An update

I feel like it’s about time for me to explain myself for my less than frequent posts of late. I’m in my final five weeks of my undergraduate degree which is proving to be busy with exams, assignments and classes. Work has also picked up as the weather heats up and so I’ve been working more shifts, studying more and (unfortunately!) riding less! I have, however, still been going for a lesson once a week and squeezing in another ride here and there whenever I can. My lessons have been much more focused on really pushing P to the next level and getting him to work from behind like never before. To do this we’ve been doing a lot of shoulder-in. On the right rein we can get it pretty well, but the left rein is very difficult. The thing with P is that you have to really push him- it’s not as simple as just asking him. You have to convince him that you’re not going to back down. He is a lazy horse and will take advantage if you back down. On my left rein my leg is much weaker and he knows this, and so he just shuts down and won’t listen. It’s difficult because I can’t physically push the aid more and more because I’m too weak. I need to make him listen to me, but at the same time I don’t want to punish him for not responding to an aid that’s too weak to comprehend. So it’s a delicate balance between knowing when I am delivering a good aid (and so maybe a whack on the bum to wake him up is in order if he’s not listening) and when I’m giving him poor aids (and so need to fix myself). We’ve also been working on our halts and they’re getting better, especially since my trainer has been riding him and practicing them with him. Since she’s been working on it with him he’s become much more responsive to downward transitions. Now it’s my job to ensure he doesn’t go back to leaning on the bit and ‘collapsing’. A key to better downward transitions for me has been keeping my lower leg back so he is still moving in front of my leg. That way he moves underneath himself to stop.

Competing is on my mind (as always) but my thoughts are dulled by the overwhelming amount of uni work I have to get through over the next few weeks. I’m excited to finish uni for the semester so I can focus on dressage and make some serious progress over the summer. Will I compete before the end of 2013? I’m still not entirely sure. I hope so.

 

 

Kerrits Flow Rise Performance Riding Tight Review

I’ve been meaning to write this review for months because I absolutely love these tights. I have three pairs and it’s all I ride in since discovering them. They fit exactly like “yoga pants” or regular tights, but function like a jodhpur in that they’re not slippery to ride in and they have knee patches to avoid rubbing. They’re incredibly comfortable- I wear them around all day after I’ve ridden. To put just how comfy they are in perspective, I chose to wear them to drive for eight hours! Despite being a pant designed for warmer weather, these tights also kept me warm in winter (although our winters are very mild here, I will admit). They dry really quickly which is great for any ‘misplaced’ water droplets that happen to come your way when hosing off sweaty horses. I can imagine that would also be handy in eventing for any water obstacles.

The above colours are plum, moss and tan. I have pairs in black, tan and saddle houndstooth. My least favourite colour is the tan- it is less of a beige/tan and more of an off green colour. I don’t love how I look in the tan either- the light colour leaves nothing to the imagination and doesn’t do any wobbly bits justice! The other negative would be the elastic at the ankle. I have to be careful to wear socks underneath the tight so that the elastic isn’t in contact with my skin otherwise I get some pretty brutal chaffing. Other than that, I can’t really fault them. They’re comfy, great quality and look really lovely on. An added bonus is the price- they go for around $60-75. A lot cheaper than most other jodhpurs/breeches, but the quality certainly does not reflect the price. I’d highly recommend giving these guys a shot!

 

Novice here we come…

I had a wonderful lesson today. We didn’t work on much in particular except for staying straight without the support of the wall and running through some novice tests. That’s right, novice! Now we’re schooling elementary movements but in the past all of the tests we’ve run through in lessons have been preliminary. I’ve assumed that I would firstly compete in preliminary and then after a few competitions (and so, a few months) move into novice once I’ve got the hang of competing again. However today my trainer informed me that she wants us to do a preliminary and a novice test on our first outing! I don’t know why this makes me so nervous. I suppose because I was looking forward to going into a competition knowing I could nail every movement in the preliminary 1A test (I mean lets face it, it’s a very simple test!) and just get a feel for competing and get through it without any mishaps. Risk minimisation, I suppose you could say. Now when I go into novice I’ll be facing people who have competed through the preliminary tests before and so have had potentially a lot more competitive experience than I have.

