Transferable skills

A few weeks ago, before Drifter got sore, we had a lesson. Actually we had a few ūüėČ but this one was pretty intense.

My cardio fitness is fairly awful still. It’s not it the oops I need a cardiologist category any more (hurray) but it’s in the fairly normal for a person with a desk job who doesn’t excercise category I would say. Doing anything meaningful about that while maintaining the rest of life hasn’t really happened yet, so when I go for a 45 min dressage lesson, it has overtones of bootcamp beastings as far as my fitness level is concerned.

If I were to declare that I needed to stop, rest, breathe, whatever, the instructor would not have an issue with it, but otherwise he’s going to keep things going until the horse needs a rest. It’s all about D’s workout, not mine.

If you add to this the fact that I decided to wear my good show boots and they were a) improving my posture so I used different muscles and b) squeezing my left calf in a pretty vicious way, I was pretty damn uncomfortable for a lot of the lesson.

Particularly towards the end of the lesson I was so so close to opening my mouth and declaring I couldn’t do it, as the instructor calmly ordered another trot circle, and another, and my boots bit at me, and the power of the horse-working-really-hard-too-and-needing-me-to-rise-to-the-challenge pushed at all the different bits of me, but instead I shut my mouth, raised my chin, and cranked out another brilliant (for us) trot circle.

What made me able to put up and shut up?

A mantra of hard things I’ve achieved in my life. I wasn’t going to let any breeches-wearing-sandpit-circle-dressage-instructor hear me ask for mercy.

As we whisked around our circles and spirals, and my lungs burst, and my muscles screamed, the past proofs of my ability to endure which strengthened me were not the physical achievements of my past. I didn’t even think of the fact that I once did a half-marathon on a rowing machine, or that I used to take a map and some sandwiches and go out on my bike for a whole day, or even that I once did a full weights work-out followed by doing a Body-pump session to help out a trainee instructor.

Nope. The things that ran through my head weren’t as sane as that.

You can’t break me because I used to have 6 hour baroque violin lessons, so 45 min. of dressage is a piece of cake.

I’ve played Turangalia Sinfonie twice in 48 hours, on a viola that weighed far more than anything any teenager should be holding up for hours. The horse is holding me up here, so this is easy as hell.

I’ve performed Nozze di Figaro 4 times in 3 days in a pit orchestra where there was barely room to play, let alone breathe, and the temperatures were ridiculously high.

I’ve counted rests through Strauss Metamorphosen, with a hangover from hell, having not been to bed all night the night before, and stayed awake and kept my place, every bloody time, even though the conductor only let us get 3 bars into the bit where I played for the whole rehearsal.

Yup. The toughest things I can say I’ve achieved in my whole life came from a musician’s training. Riders might think they’re tough, because they go out in the cold, and shovel poop, and get on large animals with minds of their own, and get back on after they fall off, but I tell you that nothing I’ve seen outside of the musical world has been as tough as what I’ve seen it it. Orchestral string playing, and the training for it, is exhausting and painful and hard, and if you can survive a serious youth orchestra, and perhaps University music making as well, you will come out ready to face anything life can throw at you.

Even a mild-mannered dressage instructor.

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What did we do on Friday?

I was feeling a bit frazzled, mentally rather than physically, and the vet could only see us in the middle of the day on¬†Friday, so I made the necessary arrangements and¬†took the day off work. It felt weird to be using a day’s leave because I was mentally tired rather than physically tired.

After my lie in, and subsequent leisurely reading of blogs and Ravelry fora, I had breakfast and did a little crochet.

Next I pulled my bike out of the garage.¬† I turned it upside-down,¬†removed the wheel, levered the tyre from the rim,¬†took out¬†the old inner tube and cleared the bright green slime out of the inside of the tire. Or should I say Slime – it’s a brand name after all.* Unfortunately because I’d left my Slime-filled tyre pancake flat for a week, I had green slime everywhere!

After the green slime was gone I put the new inner tube in, got the tyre back on the rim, the wheel back on the bike, and put in the own brand orange slime I had to hand before pumping it up. I sorted through my old puncture repair kits to replace old tubes of glue with new ones and realised that I could make my frame bag from my old bike fit this one if I found an allen key, removed the drink holder and cannibalised an old rubber-band based rear-light fitting. So I did that too.

I’ve gone through every phase of that in detail because I want to highlight that it was a¬†relatively arduous¬†physical process. I would have struggled with all of it a few months ago. Having to clean up the old slime would have been¬†a major blow because it would have been energy expenditure I hadn’t budgeted for. But now it’s not a big deal.

Packing the frame bag with food for lunch, I cycled the 6 miles to the stables. Ta da!

On arrival I cleaned Drifter’s sheath. Box rest is not good for a horse’s intimate hygiene. Understatement. And then I strip-cleaned his bridle and ate lunch.

