Friday, September 30, 2011

Competition ~ Dressage Test Preparatory 2

Our competition last Sunday ~ with me on “Casablanca” ~ i.e. Copper

I am sure that you can all tell by watching the video that we bombed ~ Copper was tense almost all the way through the test, so we didn’t score very well at all: 55.88%.  Blech. 

Looking back, I think there were a variety of reasons why but I am still disappointed with how we did because I know he is so much better than that!

Anyway, to start off the day was really windy, so he was spooking because of that, but more than that I think it’s his racing background.  I think it’s going to take me a while to train him out that.  It’s only the third dressage test we have done and he is not yet used to going out and relaxing in strange places. 

After all, for three or four years of his life, whenever he floated anywhere, he got off the truck, raced around like a manic on the track, and then went home again.  That is pretty strong conditioning for a horse, and I think that I have not yet taken Copper out enough to train him out of that ‘race’ mentality that so many ex-racers, be they Thoroughbred or Standardbred, have. 

As far as I can see I have two choices from here when dealing with Copper at competitions ~ one; get him to the venue three hours before the test {allowing three hours to get up, catch and load the horse and float there}; ride him hard for 1.5/2 hours, let him cool down for half an hour than warm up again 20 minutes before the test.  That was my riding instructor’s suggestion, as she used to do that for her horse.  

But seriously ~ that would mean a 3:30AM start for a 9:30am test which I just cannot. do.  I have a small baby and a husband that would seriously object!!  Plus, I can’t even begin to imagine loading Copper in the dark and really, would the gates even be open at that time??? 

I much prefer my idea which is to take Copper out to busy/big competitions as often as I can but not compete.  I’d just float him out there, tack up, ride him around at a walk, and take him home again.  Then he would probably get bored with going out and that’s exactly what I want him to do!!

The only problem with my idea is that I have access to a float, but no car. Yay.  So I guess I am sort of stuck trying to merge both ideas together for the time being.  At the very least I need to give Copper more time to warm up, probably an hour or maybe more ~ and we’ll see how we go from there… 

My main aim at any competition will now be to try and get him to relax.  I want him to be practically falling asleep!  Then we might be able to produce the kind of dressage we are doing at home.  Maybe. 

See ya!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Training Tip: Hands Ahoy!

Ever have those days when you are asking and asking and asking your horse to soften into a round frame and he just. won’t. do. it?  Maybe it’s time to check the where abouts of your hands. 

Horses that have a single jointed bit{one that “folds” in the middle}, like every other horse, require you to hold your hands just above the whithers so that there is a straight line from your elbow to their mouths.  Basic stuff, I know, but there is a very good reason for this.

If you hold your hands to high, the bit will swivel in the horse’s mouth and jab into his tongue.  If you hold your hands too low{guilty of this one I must confess!} the bit will swivel and jab your horse in the roof of his mouth where the soft palette is.  Ouch! 

Well, no wonder Copper chucks his head in the air and complains when my hands drop too low…  Thumbs up, hands above the whithers, steady as she goes!

See ya!


Call it!

So I may be calling my first dressage test for a friend on Sunday....  Not too sure about the whole thing as I have never done it before, but I got a quick lesson on it today from my riding instructor.  She basically told me that my job is to:

a}.  make sure I give the instructions at least two markers ahead of time
b}.  never call out more than two instructions at once
c}.  make sure that the short movements are linked properly.  For example ~ M to C, medium trot, CHXF medium walk should be called together; not separately 
d}.  stand at either E or B so that the rider can hear you at both ends of the area
e}.  do not, under any circumstance, call anything other than the words on the page ~ otherwise the rider may be eliminated!

And there you have it, the basic A to E of calling a dressage test.

See ya!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

To fall or not to fall….



Yeah, that’s what I thought ~ so, thanks, but no thanks Copper…   > . <  We were off jumping again today and he was actually going quite well until he decided he’d had enough and that triple was just TOO much!!  He really pulled a few stunts today.  It’s not like the jumps were high, probably 45 to 55cms but three in a row?  Nah-uh!

The first few times I had to battle refusals at the second fence, than the third and then finally went we through all three without any hitches.  But then he had a wee break and he decided that he didn’t want to face the triple again; kthanxbye! 

