Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April Week 3 Review

Monday 4/20
My girl got a well-deserved day off! They have been turned out in paddocks 24/7 for the last four days or so, it's been SO nice and you can tell the horses really appreciate it.

Tuesday 4/21
Light riding day. A friend came out and got to ride, so Pandora just carted her around at the walk for a bit. Nice and easy.

Wednesday 4/22
Day off. They've still been out all day every day.

Thursday 4/23
A solid dressage schooling. Worked on bending and obedience to the leg. She was very good, and I can get some good work when I sit back. Practiced cantering slightly shoulder-fore -- very hard for her and I think it will be good to practice. Should have Mom videotape from front and behind so I can see what she's doing.
Still, I'm getting frustrated. Because Pandora's so good, we've hit the limit of what I know and can teach. I've never ridden at a higher level than we're at right now, so I don't know what to do and what to work on and what is the 'right answer' from her. So I really need to take some lessons. Once I get a few lessons and get pointed in the right direction, I'll feel better. I feel like we could really start progressing towards 1st level, if someone would just help me understand how to get her really swinging through her back and reaching into the contact.

Friday 4/24
Rode the 2-mile road loop with a friend. We spent most of the ride in the grass beside the road, so not much actual road work, but it was a fantastic workout. We trotted quite a bit, through/over many ditches (if we come up with some momentum, she goes through without hesitating, though she still wants to leap!), even through a little water. Although it was more like OVER the water, which was probably a 5-foot leap. But at least she went forward, and to me, forward is the right answer whether she's jumping it or going through it.
The rest we walked. We had a mildly hairy moment when we were about 5 feet from a fenceline that a herd of about 6 horses came galloping up to, but we got across the road before anybody had a meltdown.
Even though we spent most of it walking, Pandora was lightly sweaty when we got back. It was a great ride, beautiful outside.

Saturday 4/25
Gallop work in the field! SO much fun. I really needed to practice this, because I just don't really have any experience riding at speed, and it still freaks me out a little. I tend to want 100% adjustability all the time, and while that's good to strive for, I know that I have to let Pandora go a little bit in order to have her willing to come back to me when I ask.
We were both pretty nervous the first time, but I pushed my comfort zone and really made myself test the gears. Once we did it a couple more times, both of us relaxed a lot more. I was able to ask her to open up, and when I asked her to come back, she would. It took a much stronger half-halt than I want -- ideally, I could just open up my hip angle and close my fingers firmly on the reins -- but it's a definite start, and I didn't have to be harsh with the bit, just a few gentle tugs upward on one rein.
By the end, we could do large circles, going up to a pretty quick pace and then coming back. We even galloped a pretty long straight line back towards the barn. Before, she would really try to dig in and take off when we were facing home -- this time, she kept a steady pace and turned away when I asked her to. Good progress.
We have a long way to go, and I definitely need to learn how to tell what pace I'm going, but it felt great to get out there and practice. We have plans to do it again next Friday.

Sunday 4/26
Rest day. Still turned out.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April Progress Check

End-of-month goal: Schooling consistently over 2'9+, riding calmly in the open at w/t/c (gallop if we can find the space). Willingly walk through water. Create passable dressage tests at Training level.

We're getting there. I don't think I'm going to be able to school water by the end of April, unfortunately. I will get to it ASAP but I have a feeling it won't happen until mid-May. Perhaps I can get a couple fellow Pony Club girls to trailer to Mt. Pisgah for a trail ride with some relaxed water opportunities?

I haven't schooled anything big at home, but some of the fences I jumped at the eventing derby were easily bigger than 2'9. This weekend I will do my best to set up a grid and set the last fence at about 3', but I'm a little less concerned about height than I was. Maybe I'll set up a chute and do more free jumping?

Riding in the open we have done, two weekends in a row now. I would like to be able to have a day where I can ride in a big field and do nothing but gallop work, because I'm realizing that I am definitely not 100% comfortable riding at speed. Still, we did w/t/forward canter the past two weekends and she was very controlled, so I'm feeling like we did a good job on that this month.

As for dressage...well, I've done some good work, but not enough. I got some good ideas and exercises from the clinic I rode in on Sunday, so I will focus really hard on dressage for the rest of the week and try to make some improvement.

In all, I think I'm reasonably on track for the month, maybe a little bit behind. Some things are unavoidable though, like the water issue.

April Week 2 Review

Monday April 13
Sometime around the time it started hailing profusely during the day, I decided I didn't want to ride tonight.

Tuesday April 14
I actually had a quite nice ride. She was a little hot, and the pouring rain on the roof didn't help, but I took the energy and pushed it into some really good forward work. We did lots of transitions within the trot, forward then slower, bending, shoulders-in. When I warmed up I did serpentines and really focused on keeping her STRAIGHT when we changed direction. At first it was really hard - felt like she was bouncing between the reins and my legs, one direction, then the other! - but after a few times she understood, and stayed dead straight. It was a good exercise and I think it set a good tone for our ride.
With the extra power she had, I got a beautiful canter transition to the right: immediate and smooth. Not as much to the left, but I think I need to consider 'forward' a little more. I know that I tend to slow her down too much just because I can, but I think a more forward trot (as long as it's controlled) would be a good idea.