The vet arrived and we did trot-ups and flexion tests with more¬†trot-ups. The swelling had reduced massively, although there was still a tiny bit left. The lameness had gone and the¬†flexion tests were normal. Hurray! The vet prescribed a return to normal routine in both exercise and turnout! Hurray! However, he could now see the lameness at the back which has been slowly creeping up on us. I wasn’t at all surprised, nor disappointed really. I knew there was stuff going on and it was a relief to have it finally visible as a true lameness. Also, I expected it to get bad at as a result of the box rest. The vet thinks it is coming to the point where we need to intervene at the back but he suggested that we get back to normality for a bit before we start investigating the back leg. I was happy to go with that, so for now we have a glucosamine supplement and exercise, but soon we’ll start playing the vet game again. How soon will probably depend on whether it eases with exercise or not.

Honestly I’m sure most of the staff thought his back¬†leg troubles were all in my mind so it was good to be able to tell them that the vet can see it now. It’s likely that the front end issue might have been caused or at least exacerbated¬†by the problem at the back because it’s the right hind and the left fore that are sore.

As¬†we were suddenly back to normal routine I tacked up and got on and rode in walk and trot! (Canter is now allowed but I never canter unless the trot is reasonably good). The trot was not pretty. That didn’t surprise me, but it was hard work to ride. He was hollow, unbalanced and unrhythmic. I just tried to stay out of his way and let him go in whatever way was comfortable for short trots and then walk again. It did get better… until I changed the rein. Now we were on the right rein and I was rising on the correct diagonal for the rein but it was not the easy diagonal for Drifter, whose two bad legs were now on the ground each time I sat. Everything got very hard for both of us. If I was any good at sitting trot that would be a good solution but I’m not. It seems like a bad idea to rise on the wrong diagonal but right now it seems like a bad idea to be on the right one too! I just hope that next time I ride it will be a bit easier for him as he’ll have moved more which will improve the back leg. We kept the ride quite short, not least because the heavens opened and we got drenched in seconds. There have been times when I’ve tried to work him in weather like that and he went on¬†a bucking and (tiny) rearing tantrum. Aware that he might have lots of energy to spare from the reduced exercise I didn’t want to take any chances so we went for cover! For now my exercise priorities are just to get him moving again. It may be a long time before we get a trot I’m happy to canter from but that’s OK.

Once we’d both dried off it was time for him to go out. Exciting! I was prepared for it to be a little too exciting so wasn’t at all surprised when his walk to the field had something of the trot about it, but he was reasonably mannerly. When I took the head-collar off he did¬†get¬†told off for¬†bucking a little closer to my space than I’d choose, although there was no real danger, and once I was out of the field he galloped… with enough commitment¬†that I got to see his¬†attempt at¬†a sliding stop when he reached the fence on the other side. After that he trotted. Quite a lot. Which I took as an opportunity to observe the very subtle lameness at the back. There was a point where he tried to canter. Two awkward strides on his easy left rein and he decided against it. Trot¬†and gallop were his two gears until he remembered that the green stuff he was running on was made of food, and settled down to eat. I was glad that he didn’t seem any lamer for the outburst and that he’d settled. I’m glad that I was there to see it and seeing those two awkward canter strides was useful – I knew that he might have lost his right rein canter but I hadn’t realised the left rein would be so hard, even at liberty. When the time does come to ask for canter under saddle I’ll be much better informed for having seen this. Hopefully though, turnout will do him good and he’ll loosen up. If he’s a little sorer in the dodgy legs that will be an acceptable balance for the increased wellbeing of the rest of the horse. I’m pretty sure he thinks so!

With my horse in the field there was nothing left to do but get back on my bike and do the 6 miles home. On the way my chain came off, so I popped the bike upside down, twiddled gears, helped it back on, righted it and got on my way.

I got home, showered and didn’t feel that tired. Seriously.

I’d done lots of mechanic tasks, cycled for a total of¬†12 miles (having done almost no cycling for years), rode a truly awful trot that took loads of core strength just to keep my balance (having not trotted at all¬†for a few weeks), ran up and down for trot-ups, hung upside-down sheath cleaning,¬†groomed,¬†tacked up, removed tack¬†and strip cleaned a bridle, and I didn’t overdo it. I think I’m really fixed!

As for my horse, he may not be quite as fixed as me, but I’m content. He’s out of the stable and a lot better than he was. This morning I was braced for the call that he was really lame again, but it didn’t come. He’s having the day off from structured exercise today, to recover from his night in the field, but tomorrow we’ll do some more trotting and we’ll see where we go from there.

———

*I always use either Slime tube sealant or an own-brand equivalent. If you get a small hole in your inner tube, such as a thorn would make, it repairs the hole for you. It can’t cope with everything, but it does really cut down on manual puncture repairs, which is great if you’re out and about and you end up going down hawthorn hedged lanes that the hedge trimmer has been through recently (you might be surprised how often that’s happened to me.)¬†The other thing that’s useful is that if it can’t seal the hole for you, at least you can find it easily because there’s luminous green slime bubbling out of the hole!

Crochet Christmas and birthday gifts

I made these over the last few months but couldn’t show them to you because some of the recipients were also some of my readers.

Slippers for Mr S

Slippers for Mr S

Fan and feathers lace-weight scarf for my mother

Fan and feathers lace-weight scarf for my mother

Woolly scarf for my mother-in-law

Woolly scarf for my mother-in-law

Fiendishly difficult flowers

Fiendishly difficult flowers

A reindeer...

