Tuesday, September 11, 2012

National Standardbred Show 2012

This past Sunday was my favorite show of the year, the National Standardbred Show! You may find it odd that a Standardbred show would be my favorite show since I own a Quarter Horse. If you are a follower of this blog, you know that while Quarter Horses are my all time favorite, I am a HUGE fan and supporter of the Standardbred. They are an extremely talented, versatile, and underestimated breed. Anyone who attended Sunday's show saw just that. The show is a lot of fun, has something for everyone, and the SPHO-NJ does a phenomenal job planning and running it. The other thing I love about this show is the people. Everyone there is very nice and friendly and extremely supportive. There is none of the catty attitude typical at most horse shows. Everyone cheers each other and on and congratulates and compliments each other regardless of the outcome. Every one who attends the show is there to support and further the success, versatility, and progress of the breed as a show horse. As you all know, I have been working with my friend Helene's Standardbred JB (aka MR. Versatility) on western pleasure for the past year and half. Last year we were unable to show in the western division at the National show because it conflicted with Helene's driving division. This year, however, the schedule changed and we were able to compete. Unfortunately, the Western division was immediately following the Model division (in which we took 5th in Showmanship and 5th in Model Geldings) so we only had a few minutes to warm up before entering the show ring. Our first class was Western Pleasure (walk/jog). JB had a nice jog, but he did not have his usual low head set. This was a combination of distraction from riders coming into the park from a judged trail ride, lack of warm up, and a bit of rider error (which is usually always the case when we can't get our horse to do what we want at least in part). We received 2nd in the class and the judge commented that we had a nice jog, but inconsistent head set, which I knew right away. Our second class was a walk/jog Horsemanship class with a pattern. We executed what I thought was a nice pattern followed by some good rail work. The head was still an issue in this class, but horsemanship is judged on the rider so it did not matter. We won this class! Our third class was a walk/jog/lope class and this was our first time attempting the lope. We had only practiced the lope riding one handed twice at home in the week before the show, since we decided last minute to enter these classes. He was awesome! He picked up the lope right away (it was more of a collected canter, but very good with our limited practice). His head set was a bit higher than I would like, but it had been at the lope at home too, so I just gave him his head and let him go along. We won this class too and judge commented that we had the a nice and very consistent lope. Our final class was a walk/jog/lope Horsemanship class. We won this class too executing a pattern that tested your transitions and included some tight circles for loping, quite nicely. We ended up being champion for the division! Helene and JB also picked up many blue and red ribbons and championships of their own in Equitation, Jumping, and Driving classes. As always, a big thank you to Helene for lending me her rockstar horse and supporting and helping us every step of the way.
JB and I with our ribbons from the western division! (We later received a champion sash that unfortunately we did not have in time for this photo)

Not Enough Hours in the Day

I apologize for my lack of blogging, but this summer just totally got away from me. I was so insanely busy with work, riding and showing multiple horses, photography, school, and attempting a social life. Anyway, so here is a quick catch up. I will start with the most important topic aka Satin. We have been continuing to show in the Baby Green Hunters throughout the summer and my mare impresses me time and time again. She goes out there and tries her heart out for me every time and has just gotten better and better with each lesson and each outing. We are still trail riding and riding western as well, but unfortunately have not had the opportunity to get out to any barrel shows or team penning this summer. I hope to do so soon because we are both missing it. The one hitch in our summer was a swollen hind leg in the end of August, which took over a week to get right again. I am not entirely sure what the cause was, but it seems to be under control. She is 23 and about twice a year she has this issue where we see some swelling in a leg. It is usually stocking up and goes away after 2-3 days of treatment. She was not lame on it, but as I mentioned it did take me over a week of working her lightly and several types of wrapping to get it down to normal. (Knock on wood) it stays that way. I have still been riding the wonderful JB and he just gets better and better each time. His jog is awesome! It is slow and consistent with a great head set and the neck reining is getting much better. He is going so much like a QH I even forget he is a Standardbred myself! (More on this in my next post) I am back in class and just started my final semester (yay!). I am also interning this semester at Freehold Raceway, doing some public relations work, as well as, learning what it takes to be a Race Secretary. It is a pretty interesting behind the scenes look and I am liking it so far.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Slowing Down the Mare

