Exciting Times

Exciting things are happening here!

This year – for what is probably the first time – I have actually put all my jumps away for the winter at a decent time. As in, not in February when it is nearly time to get them out again. Although when I say I did it I really mean we – my parents were brilliant and helped me out.

Not that this means I am suddenly super organised. No, this productivity is just because I have entered an online dressage competition and I needed the space to set out a dressage arena. My flatwork is usually done around the jumps but that doesn’t really go down so well in an actual test.

Once again, my parents helped me mark it out properly – it would have taken me forever to do it all myself. We even did the maths to make sure the corners really were right angles.

The dog was not at all interested in the process but she did have fun making one last use of the jumps before they went away.

The ponies of course couldn’t care less.

It is all looking rather lovely and I am very pleased to see it. All it needs now is the actual riding of the test!

Working Again

Over lockdown we didn’t really do much schooling. Obviously we did the odd bit of flat work when warming up for jumping but proper, serious schooling got put on hold – mainly because we had nothing to work towards. We are still not going out to shows but I am hoping to do some online dressage soon so schooling has suddenly become important again!

Galahad was not impressed in our first session. Flat work is never his favourite thing anyway and he has got used to not having to do it. He was rather sluggish to start with and I could really tell how much schooling does improve his way of going – I couldn’t get him to bend to the right at all. He is improving now but it just shows how important schooling really is.

As well as the flat schooling I have introduced some gridwork into our routine. Partly because it is good for Galahad’s rather weak hindquarters and partly because he loves to jump so it makes the session more interesting for him too. I wanted to try some bounce distances which we have only ever done in lessons before. Those tend to be with other people whose horses inevitably have longer legs than Galahad so normally he can squeeze in an extra stride and avoid the bounce altogether. The advantage of being at home is that this time I could shorten the distances until they were right for him.

The first time we tried it he had no clue what to do with his feet and we were very scrappy on our way through. It didn’t take him long to figure it out though and soon he was bouncing through like a pro.

I think Galahad enjoyed it and I know I did so we’ll be keeping the grid up as long as the state of the ground lets us.

The Highs and Lows of Horses

Horses are a great leveller.  Three weeks ago I had a great day competing and qualified as part of a team for the British Riding Clubs’ Novice Winter Championships.  Last week we went to a combined training qualifier and I fell off in the warm-up for dressage.  Horses will never let us get too big headed!

He had felt quite tense and bouncy when we first started but I thought he had settled and he was actually working very nicely in walk and trot.  Then I asked for canter and he took off across the arena and exploded.  I found myself on the floor.

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I was only winded so we carried on but did not get our nice frame back before we had to go in to the test.  It was not very pretty.  The canter was far too fast (the judge said there was ‘much confusion’ in the transition) and he was resisting my aids the whole way round.  We did get round though and the judge was very kind in her final comments, saying that perservering will be worth it.

He nearly threw me off twice more in the show jumping warm-up which was not encouraging but as before I was hoping that the extra space and the ability to keep him moving forward in the competition arena would help me out.

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Thankfully, that did prove to be the case.  We were rather too fast and overshot many of the turns but all that practice keeping my eyes on the next fence no matter what really paid off and we managed to clear all the fences in the right order.  That was despite our stopping dead for no apparent reason as we went past a fence we had already jumped.  I can only assume that he thought I was asking him to jump one of the huge cross country fences around the arena and didn’t fancy it!

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About to stop dead!

Of course, our poor dressage performance meant that we stood no chance of a placing but it was good to finish on a positive note.  If nothing else, it reinforced what I already knew – I am much better at jumping than dressage!

Dressage Divas

Last Sunday was our area qualifier for the novice winter dressage championships and I am pleased to report that my superstitious hacking in my show gear did the trick – I did not fall off!

I had never actually represented the riding club in dressage before so I was pretty nervous.  I enjoy dressage but it isn’t my strong point as I am not very good at maintaining the correct outline.  Nevertheless, I was determined to do my best and not let the side down.

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I started off with Prelim 18 as a warm up class and although I felt it could have gone better it was at least not as bad as I thought it might have been (our practice the day before had not been great).  We ended up with a score of 67.88 and eighth place which pleased me immensely.  I even won my first goody bag!

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For the qualifier itself we did Prelim 12 and while it was still not perfect it felt a lot better than the first test – until we started centering and he threw his head right up in the air.  Still, we scored 67.59 and came sixth which was very exciting.