A reindeer for my friend …

... and a second reindeer for Mr S who wanted one for us to keep

… and a second reindeer for Mr S who wanted one for us to keep

And a penguin in a pear tree. Actually he thought he'd be comfier on the sofa because those feet are not designed for perching in trees.

And a penguin in a pear tree. (Actually he thought he’d be comfier on the sofa because those feet are not designed for perching in trees.)

All patterns are freely available except for the green scarf which I didn’t use a pattern for. It’s just a pattern of 1 fan, 1 sc; with 1/2 fans at the end of every other row so the sc goes into the middle of the previous row’s fan. Easier to do than describe!

Patterns:

Slippers: Sorry, can’t remember. But I wasn’t that enamoured of it anyway. In the picture they look like wildly different sizes – that’s just poor photography! While they’re not perfect they are pretty much the same size as each other!

Fan and feathers: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/lacy-feather-and-fan-pattern

Flowers: (Iris, Columbine, Anemone) http://melibondre.com/blog/¬†Mine would have come out better if a) I’d had better skills to start off with and b) I’d used embroidery silks as the patterns suggest. I used the finest embroidery wools because that’s what I had but it made the job a lot harder and silks would have given a nicer finish I¬†suspect. Don’t judge her patterns by my results! Leaves of my own invention.

Reindeer:¬†http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/murray-the-reindeer I love¬†this pattern. It was my first amigurumi attempt and it was clear and helpful and I was delighted with the result. Also, it does not require any sewing together at the end. I simplified it a tiny bit (making body coloured hooves and paring down the features) because of my personal tastes and what yarn I had available but I don’t think I’d have found it complicated to do as written.

Penguin: http://theageingyoungrebel.com/amigurumi-penguin-pattern/¬†I thought this was the cutest free penguin pattern on the internet. I found it harder than the reindeer, although in part that’s because working with black makes it hard to see your stitches and working with white makes me paranoid about getting it dirty ūüėČ Sewing up nearly drove me mad but I fear that’s probably the norm for amigurumi.

So am I all crocheted out? Nope. I got some new hooks for Christmas ūüėÄ

Suprised? Me too!

So … I did a couple of dressage tests.

 

It's blurry but I like it

It’s blurry but I like it

Yep. That’s right. I’ve gone from barely doing more than patting a pony for ages and as soon as I decide I’m heading back towards normality I’m in the white breeches doing that centre-line thing and making circles in the sandpit again. But doing it on a very restricted budget of energy and being forced to cut corners.

Why did I do it? Because the show was at our yard. Because the show might be the last ever at our yard because we just aren’t getting enough entries to pay someone to judge. Because I got all my lovely new show clothes in the summer and haven’t worn them yet except for my readers’ viewing pleasure. Because I checked that I physically could ride for 4 min, have a rest and ride again for 5 (it takes about 4 min to do an Intro level test and about 5 for a Prelim.) Because it I’d broken up from work for Christmas so if it wiped me out for a few days afterwards I could just stay in bed. Because I didn’t want to miss out. Because dressage!

So I’d decided I was doing it a day or two before the show. So now it was time to think about washing my pony. Hmm. And then plaiting my pony. Hmm. Could I do those things? I suspect not. Sigh. Looks like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. But again keeping the para-riders in my mind I reminded myself that there is no shame in paying someone to do something you can’t do (or can’t do without spending so much energy you then can’t ride). They say it takes a village to raise a child; well it often takes a village to get a horse and competitor down the centre-line. Time to accept some help and let go of trying to do everything myself.

As D is scared of water I didn’t really want to get staff to wash D, in case they knocked back his enormous progress with this fear-so I have to admit he just got a spot wash from me the day before the show. I’d love to have had a gleaming horse, but between his limitations and mine it didn’t really happen. As he was clipped relatively recently he doesn’t take much brushing to shine, which was lucky because I didn’t have the elbow grease to spare!

But I stumped up the cash for plaiting because there was no way I could do it. Plaiting is physically hard, even for those in full health and even if I didn’t have to ride the tests afterwards I’d have struggled to do even a single plait I think.

The morning came, and my instructor came to plait. I was really pleased because to my taste he does the best plaits on the yard. There’s one other person on the yard in his league, but apart from her no one else comes close. As he plaited I watched closely to try to pick up things that would improve my plaiting when I next do my own plaiting, and chattered on about things in my head, including the two tests ahead.

Driter’s¬†mane was not in a good state for the perfect plaits. I knew this and was interested to see how well he’d do – I’ve only seen his plaits in professionally pulled manes before, which D’s is not. The state of pulling is not great – it could be a lot more even. Also there is a thin patch where one rug rubs, a lot of broken hair on the visible side of the mane where the neck of another rug breaks it and the top of his forelock is all short because his fly mask rubbed that in summer. I was secretly pleased to see that my professional plaiter couldn’t entirely hide these flaws but he did a damn fine job. Once he’d finished it was the best and smartest D’s mane has ever looked. So at least I felt I’d got something for my money.

Warming up outside. This is the best picture of the plaits I have. Sadly I was too tired to take a picture of them in the stable

Warming up outside. This is the best picture of the plaits I have. Sadly I was too tired to take a picture of them in the stable

A lick and a promise on the rest of my grooming and it was time to tack up. My bridle I’d cleaned properly but the weighty saddle is too much so that too had only had a lick and a promise. It did occur to me that I might get on with my new white breeches and end up with a dirty butt because I hadn’t been able to clean the saddle properly, but I got away with it.