Yesterday's lesson focused on slowing down the mare over the jumps after her superhero impression in our last show. First in the flat we focused on adjusting my two point to find the position that worked best for Satin and I. Once we got that straight, we took that position to the jumping. Renee had us practice one line working on making her adjustable and keeping her slow. Our goal was to trot into the line and do it in a 7. She ended up going so nice and slow and collected that we did it in an 8. Renee was happy with that though because her pace and distances were good so we did it again in an 8. Then we began working on my hands and finding the right position for them, as well as, steadying myself because I was anticipating Satin speeding up or jumping big as she tends to do at trot jumps. Well, she eventually woke up from her nice slow pace and began speeding up a few strides from the jump than getting strong down the line. Renee then had me practice trotting the first jump than halting in the middle of the line before the second jump. She wanted me to do this by adjusting my position and having her halt into the bridle, as opposed to to sitting deep and leaning back to get the halt. Well, it took quite a few times before we got a halt. Satin was a bit confused since we spent so much time teaching her not to stop and now we were asking her to. The point of this was Renee wanted me to learn the proper position to be in to slow her down when she got strong, so we took this a step further by halting instead. When we turned around to do the line towards home she got strong again. Renee was having me do a very slow jog to the line to keep her calm, but she would still try to speed up right before the jump. When I did keep her slow all the way to the jump she was calmer in the line and halted easily when asked. After a few times going towards home with no halt and not a lot of slow down, Renee hopped on to give it a try. She did some hopping up and down for her and got strong in front of the jump a few times, but of course after a few minutes Renee got her settled down. She had her trotting in, halting, and trotting out very easily. She was even able to get the halt in just a few strides in both directions, while I had only been successful in the one. When I got back on she had me trot into the line, halt, and trot out in both directions. She did so nicely and easily. Then she had me trot in and do the whole line. In the direction going away from the gate she stayed nice and slow and steady. She even did the line in a 9 it was so collected. In the other direction, however, she immediately got strong again. We ended up having to do the line in that direction a few times, and Renee decided we should work on trotting the first jump then getting the halt and would end on one of those. After a couple tries, we finally got one where she did not rush to the first jump so I was able to get a nice halt.

Our First Reserve!

Well our last show had it's ups and downs. It was an extremely unorganized show. They kept changing the order of the divisions with out making any announcements and it was just about impossible to find someone working at the rings to ask about the order. If I had not been sitting at my ring and keeping an eye on what was going on I probably would have missed my division. So we ended up waiting around for almost 2 hours and then having to rush to get ready and warm up since they went from having two more divisions until ours to doing ours immediately. Satin does not enjoy the whole waiting around forever thing. Luckily we were able to distract her with grass up until the time we had to tack up, but by then she had had about enough of this show and decided the fastest way to be done was to go really fast. We had about 15-20 minutes to warm up both on the flat and over fences so that did not give me much time to try and calm her down. She entered the ring the way she used to enter the barrel ring...hopping up and down. Her first course was okay. The pace was a bit quicker than I would have liked, but she was consistent all the way around and got all of her leads and distances. She ended up winning this class. The other two courses were a complete mess. She was extremely worked up and was very quick in one line than I would get her back for the next and then she would go even faster. In the last course I had to pull her up before the first line. She decided to gallop instead of canter down the rail on our way to the first line so I had to get her attention back. There were only three in the jumping so of course she got third in the last two courses after the superman performance. She was still keyed up and muscley in the flat, but I had a few minutes to try and get her head back. Luckily I was able to get a calmer trot and establish the walk before the class began. Her trot started strong and with her head up, after a few minutes of half halting I was able to get her nicer trot that we had been working on at home. It took a bit longer to the right to get this and I was afraid she would break to the canter, but luckily I was able to hold her. The canter was okay. She did not give me much in the way of a head set, but the pace was pretty nice, though I did have to work for it. Our transitions down to the walk were delayed, since she was strong it took me more time than usual to get her settled. The flat had four and she ended up pinning 2nd so that was good. Despite her hyperactivity we ended up reserve for the division, so this was our first reserve as hunters :)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Last Few Lessons

