Saturday, February 5, 2011

Unmounted "Intro to Dressage/Eventing" Clinic

I've mentioned before that I would like to try eventing with Royal this summer. Most of our major issues have been worked out and the remaining ones are being chipped away. Or, they were before the weather took a detour to Crazy Town. I haven't been as eager to play with Royal lately since the opportunities are so far and few in between and it always feels like I'm just trying to get him to use up all his energy instead of teaching him new things. Especially while riding. Right now, I'm just trying to get through February so we can start having more regular sessions.

Luckily, a lot of Minnesotans and Wisconsinites are in the same boat, so the Central States Dressage and Evening Association is holding a bunch of "unmounted" clinics. These are more informational seminars than riding clinics, but still useful. The one I went to today was all about preparing for shows, what the judges are looking for, how to fill out your entry form, etc. It was out in the woods of Stillwater at a very nice facility. I found most of the sessions very helpful.

The first one was the least helpful. It was all about bitting and choosing the right bit for your horse. The first half went over the structure of the horse's skull and the various types of things that can go wrong. Bad things like arthritis, malocclusions, and loose teeth. This was mostly stuff I already knew, thanks to the equine courses at the U. The last half was downright WRONG. The presenter described a study they did where they used a fluoroscope to examine how various bits sit in the horses mouth and what their actions are. But, in order to test this, they put the horses IN STOCKS and pulled on the reins! And, as anyone with a cursory understanding of horse behavior could guess, the horses started chewing and fussing with the bits. WELL, DUH! You put a trained horse in a confined space where it can't move more than a step and put tension on the reins, IT'S GOING TO START CHOMPING AT THE BIT. You're telling it to stop or back up, and it's already stopped and can't back up. I understand that you can't exactly attach a fluoroscope to a horse's head and ride around, but this research showed nothing useful. Only that confused horses chomp on the bit. Whoop-de-friggin-do. And how the horses chew does depend on the bit, but also on the horses emotional state. The more emotionally tumultuous, the more frantic and frenetic the chewing. People, this is not rocket surgery. This is basic horse behavior.

Then the presenter went on about fitting a bridle, and they mentioned crank nosebands as a good thing. I despise cranks. You might as well put a big sign around your neck that says "I have rough hands, and will strap my horses mouth shut so they can't give me feedback about it." Hate hate hate cranks and damn near every English bridle has them. I was very displeased to find my show bridle has a crank-like noseband, but it's very mild and I will never put it too tight. Two fingers or bust, people.

The other sessions were leagues better. There were two concurrent sessions: one about saddle fitting (which would have inspired more exasperation from me) and one about entering your first event or dressage show. This was very helpful for me, and apparently, there's going to be a recognized event in Delano, which is in the Twin Cities area! Yay!

The third session (for the whole group) was given by a dressage judge who talked about how to ride the dressage and eventing tests, how the tests have changed, and what the judges see. The main things I took away were: 1. practice your halts, 2. don't get flustered by mistakes, 3. Judges are eager to give high points if earned, 4. a horse and rider score much higher if they are in harmony. The judge was very funny and inspired me to start practicing.

The fourth and final sessions was about Things That Can Go Wrong and How To Laugh About Them. Take-away message: don't take everything so seriously and don't forget to have fun. All in all, a mostly good experience, and I feel better informed about how prepared Royal and myself for showing. Prior and Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance and all.

So, right now, the plans are to try some private x-c schoolings at local barns, do some open schooling days at the Delano barn, compete in the Carriage House schooling show, and Roebke's Run HT in July and Steepleview in September. If the private schooling don't work out, that's okay. Royal's farm has a big pasture with lots of logs and an area that turns into a mini-lake if it's wet enough. And, given the amount of snow we've had this winter, I think the mini-lake will be around for some water crossings. But, first the snow has to melt and the weather has to be a bit more consistently comfortable. Until then, Royal and I rest.

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