He actually jumped the fences as he knew he wouldn’t get away with refusing, but when he got through the jumps he dropped his left shoulder as he went around the corner and tried to buck {I think}, and I lost a stirrup but after we halted, I promptly put him through it again.

Then he tried going really fast and dropping his left shoulder than swinging out to the right which almost had me off the left side, but no dice. 

I knew then that the first time wasn’t a mistake or high spirits then, he meant business and, therefore, so did I.  This was war!  : P Lol.  Not really, but there was no way I was going to let him get away with his naughty behaviour so we heave ho’d and headed for the jumps again. 

So he’s all “Well, that didn’t work” and this next time he did this really weird prop-drop-left-shoulder-bounce-right-prop-drop-right-shoulder canter-thing which seriously had me ten feet up in the air above the saddle{!!}, but somehow I managed to hang on.  I don’t even know how ‘cause he had me all a kilter with his bouncing, dropping shoulders act!

Thankfully after that little display he apparently didn’t have any more fight in him, and he waved the white flag of surrender.  Yay!  We popped through the triple again, this time reasonably neatly.  I would have preferred to go a little slower but it was definitely better than it has been. 

We took a few more little ‘uns {35cm} and I hopped off him and traded horses with a friend I was riding with.  She walked Copper around for me as I mounted her 17hh Andalusian, Bailey. 

Gee, now he is one BEEEEG horse!  It was so strange being up on his back, he was so tall, so wide and so slow…  Each stride felt like he was wading through jelly!  Anyway, my friend wanted to see him jump, so I popped him over the small ones a few times.  I’ve never ridden him before, so even though I knew full well he could jump higher, I could also feel him going “Who. Are. YOU??”.   He was sideling sideways and generally doing the head~for~home dance and I was all like; okay, I’ve done my fair share of almost falling off today ~ I soooo not going to push this! 

And gosh, it’s such a long way to the ground when you dismount the big fellows!  Most of our horses have been under 16.2hh, so I really am not used to the big guys, but Bailey is really quite sweet although he’s a bit spoilt, so I certainly wouldn’t mind riding him again.

Plus, there’s always the experience.  I love riding different horses and figuring them out ~ it’s such an exciting challenge!  Unfortunately, I don’t get the opportunity to do that very often at all, but maybe that’ll change in the future.  Who knows? 

See ya!


Monday, September 19, 2011

Training Tip: Legs on

I was doing some show jumping with Copper and he was racing around like a manic…  So what else is new?  The frustrating thing was that I knew he could do better than that, so I figured the problem had to be me.
Well, it turns out I was right.  I had forgotten the old adage ~ use strong legs on a fast horse and infrequent, but strong and demanding legs on a lazy horse.

With a horse that rushes it’s really easy to get into the habit of riding with a light, barely~there contact through your calves and heels.  However, this is actually counterproductive if you wish to slow the horse down because as soon as you apply any pressure for an aid, the horse will automatically speed up, and not necessarily listen to your aid.  Putting your legs on the horse {gently pressing them against his sides without squeezing} will, in time, desensitize him to the touch, and help him to balance through the corners so that he doesn’t have to rush them. 

I also found that a strong leg and seat on Copper while he was jumping steadied him and helped him to slow down.  It gave him confidence so he didn’t have to rush, and made my half halt far more effective, thus creating impulsion{controlled power}, not speed. 

Trouble Shooting:  If you are applying your leg to your horse and he is still rushing around, try sitting deeper in the saddle by pushing your shoulders up and back at the same time and slowing the motion of your hips.  If you move slowly in the saddle, say at a trot, slower than what your horse is going, you will encourage him to slow down as well. 
Don’t forget that training a horse not to race is a long process, and you will need to be consistent with using you legs and your body to slow his tempo {how fast he walks, trots, canters} down.   You can also use circles to encourage him to slow down.  The smaller the circle the hard he has to work to stay balanced and moving forward.  It may be hard work for you too, but it’s worth it!

See ya!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011



~  I swear this was what Copper looked like while I was riding at a walk today!  ~

Actually, one could never accuse Copper of being pokey, but that’s half the problem.   We had a private riding lesson today with my fabulous instructor and came away with some homework:

~  Shoulders up and fingers closing during a downwards transition.