Wednesday April 15
Day off.

Thursday April 16
Another day off! Shame on me, I know. But they were turned out.

Friday April 17
Hacking day! They'd been stuck inside all day while most of the others were out, so Pandora was pretty much breathing fire by the time I took her out. Put them in the arena for a little while to let them burn off some steam, then tacked up and headed out for a lovely ride down the road. She behaved absolutely wonderfully. At one point, we were riding in the grass beside the road, and as we rode a ditch was on the left that had some water in it. We came to a ditch in front of us with water in it.

Uh oh!

I sat patiently, kept her nose pointing mostly forward, and let her make the decisions. I didn't harass her when she backed up; every now and then I'd suggest forward with a little squeeze, but didn't get insistent. We had a LOT of 'approach and retreat' going on, let me tell you! But each time, she got a little closer. Once we got close, she was adorable. She'd suddenly walk forward to the edge of the (shallow, with not very much water) ditch, gather her self, then lose her nerve and back a few steps. "I can do it I can do it.....oh no I can't do it!" I couldn't help but laugh. Eventually she gathered courage enough and took a flying leap over. I just grabbed mane, patted her on the other side, and we went on our merry little way.

Total distance was almost 1 mile. Just a short ride, but a very pleasant one, and she was more relaxed than the first time. Progress!

Saturday April 18
Day off.

Sunday April 19
Eventing clinic - flatwork, a little gridwork, AND cross-country. A mix of frustrating and insightful: the clinician was demanding but had good points. For flatwork, I need to keep my elbows more bent and my hands closer to me, while for jumping I need to sit up and bring them up more. She really got after me to keep Pandora moving FORWARD with the hind end, otherwise we're not going to build the fitness and balance we need.
XC was fun and I learned a lot. We were both tired but the clinician pushed us hard. I discovered that if I ride Pandora right, I can keep her up off her forehand and jump in balance even though we're both worn out. She was fantastic over the fences, didn't look or anything. We had one stop at the very very end -- I made my corner too tight and I was just so tired that I didn't ride it strong enough. When I set her up better, we went just fine.
Overall, a tough but really educational clinic. Biggest things: I need to sit back and wait for EVERY. SINGLE. FENCE. I cannot throw her away at the very last second or let her pull me down into looking at the fence too. It's hard, but I could feel it getting better.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

April Week 1 Review

Wednesday April 1
Day off.

Thursday April 2
Nice dressage school. Good solid workout - w/t/some canter, really working on staying forward and getting nice bend.
I really need to take some real dressage lessons. I have never really ridden anywhere above the level I'm at right now, so I lack the practical experience. I would like to ride beyond Training Level at some point in my life, for goodness' sake.
Anyway. She was a good girl tonight.

Friday April 3
Good ride.

Saturday April 4
Betsy clinic!! I had a great time, and it was beautiful outside.
Surprisingly, this clinic wasn't as earth-shatteringly insightful as they have been in the past, perhaps because I'm at a much better place for myself this time around.
I picked up some really useful exercises. In particular, she had two sets of trot poles set up down a long side: one for a very very short, bouncy stride, and one for a more regular stride. First we did short to long, which was easy (my good girl got it the first try, woohoo!), but then we did long to short, which was hard. I'm going to practice at home.
Pandora was an absolute star. Wonderful for the canter poles. When we did our warmup fence, she was just perfect: steady trot pace, relaxed, easy, smooth jumping. I love this mare.
We cantered a course twice. The first time, I did not ride very well, sigh. Just because I can hold her back, I tend to do it too much, then we get kinda nasty distances, especially since I tend to see a long spot and freak out about adding a stride. After a gentle scolding, I rode much better the second time. I kept a medium canter going, allowed her to flow up to the base of the fence instead of picking, and we had a beautiful course.
Have I mentioned that I love this horse?

Sunday April 5
I was helping out at our second PC fund raising show - decided not to ride since I rode in the clinic yesterday and I knew I'd be tired. Which I was, since I just woke up from an hour-long nap!
We had beautiful weather - the horses were outside all day, turnout for the show was awesome, and life is good.

Monday April 6
Rode outside to enjoy the vestiges of the weekend's weather. We actually were able to ride in the mare pasture (~8 acres), and I was really hoping to get some galloping practice in, but it was just a little too squishy. I did some trotting and cantering. When we rounded a corner, Pandora did try to take off once - not too badly, but I had to floss her teeth a little to get her to come back. After that, we did some very quiet schooling up and down the long fenceline. Every time she went up to the next gait without me telling her to, I made her halt and stand for a second, after a quiet half-halt warning. Eventually she got to where she'd hold her gait nicely on a relaxed rein, even cantering, so we called it good.
All in all - considering this is the first time I've ridden her in the open (other than roads), ever - it was not bad. I don't blame her for being a little nervous, especially given the almost-questionable footing. We will get plenty more chances to practice galloping on much bigger and solid-er fields, so I'm not worried.

