Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Confidence, Interrupted

Well, I can safely say we are not ready to move up to Prelim.

I want to be fair. This was the first time this barn had done anything like this, so things are bound to go wrong. Mistakes get made, and that's how you learn. After a while, you've every mistake possible and you've figured out what works. When it comes to horses, the learning curve is especially steep, and confidence is easily lost.

First, I want to talk about what went well. Everyone was very friendly and willing to answer questions, the dressage was pretty well run, and the stadium course was pretty good. There was plenty of parking space, lots water for the horses, and the warm-up jumps were great. But the cross-country course was completely inappropriate and neither Royal nor I had a good time.

We got there early enough, since the x-c course opened at 8:30 and I wanted plenty of time to walk it and get ready. This turned out to be a really good idea. At first, I got my map for the Beginner Novice (BN) course and started walking, looking for the black on yellow numbers, which are customary for BN. Aha, there they are, but wait, why are they so big? And why don't they match the description and placement on the map? I went back to the office where they clarified the situation: the numbers for BN and Novice (N) courses got switched and I was actually supposed to be following the black on white numbers. But those jumps didn't make me feel better. Hello weird wagon jump. How's it going, wide table surrounded by HUGE SCARY spools? What's up, skinny slightly offset combination? It was hard to find jumps 6 and 7, as you had to ride on this skinny sandy "road" to small field. Jump 6 was a max height airy birch ramp covered in brush, which was proceeded by a narrow lane of tree, which cast a lot of shadows over the jump. Jump 7 was a really long ditch (at least 20 feet in length), filled with lots of black, semi-shiny clumps of dirt. Oh dear. Then you had to go back across a large marshy field to jump 8, an uphill pile of logs into the wood. Then a left to another combination, with the second jump being a drop fence. Seriously? A drop fence at BN? The jump was about 2' high, and the landing was at least 2' lower than the take-off, so it looked like you were jumping into nothing. The last five jumps, including the water, didn't seem to bad, but the design of the first ten jumps would have been better suited to a year-end Novice course, at a minimum, if not Training. They were NOT BN appropriate questions. To make it worse, almost all the jumps for all the levels were all really close together, making you have to duck and weave around them in order to get to your next fence.

I was really regretting my decision. Anna and Piper came to the event (yay!! :D ), and were entered in the Baby Beginner Novice. I walked part of their course with them, and it seemed like it should have been the BN course. Raise the fences a little bit, add a water crossing, and it would have been a very reasonable BN ride. No weird surprises, no tricky placements, very easy to answer questions.

I headed back to the trailers, only to get another nasty surprise: Psycho McCrazypants' trailer pulling in. GAH! Will I never escape her? I suppose not as long as I keep eventing in this area. I suppose I'll have to get used to it. And carry a camera, so I can record her bat guano craziness if it gets directed at me.

After getting tacked up, I tried to warm up for dressage. I say "tried" because they decided to combine all three warm up areas into one field next to the stadium course, with a huge hill. Some of the people in the BBN division were already warming up for x-c at the bottom of the hill, and people decided to congregate on the flat area at the top of the hill. So, I decided to try doing a big circle around the jumps, staying wide enough to stay out of the jumpers' way. It went pretty well, with Royal taking the contact very well. I think he liked the security of holding my hand in this odd place, and he was happy to keep the contact. The dressage ring was running a little late, so we cooled our heels while we waited, and my parents arrived. Then, it was our turn, and I couldn't have been happier. He started out a little tense, but then he remembered he could hold my hand and be steady in the contact. He even stretched out in the free walk really well. The canter was pretty good, and I thought we got every transition fairly accurately. We ended up getting a 40 (4 points better than the last test) with quite a few sevens! Yay!

We only had about 50 minutes to warm up for x-c, and the fences were nice. A cross-rail, an oxer, some barrels, and a jump with a pig painted on it. Royal spooked at it the first time, but got braver quickly. I'll admit, it was a lot of fun to yell "PIG!" as we headed towards it. I figured we'd be as ready for x-c as we could be, so we headed over to the course. I realized with about 5 minutes to go before I was supposed to start, that I'd forgotten to put on Royal's boots. Oh well, we weren't going to be going very fast anyway.