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My team mates did well too and we came away with team fifth.  No qualification this time but I was pleased and I think they were too.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and, as we all know, that is the important thing.

Dressage Downpour

Yesterday the ponies and I went to another home riding club dressage event.  This time – for the first time – they were doing three tests as each had an individual test and we were also having a go at both the walk/trot and the canter pairs tests.  I don’t often get to compete both ponies so it was an exciting day before we even got started.

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Luckily, my ever supportive ground crew was ready to lend a hand!

First up was Cookster in the Intro B class.  He is starting to feel very nice in his walk and trot work and although his canter still needs work that obviously isn’t an issue in an intro level test.  I came out of the arena feeling very positive about our test but even so I was surprised to find that not only had we come second, we had managed to score 69.56%.

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I was then straight on to Galahad to warm him up whilst my partner for our pairs tests was riding the test with someone else.  A quick turnaround and we were into the arena for the walk/trot test.  We started this with a pretty major spook at the people watching by the gate but after that they settled quite nicely and even had moments when their legs were working beautifully in unison.

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We didn’t have long before the next class but did find out just before we went in that we had managed to win the walk/trot class with 72.87% – a good score for both of us which left us feeling very positive as we began the canter test.

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Unfortunately, there was an absolute downpour part way through.  I for one had a terrible time trying to stop Cookster from swinging his quarters round into the rain and our first canter circle was somewhat messy.  However, it still felt pretty good overall and I would have been pleased with it as our first attempt at a canter test even if it hadn’t been raining.  The judge was very nice about the way the ponies kept going and we managed to score 77.5% to win that class as well.  We were thrilled and just a bit surprised.  Also absolutely soaked!

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Before long I was up again and ready to do the Prelim 13 test with Galahad.  By then he was starting to feel a bit tired and although he did a pretty obedient test I was struggling to get him bending the correct way.  I finished it thinking that it had been okay but not spectacular – and not as good as Cookster’s test which is a first.  Still,  I was so proud of both ponies and how well they had behaved.  It had been a great day.

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As it turned out, Galahad and I came fourth with a score of 65.96%.  This was a bigger class than Cookster’s and we had scored almost as high as our last outing when he did only two tests.  It was a pretty successful day altogether and I can’t wait to take them out again.

A Most Exciting Day

Yesterday the ponies and I went to the riding club dressage competition.  This one was held at my instructor’s yard so we were wonderfully relaxed and at home.  It felt strange not to be going away to compete but it was fun to be involved in the set up.

Cookster and I did the Intro C dressage test.  We are not quite ready for a canter test yet – our steering can be dodgy and we often lack impulsion – but our walk and trot tests are definitely improving.

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He felt nice and responsive in the warm up and was actually going forward which was gratifying.  He was a little wobbly in the test itself  and very noisy – he kept calling for Galahad and the judge commented that we could have done with some music to go with his vocals!

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This was only our third test though and I was extremely pleased with how he went.  We ended up with a score of 63% and a fourth place so I was thrilled.

I had time for a quick cup of tea and then I had to get Galahad ready for the pairs class.  My sister couldn’t ride with me so I had recruited one of the children on the yard.  Our practices had definitely improved but we were not expecting much – for two ponies who live together they were not really working very well as a pair.  Galahad tried to bite Cookster more than once and Cookster was determined to play follow my leader instead of riding side by side.

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Having two ponies to compete is wonderful but it does keep you busy!

However, once we got into the arena I was pleasantly surprised.  There was no fighting at all and although we definitely lacked impulsion – I had to work very hard to keep Cookster up with Galahad – we were more or less together most of the time.  It certainly felt much better than any of the practices had done and was a lot of fun.

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Some of the other pairs had looked very good though so we were not really expecting to place very high.  However, at the prize giving our names kept not being called until there were only two pairs left.  I had picked the other pair as the winner and so I was convinced we would be called next.  We weren’t though which meant we had won the class with 68%.  We were both astonished but absolutely delighted.

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Cookster was very miffed he didn’t get to eat the Easter egg!

After that excitement I had to calm down to take Galahad in for the Prelim 13 test.  I had never done that one before but I really like the way it flows.  Galahad felt great warming up but by this point I was freezing – it was a beautiful day but the wind was icy.

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I kept my coat on as long as I possibly could!

The test felt pretty good and not rushed as it can do sometimes.  Most important for me though was that we got the correct canter lead on the right rein.  That is a major achievement for us and meant that no matter the result it was a successful test for me.  In fact, we came fourth with 66% and were the best of the senior competitors.  It was a very successful day for the junior riders!

