I had a lot of fun!   I really couldn’t be much happier.

The day started in the wee hours, before sunrise.  I rolled into the barn and surprised a dozing Derby when I pulled him out of his stall for a mane braiding session.  My fellow show-bound riders Liz and Cassie showed up, along with our dressage trainer, Christy, shortly after I started on Derby’s mane.  All the horses were clean, polished and booted when the trailer pulled up at 6:30.    I was totally thrilled with how Derby loaded.  After enduring some hair-raising episodes with other horses, I have to tell you, my favorite moment of the day was when Derby stepped up onto the trailer and quietly started nosing his hay while I hooked the trailer ties.   He unloaded easily too, once we arrived, and was unruffled as we walked around the facility hosting the show. I didn’t care what happened at that point.  I was really happy with him.  What a cool customer.

Soon it was time to tack up and get going.  The warm up was busy but Derby didn’t look at a thing.  We stretched a bit and trotted around, but I wanted to conserve our energy, so I didn’t do much.

Heading down the center line for the first time!

The tests were being ridden on a dressage court just outside the big indoor where we were warming up.  We walked out of the indoor and down to the court for our test, where things got momentarily interesting.  A horse was unloading in the field adjacent to the dressage court, and a mini-donk on the property started to welcome the new arrival at the top of his lungs.  EEEE-AWWWW EEEEEE-AWWW!  At that moment, Derby noticed the people under the tent we had walked by and around just an hour ago.  He shied and suggested that we turn around.  I disagreed, and put him to work with a few circles, bending etc.  In just a minute we regained our composure (and our marbles), greeted the judge and scribe, and then we were on our way.    Derby was still a bit tense but was otherwise as good as gold.  I didn’t push it and rode conservatively, but it was still good enough for a 60.5% and a second place riboon.

It’s been a while since I was in the ring, and I won’t kid you – I went to this show without having even ridden completely through one of these two tests.  (Reference earlier comments about not being entirely ready …)  And after my first test, I was struck by how quickly the movements came.   I knew I hadn’t done a great job of setting myself up for subsequent movements – a fact that would later be borne out by the judge’s comments.   We went back to the warm up (my next ride was scheduled for just 20 minutes later) to think about things. The next ride was better.  I rode Derby a bit more forwardly, and was faster to make adjustments and corrections.  Our score crept up one percentage point, my rider scores were better, and our efforts garnered us another second place ribbon.  It’s not terribly exciting, but here’s the video:

A nice moment, right in front of the judge. We got a 7 on this circle. Yay!

I took Derby back to his stall, untacked him and took out his braids, while simultaneously feeding him cookies, brushing him off, and telling him what an awesome boy he was.  I left him to chill with a big serving of soaked beat pulp and alfalfa, and went to watch the others ride and to hang out with our friends Sue and Brittany, who came along to offer moral support.

It was such a beautiful day. My grape Gatorade tasted like champagne. All of my friends had nice rides – Cassie and Coda brought home two blue ribbons, and Cloud and Remy were both much cooler on their second outings, and both turned in very good performances.  We all went home with ribbons that were either red or blue (except Christy, who rode HC but was thrilled that her green bean was awarded two 8s!) and once again, the horses all loaded and unloaded with minimal-to-no fuss.

Once back in the barn, Derby donned his bug gear, and he and Remy headed out to their paddock to roll and doze in the sun.  Christy, Brittany, Liz and I went and grabbed lunch, recounting our successes making future plans.  I’m just thrilled to bits with Derby and can’t wait for our next adventure.   What a fun day!

Good boy!