Honey Bunches of Oats does dressage!

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Photo courtesy of Makayla Hovey.

I saw this quote in another blog (Medal Slut), and I loved it so much I had to use it~

“Find what you love and let it kill you.” – Charles Bukowski

And here’s the shocker-for a reluctant dressage-er, we did REALLY WELL!! Got our personal best scores of all time?! 68.47% in Training Level 1, and 69% in Training Level 2~ can you believe it! I can’t!

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The whole gang with their ribbons!!

Rewinding a bit, I had originally wanted to go to the Cowichan District Riding Club’s jumper show on the Saturday, when everyone was going but as I mentioned yesterday we had a packed schedule and no hauler to go up with, soooooo dressage it was!

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Photo courtesy of Makayla Hovey.

I had avoided the dressage ring for a few years, because it was hard, we were’t good at it, and it tripped all of my high-anxiety issues for showing and Oats did not respond well to my nerves, at all. So, jumping it was. But then, my husband got me some fancy white dressage boots for Christmas, so I wanted to show them off…and well, I had a ride to the showgrounds with my friend and her horse, sooooo…

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Photo courtesy of Makayla Hovey.

It was fated! We were doing dressage for the first time in like 3 years!

As you will note, we practiced a LOT in the two weeks leading up the show. Four dressage lessons, even? I was ready. I was still very nervous, but luckily we didn’t have a lot of time to fuss around at the show, as we were running kind of late, haha. I hopped on, did a pretty perfunctory warm-up (Oats was ok, but swapping his left lead for his right CONSTANTLY in the warm up and it as driving me nuts). Anyway, off we went for Training Level 1 and you know what? It went fine. I felt pretty ok about it, despite him spooking a bit in the warm up and getting a little silly.

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Photo courtesy of Makayla Hovey.

Funny enough usually at horse shows, I can’t wait to BE DONE and get off. This time? I finished my test 1, and said I want to get back in their and have more opportunities to ride the test! Who is this girl? I was still anxious, but I felt like I could have more time in the ring and really focus on riding.

Cue super long hiatus where Oats got loose and ran over one of the girl’s finance’s foot. Whoops!! He did catch Oats for me though, with Oats pinning his foot into the ground. Yikes! Oats and I hung out for ages..My first test was at 9:50am, and my second one was at 1:50pm!!

I got ready at around 1:10pm and warmed Oats up for the second time. He was TERRIBLE in the warm up. Thundering around, swapping leads like crazy, kind of acting nuts. I had this awful sinking feeling in my stomach.

Nicole was like, hey leave it in the warm- up, and just go and ride your test!

Easier said than done…

But, we entered the ring, started the first half of the test, got whistled out (judge thought we were doing Training 3 mistakenly, so I got to go back out, re-enter and start the test over.) Despite the miserable warm-up, the whistling out, we DID IT. We entered the groove, where I was focused on my test, on my horse, and on my body.

Each moment was there for me, and I wasn’t thinking too far ahead. (I did worry about the canter, ha).

When we came up to the final halt, I just KNEW we had a rocking test. We aced it!! The judge called me over and asked what breed Oats was (a mutt, I said. haha) and she said she really liked him and he was a good size and a very nice mover! WOW!!!!! 🙂

That test? Highest score ever for me- 69%. Good enough for second place for us! YESSS. A great end to a good day. I was very proud of how we pulled it together, and you should have seen how great everyone else was riding yesterday- I wasn’t the only one coming away with some good scores!!

Kudos to my friends for their great efforts, and to the Cowichan District Riding Club for a friendly, welcoming and fun atmosphere.

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Photo courtesy of Makayla Hovey.

Mr. Oats conquers!

To get better at something, you have to do a lot of it.

At least, in theory… So, either intentionally or unintentionally, we have been focusing a lot on gymnastic/gridwork in my jumping lessons on Thursdays. Last week, it kind of sucked but got better. This week I saw the grid was set up again and was like…noo…..

Also there is a lesson before mine, and the funniest thing, but whenever I watch another jumping lesson before I jump, I get all nervous and am like well now I don’t WANT to jump. Or, I anxiously declare that no way are we jumping at that height (and trust me it is NOT high…). And the funny part? We always do end up back at that height eventually!

Ah, nerves. Why do I do this again? Oh right, because I love it.

Also sometimes when I watch a rider having slight issues- stopping, bad distances, or whatever it makes me anxious too. I think, well if they can’t make it look great, how will I do it? Do I even know what I’m doing or how to ride? It’s silly, but definitely psychological.