Ah well, secretly I am excited for the challenge. I actually like the novice tests compared to the prelims, much more ‘twisty and turny’. I had just not anticipated moving up a level so quickly and it’s caught me a little off guard. I’m excited to ride again this week to run through some of the novice tests. My trainer also commented today that she is seeing a substantial improvement in my riding every lesson. I’ve never doubted that I’ve been improving consistently during my time with her, but I do feel like I’m going through a stage of “leaps and bounds”. I have refreshed motivation with the reality of competing settling in. This is an exciting time in my dressage story- and it is a pleasure to share it with you all!

Just a little bit crafty

Tired of me blogging about competition attire yet? I’m sorry! I’m just excited to compete and so shopping is a wonderful outlet for that excitement (when I can’t ride, of course!). Well on my hunt for competition attire I became obsessed with the idea of a simple but ‘blingy’ browband to match my outfit. I couldn’t find this very simple design I was envisioning anywhere, and custom made browbands were going for upwards of $80. During my hunt I kept coming across DIY browband websites. After no luck finding one pre-made I began to think “Well how hard can it be?”. So I ordered myself an empty channel browband and some CZ ‘blingy’ chain. Armed with my hot glue gun I got to work. In all of ten minutes I had the browband I’d been picturing. Yes, it is very simple. But! It is exactly what I wanted. It really sparkles in the sun and I love the elegant but slightly flashy feel. I highly recommend giving a DIY browband a go, there are some wonderful suppliers out there (many of which even include DIY kits with instructions!). I may even make some more browbands (nothing much more creative than this, however…) to pop on eBay I enjoyed it so much 🙂

In other news, I went for a ride today. I’ve decided that it’s really important for me to work on three things in particular coming up to my first test; transitions, halting and walking. My transitions have never been the best but now it’s crunch time I’m spending most of my rides flipping between gaits. Tuning the upward transitions are easy- the key is a lot of them to warm up and get him moving off my leg quickly. The most important thing for me to remember is to demand a response if he ignores my first aid. P is a lovely boy but he can be lazy and hesitant to work at times. There are times when he will shut down because he’d just rather not work hard- he is not a horse who aims to please. He’s a horse who you really have to ride. If you leave too much up to him he will just give up. So if I ask for an upward transition and he doesn’t respond, I will give him a quick flick with the whip. It’s not hard enough to hurt, just hard enough to startle him slightly. Once I’ve done this once he becomes very quick off my leg which is great. It’s as if he wakes up and thinks “Ugh, okay fine” as opposed to “Hmm really? Make me”. Once we’re able to walk-trot, trot-walk swiftly, trot-canter becomes just as easy (and trot-canter has been a toughie for us). Overall I’m pleased with our upward transitions. As long as I don’t let him get away with not listening we can do them really well.

Our downward transitions, on the other hand… less than spectacular. Canter-trot and trot-walk he comes above the bit and the whole transition is very messy- he’ll almost stumble down. It’s as if he thinks “Oh thank god we’re stopping”. Walk-halt he leans on the bit like a bitch. I just don’t know what to do about this. I am using my leg when I ask and trying to ask primarily with my seat so he comes down around my leg but I don’t know how to keep him ‘engaged’. As soon as he figures out we’re slowing down it’s as if he checks out to have a break. Any input?

Halting stems from this. I don’t think we’ve done a single square halt yet :l He collapses, gives up and wobbles out away from the centreline. I know it’s my fault and I have been trying a few different strategies to no avail. Today I practiced a lot of walk-trot, trot-walk. Next ride I think I’ll try a lot more walk-halts. Because they’re such a weak spot for me I think I avoid practicing them except for the once or twice I run through a test. I suppose I’m not going to get any better without practice.

Then there’s walking. We’re not actually that bad with this, but I want to make sure it’s nailed (with co-efficients and all!). We tend to either have a nice contact and no activity or lots of activity with no stretch at all. I know we can do it really well because our warm up free walks are great- stretchy and active. But once we start doing other work walking becomes his scape goat where he’ll try and just collapse.