The two lessons following the last horse show were spent focusing on improving our flat work. We spent a lot of time on the trot. In the lesson following the show I think we did an hour of just trot work. In that lesson she did very well to the left as far as giving me a good pace and getting on the bit and staying there without much maintenance. The right was another story. The right is the bad direction for a both of us. I tend to let my right shoulder get too ahead of me, so we did some exercises to fix that such as riding with my hand on the back of the saddle. She was also refusing to bend and drop her head in that direction. Renee was having us do the exercise where I bring her head in as far as I can and then let it go, as we had done at the canter a few weeks ago, but to the right she was not having. Finally my body couldn't take it anymore and I had Renee got on to work her magic. She got the same resistance, but after about 20 minutes of trying some different tactics she started to get some really nice stuff. She had me get back on and told me lateral half halts worked much better than our previous tactic. By the time I got on Renee had her going so beautifully I didn't have to do anything. She just stayed going along perfectly. In between lessons, I did not have much luck getting the head set as nicely we Renee had been able to. When we had our next lesson the following week though I found out why. I did my warm up and asked for the head set the way I had been doing at home. Renee pointed out that my issue was my hands and elbows. She said I needed more bend in my elbow to make a smoother line from elbow to hands to reins. I also needed to lift my hands to achieve this. Once I did this she went right on the bit and into a beautiful head set and trot. What a huge difference something that seems so small makes! We also did the same work at the canter, but I had locked my elbows a little to much at this gait. Renee gave me an exercise I call the Superman to fix this. Every few strides she had me put my arms straight out in front of me to loosen my arms and body and get the feeling of where I need to be. This week, it was finally nice out on a lesson day so we were able to ride outside. We started with our flat work, which Renee had though was much improved over all. I was still not quite right with my right shoulder, so we did the hand on the back of the saddle exercise again. Then we moved on to some courses. Renee didn't give us a warm up jump, but instead had us jump right into the course, so our first course was a bit iffy. I called it practice LOL. The next time through the course was a little better. We had a few rushy spots, especially on our bending line. Renee then gave us a second course. The course started out well with a nice even pace through the first three then got a bit rambly. Our final jump was a single diagonal, which had been part of our bending line, going in the opposite direction now. We were cantering along quite nicely, then about 5 strides out she started to suck back and stared down at the jump. I could feel she wanted to stop, but I put my heel in her and kept my focus up and she went over. I was quite proud of myself, as was Renee, because her sucking back would normally cause me to go with her and result in a stop. After this Renee had me do an exaggerated position with my shoulders very low, but my chest and chin up. She had me do it down this one line that she was getting particularly quick on to show my that that position slows her down better than sitting up or going to the reins as I had been doing. It made it ten times better. Then she had me do my first course again and wanted me to do whatever I had to in my position to make the course nice. Well, that was a bit of a fail. There was basically nothing nice about the course. She got quick in spots, took some short and long distances, etc. I did the course again and this time I kept my eye and position steadier and worked on the lower position. This was our best course so far. She stayed at much nicer pace all the way around, including a better bending line. The only thing that neither Renee or I liked was our final outside line. She had rushed a bit into it, but I got her to hold and not get the long distance coming out. We worked on that line by itself a few times and finally got it nice and smooth with good distance. Overall, it was a successful lesson and I feel confident going into our next show this weekend.

