Monday, May 5, 2008

Sienna Stables, May 4, 2008

Thursday evening, I jumped a few fences with fiercer spurs. Flat work with the spurs was pretty cool - a little tap of the spur inside leg, and he'd bend his entire body around the ribs. A few of the fences, and he started scurrying around, seeming to be afraid of everything. I took them off, got a few more fences each way good enough, and called it done. About an hour's work.

Friday morning lesson, we learned the definition of "Chasie". Romeo was sprinting to & from fences, barely stopping to see they were there. Ran a few rails down, and basically demonstrated he was entering his "fruit loop" stage of teaching. We went through this before almost a year ago. He'd be real patient, quiet, calm, easy to ride, then all of a sudden, begin exploding into this wild goof, sprint-trotting around, looking for every opportunity to be out of control. For example, tacking up, I asked him to back up to get the halter off & bridle on. He planted all four feet, and firmly decided he wasn't going to back up. When he did, it was a near-rearing up explosion. Robin stood by in disbelief. I forced it a few more times, and he finally backed up, albeit crooked & ugly. It was ridiculous - he knows how to be ridden, he knows how to back up, but there was no convincing him it was the best idea to do what I wanted.

Saturday morning lesson, I had my old Romeo back. He was steady, soft, and easy over fences. No spurs at all - the grass was wet, so I was in my paddock boots & half-chaps (no spurs attached). He was a little lazy over the fences, which we determined was "lack of energy" from the lack of spurs. We decided to call it a short ride, and hope for the best when I arrived at the showgrounds Saturday afternoon.

I poked along to Houston, and can happily say I improved my MPG hauling the trailer. We made one pit stop, and arrived in good time, with about another mile per gallon efficiency. Arrived at the showgrounds to discover they never received my entry form - though I do remember faxing it. It was one of the few times I faxed something at work and it went on the first try. Lesson learned is to make sure they respond if they've received the paperwork.

Settled in Romeo's stall, and headed for the arenas. Second surprise - Competition moved to outdoor arena. Romeo hadn't been in either outdoor arenas, and I wasn't real eager to head that way. We warmed up in the large indoor arena, and he was a pro. Steady, a little distracted, but certainly not like the first time up there. Moved to the outdoor arena to try a few fences. I found three that were about at the right height, all on the outside. On the flat, he had real attention span problems - not focused on the rail, or inside the arena. At one point, I was doing about all I could with the aids to get his attention. It finally got to him, when he finally looked inside the arena, he spooked at the mounting block and shot about 4 foot to the left. I stayed on, but probably provided quite the show for the spectators trying to regain control. Only lost one stirrup, and when I retrieved it, we went right back to work, me scolding him with a lot of inside leg. He quickly got over the spooking nonsense, realizing I think that it wasn't going to get him anywhere but in trouble again.

Ready to start some fences, three other students from a travelled-in barn, and their instructor. I asked the instructor if it'd be alright if I jumped a few fences, and she agreed there wouldn't be any problems, and they would all work around me. He immediately got "chasey" again, and irregular. We knocked quite a few rails down. I kept aiming to dismount & reset them myself, but the instructor said, "I know it's a lot of work to get on & off to set these up. I've got it." Finally, she must have gotten annoyed, because she looked at me, and said, "That's the last one I'll set up." I dismounted & did it myself, then excused myself from the arena. I was a bit annoyed - I entered before they did, and at no point did I ask her to help me. If she didn't want to help, she didn't have to. I never asked for the help, and expressed appreciation as much as I could. I felt I cut the ride shorter than I should have, but didn't want to continue to try fences with the arena companions. Just as I was untacking, they all walked up to the stalls near me. HMPH. Had I waited just a few more minutes, they would have been gone, and I might've been able to concentrate again a bit better. Darnit! Lesson here? I was able to even attempt fences with other horses & people in the arena, with an audience watching nearby. They weren't all clean fences, but just jumping in a new place, with all that was going on around me, is an achievement to be recorded.

Sunday morning got off to a decent start. I'm learning that the only way I feel comfortable around shows is if I'm ready too early, sitting on my horse, waiting on classes. When we decided to finally warm up, it was closer to the class than I expected. I got in some flat work, and rode with the general feeling that I was hanging on Romeo's mouth, and he was only relaxing for me when were off the rail. Any pattern I did, serpentines, diagonals, circles, centerlines, quarterlines, any of it... he was good. Back to the rail for more than half a length, and he would start sprawling out, looking around, and being a general twit. Robin mounted, intending on getting him over his first fences. We moved to the covered large arena, and just as she started the "fence ride", they started calling the class.