Get geared for another shopping post… tomorrow I’m going up to the local (“local”… a good fifty minute drive away) saddlery to get a jacket and other bits and pieces sorted. Exciting times…

You can take the girl out of the hack ring…

Competition time is here. It’s real. My trainer and I have been discussing dates and getting gear etc. She’s pushing me for “pizzazz” and accuracy like never before. I never doubted that it would happen, but I suppose I just constantly tell myself I’m still worlds away from being ready- apparently not! Truth be told, I cannot wait. I am so excited to get out there and compete and challenge myself. I grew up riding competitively and I loved it- ever since starting dressage I’ve fantasised about the day I’d trot down the centreline and do my first salute.

With this excitement comes extreme nerves. I don’t feel ready. We still halt crooked most of the time. Our transitions are off. But I am more determined than ever to work on our issues and be ready. The thing is, I feel a tremendous amount of pressure to do well for my trainer. This is not my horse and it is an absolute privilege that she is allowing me to compete on him. I feel like if we don’t do well it reflects badly on her and her horses. I want more than anything to prove to her that she’s made the right decision in giving me this opportunity.

On another note, I’m dealing with the pressure by shopping! I found this gorgeous stock tie online. For anyone interested it is by a small WA based designer at NVU Equestrian Stocks & Accessories. I’ve only just made contact and am waiting on a reply so it’s not set in stone yet, but I love it and hope I can get my hands on one! Her other stocks and browbands look gorgeous, so if you are Australian based I recommend taking a look. She also has an eBay store which appears to be the best way to purchase right now.

The jacket I also plan on buying has a gold trimming as shown below so I think it will match beautifully.

Image

You can take the girl out of the hack ring but you cannot take the hackie out of the girl. I need some bling. I will tone it down to suit the simplistic and traditional look of the dressage ring, but I figured a little bit of gold and sparkle couldn’t hurt.

Dress me!

The time has come to go competition wear shopping! Since it has been years since I last competed (and even then it was in the show ring, not dressage!) I need to get pretty much everything! I would love some input from my followers on my competition attire. Please mention if you think I’ve forgotten anything as well!

Helmet

Everyone seems to love Charles Owen helmets but I think I prefer my Dublin. I need to buy a new one anyways as my current one has a small tear in the back (and because I wear it to work where it gets filthy so I’d like a dressage only one!) so I am open to other options, but my thinking right now is sticking with the Dublin. I’m a little worried it may not be “showy” enough? Should I be going for a velvet option? Here it is, except mine is black with the black panel, like the second photo.

Or should I be going for something like this:

Caldene Prestige Riding Hat

Shirt

I don’t even know where to start here, feel free to shove me in the right direction. It’s already a very hot spring here and so I want to consider that it’s extremely likely I’ll be competing sans jacket due to extreme weather conditions. So it needs to be well fitting and look nice without a jacket on top. Now I buy a stock separate, right? Should that match the colour of the shirt? I was thinking of staying very neutral, and so should I stick with all white?

Perhaps something like this:

Caldene Jacquard Tied Stock

Or even plainer (but in white, this looks cream I think):

Jacket

I’m not too fussed on the fitting style of a jacket at the time of purchase- I will probably be getting it altered to fit anyways since most standard sizes are a bit odd on me. I like the look of this one:

Dublin Ashby Riding Jacket

Now if I buy a short sleeve shirt, is it going to look odd at the cuffs if there’s no white cuff (to indicate a long sleeve shirt?).

Breeches

I have my mind made up on these- I’m going with a brand that fits me.

Windsor Hipster Jodhpur with Seat

Belt

I need a belt, right? Especially if I may be competing sans jacket? I was thinking something thin and simple, such as:

Gloves


The brand of gloves I ride in don’t come in white unfortunately, so I’m not sure what brand I am thinking for gloves. I like the ‘tab’ style of these gloves, but obviously need to find a similar style in white! Any suggestions?

Sherwood Forest Riding "Tack" Gloves

Boots

I’m going to stick with my half chaps and paddock boots which are still in good condition as they’re only a few months old and I clean them regularly.

Then there’s spurs which I also have to buy. So how did I do? What do you think of my options and what other brands/styles would you recommend?