2nd Hunter Show

Sorry for my lack of posts. I have been crazy busy with the end of the semester, working, etc. Anyway, Satin and I had our second hunter show at the end of April. She put in yet another great performance. She once again warmed up perfectly, staying at a nice pace and jumping everything with this ease. The course involved a bending line, which is something we practice often at home, so I knew Renee would be happy to hear that and that it would be no problem. Our first course went pretty smoothly. She got a little quicker to the first and last singles, but was pretty consistent in between. The second course had some issues. She had a late lead change coming off the bending line, which made the turn to the next diagonal not as nice as could be. We also had a break to the trot coming around to the outside line, not really sure why. The break to the trot messed with her striding in that line though, so it didn't match with our distance in the other lines. The third course, had another late lead change, but was otherwise okay. The flat work was better than last show. She kept a nicer trot and more consistent head set. I think the canter is what helped her in this class, since that seemed to be when he looked at her the most. We ended up with a 6th in this class again, which I was happy with out of 12. She earned a 6th in the first course, nothing in the 2nd which I expected because of the break, and nothing in the third, which I was surprised about, but I was happy with her course so that is ok. Sorry for the lack of details, the show was a few weeks ago now so it is not as clear in my head. We are going to another show on Saturday from a different schooling series. Renee thought it would be a good idea to get her out another time since there is 6 weeks between our last show from our regular series at the end of April to the next in the end of June. I will try to post earlier this time!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Yet Another Wonderful Lesson

Yesterday my little wondermare put in yet another great performance in our weekly lesson. We did a LOT of work on the trot. The last two weeks we focused a lot on the canter and now we are back to focusing on the trot, which has been our primary focus for the flat work. We worked on getting her to go on the bit and stay there with slight contact. It took a while, but once I got us both in the right place it really improved the trot and once the trot was steady we began working on getting the head set back to the right spot. Just as with everything else with Satin it was much easier to the left than the right, but we finally got some nice stuff to the right after quite a few times around.

The main focus was getting my hands and body in the right spot in order to get Satin in the right spot. Once this was achieved it was easier to get the trot where we wanted it. Renee has me take a slight contact with my hands touching her neck so I was not tempted to want to move them or do too much with them. I also have a tendency to let my right shoulder get too far out in front going to the right, so we also had to work on adjusting that, which we had worked on last week.

After we finally got what we wanted to the right, Renee had me turn around and try it to the left one more time. Well, if we got good trot to the right, we got fantastic trot to the left! I could feel it before Renee even said a word. She put herself into perfect frame and stayed there. She also had a wonderful pace and was coming up from behind perfectly. Renee and I were both beaming as she just kept repeating "There", "That's it", "perfect". It was what Renee called a "flat class winning trot". Our homework is to keep doing those trot exercises and achieving that "flat class winning trot".

As far as the jumping, that went very well too. Renee had moved some of the smaller, interesting jumps from the indoor outside changing the course up a bit. We started with a simple 4 jumps course, all jumps we had done before, 2 singles and a diagonal line. She went over them all no problem, just slight hesitations on my part. It takes me longer to warm up for the jumping than her! LOL

Anyway, after that we worked on a single line we had done before, which went okay except for a long spot. Then we did another course starting with what Renee called a "stile" jump. It was a narrow 6 foot wide jump coming off the standard of another jump. I am not a fan of the narrow jumps so I was a bit hesitant, which translated to Satin. That plus not having her straight enough, since it was a diagonal jump coming off a turn, caused a couple of stops. I straightened her out, lifted my seat, and attempted it at the trot and she popped over no problem. Then we went right back to it at the canter and she was perfect. Then we continued the rest of the course which was the diagonal line around to two single jumps. It was our best trip ever up the diagonal line. She got the striding and distances perfect.

We finished up working on the one stride which was a cross rail to an oxer. Well when we cantered around to face it, Miss Mare did a double take and slowed to stop. She gave a look like "Um guys, do you know there are 2 jumps very close together here??". We attempted it a few more times, including at the trot. We finally got her over the cross rail than she cut out on the oxer. Renee came down and took the cross rail down so we could do the oxer on its own. She stopped once than realized "oh it's just one jump now, okay" and then went over the oxer fine. We did the oxer on its own a few times and once she was comfortable put the cross rail back up. We put her through the one stride a few times and she got some really nice jumps. In the end Renee and I were quite pleased with the little wondermare.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Last 2 Lessons

My last two lessons since the horse show have taken the wondermare to a whole new level. In our lesson last week following the horse show, we did a lot of work on the flat to improve some of the things Renee and I noticed in the flat class.