Older Oats pix from Avalon: photo courtesy of Jodie Wright.

Older Oats pix from Avalon: photo courtesy of Jodie Wright.

We worked over the grid, building it up from poles, to x-rails, to an x-rail oxer. Kept it at two jumps only, and then built in a small course. Oats was very blahhhhhh about the grid at first, so we’d jump the x-rail or whatever, and then GALLOP around the arena, bring him back, and go through the grid again.

Anything to keep that engine firing!!

More older Oats pix from Avalon: photo courtesy of Jodie Wright.

More older Oats pix from Avalon: photo courtesy of Jodie Wright.

As much as I hate grids (and boy, do I!) they are teaching me some very valuable lessons about pace, not chasing (still do it though) and keeping the engine going and making corrections WELL ahead of the first x-rail.

So we worked over the course, and funny enough we got short distances, one or two long distances and some of my patented crank-his-head-sideways to make a distance on a diagonal line (ooops…thought I’d gotten over most of that) but you know what? It was ALLLL good. It went really fast too, holy.

And slowly, bit by bit, those jumps that I deemed no way became the jumps we were doing with no problems. I was a bit surprised by his ‘jump’ stupidly-because hello- if you jump higher than x-rails, you get more of an effort…And these are not high jumps by any stretch of the imagination, we’re talking like 2’3” or close to it here, hahahah. We even did this crazy rollback type thingy to a skinny *that I literally NEVER got in straight to* was nooo problem.

And even the small oxer in the grid got higher too- I didn’t even notice but it was a hole higher than what the previous rider had! Haha.

Good: Pace was good, rhythm was improving, gridwork better. Staying in a comfort zone is probably the healthiest mentally I have ever jumped at. Better at letting hands go forward instead of throwing upper body. He was staying more interested and focused on the jumps when I got the pace nailed down.

Bad: Still making him go in crooked. Grabbing back at the reins interrupts the rhythm, have to learn to trust him and just grab mane (he was perfect when I did). Need to land more on feet, when getting used to more of a ‘jump’ feeling. Need to focus on keeping a better track and not getting bumped out of my track when I get a surprise jump. Still had feelings of anxiety mixed with ‘no biggie’ feelings.

Continue doing: Visualizing the jump lesson from Thursdays on my walk to work. Really focus on riding the correct ‘feel’ and if you get distracted, go back in your mind and do it again!

“Any idiot can face a crisis. It’s day-to-day living that wears you out.” Anton Chekhov

As I mentioned yesterday, we are in the middle of an on-and-off tropical storm (for Canada, we’re probably the warmest place in the whole country right now at 13-17 degrees!) so it’s definitely wet and windy.

I was kind of dreading my lesson yesterday- I wasn’t sure about Oats behaving himself in dressage, and our canter in these lessons leaves a LOT to be desired. Ie- I have no desire to get bucked off again…

Oats vs dressage

Oats vs dressage

So, I told Karen straight out that it makes me anxious, that I feel like I don’t know how to handle it (the canter, transitions, his naughtiness) when things go sideways. She listened and was like there are many different roads to Rome, per se, so we can work the issues you have at the canter at different gaits (ie- walk/trot) and set those ‘rules’ in place, so when you do canter, you’re not suddenly faced with trying to fix problems, or running into ‘scary’ situations where you’re set up to fail- get bucked off.

One such issue- him balking, getting light in front at the canter, and either launching into a buck, or swapping his leads. This is caused by him being behind my leg, bigtime. And the cure is more leg, and/or crop…Which can also equal a buck. So what to do?

Well a big clue is that he also does this at the trot. So….We worked on getting the ‘rules’ in place at the walk, then at the trot, and then increasing my ‘ask’ from the trot by 5%, and 10% more. It was tough, not gonna lie. We STILL ran into the ‘balking, pissy, wanting to get light’ issue at the trot when I asked for bend and forward. The forward got lost in his ‘balk’ and lightness in front.

But, a bonus was that he did seem quite interested in moving up to canter on his own- ie, the trot work was challenging, so cantering was starting to look like the easier option, rather than the canter BEING the hard option.

Hmm…

I was sweating, got a mega leg cramp (ouch!) and worked pretty darn hard at the trot, harder than I can recall in recent memory. We really put the screws to him, and challenged him at the trot, to set up a better response for when I start asking for more canter work without getting scared off or intimidated by him.

I felt a bit cranky, like why haven’t we progressed beyond this? Why do I still have this dressage-fear with him?