 

 

A perfect ride

Today was just one of those days- everything fell into place and we had a fantastic ride. I primarily worked on transitions, as with competing still in my sights that’s our number one hurdle for right now. I don’t really have a whole lot to say- I am really busy right now but I thought I would log in and update that everything is going smashingly well! I still have my sights set on my goal to compete before the end of 2013!

photo

Time to rise

Today I went for a ride and decided to try something a little different- rise trot. The Novice tests here have recently changed so that there are a few movements which specify rising trot. Upon hearing this news I knew I had to start riding more rising because for the last 8-9 months I have only ridden in sitting trot. I prefer sitting trot to rising because I feel like I have more control over my seat, hands and legs. I feel like I know where everything is and find it easier to make adjustments when necessary. Initially I decided to revert to sit trot full time because it was only when I was sitting that I could really get the horse round and moving forwards. Even just a few weeks ago rising for a few beats would throw off the entire frame, for one reason or another.

Today rising actually went very well. I feel like I’m the opposite of most “regular” riders who are rigid in the sit trot when learning. As a kid learning how to sit the trot properly I was always taught to simply relax and let my body fall into the saddle rather than fighting the movement and trying to “clench”. All these years that has stuck and so naturally at the sit trot I tend to relax my body more. At the rise trot I stiffen up. It would appear that I’ve finally grasped the concept of soft, elastic hands and active legs and so can start to translate this into rise trot, even though I’m more uncomfortable. Today I did rising trot during all of my trotting work and the work was actually really nice- so much so that I’m reconsidering how much sit trot I do. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that I’m naturally good at sit trot because eventually I’ll have to be doing it in the upper levels anyways. But at the moment I am doing sit trot because my rising trot is terrible, and so I’ve always thought that come competition time I will ride the tests in sitting.

Something my trainer keeps emphasising is the need for our work to be a little bit more “flexible”. She tells me that sometimes it still appears as though we’re holding it altogether rather than simply working with one another. It needs to be a little more fluid and natural. I felt like we really started to achieve that today- our circles were stretchier and his trot was more active. He reached into a deeper contact and I could feel his back rounding and pushing from his hind.  Canter transitions were also easier, which is another thing I’ve been struggling with. Let me just say- I’d forgotten how tiring rise trot was! I used to get exhausted from sit trot but now I can blitz through an hour lesson with no problems. It would appear I’m so used to sitting trot that rising trot tires me out! After just a few laps around the area I was feeling a little short of breath.

Moral of the story? More rising trot from now on. I feel like I probably would do better in competitions if I could rise trot in the lower levels rather than sit. I just need to work on it more. My lower legs tend to move a lot during the rising trot which I hateAnybody have any tips on how to still a noisy lower leg in the rise trot?

A Long Overdue Update

I’m back in classes for my final semester of my Bachelors (yay!) and so I have been particularly busy getting back into the swing of things and trying to manage my time. I’ve still been riding regularly (well, two rides a week but that’s about as regular as possible for me unfortunately) despite my lack of updates on my blog. I had a lesson yesterday and it went really well. My trainer bought a new fancy saddle (I actually didn’t catch the brand, but the knee rolls were huge!). I loved riding in it because it forced my leg back and it felt lovely and secure. I just felt like I could sit a bigger trot in it without losing my balance. However, hello blisters. I guess I’m gripping with my knees more than I thought because I managed to shave off a few layers of skin on the inside of my knees! Showers now consistent of me jumping around trying to avoid water/shampoo/soap splashing onto my newfound battle scars. Ouch, not pleasant.

On the topic of riding, however, things have been going well. The major issue I am facing at this time is my asymmetry (again!). My right side has always been significantly stronger, but lately it is just getting ridiculous. A few weeks ago I measured a few points on my body so I could track my progress. My left thigh, bicep, forearm and calf was significantly smaller than my right. So I started working out symmetrically to try and even things out. In just a few weeks I have managed to even up my muscle tone (and gain some) which is great. However, it would appear in making my left side stronger I have also continued to make my right side even stronger still! I’m now pondering on what to do. I’m wondering if it’s just muscle memory, rather than muscle strength, that’s coming into play when I ride. In terms of muscle size I am now much more even than I used to be, so I can assume the strength is evening out. I’m now wondering if I’m just so used to relying on my right side that even now that I have the strength on the left I am just not utilising it. It’s a shame because all of our work on the right rein is pretty wonderful nowadays (even the canter, which was previously a big problem on the right!). I hate the left rein because everything starts to fall apart. I have trouble maintaining bend and flexion on the left rein- my left leg doesn’t work very efficiently at all. My left arm also doesn’t work very well- rather than opening my rein to indicate the flexion I try and cross it over his neck or, alternatively, pull him out onto the outside track with my right arm. Even if I manage to open up my inside rein enough I can’t hold the flexion or drive any bend around corners because my inside leg doesn’t work. I think it’s going to take a lot more work on the left rein just getting used to it. As much as I hate working that way I’m just going to have to push through until muscle memory plays a part.