Tuesday April 7
I had an awesome schooling ride. I tried McKinna's jumping saddle on her, the much nicer one, and she's built up so much topline that it actually almost fits! So I rode in it.
I set up four cavaletti down the centerline, 4'6" apart, a normal horse-sized trot stride, which tends to challenge her a little. Why? Well, because they're raised a few inches off the ground which makes her take bigger steps, and because she tends to want to be a little short-strided at the trot.
After some warmup, we did a modified four-leaf clover exercise. The arena's too narrow, so we basically went down the centerline, turned right, turned right, turned right, and back down the centerline - like a big oval down at each end. She started off rushing through the cavaletti when she was taking bigger steps to make it through, but by the end she would relax the speed of her stride and get some bouncy air-time between each step. Cool feeling. I need to do this more often.

Wednesday April 8
Day off - relatives in town. They got free-longed.

Thursday April 9
Aaaaaand another day off. They were outside and it was POURING DOWN RAIN. Like it can only in the Northwest, I'm telling you. They were dirty and wet and had a fantastic time tearing loose around the arena. It's been a long time since I've seen them run that fast!

Friday April 10
Woohoo, I had a great ride! Though, as my mom asked when I said this, what else is new?
I set up two sets of cavaletti. Four cavaletti set about 11' apart (canter distance) and on the other side five trot poles (4'6 apart) with alternating ends raised about 6 inches. The canter cavaletti were set at their highest setting, which I think is about a foot high, so they were very challenging.
She was a bit uncoordinated about the raised trot poles, so I will have to reintroduce that slowly. I think I'll start with just raising one at a time. She went over them, though.
The canter cavaletti was magnificent to ride. I will definitely do that exercise again. She nailed them every time, except the time where I told her to add before going over and she didn't. Even that she made it out of fine. I think I will do this exercise again, perhaps set a little closer together - she had to really reach, so while she was forced to expand her stride in all directions (up and forward), she tended to rush through it. Next time if they're set a little closer together, I'm hoping it will help her rock back on her hind end and get some good steady strides in.

Saturday April 11
OMG. The Eventing Derby was SO. MUCH. FUN.

I can't even begin to describe it. I'll write a post over on the main blog in a little while.

Sunday April 12
Family here -- Pandora gave some pony rides. She was very good and patient, if sometimes a little confused :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

March Review, April Outline

March Outline: Continue working on our jumping skills, but don't neglect the flatwork.
I will be focusing on some flatwork aspects as they apply to jumping: smooth balanced turns, rating and adjustability at all three gaits, obedience to the leg.
Since I did not complete my gridwork and single fence goals last month, I will make it a priority to set up a grid at least once a week, and jump single fences at least once a week as well.

End-of-month goal: Coursing smoothly over 2'6 with a calm, smooth, and balanced w/t/c. We should be able to significantly control our rating at all 3 gaits.

Evaluation: We are certainly getting somewhere. I have ridden a course set at 2'3 to 2'6 pretty smoothly and am developing an understanding of what it takes to maintain a smooth, steady pace around course. Rating at the walk and trot is there, and I can FEEL the beginnings of canter adjustability. We can do a tiny bit of lengthening and shortening without falling on the forehand or breaking gait. I have a tiny half-halt ability at the canter without breaking gait. It just needs to be developed!
I spent more time working with grids this month, and jumped single fences.
She was fantastic at the Rally and proved to me that she will jump scary fences even when she is frightened, AND that she's willing to put the effort out when I ask her to push her comfort zones in terms of speed and tight turns.

Overall, I think I can declare this month a success.

April Outline: Time to start thinking about XC as soon as the weather turns and courses are open for schooling. This will be the month for putting miles on Pandora: lots and lots of trail rides and road riding. We need to get over her fear of water ASAP so I don’t have to worry about it later in the season. Also need to find out if she’s controllable at speed in the open.
All our long slow distance should really help with conditioning for the upcoming months too.
I want to spend time jumping low, wide oxers and really adding frightening decorations to fences.
Finally, keep up with dressage. School some tests to troubleshoot difficult movements, and school them. I have let this slack off now that I've got a solid w/t/c with some lateral, so I need to push us in this area.
End-of-month goal: Schooling consistently over 2'9+, riding calmly in the open at w/t/c (gallop if we can find the space). Willingly walk through water. Create passable dressage tests at Training level.

April Activities: April 4, Betsy Clinic - Jumping (the woman is fantastic, I love her)
April 11, Eventing Derby - this will be the first real XC-type experience I have with Pandora, not to mention our first dressage test in quite some time!
April 17, Christy Lesson

So not much officially going on this month, though I'd like to do lots of outside riding. I'm looking forward to this, because it means I can really focus on my "homework," working hard on the things I've learned recently.