I¬†didn’t oil his hooves. Bending to do them was energy I didn’t have. I’m sure I could have asked someone to do them for me, but I’m still not used to asking for help and time was getting on so I just skipped it.

So I climbed aboard and began the balancing act of trying to warm him up while not expending¬†any of my energy. We did OK, heading into the competition arena far less warm than I would like but still with me feeling that I¬†had enough in reserve to¬†ride the test, which was British Dressage Into. A, a walk/trot test. I hadn’t cantered in warm up, which I knew was detrimental to the quality of his trot and his impulsion, but if he’s not yet cantered I have a lot more in the way of obedience and brakes, and hence accuracy. I had a caller for the test for a few reasons: I’ve not yet been brave enough to do a test without a caller, I’d managed to learn it wrong and so was extra likely to either get it wrong or blank about where I was going and with my health as it is I have been a lot more forgetful and woolly-brained of late.*

The test went OK. I was out of breath pretty much from the start, but I kept breathing, which is always a positive step I find! Drifter was obedient and listening but not working up to the bit nearly as well as he can, because he wasn’t properly warmed up. I did have one surprise though, when I looked at the judge’s table. We usually hire an external judge, but the last few shows were cancelled so I think on this occasion they decided not to because they didn’t know if it would go ahead. The judge was the very same instructor that did D’s plaits and to whom I’d been mindlessly chattering about my thoughts on the tests as he plaited. During the test I didn’t have time to dwell on this but afterwards I was embarrassed that he might have thought I was trying to influence his judging by talking about my tests. At the end of the day I was keen to tell him I’d had no idea he was judging until I got into the competition arena.

I felt that the test went respectably but not didn’t have any polish or sparkle. But that was more than enough for me to be very proud of. Considering I was riding a horse who’d had not structured schooling or even a solid exercise programme since autumn and spent most of the summer in rehab from injury; and that the rider has mostly sat in front of the television for months I am glowing with pride.811

So out we went and had a bit of a rest before it was time to warm up again for our Prelim test. Around this point I decided to try the Prelim test without a caller.

Unfortunately by this point in the day they were running quite late, which meant we were in warm up for far longer than I could manage. D, who had already worked and rested, was fine with the return to the warm-up, but after a little walk trot and canter I had to rest. When I went to fire him up again he was resistant. Not that I can blame him for thinking he’d finished, but most unfortunately due to the delays we had to ride a little, rest a little, ride a little, rest a little for a long time.

When we finally got into the competition arena again Drifter was firmly against the idea of doing any¬†more work. Which is why we got a 4 for our entering centre line! I’m pretty sure entering in working trot is not supposed to be two steps of trot followed by an attempted halt by the horse and a pair of total pony-club kicks** by the rider to get him going, none of which actually being on the centre line, but somewhere to the left. After that point he worked better – those being the only pony-club kicks he’s ever had from me they made my point. In a way at least getting a bad¬†start I wasn’t going to be messing up perfection if I went wrong later on, so I carried on feeling like the pressure was off me a bit. My two goals were to get through to the end of the test physically and to go the right way. Anything else would be icing on the cake. By this point I was knackered, so I cannot be sure whether the bits where he tried to wander off the track were him playing up or me doing strange things with the aids, but it was all very inaccurate. We got a 5 for submission which I feel was quite generous, considering,¬†because he was¬†not interested in¬†going¬†nicely for me and I had nothing left with which to persuade him!¬†Was it a well performed test? No. Was I proud? Hell yes. I’d just ridden my first ever test without a caller. With no real physical strength or energy I’d got a reluctant horse to produce a vaguely recognisable version of Prelim 18. I was delighted that we had downwards transitions from canter because, particularly when he’s not in the mood, he just runs away in canter and won’t come back, which would have ruined this test completely. And it was only the third time we’d ever done a Prelim anyway.

775

I was expecting tough but fair marking and I was not wrong in this. We got 56.52 for Intro. A and 57.08 for Prelim 18. It was the first time ever where I have looked down my comments and scores and agreed that everything I got was an accurate reflection of what I had done on each movement.

Some points and trends from the marking:

  • centrelines¬†and halts were uniformly low scoring. I’m not surprised about the halts but we can do better on centrelines so that’s something we can look at when I’m back to schooling him regularly.
  • Stretching in free walk on a long rein is no longer our nemesis!! Every one of our¬†dressage comments sheets used to say a variant on “not much stretching,” even on one occasion “no stretch shown.” This double-marked movement was in both tests and¬†at Intro we got a 6 with the comment “good stretch, walk lacks purpose” and in the Prelim no comment but a 7 (which was the highest mark we got all day). Obviously there’s still plenty of room for improvement, but it’s no longer our weakest movement.
  • Overall comment for Prelim amused me: “Rhythm was rather varied, also affecting accuracy of movements.” Such a polite way of saying that¬†I had no idea¬†how fast the next stride¬†was¬†coming up and was doing my best to steer an erratic beastie who uses rushing and dragging to express his displeasure in still being ridden. I’m lucky I don’t have a bucking pony who¬†uses the ejector seat when he’s had enough!¬†When in ordinary fitness I can put him into a sensible rhythm even if he’s not in the mood, but at the moment I can’t. I don’t blame him for being irritated when he’d been messed around so much and so many times though he’d finished, and when he’s not had proper regular schooling for a long, long time. I am pleased with what we achieved.