On a more positive note, I’m starting to play with tempo and stride length a little bit and it feels good. I’m getting better at increasing the stride and then bringing it back a few times up the long side. It’s such an exhilarating feeling to push him forwards and get that huge trot and then bring him back with little more than stilling my seat. He is getting very lazy lately (so much so that I’ve had a whip my last two lessons!) and so I’ve been working on playing with the stride length to get him a little more on my aids. Occasionally he does just shut off and I have to give him a big boot or flick with the whip to wake him up. He has grown up a lot in the last year- he is rarely “naughty” but he is slightly passive aggressive in that he will slowly drift out into the wall (essentially attempting to bang my knee against the guard rails!) or will just shut down in a leg yield and stop listening. His way of “being naughty” is to stop listening. It’s good that this appears to be the worst he does, but it is exceedingly frustrating at times. He is just a big lazy boy who knows he can sometimes get away with taking the easy way out.

The idea of competition is very much at the forefront of my mind- every ride I am thinking with a competitive edge. That’s just how I ride. I love competition. I have my sights set on competing before the end of 2013 (which has always been my goal). Ultimately competing is out of my control, but I am hoping I can prove to my trainer I’m ready in the next few months. Her truck should be ready soon which is the real game changer competition wise- no truck no competition for me. So when she gets the truck is when I’ll really start to focus more on competition.

Fake it until you make it

After a short break from riding due to a busy work schedule, I jumped back in with a lesson yesterday. Something I am becoming more and more aware of about myself and my riding is how pedantic I am. Sometimes, a few minutes into a workout, I will start to ‘sook’ in my head if things aren’t going as planned. Maybe the horse is not rounding up for me or maybe he is distracted, maybe my shoulders are tight or my legs feel weak already. Whatever it is, I start pouting in my head. I start getting all whiney as I think about how badly I just want things to work and how all this effort to ride today seems pointless because we’re doing terrible. This happens quite a lot. I realise I need to drastically change my thinking, because over-thinking things like this or dwelling on negative thoughts only further decreases my performance.

Yesterday during my lesson I had a spectator. One of my trainer’s other students came early for her lesson and sat in on mine. I didn’t know who she was at first. I just kept riding and tried not to think about how vulnerable I was feeling. I am very hard on myself and so I hate having other people watch me ride because all I think about is how they’re probably thinking what a bad rider I am. As all of these negative thoughts started flooding into my head, I decided I need to just fake it. Whining about how it’s all falling to pieces only makes it worse. So I just started riding as if I was a top level rider and this student was going to sit there and think how wonderful I was. Instilling this kind of confidence in myself does work- I stop overthinking everything and just start riding. Everything I know comes back to me and it starts to come naturally. I still had niggling thoughts about “What is this girl thinking??”  or “God I look terrible…”, but I was able to shove them somewhere quiet for most of my lesson. Funnily enough, having someone watch my lesson (other than my trainer, of course) does seem to make me ride better. I get so worried about what they’re thinking and whether I look bad and so I force myself to ride better. It may seem superficial, but it works for me. I’m a competitive person and I want people to admire my riding! I mean honestly, don’t we all? So I take that motivation when it’s given to me.

So I’m trying to focus on just faking it. I am far from a nervous rider, but I am not confident in my riding. The horse can’t shake me up or scare me, so that’s not the confidence I’m referring to. What I’m referring to is the confidence to try something new without my trainer prompting me. The confidence to make a correction without her first instructing me to do so. It’s the confidence in myself that I am a good rider and I know what I’m doing- that’s the confidence I lack. I question my ability constantly and it gets in the way of me enjoying riding. Ultimately it’s what halts my progress. So from now on, I’m vowing to fake it until I make it.