As Robin was jumping off & fixing my irons, I jogged over to the ring steward to let them know I was in the class. Ring steward had no record I was to be in the class, or any other class, for that matter. She finally got approval I was in the class, and I went in at the walk. Four competitors, two from before, one I hadn't seen before. Judge asked for posting trot both ways, sitting trot to the right. Asked for a transition from walk straight to sit trot, and I immediately thought, "Here it is! Seal the package with a beautiful sit." Don't know what the judge saw, but it felt pretty good. First place was a dressage horse, in a pelham with a bit connector, long rider leg, horse overbent at the poll, second, a rider from the last show, grey lesson horse, long & low horse, third ME, fourth a lesson horse/rider combo that took first last month. So, a different month, same results, I suppose because the judge wants the flat work to look like dressage, and I'm not riding it.

During the canter flat class, I went back to the warmup covered arena, and practiced a few fences. Romeo was somewhere in between chasey and lazy. A bit irregular, but no rails down. Warm-up fences class, there were only two of us - the grey horse & me (again, after more confusion, as the ring steward, announcer, and judge had no idea I had registered for warm-up). Romeo jumped #1 & #2 clean, knocked over #3 & #4. He felt fast & not alert. Thinking back, I was too far forward and not "tall". As I completed #4, I glanced up towards the judge, to find what looked to be a rude look on her face, and some comments she made to the announcer. A little more than offended, I completed my entire courtesy circle and made eye contact again. I tried to convey through my eyes a look of "yes I saw you, and no, I didn't appreciate it." I came out of the arena, looked at the ring steward, and said, "that's what warm-up is for. It doesn't count for anything." Apparently it does count for something, as it made some impression on the judge.

First fence class to the left. Circle was good, all fences clear. Romeo was a little irregular, but not too bad. He tried real hard to chase in between fences, and didn't stay incredibly straight. One canter away, two strides, wrong lead, back to sitting trot. Final circle was good, too. Result? Last place of four. Repeating for effect - all fences clear. No rails down. Felt tall in two point, good crest releases and good timing.

Last fence class to the right. See fences to the left, repeat. Fence #5, he tried to over-jump, but I didn't allow it, and he had full intentions on breezing right past #6. I got him over it, admittedly crooked, but he went over it. Cantered away from fence #8, correct lead, down transition to trot for courtesy circle. Result? Last place of four. Again, repeating for effect - all fences clear. No rails down. Felt tall in two point, good crest release, good timing.

So, even though I had clean rounds, mostly steady horse, that was pretty easy to control, had more than enough forward energy, and jumped every fence rather than trotting over like he did in April, last place all around. I entirely don't understand, and can only guess he wasn't steady enough, and my one moment of eye contact in the warm-up made the judge mad, so she punished me with last places. I have learned from now on to not even look her way. Hunters aren't anything like dressage - in the few dressage shows I've been to, the judge has spoken to me before I even enter the arena. At the initial halt at X , eye contact is expected, and the judges have never made snide remarks, at least not when I can hear it or see it. At the final halt at X, eye contact again is expected. Every time I've left the arena, I've taken a few steps at walk towards the judge, and I've always heard something like, "nice ride" or "good job"...

When it's that subjective, and I don't know what to improve, I come out of these hunter shows thinking, "I want to just ride dressage. Cut & dry, expectations are clear, and I always know what the judge was thinking when she gave me a low score. Low scores come with explanations, and answers." Hunter shows come with some judge of unknown qualification (google searches so far have come up empty on the judge by name), with a rather obscure definition of "correct form".

After lunch, Robin & I took Romeo on a hack-walk. I asked the barn owner where I could go, and she pointed over the bridge, and to the right. Three quarters of the way into our ride, some guy walked up to us, and yelled at us to get out of the ball park. When I told him I got permission to ride over there, he said, "you're not allowed to ride in the ball park." We got up on the concrete, and left the park, loaded our things, and went home. Apparently even though we followed hoofprints of previous riders, this particular gentlemen was either afraid of the horse, or afraid of the rider, and concerned we would damage the property. If by some chance he's reading my blog, "Sir, no need to fear. My horse didn't poop anywhere outside of his stall, I didn't go anywhere near center field, and we didn't do a sliding stop into home. The kids throwing the tennis ball at the restroom facility could do more damage if the ball gets out of control and break a building window, or damage a personal vehicle. Me and my little cow pony didn't bring any damage or any ill effects to your fancy park. We promise we won't ever do it again, even though the equestrian facility says on their website they offer trails for riding and we got permission first. We promise."

Chalk it up to a few hundred dollars spent on riding in a strange place, under stress, and clean fences in a spooky environment. Any readers looking for video can email me through the links, and I'll provide fence class videos. won't allow the flat class to download - it's just over 10M, and I don't know how to shorten it.

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