Both of the scores put us into last place, but as there were few entrants that meant a 2nd and a 4th rosette for me. It would have been nice to have beaten someone, but no one else was competing on little health and no practice so in my mind I was in a category all my own and so got a double win ūüėÄ I am blown away by how much we achieved all things considered. Getting high scores was never on our to-do list for this one.

I am utterly drained now and can do little but rest but I don’t regret it for a moment. For the first time in months I’ve done something I’m proud of. And my second test I did without a caller, which I’d never done before even in good health.

796
Apologies for the quality of the writing – I’m still exhausted and after all this typing I don’t have it in me to read back through it, so if anything didn’t make sense I’m afraid that’s why.

 

 

*I meant this in a foggy brain sort of way, but I’m also woolly-brained in a more positive way with the crochet side of things ūüėČ

** I.e. massive great hefty inelegant non-dressagey kicks.

 

All photography credits to my mother, who had a low light arena, no flash and an unfamiliar camera to work with.

Lee Pearson and the inoffensive sandwich

The night before the Lee Pearson lesson we noticed that Nutmeg was washing his tummy with too much interest.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg

On inspection he had some really concerning open wounds. It looked to me like he’d gone over a fence with a nail in and got caught and one in particular looked deep. It didn’t justify¬†an emergency vet call out, but it did need checking by a professional sooner rather than later. But of course it was Friday night and the vets was closed for the night. They do open 9-12¬†on a Saturday morning, but it is by appointment and obviously we ¬†didn’t have one. The surgery opens at 9.00 and I needed to get to the stables in good time to prepare myself and Drifter for the lesson with Lee at 11.30.

Which is how I came to be dressed in my riding gear, with a cat in a crate, waiting on the doorstep for the vets to open, begging them to see me in the next hour because I had to get to a lesson with a paralympian! I was prepared to take Nutmeg with me to the stables if I had to, to let me wait a little longer for the vet.

The receptionist said that they were pretty much booked up, but that as the vet working was the quick one, there should be a chance at some point. I settled in for a wait, distracted by a boisterous labrador who was so excited by everything and his owners didn’t have any real control over him. Luckily, the second appointment of the day didn’t turn up and we were seen much quicker than I’d dared to hope.

The vet provided pain-killers, antibiotics and a cone collar, the latter to be used at our discretion! He didn’t seem too worried by the injuries themselves, but said that they were almost certainly bites from another cat. We were aware that there are new cats in the area and that there were serious tensions, but not that things were this bad. Hopefully now Nutmeg’s lost this round he’ll back off next time.

I had plenty of time to drop him back home and get out to the stables. Hurray!

As I walked onto the yard, two members of staff were discussing sandwiches. One demanded of me to tell them what an offensive sandwich would be. Thoughts swam through my head, and I almost said “Sardine and jam”, which I think would fit the bill, but taking the question seriously and thinking about what people are offended by, the answer I came up with was, “A penis sandwich would be offensive.”

One nearly fell in her muck wheelbarrow laughing.

Once they’d recovered they explained they were really trying to establish what would be an inoffensive sandwich, but they disagreed over what would constitute an offensive one, for comparison. They did agree that a penis sandwich would definitely not be inoffensive although they found my thought processes rather surprising.

I went to groom, hot cloth, swipe the saddle over (the time for a proper cleaning there was spent on a vet trip) and tack up.

The rain was torrential but it was boiling, so the grooming and tacking up was characterised by a great deal of putting my coat on to fetch something from the tack room and then taking it off again as soon as I stepped into the stable. Thank heaven they always give Lee the indoor school to teach in.

We were tacked up just in time. I put my raincoat back on and his big waterproof turnout over the saddle and we went round for the lesson. Lee was running to time so I went straight in, which was very welcome!

I got linked up with the earpiece so I would be able to hear Lee and hopped on. Drifter was in quite a cooperative mood and as we warmed up started going reasonably round, by our standards, which was handy. Lee asked for a quick update, and on hearing about my rejection of jumping shared that he doesn’t jump for pretty much the same reasons. It doesn’t appeal and, he said, “I can’t see a stride to save my life.” Well I take that with a pinch of salt ūüėČ But once again it’s really nice to be reminded¬†that there are plenty of “real riders” who choose not to¬†jump.

We showed our paces, and Lee said that once again we’d be focussing on canter, because that seemed to be our biggest problem.

The plan was to get from the fast scramble-canter with his head in the air to something softer and more manageable. The key to this? Transitions and lots of them. While I’ve got into the habit of doing lots of trot-walk, walk-trot transitions in quick successions I’ve never done quick canter transitions. Someone early on in our canter story told us he wasn’t the kind to be able to go quickly back into canter after he’d come into trot and I accepted that, and didn’t try canter – trot – canter very often, but with Lee quick transitions between canter and trot were exactly what we did. I realise now that if he finds a thing hard that’s exactly what we should work on, so that person wasn’t being helpful. I think it probably¬†came¬†from the riding school mentality¬†of trying to improve just the rider rather than the horse or the partnership.

