Sunday, 25 August 2013

When crazy works on the day.

Well what a weekend! Our last weekend of four straight with things on. Amazing we made it to the end - and what a way to end the month!

After our interesting clinic with Sam Lyle last weekend, I felt very confident with Tux's cross country abilities. As Sam put it, he's "very bold"! That really translates into being highly-adrenalised and pretty much galloping at whatever I point him at. Over the course of the clinic with Sam, though, I managed to find a good balance of letting him roll on to the jump but trying to set up a good speed well before we get there. There is no point mucking around with Tux much more than 5 strides out as he seems to get quite worried about that and starts head tossing and swinging his quarters, taking his eye off the ball. That means, however, that if I get the speed wrong (ie too fast) we're in for a bumpy ride!

There were a few hurdles to getting to Wagga and I was very close to pulling the pin. My poor husband had been sick (and turns out to have pneumonia!), my kids were sick, I was sick, and Tux didn't get ridden all week. Then I got the draw and I was supposed to be riding at 8:30 Saturday morning!! That wasn't going to work and the wonderful Wagga organisers were luckily able to fit me in to a slot in the afternoon as someone had scratched. Note to self: next time ask for a late draw when you enter! And finally, my good mate who lives in Wagga had gone to a funeral and wouldn't be there.

But, screw it, I thought. This will be the last event til October and we've worked pretty hard over the last month so it would be good to see if we've improved. And my friend Nicki had offered to come over Saturday morning and plait up!

So, off we went to Wagga. When we arrived, Tux seemed more tense than usual. And that's saying something! But he pulled it together and actually did a much improved test. Tense, yes, but no rearing and jogging (there was actual walking!). Unfortunately, it was extremely boggy and slippery, so I tried to shave off half a meter on the circles to keep us out of the bog. The judge was pretty harsh and seemed to simply ignore the conditions, despite the slipping and choppy trot. She even knocked marks off for my circle being too small! Ah, well, everyone had the same judge so you can't really bitch too much. The only thing I really have a problem with is, once again, I have met a judge who is mainly negative, with no encouragement and no constructive criticism. I don't mind the marks, we're definitely not up for 8s and 9s yet, but the comments are very important to riders and I don't think many judges consider that.

With our crappy dressage, we were running 19th out of 25. Kinda takes the pressure off, being that shit!

The showjumping seemed big and was also very slippery. Tux has gotten slightly better over the last month in terms of simply jumping then cantering and slowing (albeit with some serious rein aids!). He still stood off fences as we would accelerate into them like cross country jumps which we really need to work on, but all in all he feels a lot less crazy.

He was a complete champion in the jumping as it was incredibly slippery and he is very green. He jumped about half of them really nicely and the other half were a lot less scary than they have been! We ended up with a rail (it was really the whole jump!) down and no time penalties. Most of the class copped a rail or time penalties so we were doing ok.

A nice night's sleep in a cute little motel and I walked the course again on Sunday morning. The going was boggy and slippery and the jumps were great. I was excited about riding it as it was challenging and interesting. There was a testing double of logs on angles so a straight one stride required a decent angled approach. A good trakhener (our first), a couple of decent drops behind logs and tables and a couple of skinnier jumps to test straightness. I thought Tux would eat it up. And he did!

To be honest, Tux had been much more tense this weekend than the last two, and I do think that was partly the atmosphere - it was much louder and busier than Harden - and partly the lack of work the week before. I could not get him to settle in the warm up and I wonder whether he is starting to learn the signs of impending cross country and is starting to anticipate the galloping.
 Tux watching the other horses go over fence 1 before we headed out

He was very strong across the country, almost out of control. It was not the most pleasant or easy ride. Every time I just sat quietly he would get faster and faster, not just maintain his speed. It was way to slippery for that kind of speed, and it took quite a lot to pull him up before jumps. Still, he jumped like a champion, never looked twice, did come back to me when I really needed him to (ie before the two doubles) but was really just a speed machine the whole course.

But it worked brilliantly - we got only 1.6 time penalties and a clear round which bumped us from 17th after showjumping to 7th overall. Bloody amazing. The only person to go clear on time and jumps ended up winning. From 15th!! Says a lot about the conditions. Most rode much more slowly to deal with the slipperiness so there were even a couple of eliminations for going over the maximum time!

A great end to the weekend but quite a lot to work on, as always. I'm planning on putting in 6 weeks of solid work with him at home, taking him to a couple of local days, and aim for Wallaby Hill in mid-October.