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Once the ponies were away I had to rush and write for the judge.  It’s a job I find very interesting and it is possible to learn a lot from hearing all the comments as the tests are ridden.  I also found it fascinating watching the novice tests as I could see that some of the movements were very similar to the ones we had done in the prelim test but just slightly more advanced.  It shows how we need to be working to improve.

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‘We’ve been working hard all day – where’s our dinner?’

I had the most wonderful day and was so proud of both ponies – they really did work hard.

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Christmas Dressage

It has been a busy day!

I found out yesterday evening that I was able to take Cookster to the Christmas dressage show today as well as Galahad.  I had a concert last night and I spent all the time I wasn’t playing frantically learning two extra tests for him.

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Cookster’s classes were up first and I was a little apprehensive – we hadn’t had a chance to practise and our steering was a bit questionable in the warm up.  However, although his tests were not perfect by any means I was very pleased with the progress he has made.  He even managed to score an eight for his final halt (the halt in the first test was not good at all).

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The last time Galahad did a dressage test with Cookster also at the show we had a disastrous round and I didn’t know quite what to expect this time.  What I got was an extremely noisy pony but thankfully one who was willing to actually listen and do what I asked him.  Sadly, I was back to having to ask a couple of times for the correct canter lead on the right rein but otherwise it felt really good.

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Galahad was a lot more forward going today – we usually get comments about needing more energy so this was good to feel.  I was also especially pleased that our halts went well as we had rather an argument about them yesterday.

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Cookster was unplaced in his first class but came seventh in his second while Galahad came away with a ninth and a seventh.  They were big classes as it was a championship event so I was thrilled with both of them.  Galahad’s first test was one we did a fortnight ago and we got a better score this time around.  It’s a definite sign of improvement which is always welcome.

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It might have been a long day but despite the rain and cold we had a fantastic time.

Dancing in the Rain

Last weekend Galahad and I went to our first competition in several months.  It was a riding club dressage event and I was very happy to be out competing again.

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The warm up was slightly interesting – there were cross country jumps stacked around the arena which Galahad thought were pretty scary – I spent half my time trying to persuade him to go near them.  Then the rain started coming down in earnest.  I had forgotten my contact lenses and before long my glasses were covered with rain and I could barely see.

We got them cleaned up and ourselves into the indoor arena for our actual test.  Galahad settled down nicely and did what felt like a pretty good test.  I didn’t think it was amazing but he did everything I asked and – best of all – he picked up the correct canter lead on both reins.  As I said last week, that’s something on which we have really been working hard so I was especially pleased to get it right.

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Before long we were called for our second test and again it felt like a nice, safe clear round.  The canter leads were correct and this time our shapes felt a little more accurate.  I was so pleased with Galahad!

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Really, the canter leads made my day but it got better.  When the scores were posted I found I had scored 60.53% and 62.93%.  We got our usual comments about Galahad being, ‘Economical with the energy’ but the judge also made some nice comments about the trot which were good to see.  We placed second and fourth which was obviously great but even better the scores were good enough to qualify us for a local dressage championship next week.  So exciting!

Working on the Canter

This week I have been focussing very much on our canter transitions.  Galahad particularly struggles picking up the correct lead on the right rein as the brand on his near hind makes it weaker.

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We have, however, been making progress.  This week we did some work on simple changes in a figure of eight.  We got the first one wrong but after that they went so well that I decided to try something a bit harder.

I trotted up the centre line, asked Galahad for a particular lead and he got every single one right.  That was unexpected!  The video isn’t perfect but it is proof.

I’m not expecting us to just get them all perfectly now – in fact it took us a couple of asks to get it right the very next day – but it is definite progress and it does show we are capable!

Bright Lights

The ponies are spending a couple of weeks with my riding instructor – partly so Galahad can have a bit of a trim and partly so we can get to our dressage competition in a fortnight.

Of course, I am taking full advantage of the facilities while they are there.  They were collected on Friday afternoon and I went over straight after work to school Galahad.  He hasn’t been ridden under lights for months – probably not since last winter – so he was a little tense at first and had to have a very good look at the darkness beyond the lights to make sure there were no hidden monsters.

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I just worked him quietly round the school and before long we could ride on a loose rein with no problem.

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We actually had a very good session.  Galahad was working nicely, although he did tire a bit.  He got pretty hot as well – definitely time for that clip.