Monday, 25 May 2009

Win Number Two!

Echo was awesome on Sunday - really really good - and we won!! Monday was a little more tense, but she still behaved beautifully and we came 6th in a bigger competition, against stiffer opposition and in a new place. So impressed with her - clever pony. Yay!!! Will post properly about it asap.

If it works, here is the video of Sunday

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Practice makes...perfect?

I have two dressage competitions this weekend. I wouldn't normally do two shows in two days, but as they're both being held where I keep Echo and chances to compete are few and far between, I thought it probably wouldn't hurt.

We are desperately practising being precise now - I find it really hard to ride her well in a test, maintaining her way of going and getting her best movement, partly, I think, because I don't usually ride to markers. I make a transition when I have achieved what I wanted to in the previous pace - for example, I would never make a transition to canter if the trot wasn't going forward and supple first. In a test, however, you've just got to do it, and it can feel horrible at times.

I also find that she gets really heavy in my hand during a test, going onto her forehand. How I tried to get around this yesterday was to ride a couple of movements from the test, then get her back up again by riding on a circle. I don't really know how to fix it when in the middle of a test.

Being prelim tests, they are not particularly difficult, but I am finding the precision really challenging - it's definitely something I need to work on. This evening when I ride her, I will practise making transitions at particular markers and changing the rein when I have to, not just when she's ready. I don't want to practise my tests too frequently, but I need to get my accuracy problems sorted.

On a completely different note, I am really suffering with my back at the moment. I find that after doing any work on collection with Echo, my lower back really hurts. I'm sure my position is not what it should be. My best friend is a physio and she suggested that I might be tilting my pelvis too far forward and I should think about keeping it in balance when I ride, but it is really quite sore today. No sitting trot for me this evening!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Question: What's the difference between John Whitaker and me?

Answer: Nothing.
Not a joke - this is what John (my trainer, not Whitaker - now that really would be a compliment!) said to me in my lesson on Saturday. It made a lot more sense than it would at first appear, and I shall try to explain what he meant!

I really wanted a jumping lesson on Saturday, as we had had a few problems last time we jumped, mainly because I panic two strides out from a jump and lose faith in my striding. I do the worst possible thing, which is to totally drop Echo and hope that she sorts it out for herself. I know it's not an intelligent thing to do, but I find it really hard to stop.

There was a competition going on in the woodchip arena, and it was too hard to jump anywhere else, so we had to make do with the outdoor school. I told John that I'd been hoping to jump and I explained my problem and he made it all sound very simple.
John: How many steps do you walk up and down in a day?
Me: Lots - probably about 200 (I'm a teacher and there are lots of stairs...)
John: Right - and how many of those to you trip over?
Me: None (usually)
John: Okay - so you don't have a problem seeing a stride - you just aren't sure that you can adjust HER stride in order to get onto the right stride.
Me: Oh.

He went on to explain that people are always taught to jump, being told that ordinary people will never be able to see a stride. This makes people believe that only the best riders can see strides into a jump. He said that there is absolutely no reason why John Whitaker can see a stride into a jump and I can't - we are both human and will have similar level of intellect (he even went on to say that mine is probably higher as I am a teacher, but I'm not convinced!) If he can learn to see a stride, then so can I. Apparently, what I need to do is be confident that I can adjust Echo's stride length in order to get onto that perfect stride.

So, armed with the knowledge that I can be like John Whitaker, we began to work on lengthening Echo's canter stride - and promptly realised that I am not very good at collecting the canter - so I won't be able to lengthen it. What followed was a lesson in bringing her shoulders up and engaging the hindlegs properly. We started in the canter and then progressed into the trot. My problem was that I use too much inside rein, and so I get too much bend, rather than enough engagement of the inside hind. She did show moments of lifting the front, but I was rather slow at responding to it and giving accordingly, which was very frustrating.

We moved into sitting trot and worked on the same thing. It was absolutely exhausting - I was bright red and puffing at the end, but I really felt like we were starting to push for the next level, which was a good feeling. I worked on the same principles yesterday when I rode, and the canter was starting to feel really good - she felt like she was really pushing upwards - only for a few strides, but it was something. I was also really working on making sure that I reward her properly when she does what I want, as she is very quick to learn things - including the wrong things!

What I hope to be able to do this week, is start to change the length of her stride. I was doing it in the walk yesterday, shortening the stride but keeping the rhythm, then pushing for extended walk in the same rhythm. This was very effective - I just need to work on it in the trot and canter, as unfortunately we can't jump from walk! It's an ongoing process - and a very interesting one at that.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Back in the game

Sorry for the length of time it has taken me to write about the dressage competition – and thank you for all of your lovely messages of congratulations. I was so impressed with Echo that day.

She was great to plait – I think she just fell asleep – and I managed to get my number of plaits down from 33 last time to 17, without them looking like golf balls – so I was happy! I didn’t wash her again, as I did all of that a couple of days before. As you can see from the photos, she wasn’t spotless, but she looked very smart.

I got on to warm up about 45 minutes before my test time, as I like to work in walk for at least 20 minutes at the beginning of a session – if not more – as it gets her much more obedient to my aids. I worked her as I normally would, but I was obviously a but more tense than usual. Still, she warmed up well and felt like she was bending nicely to the right, which always feels like an achievement!

When I went up to go in, at the time I was supposed to, I found that they were running late and I had about 15 more minutes. No!!! Nothing like timing your working in perfectly, then having to hang around spoiling it all for ages! The area they had assigned to working in was far too deep, so I didn’t go in there. Instead, I went up into a field to do a few more transitions. Echo’s never been ridden in there, so was on her toes, but I was single-mindedly bent on getting her hind-legs active and nothing else, so she had no choice but to behave!

The annoying thing about the test was the fact that I had to trot through the doors of the indoor school and go straight onto the centre line – she had no chance to have a trot round the edge to get used to it in there first. Bless her, her centre line was lovely – very straight and we got an 8 for it. Her track left was also really good, as she bent beautifully and felt very powerful. In fact the first third of the test felt great and we got mostly 7s with a couple of 8s. All good.

Started to a go a little wrong when we did our first canter. The transition and the 20 metre circle were great, but as I came out of the circle and had to canter to the corner, towards the (open!) door, she spooked at some sun beams making patterns on the floor. She jumped away from the track and so to correct it, I clamped my inside leg on. I managed to stop her coming off the track too far, but she shot off down the track and there was no way we were going to get a nice transition to trot in the corner. I finally hauled her back into trot at A, (where I was supposed to walk) and finally got walk in the next corner, where I had to start my free walk to B. Threw the reins at her and got a half-decent free walk – thank goodness. I was able to get my act together after that and rode the rest of the test correctly, albeit a little rushed after that. I did have a few issues getting a halt transition at G – thought she was going to trot right into the judges!

Given the circumstances, she was brilliant and it was great experience. I need to practise riding a little more precisely and getting my turns sorted in a small space. I also need to remember to not get flustered and mess up the rest of a test after something goes wrong. So easy to say, but SO difficult to do! We got 68%, which I was delighted with. But no rosette!!! I couldn’t believe it. They are giving rosettes to the overall placings at the end of the series of competitions. Talking of which, the next one is 24th May, so I had better get practising. I’m having a lesson with John on Saturday, which I really looking forward to – feels like I haven’t had a lesson for ages.

Daily adventures while training my young horse.