Anyway, we came onto a 20m circle and stayed on it while doing lots of quick transitions between canter and trot. At first every upward transition to canter took us from a submissive “dressage-pony” outline to a giraffe impression, but as we kept working we a few transitions¬†where it was like we hardly changed between the two. That was amazing and I’ve never felt that on any horse before.

Lee explained that although Drifter’s physically much stronger than he was and so doing much better in canter, he’s still a bit weak and underconfident about it, so he goes really fast to keep going and drops back to trot if I don’t let him go really fast. Lee said that lots of horses are insecure about the transition but fine about the canter itself but D’s insecure about both. For this reason the more we practice the transition the more he learns that it’s not a big deal and he can do it, while strengthening the muscles to make it easier in future. I realise as l write this that I am also a little less confident than I would like about canter transitions so practicing loads will be good for me too.

As we were working on the transitions the door opened and in came one of the staff members from the sandwich conversation, bearing a plate. “I’ve bought you an inoffensive sandwich,” she declared and both she and I burst out laughing, which did little for the quality of my transitions, I have to say. I had no idea that the conversation earlier had been about what sandwich they should buy for Lee!

Of course unusual hilarity about a sandwich must be explained, so she filled him in¬†as I cantered about still laughing. When he heard about the penis sandwich conversation he declared that he didn’t want the cheese and ham she offered, could she take it away and get him a penis sandwich instead!?

As she couldn’t actually fulfil this order he did accept¬†the ham and cheese inoffensive sandwich instead, and we got back to work.

Towards the end of the lesson we even did some counter flexion in canter – something it would never have occurred to me to try and¬†I wouldn’t have thought we could do. The purpose of this was to encourage D to let me have his head and neck in different positions that his usual “Oh **** I’m cantering!” giraffe position.

Another point he made was that I’ve got to stop letting D¬†get away with tossing his head when he doesn’t like what I’ve asked him to do. He mentioned it last time as well but I’ve not really made much progress there. Must try harder.

By the time we finished we were dripping with sweat, but at least it had finished raining.

I’m delighted with the progress we made with the transitions. Like most (all?) of our previous lessons with Lee we came out and I realised I’d done things I didn’t know I/we could do. We had some stunning canter transitions that I just didn’t think¬†we were capable of and some really nice bits of canter between them. We have loads to work on, but plenty¬†achieved and plenty¬†to be proud of. I certainly hope we’ll be having another Lee lesson in another couple of months and I can’t wait!

Dressage musings

Following the last post about the dressage tests, I came away feeling that I hadn’t fully expressed how pleased I was with how the day went. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I was so pleased about, so it’s taken me a week of musing to sort my thoughts out.

One of the very pleasing things was that I didn’t have the familiar pattern of stress, fear, anticlimax. I’d eliminated the stress and fear by quitting jumping and so giving myself permission to enjoy dressage. During the second test I had a strong wish that it was over already, but that was solely due to the heat, not any other pressure. Also, I know now how long I need to plait and groom and get myself ready, so I’ve reduced last-minute delays that eat my warmup time, making it a more positive experience.

It was good that¬†although¬†everything didn’t go smoothly we still got respectable scores and I was pleased with our performance (apart from the bit where I took us in the wrong direction!)

In the Prelim test, we were placed ahead of a rider whose abilities I rate highly. I’m aware she could have ridden a better test than she did, but on the day we outscored her fair and square. This suggests we are doing something right ūüôā

I am in love with my photos from the day. I look like a rider and he looks like a horse. We make a rather harmonious picture compared to any of our earlier outings. I no longer feel overdressed and it’s starting to feel “normal” to spruce ourselves up and play this game. I’m happy with the weight he’s gained (and with the weight I’ve lost) since I got him and I particularly love his neck, which used to be so skinny and now looks more like it fits the rest of him.

To add up all the little thoughts and feelings together, I think the following points are true.

  • I feel like instead of just steering¬†through the patterns, we are actually starting to¬†do dressage, albeit in a fairly minor way.
  • I’ve realised I’ve finally got what I wanted when I started on this buying a horse game. I have a horse on which I surpass what I could do on school horses. We have a good relationship and I am a strong enough rider now to get good work out of him even when he doesn’t feel like it.
  • I am starting to see that we could appear to be a respectable horse/rider pairing rather than a hairy awkward pair who can’t do much. And that’s not going to be changed by our not jumping.

Maybe I can boil it down even more to:

I don’t feel like an imposter any more

 

And that’s pretty good ūüôā

 

In another fortnight I’ll have another Lee Pearson lesson. Again I’m hopeful that he’ll see an improvement from our last lesson. I feel I’ve worked quite well at getting D¬†into the contact from behind, although obviously we have a great deal of work to do, and it is not yet something we can sustain for long at one time.