I need to work with Kirsten our awesome trimmer on the traction issue. I doubt studs made much difference in that going, and it's interesting that we pulled one of the fastest times in our class. I do want to explore the options available to barefoot horse owners regarding filing ridges in to the wall. I really don't know if that would have made a huge difference but every little thing helps!

Looking forward to a quiet weekend next weekend!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Hi-ho Silver!

What a whirlwind of a week (or ten days) since my last post. We've had a saddle fit for our brand new bespoke (and bloody gorgeous) jump saddle from Julia at Wow, a dressage comp, a ride at dawn and the Hendra vaccination policy from Equestrian NSW buzzing around the traps like a blowfly on a window.

Let's start with the saddle fit. It was quite interesting actually, as Tux was a complete idiot when we were mucking around with the fitting, doing his old tricks of cantering on the spot, tossing his head and not standing still. I swear that horse raced, even if it was in his dreams!! Julia commented that he looked to have lost weight through his back and wither pockets and that's usually a sign that he's using his back properly. The next stage is 'beefing up' through the same area as he gets stronger over time.

It was a bit crazy hopping on and off as we tried narrower headplates and adjusting the flair panels but I think we got to a good place in the end. Julia said she'll come out in September to assess both saddles and change the headplates if necessary. She's amazing - the H girth she gave me as a 'repeat offender' even matches the colours of the saddle. I told her the pressure was on now coz I had all the gear and no idea - a recipe for people assuming I got game and sneering as they watch my horse 'hi-ho Silver' his way around the dressage and showjump arenas!!

That said, the dressage comp the next day went surprisingly well. Tux was marginally less stressed out compared to the weekend before at Harden and this translated into worse behaviour in the tests but more moments of brilliance too. And that also means we achieved both goals I set us beforehand - finish in the top half of the class and score a percentage over 50% in both tests. I thought they were achievable and reasonable....until I got on! The first test felt quite manageable until he got unbalanced in the left canter (his weaker side) and disunited which always makes him freak out as he knows he's going to be stopped. A bit messy and almost 53%. The judge was definitely better than the one at Harden, but not by much. She at least gave us 6s and 5s for the collective marks! There's really not much to say when a horse is clearly just losing it's shit in the arena, so I don't blame her for the dearth of feedback.

The second test was a bit better. It was also judged by a friend who is very encouraging of lower level riders. She gave Tux a 7 for his paces!!! And told me later he would have won it if he'd just kept his lid on. Since the test started with a canter half pass up the centreline and a little rear at the halt, I figured we had a bit of a way to go with that goal! But she gave us a couple of 7s in the test, too, and some really encouraging comments at the end, including, "tactfully ridden". I can't emphasise enough how one positive comment can really make your day as a rider doing their darndest. Makes me remember that for my next judging gig. All-in-all we got a respectable 58% for the second test and a 7th placing. A great way to end the day.

A couple of days off and I managed to get up at 6am this morning for a dawn ride. Bloody beautiful. Crisp, clear morning with a brilliant dawn and twittering birds. And a bit of frost that I studiously ignored. Tux was working much better this morning. Concentrating for longer periods, responding more calmly to aids for bigger trot, then smaller trot, bigger canter, then smaller canter. We're getting there, just need a lot more practice! His changes of direction are getting really smooth and he generally maintains outline. His leg yield and half pass are generally good - a bit wobbly but he's really willing and tries hard not to lose it which is a great sign. As I said, we're getting there!

Still had a few bad moments, but they're getting less frequent and less volatile. It's very encouraging to see some positive changes after the hard few months we've had. And I think making the effort to ride him just once during the week has been really worth it.


The Hendra vaccination policy released by Equestrian NSW has been causing all sorts of consternation and concern in my horsey friends, particularly those of us who have several horses they event or who don't event but are wondering if they should vaccinate anyway. It's pretty much a lay down misere for me as I event (and all those will be Hendra Vaccination Events) and I only have one horse to compete, currently. Lots of misinformation seems to be flying around about horses having adverse reactions and vaccinated horses being carriers and infecting unvaccinated horses, and on and on. I get the shits with people who perpetuate that sort of gossip - it's quite unhelpful and not founded in any fact. It also gives people pause when no evidence supports that doubt. Kind of like the anti-vaccination brigade in the human world. Just my two bob's worth - but it IS my blog!