The first fence (the wagon) got a good hard look, but he jumped it. Fence 2 (a log) was a lot better. Fence 3 (the table with the giant spools) also got a good look, but he went over. Fence 4 was a plain skinny ramp, but I could tell he was having trouble when he almost refused that. We were able to get a good line to Fence 5 (the skinny combo), but the pair on course before us came out of the woods, cantering near us. It was no one's fault, just bad luck, but Royal's brain was rapidly short-circuiting and we had a run out at the A element. We circled around and jumped both elements, but I could tell I was losing him. We went down the road and I tried to find jump 6, but went down the wrong alley (yes, there was more than one). The jump judge directed me to the correct alley, but the shadows freaked Royal out and we had another run-out. Circle around, try again, and we were successful, but then we had to face the Ditch of Death. We trotted up to it and I though he was going to do it. Right until he slammed on the brakes. I heard a loud "whomph" as my helmet hit his neck and I slid off in front of his left shoulder. I hit the ground fairly softly and mounted right back up, but both of us were shaken. I let him walk back and forth in front of the ditch a bit to let him see it. When I re-aimed him at it, he went over, but like he thought a monster was going to pop out. Fence 8 went well, but the turn to fences 9 and 10 (the drop) was quick, and while he didn't hesitate over them, he stumbled a bit on landing from 10. How could he not? He didn't even know where it was. Fence 11 was half in the shade, so it got jumped oddly, with him trying to avoid the shadows. Fence 12 (the tires) went a lot better than I thought it would, but he went through the water (13) very gingerly. He's been crossing puddles and mini-lakes for weeks without a problem, but he was not trusting anything on this course. 14 (a little coop) was uneventful, but 15 (the down bank) got a major hairy eyeball before he stepped off it. We cantered through the finish, both us happy to have survived.

We had to wait a bit before stadium, but it went well. He got a little strong on the downhill stuff and through the combo, but mostly did well. Even though we didn't win any ribbons (how could we? We had at least 100 x-c penalties), we still got to do the victory gallop in Royal's halter and lead rope. To survive was to win, I suppose. I managed to get him back to his home safely, but I cried all the way back to my house. It felt like such a waste. I could have paid extra and schooled the course afterward, but it seemed like it would have been torture for him to back out there.While we were competing, he didn't want to canter on the x-c course. Usually he's very eager to go and I have to remind him we can't go too fast, but he did not feel comfortable going above a trot. And he usually gains confidence as we go through the course, but this time it was the opposite. He started out confident and eager, but lost that as we continued. It was just too confusing for him.

Again, I really want to be fair. It was the first time this barn had done anything like this, and they were working with a lot of space constraints. I can see why they had to put all the jumps close together, but in the end, I don't think it worked very well. Everyone I talked to had problems (including people who fell off at the very first fence), and I'd don't know if anyone got through without penalties. Which is the exact opposite of what it should have been; mostly everyone should have finished strongly and with confidence, and I don't think that was the case.

When it comes to BN, there should be no "challenges" or tricky jumps. For a lot of people, the challenge is simply getting out there and doing it. Jumping solid obstacles in the open is not something a lot of people do nowadays, and the lower levels should be very inviting and straightforward. I'm perfectly okay with BN and N becoming de-facto dressage competitions. We shouldn't see carnage on the x-c course in the form of lots of refusals and falls, and the jumps should look safe and jump-able to the horses and riders.

These are my pictures from the Steepleview HT last year and they all say "I am a jump. I'm safe and contain no monsters. Please jump me." That gives horses and riders confidence, and makes them want to come back for more. Whereas a lot of the jumps on Sunday were more like "I am a ?. I may contain monsters. I don't know what you should do with me." If this event had been held in 2011, I would have entered it. I probably would have entered in BN to see if we could do it. And we more than like wouldn't have gotten very far, and I may have decided to never event again. Which really saddens me. I love x-c, once I get over my pre-show jitters, and Royal seems to enjoy it once we get rolling. The thought that we may never have discovered that seems like a real shame.