After that the next date on my dressage calendar is the next competition on the last Sunday of June. I think we’ll definitely need a caller then because I might be learning some new tests as well! The tests we have done so far are made up on the yard, but from next month they’ll also be offering some official British Dressage (BD) tests! There will be a BD test for each of the levels Intro., Prelim. and Novice. On the down side you need to buy those tests – locally made up ones are free! But I have ordered the tests¬†and hope to have a go at Intro. and Prelim., assuming they look reasonable. I think they’ve been introduced in part to encourage outside competitors, but¬†I¬†certainly hope that they will be offered every time from now on regardless of whether they attract outside interest. I think it would be a really long time before we’d even think about trying a Novice test, but I really like thinking that it would be there to try one day when we’re ready. Also, I have to admit that I’m no longer entirely ruling out one day going off the premises to do a dressage test. One day I might let someone persuade me. I don’t fancy it¬†any time in the near future – we still have enough to challenge us at home – but maybe one day we¬†just might¬†try it.

Dressage, crochet and no jumping, thank you very much

Considering that it was only in the early hours of Friday morning that I made the decision not to jump today (Sunday) I found that I had completely failed to worry about the dressage. This had pros and cons. On the one hand I wasn’t feeling pressured about it. On the other hand I realised I couldn’t remember the walk-trot test at all. Oh. But I’d asked for a caller on my entry form, so it would all be fine. I continued not to worry.

I was rather preoccupied with getting good plaits, having asked for advice on the matter following the last dressage test in which a staff member put some stunning plaits in for someone (at a fee of course). I was also preoccupied with fly bonnets.

All I wanted was a white fly bonnet. I prefer to buy my horse supplies from local businesses where possible, so although I could have bought some on the internet, I tried to buy them from shops. Ever since I got him, every time I went to a horse shop I looked for a pair of white ears… and came back not having found any (or none in full size, anyway).

We do have a red pair with gold trim, which are gaudy but fun, and a basic black pair with tassels. In previous outdoor dressage tests we’ve worn the black ones but I really did want some white ones. One day I looked at the red ears and thought, “These are really not a complex shape. How hard can it be to crochet my own?”

Well… harder than I hoped… but manageable.

First I got the internet to teach me the basic stitches, and had a go at producing basic squares and triangles. That achieved, I trawled the internet for a pattern I wouldn’t have to pay for. I found one… but I didn’t really like it. So I tried customising it. The end result was … wearable… and Drifter seemed to find them very comfortable, but the ears came out rather too long and floppy. But not bad for a first attempt. I’m afraid I don’t seem to have a picture (although I was sure I took one) and I’ve left it at the stables.

So after that I’d been browsing the internet, as one does, and came across a pattern on Etsy¬†(by popelkaLida)¬†that looked beautiful. I had to buy it.

Fast-forward to last night, and I was crocheting as fast as my hands could go. How much nicer would it be to wear the pretty ears rather than the design-as-you-go-too-big-in-the-ears ones? But could I finish in time? Last night I finished all the structure, but there was a line of embellishment all round the outside that was not done. They were wearable without it – should I try to finish that too or not? I decided it was doable, and in the morning sped round it as best I could between mouthfuls of breakfast. About 2/3 of the way round I had to stuff it in my bag and go. If I got a chance to finish at the yard, so be it. If not, we’d wear the too long ones.

I arrived on the yard. I had bathed him the day before, and as it’s still only 5 days since he was clipped I knew grooming the body was not going to be time-consuming. I plaited the mane before even brushing anything else. For the first time I used a sectioning clip to keep the unwanted mane out of the way, and tried to space as evenly as possible.

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I was quite pleased with them… until I went out and saw some professionally done ones. Sigh. I need to watch someone very good to see how they fold them and get them tied in so close to the neck. Still, I think they were the best neck of plaits I’ve done so far.

Plaits done, I dived into the cool of the tack room and seized my crochet needle!

With almost an hour left before my first test, I completed the bonnet. This photo was taken with laying them on my legs as I sat on the tack room floor – the cleanest place I could find!DSCN4800

The ears are actually same size as each other, but it’s hard to quickly take a picture of something laying on your legs while at the same time sympathetically listening to someone telling you about their lame horse, so please make allowances. In real life they look much better than this picture, if I do say so myself.

So I ran a brush over the horse, plaited the tail (badly, because for the first time ever I’d got the tail really clean, so it was very slippery and the top of the plait went off centre) and started tacking up. And discovered that the ear bonnet was rather small for him. I thought it would do, so I popped everything on and went off to warm up.

We had a reasonable warmup, but even then, at about 10.10, it was hot hot hot. My jacket and tie were not my friends!

There didn’t seem to be anyone to take us round, so a few minutes before our time I went round to the school. Unfortunately, the judge had decided that C wasn’t central and was moving it. We waited outside for some time while they got C in a place everyone agreed on. I was pleased to notice that they’d covered the “wrong” dressage letters, so only the movable ones that related to the test were showing.

Eventually we were asked to go into the arena. On our first little foray down to the A end, BANG, FLAP, PANIC, SPOOK, WHOOSH.

Oh, I’m still on board. We’re on the other side of the school but I’m still on board. That’s handy. Nothing to see here, people, move along please.

We’re used to hearing shooting on Sundays, so few horses at our yard do more than flick an ear at the shots. But when there’s a gun shot about the same time as a piece of paper flaps at him… that’s scary stuff. The tape holding the paper over the incorrect letter F, visible in the far left of this photo, had partially given up, and in the wind, just as we¬†were about to go past it, it tried to attack us.