We started with the walk, continuing some of the exercises we had been working on for the walk and adding to it with a different foot position when using the spur. After we got that where we wanted it we moved on to the trot. She started a bit pokey so Renee had me stop and start over bringing her into a tighter frame to push her up then letting her stretch her head down into the position we want for showing.

After that we did a lot of work on the canter. We wanted to improve the headset, as well as, get her to use her hindquarters just a bit more. We started with using the new spur application method, while also using a subtle half halt where I move the hands almost in a circle going with the motion of her shoulders. This helped us achieve the goal of getting the hindquarters and resulted in a lovely canter. We did make some progress with the headset with this, but not enough.

The next exercise we did, we worked on getting her to stretch her head all the way down, past where we would even want it at the show. Renee says you should get the poll to flex 5 or 6 inches in either direction from neutral, which is about where we would want it at the horse show. I would half halt for 5 strides, then let out the reins an inch and leave her alone for at least ten strides, then repeat. Renee wanted us to eventually get to the point where I was just about parallel with her neck in position and had my hands down to about my knees. We did this a few times each direction until I was able to get her head nice and low. By the end she was about 6 inches below where we would put her at the horse show which is just what Renee wanted.

We also did another exercise where I brought her nose in as far I could until she dropped it and curled her neck. I would hold this for about ten strides then let her stretch back out. Renee said this exercise if repeated daily would cause her to build neck muscles and that I would see an improvement in just a couple of weeks. Well in the lesson that day it took quite a few times around the ring before she would do what I call the seahorse neck, but the next day she would do it within 4 to 5 strides and hold it longer.

We hadn't had an intense flat lesson like that in a while, but we sure needed it. In today's lesson we had a great walk right from the start. She was bit funny at the trot though, but it ended up being stiffness in her hocks which is typical. After trotting a little each way, we cantered once each way to wake her up and stretch her out. After that we did the trot again and did a lot of bending to help with the hocks. Then we did our canter exercises from last week. Renee was impressed with how quickly she took to what I deemed the seahorse exercise. She thought her head position had improved a lot and she was now beginning to naturally put herself in the headset we wanted.

We did a short course for the last half of the lesson, which included the bending line that I sometimes have problems with. Not today though! I kept my focus dead on and she went over it perfectly. The first time over the course we had our usual rough patches that result from my mistakes. We soon got into the groove and went through the course smoothly though it was a bit quick. We worked on my hands which often get in my way, doing an exercise where I put my hands out in front of me going to and then over the jump. This also made it easier for her to stretch her neck down while jumping and use her back more. We had a few mishaps with my changing position or losing focus causing her to get out after the first few times we did this. Then I got it together and we did the course a couple more times.

By the time she was doing the course quite nicely. The only issue was the final bending line, which she rushing a bit and taking the bigger distance. Renee said the issue here was I was changing my back just before the jump. We did the line a few times by itself to fix that and ended up with what Renee called a perfect line.

Wondermare Does it Again!!

This is a bit late because I have just been completely overwhelmed and busy, but better late than never. Last weekend I took my little wondermare to her first real show as a hunter pony. I was extremely nervous, especially because we had some few rough rides during the week before the show, including me taking a spill in the lesson that week.

I went to Renee's to ride in the indoor the day before the show because it rained. While my ride wasn't great, I was really glad I went because Renee gave me a big pep talk which ended up being just what I needed. When I got to the show I just kept thinking about the things she said and put them into action. I also gave the mare a pep talk on Saturday and apparently she took it to heart!

She was an absolute ROCK STAR at the show. We got there early so we could take our time and avoid some of the craziness that usually happens in the warm up ring. She warmed up perfectly. She went over every jump without even blinking an eye and at a slow steady pace. I got her over everything about 3 or 4 times, more for me than her really.