I don't know where we can go from here. I was hoping to go to Roebke's Run, but that probably not going to happen due to financial constraints, and Otter Creek takes place during a family vacation. I'm more than likely going to enter us in Steepleview again, but that's in September. Until then, I'm doing to have to beg the barns with x-c courses to please, please, pleasepleaseplease let us school on them for an hour or so to get our confidence back. Hopefully at least one says yes.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

First-Horse-Trial-Of-The-Year Eve

Well, this week was packed! Our first (unrecognized) event is tomorrow and we were able to do a lot to prepare, despite the weather trying to thwart us. (Shakes fist at sky) On Wednesday, it was raining (again), but my insanity held true and I saddled up anyway. Royal hates the rain, and especially hates being ridden in the rain, so I thought it would provide a learning opportunity. At least until the thunder started rolling. At first we were out in the field, going around our little "ring." You can see the pasture from the field and the ladies (Gabby and Xena) were calling for Royal, and he was very concerned about them. "My damsels are in distress!" he thought, and it was hard to get him to focus on even going straight. <sighs> Geldings.

Then it really started to rain, so we went to the little side street to practice some Game of Contact. This went surprisingly well, probably because he wanted to get out of the rain. I saw no reason to push him further, so we hurried back and I let him for back with the other horses.

Thursday, we ended up trailering to a local barn that allows people to rent out the indoor arena for an hour. We hadn't done any jumping since Carriage House, so we really needed the practice. The arena is a Cover-All, which tends to make creaking noises. Royal was concerned about the noise at first, but eventually got used to it. They had a pair of jump standards and some poles, plus some barrels, so I set up a cross-rail and the barrels on their sides. After warming up on the flat, we popped over the cross-rails with no problems, and the barrels went smoothly, so I put the poles up to about 2'7". The first jump over that was very deer-like, with his head straight up in the air, looking at the tarps on the other side of the arena. Okay, try again. The rest of the jumps were a lot smoother, so we called it a day. It's not too expensive to rent the arena, so I'll probably do it again if the weather goes insane again.

Friday, I took my brand new dressage cones out to the field and set up an approximate 20x40 meter arena. I don't have a meter tape or wheel (yet), so I had to use my 12' line to measure it. I think itwas close enough.

Royal says "I will be the judge of that."

I had memorized the Beginner Novice Test B and wanted to practice. At this point, we've been playing with GoC stage 3 for months now, and we've kind of stagnated. He'll take the contact, but it's inconsistent. So, I'm going to stop playing to RB-Royal with lots and lots of consistency, and focus on LB-Royal with getting provocative. So, on with the test, which he did really well. His mouth was fairly quiet, and while he had some trouble with canter transitions, he seemed to enjoy himself. Onwards and upwards.

Today, I cleaned my tack, polished my boots, packed the trailer, and am pumped. Who knows what will happen tomorrow, but it should be fun. Let's do it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Good Lord How You Frustrate Me Minnesota Weather!" II

After the heat wave weekend, the temperatures dropped and the rain started again. The Standing Water Everywhere came back, although Royal and I still have been able to do some stuff. We've had a couple of Game of Contact sessions, which have been on an upward swing. It's not 100% yet, but he's starting to take the contact with more consistency and intention. Sweet.

We've also be able to get some trail riding in, even with some cantering on a side road. It's nice and soft and not heavily traveled, so we can build up some speed. He's not too crazy about galloping full out yet, so we just did some light cantering, which was relaxed and fluid. And later while walking we came across a little branch which Royal just had to pick up and carry around like a dog with a stick.

A Horse and His Branch
We also went by the Sheep of Death, only this time the sheep ran from us. I suppose they didn't want to take on what they probably see as the Big Non-Wooly Sheep, but maybe this means he won't inch by there, snorting at the Sheep of Death.

The next day we played a bit more with GoC, and he tried to revert back to his old habits of curling behind the bit and slowing way down. It seemed to be more of a mischievous thing rather claustrophobia, so eventually I gave him a little tiny squeeze, to which he responded to by cantering. It was nice, but not what I wanted. After we got settled in the walk, I asked him to trot again. And what do you know, a beautiful forward trot with a quiet mouth. Good boy.