 

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So we spent a minute or two looking at it, going past it one way then the other, and establishing that it was not going to do it again.

Then I twigged… there was no caller in the school. My turn to spook and panic! Handily there was another livery watching and I yelled for them to get my caller. Not very “dressage” of me to yell, perhaps, but not only had I asked for (and paid for) a caller on my entry, I’d double checked that morning that people knew I’d need a caller. I realised at this point that I could remember¬†nothing of the test beyond entering at A in working trot. Luckily I’d yelled before they’d signalled me to start.

My caller arrived … without a copy of the test. The test was located, and eventually the car horn sounded for me to start. Enter at A in working trot… things were going OK despite our less than ideal beginning … circle here … well not too bad¬†… turn right at E , 3-4 steps of walk across X, ooh that was quite nice and accurate, relax a bit … why did the car horn beep? I guess they leant on it by accident.

Nope. Caller is waving at me. Instead of tracking left when I reached B I’d tracked right. Oh. I was right about not knowing this test, wasn’t I?!

To quote my sat nav, “Make a u-turn, where possible.”

Ah well, might as well enjoy it now! We finished the test with no more incidents and gladly left the arena on a long rein. I left feeling that it might be the worst test we’d ever done, but I was proud not to have fallen off, and I could be happy with that.

Throughout the test and warmup I’d been aware his ear bonnet was too small. I wasn’t going to make him wear it for the second test. As if to confirm this, when we were walking to cool down back in the warmup arena, he managed to shake them off despite his bridle over the top of them. He has spoken. The ears do not fit.

I need to adapt the pattern to accommodate that Drifter is quite large at the base of the ear and his ears are quite long. I put them back on him long enough to make some notes about where I need extra rows and I’ll have another go. But what to do with these? Easy. While I’d been frantically finishing them in the tack room a girl had been admiring them very much. Her little horse is a bit finer boned and has smaller ears than Drifter. I would see if they’d fit her horse. She came out of her dressage test very down, so I followed her back to her stable and offered them to her. Her verge-of-tears face was transformed to smiles by the gift and I could not have been happier to present them to her. None of the work was wasted because they went to a horse they fitted and a rider who really appreciated them.

I had about an hour between my two tests. I had time for a drink and a cool down and to go and look at the scores so far. I was flabbergasted to see that despite my foray to the wrong end of the school, I was not quite in last place! Hurray!

And all too soon it was time to put the tack and jacket back on and warm up again. My second test was at 12 so it was really hot by now. I put the too-big ears on him and although they did look silly he was more comfortable and they would keep the flies out of his ears, so we went with it.

I started my warmup a few minutes later than I wished, and was told when I got there that we were running early! When the next rider came in she told me it is our right not to enter any earlier than our published time, but I knew I’d get more stressed if I tried to assert myself over that than just going in a bit earlier. The warmup had nice moments, but wasn’t awesome.

We were asked to go round and I could tell Drifter had had enough of the sun and the heat. He was sluggish and even getting him to the school took a lot of leg.

In we go. Try to get him moving. Energy energy energy. It was hot. And I haven’t needed to put that much effort into going forwards since I last rode I riding school horse. They took AGES to sound the horn for us to start. And we began.

To be honest I don’t remember much about the test except the unbearable heat and the extreme effort I needed to keep him going forwards. This might be working trot but I’m working far too hard here! We went the right way and we kept going. The canters were … well, not too bad for us. The second circle fell in, but we cantered in the right place and trotted in the right place and it was all satisfactory, although I feel that I did all the work for both of us. I really had to¬†ride to get that test out of him so I’m proud of that. And of keeping going through the heat!

And oh, blessing of blessings we were finished! I would not be jumping! What a great pleasure it was to take jacket and tie off and know we were done!

So what did the scores say?

Walk-trot: 63.75 – 4th place (of 5)

Preliminary (i.e. w/t/c): 62.69 – 2nd place (of 3)

Notable marks and notes:

W/T: Well the going the wrong way produced my first 4, but to be honest I’ve had 5s before going the right way, so that could have been worse!

But some nice 7s for both centre lines and the halt, all of which can be problems for us. Considering how much went wrong at the start of this test (the direction problem was only the third movement of the test) I think I recovered very well and can be proud of this.

Prelim: For the canters, a 6 and a 6.5, each with the comment “active.” We seem to have turned last month’s “wayward” into “active.” ¬†ūüôā That can’t be bad. Although of course he was in a very lazy mood by that point! Again we have a 7 for the halt – we really seem to have done good things there – but my favourite comment, for a 20m circle in trot was “outline starting to show.” Hell yes. That’s what we’ve been waiting for. In the free comments section on both tests, among other comments, I got “lovely test”. Aw thanks!

Of course I took his plaits out, and here is the result. Who needs a perm, anyway!

DSCN4811All of the pictures below are from the walk trot test, as the heat, my red face, the floppy too-big ears and the massive effort I was putting in to keep him going all made the pictures from the second test somewhat less attractive than they might have been. So these are all pictures with the too small ears – I think they look pretty good in the pictures!

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