So, we're off for our first jab at the local riding club on Sunday, then another in a month. It'll be a stretch as we have the Sam Lyle clinic in the morning and I'll just drag Tux out to Murrumbateman for the jab, then home after that, hopefully in time to meet the trimmer. Pretty much blows the whole day. As does the stupid compulsory 3-hour workshop on conflict resolution and risk management I'm doing as part of my upgrading to the next level of judging on the Saturday. Considering it's a 4-hour round trip that's the whole day gone there too. Busy weekend!!!

Travel safe and happy riding! I promise some pics next instalment.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Harden Horse Trials

Well, I'm utterly rooted. But triumphant! The weekend proved really great experience for us both, and has given me confidence that we just need to keep working on the same big issues before things will get to where I want them.

I was drawn to do my dressage at 12:50pm-ish so I actually managed to get there around 11:45am, which, considering I was leaving behind two little kids, a husband, two dogs, two horses and seven chickens, wasn't bad. A bit later than I would have liked, not knowing how Tux was going to react to the whole thing, but not bad. I plaited up before I left so I really didn't have to do anything to him except brush the mud off him (didn't have the time, weather or facilities to wash him!), saddle up and squeeze into my jacket. My poor old jacket....I've had it since I was 18 and it's seen me through two post-pregnancy/breastfeeding periods, and not very well! I really struggle to do the buttons up these days - might have to invest in one that can cope with big boobs!!

Anyhoo....dressage was remarkably un-bad. Considering he just would not trot only a couple of months ago (possibly weeks ago, now I think about it), he pulled out some very nice trot-work indeed. The judge was not a fan, however, and simply gave us 4, 5 or 6 for every movement, very few comments and simply wrote, 'tension throughout test', at the end. Not what I'd call a helpful, encouraging or even polite dressage judge. And of course she printed her name illegibly so I don't know who she is. I'm so glad I get to experience these judges so I can do a far better job of judging myself. The sad thing is, she's probably quite experienced. At being discouraging.

So, equal 30th was our placing after dressage (out of 34 - there were actually a couple of poor souls who scored worse than we did), but our spirits were high after a fantastic night sleep. I had such an aching back after walking the XC course twice and traipsing around fetching and carrying, not to mention riding, that I popped a couple of panadeine and chugged a stubbie of good ole Tooheys New, and promptly fell asleep before 6pm. Fully clothed. And stood my mate Tricia and her son Jett up for dinner. Not good ju-ju. Sorry Tricia! Luckily, the motel did a pretty decent chicken minion room service and I got a late dinner when I finally woke up a couple of hours later!

The showjump course was absolutely perfect for green horses and riders - a basic figure of 8 with a lovely two stride double at the end. Tux was a complete tool in the warm up and just kept bolting every practice jump, especially once he got to the other side. I was a bit nervous about how that would play out in the ring, but he actually pulled his shit together and jumped pretty nicely. Considering. We had a rail at the first element of the double because he only noticed the second element as he was taking off over the first and dropped his back legs on the pole. No biggie.

XC was an absolute blast. It was truly mountain goaty and had some great variety for the little grades. Usually every jump is a log of some kind when you're doing baby grades, but this one had ditches and little houses, even a little log to jump into the water (open-flagged so you could just trot into the water if you weren't up to the log - we did the log). Really awesome. And Tux ate it up, though we did have a couple of arguments about how we were going to do things. I won. But the arguing did put us almost 40 seconds over time. Also no biggie for our first one, and lots of things to work on.

His hooves seem to have seriously become high performance. The ground was very forgiving across the country, except for a bloody great steep gravel road that Tux simply cantered down. Quite balanced and controlled, no ouchy moments, no stone bruises. The horse is a machine. We did have one big slip at the end of the course as he was getting very tired and was just starting to quit listening. I had to haul him around to get over the last and his whole back end went out from under him. I don't blame a lack of studs, quite the contrary, shoes and studs would have been pretty useless in the soft going and gravel. We had the advantage for sure!

Very happy we stayed together and I didn't get a dunking in the freezing water on quite a chilly day. It was a great weekend and I'm quite looking forward to more stuff with him. We've got a local dressage comp this Sunday and I'm interested to see if he will be a bit more settled. Next weekend is a XC clinic with Sam Lyle and the following weekend is Wagga Wagga Horse Trials and we step up to Intro. I'll keep you posted!