Friday, August 30, 2013

Pre-Steepleview Madness

It's been a hectic couple of weeks for Royal and me. I've been trying to cover all the basics and practice some stuff that I think we'll come across at Steepleview. Of course, things don't always go according to plan, and when I tried to set up a jump-to-ditch combo, Royal took exception to the dogs barking (which he has heard pretty much every day of his life) and refused to go anywhere near where he heard the dogs. Which got me kind of frustrated, since this has become a larger pattern: he's been spooking at things he's experienced almost every day for a while (like the dogs, or a pile of wood, or my grooming box), but not in a pretend day. It's like his eyes go glassy and his brain shuts off. It helps if I play with him a bit, but the next time, we're right back to where we started.

Part of me wonders if it's a magnesium deficiency. There's evidence to suggest that horses who don't get enough magnesium can get nervous and spooky. With Royal, he gets spooky unless I'm doing something with him, and even then, my effect is somewhat limited. When he spooked at the dogs, I was able to get him over to the far end where he was spooking, but then he started running out at jumps he's seen hundreds of times, and freaked out at the ditch. So, we had to do some desensitizing where I would walk him up to the ditch and ask him to go over it. Calmly. He zipped over it like it was hiding alligators, but after a while, he'd pop over like it was no big deal. But it was still so weird, and not like him at all.

So in light of all this, I've put him on a mild calming supplement (Majesty's Calm+ Wafers), in the hopes that it'll help him to be less nervous overall. He's only been on it a few days, but seemed less nervous when he got his feet trimmed yesterday. And seems a bit happier in general. The real test will be how he handles this weekend with all the assorted chaos.

It's been very hot this past week (like 90+ and humid), and it's supposed to be pretty warm for Steepleview. So I'll have to be prepared and bring lots of ice and water. I'm going to walk the course this afternoon and get a feel for it. They already sent out an e-mail detailing their preparations for dealing with the heat, so we should be okay. Of course, we'll have to see what happens when we get there!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Unlocking Royal's Neck

Following up on my last post, I've been focusing on getting Royal to relax in his neck. I've gotten pretty much everywhere else fairly supple (although he tends to tense up through his back) but I've never really paid attention to his neck until now. I always figure that if I could relax his back/hind end, everything else would follow. But he's never really had a good topline, and his underneck used to be the stuff of legend. Even when he'd be mosseying around OnLine, he'd still have a very tense and bulging underneck.

So I've been doing some Moving Massage as well as T-Touch massage after all our sessions, and so far them seem to be helping. It doesn't take long for him to take stretching and chewing during MM and his muscles relax fairly quickly with the T-Touch.

I've also become more particular about him maintaining a good posture during riding, even freestyle. Yes, we're not doing contact now, Royal, but that doesn't mean you have to gambol around like an overly-caffeinated llama. We did have an... interesting session where we were doing some nice finesse, and then the neighbor cows took off. Well, not so much "took off" as "ambled off at a slightly faster than normal pace". And Royal's brain short-circuited. So we had a long discussion about stretching and relaxing wherein he twisted his neck in every possible way, curled up and down to avoid the bit, and even threatened to rear a couple times. I stayed (mostly) patient, and kept combing the reins, trying to get him to stretch. It took a a while, but finally he relaxed and yawning and snorted and snorted and snorted. I don't think I've ever felt him breathe that deeply.

A couple days later I got a set of white dressage boots on sale at Dover (4 boots for $40! Score) and it turns out Royal can really rock the Dressage Chic look.

Add the royal blue fly bonnet and we were both Dressage and Jumper Chic.

It was another contact session to see where he was at and it was pretty good. He still wanted to avoid everything at first, but then gave me some really nice trotwork and held the contact steadily. He also didn't seem too bothered by the boots either.

Steepleview is in less than two weeks! Need to start think about getting ready!

Monday, August 12, 2013

St George's Schooling Dressage Show

Optional Musical Accompaniment To This Post:

This show came with a preface. For years I've been struggling with trying to get Royal to relax. That horse can hold tension like nobody's business, and for longer than most horses. And lots of times when I try to get him to soften and relax, it almost becomes about him holding the tension out a principle. He's gotten way better over the years with some chiropractic help, but still has that tendency. So we were playing OnLine on Thursday and I was watching him go around like he always does and finally it hit me: maybe it's in his neck.

I mean, it makes sense. A horse has to take the contact with their nose, neck, and feet. Royal has no problem keeping a steady feel of the bit with his mouth, and being an extrovert, has no problem moving his feet. But he will contort his neck into all sorts of weird positions, and has a lot of problem really stretching when he's tense. So as I watched him go around with his underneck stiff as usual, I decided to help him change it. I used what Karen Rohlf calls the moving massage, just lightly touching my fingers to his neck and waiting for him to stretch. And he did, and it seemed to help. I'll write more about it later, but hopefully it's the start of something good.

I had to get up ridiculously early to get to the show on time, since I was supposed to ride at 8:07, which meant I had to leave my house at 5:00. Ugh. It was dark enough when I left that I worried about having enough light to hook up the trailer. Luckily there was just enough to hook everything up easily. But Royal decided the best place to be that morning was at the far northeast corner of the big field and I had to walk all the way to get him. And then we ran into road construction on the way there. And I got lost. Twice. Including driving down someone's private driveway... while they were standing right there. Awkward. But we finally made it to what is probably the most expensive stable I've ever set foot on, save for the Schweiss Stables. Seriously, it costs more to board then than all four places I've had Royal at, combined. So I felt a little out of my league. That, and I only had a half an hour to get all the mud off Royal and warm up before my ride time. I also got chastised for doing my pre-ride flight checks in the parking lot instead of in the area down the hill. So I barely had any time to warm up in the super fancy indoor arena (with fans and heaters and fabulous footing and one side covered in mirrors) before our Intro B ride.