Yesterday it was too hot and humid to ride, so I decided to practice braiding again. I still don't want to use yarn or thread, since Royal tends to fidget and I don't want to use scissors or needles unless I absolutely have to. He may be fidgety now, but if I repeatedly stab or cut him in the neck, he'll be even worse. So I'm sticking to bands for now, but it's not going well. I can do about 4 buttons pretty well, but after that, it all falls apart. Either the section has lots of uneven hairs or is really thick or the bands break or all three. So after seven braids I gave up. I'll figure something out eventually.

For the last two nights we've had very expressive thunderstorms with lots of flashing and crashing followed by very hot and humid days. Oy. I've lived here all my life and I don't think I'll ever get used to the weirdness of the weather. So, Sheldon, if you will:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Taking the Contact

One of the frustrating thing about trying to learn contact with Royal is that we haven't ever really felt "good" contact. I never rode much dressage pre-Parelli (apart from the occasional ride on a 3rd-lever horse), and his claustrophobia with the bit indicates he hasn't had many good experiences. So, with Game of Contact, we've had moments that felt pretty good, but I wasn't sure. Was that really "it" or not quite? Now, I know. On Thursday, Royal and I were toddling around in the field on our little "arena" and playing with contact, and it wasn't stellar. He would curl up behind the bit, go crooked, gnaw at the bit, and start taking little mincing steps. I was wondering if he was still struggling with the footing, which is getting better as it settles, but still is somewhat deep or inelastic in places. I'd been giving him lots of walk breaks, but could tell he was getting tired and I was wondering when we should quit. All of a sudden, I felt him take the contact and push with his hind end with a quiet mouth. It felt amazing. So, I quit then and there to end on a high note. We moseyed up the road (which had been graded that morning and was pretty nice), but were not attacked by any sheep. Success all around.

This weekend was unbearably hot (90s and humid), so I decided to torture him with baths and braiding. I usually only give him one or two baths a year (too much work) but he got the full shampoo and conditioner treatment, including his mane and tail.

He was less than happy.

But eventually he survived and got to graze in the sun to dry off.

After he was dry, I turned him out and he found the biggest dirt area and rolled in it right in front of me. And got up with a very smug look on his face.

"That's what I think of your bath."
Today was braiding day and it was not very successful on my part. My band braids tend not coil very well and get really bouncy. Which looks really sloppy and bad. So, maybe it's time to try yarn? I'm trying to go for button braids that are stable and secure, which will probably be difficult as I have very limited crafting skills. Poor Royal is going have to suffer through a lot of practicing.

He'll get lots of cookies.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

These Boots Were Made For Walking/Trotting/Cantering/Jumping

And that's just what they'll do.

Royal's soreness on gravel bothered me so much that on Saturday, I headed out to an unfamiliar tack shop to get a pair of Cavallo Simple Boots. I ended up paying much more than if I had ordered them online, but I was just so desperate. The next day I was able to try them on him, and they fit! Royal didn't seem to mind them too much, apart from a few high steps at first. They look a little clunky, but he plowed over the gravel like it was made of grass.

He's still a little tender with his hind feet, but they're too narrow for the Simples, so I ordered a pair of Sports. They should be here soon, but we have still been able to get a few trail rides in. On Monday, we went back to the park. He's still a little unnerved by the odd changes in ground texture and all the cars that fly by us (although most give us a nice wide berth), but is getting better. We made it to the park, but just beyond the trees boarding the grassy area, out of sight, was the Lawnmower of Death. It would get closer, then go away, then closer, then go away, on and on. Royal was not happy about this at all, and it took some figure-8s around the trees with serious bending before he started to stretch and sigh. Good boy, so we continued on our way. My sister told me that the road that runs through the park eventually goes circles back to the highway, and we could just do a single loop instead of doubling back down the highway. Sounds perfect, so onwards we went.

It was very beautiful.

But after going for a while, I started to wonder if we were lost. The road had split three ways: left, straight (dead end), and right. We took the left fork, but I started to wonder if we should have gone right. We kept soldiering on, although I kept wondering where we were going and Royal seemed really happy to be exploring.