~  Sharp tap/tug upwards on the outside rein when he pulls down in a downwards transition.  He leans somethin’ fierce at times, and this trick is exactly what I need to combat that. 

~  Wiggle ring finger, outside rein during an upwards transition.  My word, this helped SOOOO much with our walk/trot transition today!  Remember last time I commented on Copper’s walk/trot transition on a straight line and how awful it was?  Well, with a little wiggling and encouragement he moved into a trot softy, gathering himself up into the bridle and carrying the bit.  It was lovely!  : D

~  Ride FAT 20m circles. At one end of the arena I’m okay, but at the other I’m busy following a line in the dirt that isn’t a proper 20m circle.  It’s probably more like a 15m circle.  Or an egg….  : P  Must work on this! 

~  Soft hands & elbows; thumbs up on top {I have a terrible habit of curling my wrists and dropping my thumbs inwards}.  Actually, this one is interesting to me, because I happen to know that the tension in my back &/or hands & elbows is due to the particular battle of wills that Copper and I get into.  He says “No!” and I say “I don’t think so!!” and so it goes on….  However, I discovered half the problem today was, funnily enough me, because of this:

~ SEAT SEAT SEAT while walking.  I was complaining that while Copper’s trot work had improved today, his walking work seemed to have gone down the tubes for no apparent reason.  My instructor explained that most, if not all horses, have much more impulsion at a trot or canter than at the walk and therefore carry themselves and the bit much better in those gaits.  And that’s why you really need to sit down and use your seat at the walk.  I went “Ooooh!” and had a light bulb moment.

See, Copper has always been extremely forward going, to the point where he used to jump forward a mile whenever you applied any leg.  I have been so used to riding him like that that I have never had the need to actively use my seat {pushing with every walk stride} when collecting him at the walk.   However, now that we have been training dressage for over a year, he has slowed down naturally and now I have to provide the impulsion I didn’t have to before!!  Duh! 

So in a nut shell, if I drive with my seat and soften my hands his walk work should pick up nicely again.  Yay!  And this is why I get a lesson every week because I am pretty sure this would have taken me ages to work out by myself, if I ever figured it out at all!  >  <  

See ya!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Training Tip: Slow him down

It’s all to do with the breed, but just like TBs, Standardbreds tend to have the same need for speed ~ at least my fellow does!  When I put Copper into a canter, he tends to race around like a mindless idiot, not paying the slightest bit of attention to me.  Hello!  I’m the rider here! 

If you have the same problem as me with your pony or horse, you can try this neat little trick for getting their attention and asking them to soften.  Working on a 20 meter circle, you use your rein aid to ask your horse to flex out {i.e., move his head a little to the outside} while keeping your legs in the same position, that is, the inside leg on the girth and the outside leg behind the girth.

You ask them to do this for two or three strides {either in walk, trot or canter} alternating sides.  For example, I am working on the left rein.  I ask Copper to flex in by applying my inside leg and rein.   I hold him like that for a count of three, then apply my outside leg and rein to cause him to move his head {from the poll} out.  I only want to see a little bit of his eye when I ask him to flex out or his body will come off the 20 meter circle and he will lose the flexion. 

This flexing technique works marvellously at getting his attention when cantering ~ it’s not too hard that he can’t do it even though he’s only just beginning his canter work, but it’s just enough to get him thinking and slowing down.

Trouble Shooting:  If you are only using a tiny bit of rein and your horse is still trying to peel off the circle when you ask him to flex out, try asking him to flex out when you are going past the wall side of the arena.  He will have no where to go, so he should get the picture!

See ya!


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Flex in, flex out…



Today we were practising our cantering ~ and I was impressed with Copper; he actually decided to listen!  We started off the session quite well, he softened and came onto the bit with a minimum amount of fussing so that was really good.