It was pretty casual. I was the second person to ride that day and the first doing Intro B, so I knew that the tracks in the arena would tell the truth. The judge was pretty casual, and told me just to start when I was ready, and after a few circles around the "A" marker, we went in.

It seemed okay. Royal held the contact pretty steady, stretched in the free walk like a piece of elastic, and our circles were the right size and shape. I felt like it was a good test, but given our history with what I think is a good test, and how our scores don't reflect that, I wasn't holding out a lot of hope. Plus, my mother arrived... right after we finished. Sigh.

So we hung out for a bit, talked with the head trainer of the barn about the place. Apparently it's only been open a year, but they're going pretty well. We couldn't go in the boarders' barn but the rest of the facility was fancy enough to give us an idea. I wanted to see if the show was running on time, so we stopped by the office, where I saw my score.

65.313%. First place.

I couldn't believe it. All I could was "there must be some mistake" but no. There wasn't. We'd won. I was in shock. We even got an 8 on our free walk! I took a ribbon off the wall and went back to the trailer to show Royal. Look, it matches! But of course he was unimpressed and went back to his hay. All in all, he was pretty calm. He still thought every horse in sight was his new friend, but overall seemed pretty calm. I gave him lots of cookies, we watched some tests and then it was time to warm up for our second test, Training 1. The indoor was pretty much deserted, so I used that time to ride around like I owned the super fancy place. Royal was still doing pretty well with the contact, although I was having trouble getting him to stretch at the trot without combing the reins. Too much to look at, I suppose. So I figured that was going to be a weak point in our test.

The test went well enough. Our stretchy circle was a joke, and he was a bit quick in the downward transitions, but we still had good circle and an awesome free walk. So after waiting around a bit, we got our score: 61.042% and third place. Out of three. But we were only about half a percentage point behind the second place pair, so I was pretty happy.

And these are seriously fancy ribbons.

We made it home, and Royal immediately rolled in the dirt. But I still couldn't believe we won something, for the first time ever. And not in a "everyone's a winner!" way. In a real way. And immediately I started thinking of why it didn't count. It was a schooling show, there were only 5 or 6 other pairs in my class, it wasn't a horse trail or the judge was too lenient. Basically almost trying to convince myself that I didn't really win. I've heard this referred to as "Jerkbrain", usually referring to depression or anxiety disorders. The badly wired part of your brain basically sabotages your happiness by convincing you it didn't happen or you didn't deserve it. And for the most part with me, it succeeds, because I don't do things that are quantifiable. Maybe I cooked a chicken quesadilla that was actually edible and tasty, but I know people who can make watermelon taste amazing, so it's not really that good. Or maybe I crocheted that weird pattern hat, but other people make beautiful blankets in half that time, so it's not really that big a deal. Jerkbrain is kind of a jerk. So usually I can't counter Jerkbrain. But this time I can. So it was a schooling show, but we still rode some good tests, among our best ever. We had a better ride than everyone else in our first class. So what if it wasn't a horse trail? I still would be happy if we'd won a jumper class at Carriage House or any other show. And so what if the judge was lenient? She still gave me higher numbers than anyone else. So, I've had to manually shut out the Jerkbrain and actually be proud of Royal and myself. We deserve all the cookies and Chipotle burritos. Because we rock and nothing can take that away from us.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

It's been a quiet couple of weeks since Roebke's Run, and neither of us seem worse the wear for it. It got REALLY hot for a few day and both of us melted for a while, and then last weekend it got REALLY cold, like in the 50s and raining, although the flies never went away, which lead to this get-up when Royal ate his grain on Saturday.

Winter blanket and fly mask. Only in Minnesota.

I've kind of been doing more Parelli-leveling-up stuff with Royal. Unusual circumstances aside, we can usually do our show stuff mostly competently and I've been trying to keep his brain occupied. I got the 45-foot-line for the first time in a long time, and Royal took to it like a duck to water. He had a brief moment of "OMG ON LONG LINE RUN FAST" before getting his brain back and cantering around like a sane horse. And when we moved to the Touch It game, he decided that touching stuff with his nose was boring and he would just sidepass over it instead.

We've also done some ground-driving on the road, which we seems to enjoy quite a bit. He sets a pretty good pace going away from home until he gets to a place that sort of worries him, and we circle for a bit and he feels better and we keep going. We haven't made it to the Sheep of Death yet, but it'll probably happen soon.

We did have one odd that went wrong, though. I planned on riding in the back pasture, hopefully using the figure-8 pattern in freestyle and finesse, but Royal was not a happy camper. The neighboring cows are by the back pasture, and they are fascinated by Royal and me. And when they are fascinated by us, they move very... slowly... as... a... group... towards... us... and... it's... kind... of... creepy. Like you look away, and look back a bit later, and the whole group is ten feet closer and staring. This unnerved Royal greatly and I couldn't get his brain back. He keep wanting to gallop his willies away, which didn't work. When I tried cantering him in a circle, he was disjointed and flinging himself on the forehand, making it hard to ride. I got off and tried to get him focused on the circle, but he was still all distracted. And then his hind legs got all tangled up and he fell. First his hind leg slid out and he landed on his butt, then he couldn't quite get his forelegs right and lay all the way down. He got up right away and didn't seem hurt, but it was still so weird. The fall seemed to wake him up a bit and even though the cows still creep up on us, he doesn't get as distraught. So, problem solved? We'll see.

Our next show is a dressage schooling show next Saturday. Gotta practice our tests!