Funny, but I guess we ARE making progress. It’s just incremental, not linear, but it’s there.

Ah well, horses.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

mahpiohanzia

n. the disappointment of being unable to fly, unable to stretch out your arms and vault into the air, having finally shrugged off the ballast of your own weight and ignited the fuel tank of unfulfilled desires you’ve been storing up since before you were born.

I’m fascinated by this site, as a way to capture the inexpressible way I often feel.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

It is amazing, the way the writer creates these words and definitions to fit things, situations and instances I often find myself.

In them, I’m reminded of a dream I had the other day- two dreams actually, but one was basically that I was being kidnapped, which I chalk up to watching too many X-files episodes on the weekend.

The other dream? Maybe it meant something. I dreamed I was jumping Oats in the indoor arena, over impossibly high fences- like huge, 5ft fences. We were approaching, and I felt nervous, but we were jumping them!

But when I looked back over my shoulder, those huge impossible fences were now somehow smaller? And they had shrunk back to the heights I’m more used to doing.

What an interesting dream. My husband thinks that in my dream, I was facing huge obstacles that blocked my path, that made me anxious. In soaring over them, I was able to overcome the obstacle. And when I looked back, the obstacles were not as big as I had originally thought they were…They were manageable.

Very intriguing.

All aboard the struggle bus?

So, it’s come to my attention that sometimes (only sometimes, not always) you have to embrace the inherent struggle of life- work, athletics, horses.

Oats and I seem to be on a cycle of never-ending struggle apparently, but it also may be my perspective seems to focus highly on the negative, and not so much on the positive? Or even worse- I use the positive moments (a great jump course! Good placings over fences! That one time I rode in an under saddle class and he didn’t lose his mind!) as justifications for how ‘now’ feels WAY WORSE and this is proof that we were ONCE good and are now terrible, and sliding downhill even faster!

Ahh…

I spent a lot of last week complaining, got mad in my lessons, felt frustrated at him.

So what did I do to resolve this over the weekend?

Well, Saturday he was pretty amiable to what I wanted to do, so we trotted over crossrails, worked on my eye exercises over poles and generally felt pretty good!

Sunday…He cow-kicked once I was mounted and asking him to move off away from the mounting block. This is a lovely behaviour that has somehow just surfaced and I DON’T like it. He was pissy, balky, balled up. Not interested in moving forward for some reason. Crabby at the canter, balled up, threw 1 buck. Got him around but it wasn’t that pretty.

So, I worked on something a little different- I had him ‘walk’ fences with me. For fun! And it was quite the challenge, but took some of the drama out of the ride. We walked a crossrail, and we walked a small raised pole, and we trotted a tarp.

It really highlighted how much I needed to keep my leg on – yes at the walk- right up to the base of the fence, or we’d end up with this stop-crawl-knockdown hilarity. I did have to get off and set up the jumps a few times, ah learning…

I do think he was getting it though!

I was going to ride Monday but wasn’t feeling well at all (horribly sore neck and shoulder from moving jumps around on the weekend, and achy, hot-cold tiredness) so I bummed around at home laying on the couch all night. Boring!!

Tuesday brings us to my lesson with Karen Brain- I couldn’t resist telling her how upset I’d been last week with Oats, how frustrating he’s being! How we are NOT progressing! I always get really dramatic for some reason, ahhahaha.

And she was like ok but I do think you ARE making progress, you ARE learning lots, and he IS improving. It just won’t happen overnight, and it definitely won’t FEEL like it is happening overnight. Progress is/may be incremental…Like thinking you have to climb Mt. Everest, and that thought is so overwhelming- you’re barely making any steps! Just crawling! Until you look down, and suddenly you’re 5 miles up!

We actually worked on some great exercises- trot poles on a circle, and then trot poles on a teeny circle. And then cantering the bigger pole circle. It was very challenging and I had to fight myself to not get in 2-point to ‘jump’ the poles (a habit of mine as a hunter rider).

I wimped out of one last canter circle to the right because I was getting tired and I had a REAL suspicion that Oats, who was behaving very nicely, was going to throw some shit at me…

So, we worked back on the teeny circle at the trot, and boy, I was right! He had a small hissy fit about having to bend MORE and go MORE to the right. Small hop/buck and resistance. We worked through it, and got him to go through nicely once or twice more, took him large to ‘stretch’ it out at the trot, and it was very good.

So overall, not a lesson without challenges and tests, but I’m slowly getting there.

I just have to keep reminding myself of that!