He also behaving really well on the right rein, and we even manage to get a few neat transitions from walk to trot without him tossing his head in the air.  Well, that is until we went on the left rein.  I really have no idea what is up with this; his left side has always been the best side for trot work {he tends to resist more on the right as it’s his stronger side} but now it’s a battle to get him working on the left rein in frame.   He’s swapped sides and is not at all hesitant about letting me know about it! : S

Anyway, tussling with him, which involved walk, walk, walk, sit back, apply seat, *toss* sit back and rein him in, lather, rinse and repeat….  Goodness knows how many times.  Sometimes we go around in so many circles I get dizzy!  It took a while but we were finally into our cantering work ~ right rein first, flex in, flex out, flex in, flex out ~ soften and yes!  He was working in a round frame, elevated and best of all?  Even tempo and SLOWLY…  Yay!  The left side wasn’t as pretty but we still got a few good strides together, so we will get there.

Okay canter work out of the way; it was time to prep for our competition on the 25th.  We are doing a class of jumping and dressage.  Both are so low level that it’s embarrassing to admit it, but we all gotta start somewhere right??! => . <=

Hmm, let’s see if I can remember the test now. 

Enter A; medium walk, working trot at X.  At C track left.  Working trot CHEKA; 20m circle on the left rein.  AF working trot, F medium walk.  BX 10m half circle, XE 10m half circle, E working trot.  EHCMBFA working trot, A 20m circle on the right rein.  AK working trot, K medium walk.  E turn right, B turn left, M working trot.  MCHEKA working trot, A working trot down centre line.  Medium walk before X, X halt, immobility, salute. 

10 points to anyone who guess the test as Prep 2. Told ya it was embarrassing.  : D 

Things to work on:

~ Copper’s walk/trot transition, on a straight line.  It’s shocking! 

~ Me; I’ve got to remember that the last line after working trot at M ends with half a 10m circle at A.  I keep forgetting to prepare Copper and then we over~shoot the centre line.  And I would really like to get these moves absolutely precise to make up for what ever silly head tossing Copper might do on the day!

I might as well confess that the last time I did this test we came in dead last out of a class of goodness knows how many, so I really want to get this right and do better!

See ya!


P.S. ~ Yeah, the picture has nothing to do with my post, but I couldn’t resist.  How cute is the little puppy!?  > w <

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mount up & let’s go!

Right.  So let’s kick start this riding habit with a “get to know you” type deal.  Hi.  My name is Bonita and I am a horse lover.  But you probably already figured that out right? 

I am the happy Mama to one gorgeous 15.3hh bay Standardbred ex-trotter "Casablanca"; stable name Copper. 


I started riding when I was about thirteen and haven’t looked back since.  Our whole family got involved; including my dad, which was great, because it meant that he was keen too and bought us a horse! Otherwise it’s pretty much the same old story: went to a riding school, got hooked and then came the family pony parade…

Hmm.  I don’t even know if I can remember them all, but I will try! 

There was:

- Shazzar; an Anglo Arab X who-knows-what flea-bitten grey mare with an attitude and a stubborn streak as wide as the Amazon river.

-  Nikkieta; an Appaloosa mare that was chunky, somewhat grumpy and could really jump but only when she felt like it.

-  Irish Moss;  an TB chestnut gelding who was bomb proof and well, I hate to say it, but he was a bit thick…  He was a darling to ride though as long as you kept him well away from the oats!

-   There were a few loose ones in here that didn’t stick around long; free rides and all that.

-  Tango;  an Welsh D{we think; can’t know for sure because he didn’t have papers} bay gelding that was very pretty and knew it!  He had the smoothest gaits and was very athletic, but he also had a penchant for throwing in an odd bronco buck or two… Or three…. Or… Well, he was still my favourite!

-  Montanna; another crazy TB gelding off the track who was generally nuts.

-  Domino; a honey bay Standardbred gelding.  He was our first taste of Standys, and we liked what we saw.  He was really sweet, but a bit spooky.

-  Rusty;  a reddish bay Standardbred ex-pacer gelding.  This fellow has been hand reared so he’s a bit special but my sister loves him anyway.

-  Mercury;  a gangly Standardbred ex-trotter gelding who is my Dad’s current mount.  He is very quiet and unassuming. 

And that of course leaves Copper, my baby! 

We are currently working on our dressage and jumping with the hopes to one day add cross country and do a bit of eventing.  I thought I would chronicle some ‘trails and tribulations' of a horse mad girl and her people mad horse and the different high-jinks we get up too!  I hope you enjoy.  

See ya!


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