Nice cornfield, but where's the highway?

We did eventually meet up with the highway, just on the other side of a river. Which is big, and the bridge has no shoulder, so we were forced to walk in the middle of the lane. Which was scary enough as it is, but Royal was also worried about the sound of the river. So he wanted to walk reeeeeaaaaaally slllllllllooooooowly across the bridge and I wanted to go fast to get to the shoulder on the other side. So we compromised with a regular walk, and Royal was probably wondering what I'd gotten us into, but we made it to the other side safe and sound. Getting back on the gravel road was tough for him and he winced every other step on his hind feet. But he seemed mostly cheerful about the adventure, and once the hind boots get here, we'll go on more.

Today we went back to the field, which has (mostly) dried up. It'll rain over the next couple of days, but with lots of help, I've scouted out the high areas that will probably dry and pack the quickest. One is close to the edge of the ridable field (the other half is owned by someone who is growing corn there. No touchy.) and it's about the size of a small (20 x 40 meters) dressage arena. Right now, I don't have any rails or letters (and those will eventually be in the form of poles and cones), so we made our own arena out of hoof prints.

Pretty sweet, no? Royal was a bit confused at first, but as the "trail" began to appear, he got it. We played with the Game of Contact, which he haven't done in a long time, and he picked it right up. He still has a tendency to slow down and curl up behind the bit when I pick up the reins, but at the end, he was holding the contact steady down the long side with no bounces or bobbles. We also popped over a couple jumps at the far end of the field, which he seemed to enjoy.

We cooled down by going onto a side street. It's very quiet and not very gravely, which both of us appreciated. I even offered him the option of going back early, but he wanted to keep going until we reached the woods at the end.

He seems very happy, and my frustrations about riding places are greatly diminished. With the boots, I don't have to worry about soreness and they even have a mild snowshoe effect in the field, helping him not sink too much. We can work on GoC stuff almost anywhere and I think we'll be fine with a one or two jumping sessions a week. Things are definitely looking good.

Friday, June 1, 2012

In Search Of An Arena

One of the interesting things about the new place is that it's forcing me to be very creative. There are no fenced in arenas or round pens (although the latter may change soon), and at first I was rather happy about that. One of my frustrations about the old place was how limited I was in where I could go. The indoor was tiny (maybe 60' x 100'), the round pen always seemed to be either flooded or like concrete, and while I could put my jumps in the front paddock, the footing was really inconsistent and I couldn't use it half the time. It was also really hard to do any trail-riding beyond the little dirt road unless we trailered to a park. Now, in a place with a huge former cornfield and miles and miles of dirt road for trails (plus a HUGE trail park less than 10 miles away), the possibilities are much greater.

Except when it rains. All that rain last week turn the field into a swamp/lake. And the pasture. And every other crevice in site. Everywhere I looked for a long time, I made the Three Stooges "Gah-ooh!" noise because all I saw was water.

That's supposed to the the riding field, halfway through the rainy week. Obviously it is underwater, which is not conducive to riding. Even the parts that weren't underwater were really really deep, and Royal was sinking almost up to his hocks and knees. I tried it again today, since we haven't had any rain for a few days, and while it's much better, it's still not safe. Royal was still sinking a good five to six inches, even without me riding him. So, that's out for a while.

In the meantime, I'm looking for other places to ride. The road is fine at the walk, but the rain seems to have made both the ground harder and lifted the rocks out more. Which has suddenly become a MAJOR problem. Remember when I said he was wincing a bit if he hit a rock, but otherwise seemed fine? Yeah, not anymore. Pedicure day was Monday, and he got the normal amount of sole and wall removed, which was not a problem before. Now, the combination of that with a very wet pasture meant that his hooves softened up and he's now VERY sore on any kind of gravel. To the point of taking tiny little mini-steps while appearing lame on all four feet. Put him on grass, rock-less dirt, or even asphalt, and he's fine. But gravel, oh no. Not good. At first I was flipping out and thinking he was foundering, but he didn't have any abnormal heat or strong digital pulses in any of his feet, and I would think that trotting on asphalt (which we did for a little bit) would not be possible for a foundering horse. All this means that the road is not our friend in the foreseeable future. We can stay on the edge and walk in grass/"soft" gravel in some places, but not everywhere. So what's left?

This neglected baseball field caught my attention. It's got plenty of space and isn't too far away from home. Obviously nobody's using it, and it's really overgrown, so I'm not sure how safe it is. What doth the grass conceal, I wonder. But a bit of mowing could make it a really good grass field for dressage. Problem is, I have no idea who owns it (private citizen? The city or county or state?) or how to find out. Even if I did/could, what would I say that wouldn't make me sound like an entitled brat? "Dear Sir/Madam, I am in need of a place to ride after the rain floods out my usual riding area. I have noticed your baseball field and think it would be satisfactory. Would you be willing to mow it so that I may ride there? My horse and I would be most appreciative." Yeah, don't think so.

There's also this grass field next to a local church. It's also close to home and looks very ridable. Plus I have a pretty good idea of who owns it, namely the person living in the little house next to it, which is probably whomever owns/runs the church. But again, how do I ask them? "Dear Pastor/Minister/Deacon, I am quite enamored of the field directly next to your house that looks to be an extra parking lot. Would you and/or your organization be willing to let me ride my horse there occasionally? I would be forever in your debt." Don't think that's happening either. They, and the person who owns the baseball field, would probably be worried about the liability if I fell off and got hurt while riding on their property, so it doesn't seem like asking either person/organization will end well for me.

Royal posing
I also learned of a small park, about a mile down the highway south of the house. Apparently, a lot of horse people ride there and it contains a small grassy area which would be suitable for a temporary riding place until the field dries/firms up. On Wednesday, I decided to take Royal down there, which ended up being quite the adventure. First, that was the first time I'd seen him since his pedicure and it took me a while to figure out that he was sore on gravel. I thought he was just being spooky, so I got off and we walked about a mile down the highway to the park. He was mostly okay and we made it to the park safely. We walked all the way down to the waterfall and bridge, which he thought was quite odd, and went back to the grassy area. We rode around for a bit, and he seemed to like it. There are a lot of trees with low-hanging branches, so it's not good for anything more than trotting. But overall, it seems like our best option for doing flatwork. 

Will you be my replacement arena?
 I still have no idea what we're going to do about cantering, galloping or jumping. My jumps are still in the almost unnavigable field and even if I can get them out, where would I put them? At this point, I'm getting desperate almost to the point of panicking. Unless that field packs and dries out really quickly, I don't know what I'll do to get ready for Birchbury or Roebke's Run. The thought of missing either of those because of weather issues makes me really sad. I hope something works out.

The other big headache that makes me want to down a gallon of Pepto-Bismol is Royal's new soreness on gravel. Previously, he's always had hooves of iron that never met a surface they couldn't conquer. But now, not so much. Was it the stress of moving and then going to a show? The rain? Did a little too much sole get taken off? Who knows, but right now I need to figure out what to do about it. We can't avoid it, since to get anywhere, we need to go over gravel. My main strategy is to get some hoof boots. I debated whether to get Renegades or Cavallos, but think Cavallos are the way to go. They're about cheaper ($40 less per pair) and seem popular with fox-hunters. I figure if they'll stay on for fox-hunting, they'll stay on for my purposes. I'll be ordering those soon.

The other thing I'm trying is a sugardine soak. I still have lots of it left over from the abscess and it can help harden feet. I've heard good things about Durasole and Keratex, but those cost money and my sugardine mixture is free. I soaked them two at a time, using my Rx boot and an old IV fluids bag held up with Vetrap.

 Front feet soaking

Back feet soaking.

He was very confused about this

All in all, he did very well, and it seemed to help a bit. When I had to bring him out later to pick ticks off of him, he walked over the gravel a little more confidently, but I would rather not have that be my main form of protection. There are too many huge and jagged rocks for my comfort and I don't want to risk another abscess. So, boots it is for now, and eventually I'll figure out where to ride. Hopefully it all works out.