It was the first show of the season for that series so things got off to a late start. We went into the first course and she jumped around nicely, keeping a good pace. The only major flaw was going long into and out of the one outside line, which was my fault, but it was over all a good course. The second course went much better with good pace and good distances all around. The third was a bit rough. We were both just looking forward to being done and both got a bit sloppy. This lead to some rambliness on Satin's part which in turn resulted in a knocked rail. That was okay though because she was so perfect otherwise I could not complain.

I had a friend who knew I had been nervous come over to me and ask what I was so nervous about because it looked like I was riding a packer. I had to laugh at that one. My friend's trainer also remarked that I was setting a record with the oldest horse in the baby greens! LOL

Next it was time for the flat class. Her trot had a good pace but she could have used a bit more impulsion. Her canter had a nice quiet pace to it, though her head could have been a bit lower. The walk was pretty good after all the practice we had been doing. As we stood for the pinning in a class of 15 I didn't know what to expect. Satin had done well, though I could have pushed her for a bit more I decided to leave her be after such a wonderful performance over fences. I was very happy to receive a green ribbon in that class. To pin at all in a class of that size our first time out was a big achievement in my book.

After the flat they finally gave the placings for the three over fences classes. Again I didn't know what to expect. I thought my mare had done phenomenally, especially for her first time at a hunter show, but with a class that large and it being her first time my only goal was doing our best ribbon or no ribbon. I was extremely happy to receive a 4th place ribbon in our first over fences class. When they called the pinning for the second over fences class I almost fell over from shock. Satin had WON, yes I said WON, as in 1st place. I couldn't believe that not only had she exceeded my expectations for the show in performance, but had not only come home with ribbons, but WON an over fences class!! She didn't get anything in the third course because of the rail, which I expected, but after the blue ribbon I didn't even care.

I was do beyond proud of my mare! She keeps showing everyone that age is just a number! She rises to every challenge I throw at her and exceeds my expectations over and over. I shouldn't be surprised, she is the wondermare after all!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Another Wonderful Lesson

Last week we had yet another wonderful lesson. Miss Satin was in perfect hunter pony mode, which helps make for a great lesson. I had taken her on a trail ride the day before and getting a good run out of her system calms her down for the lesson.

She was a bit lazy at the trot to start, but after a few minutes she got into a good pace. Renee has me a do a lot of two point at both the trot and canter. She is on a mission to give me legs of steel. We also did some work on the walk, since at the show she did more of a prance than a walk in the flat class. Of course, because we were at home, which is much less exciting, she didn't do the prancing. We worked on some things to help anyway, like a change in seat position and the proper way to adjust the reins.

We started jumping with our usual green vertical warm up jump, which we did at the trot a few times. Renee wanted the focus of this lesson, other than two point, to be release. At the show I rode with basically no release, which Renee said was most likely due to nerves, so she decided to work on lots of release. After a few practice jumps, I had the release right where she wanted it and for the right amount of time.

Then we started working on some hunter courses. The first course started with this bending line that had been a problem for me in the past. Usually the problem is because the mare and I both have this weird thing about the second jump in the line so she sometimes stops. That wasn't the problem this time though. In our lesson in the indoor the week before we had a bending line as well and I had a hard time getting her over the second jump. Several times she cut out and if I went to the jump on its own she was fine, but for some reason I could not make the line work. I never had a problem with bending lines before, but apparently my bad luck in the indoor had carried over.

The same thing happened with this bending line. She cut out at the second jump, but when I went to it again on its own she went right over. It obviously was a mistake I was making, and we found out it was in my focus and sometimes my hands. At first I was moving the right hand too much, then I had my hands nice and still, but my focus wasn't steady enough. In the second course we did, the bending line was the last line of the course. We had the same issue our first time doing this course, but on the second time through the course I made a declaration to Renee that this was going to be the best and steadiest focus she had ever seen. Sure, enough when we came down to that final bending line she cantered right through it perfectly, without even a second thought! I was quite happy with myself as was Renee.

The rest of the courses went very nicely. She jumped everything gamely and at a nice calm and steady pace. After we had that perfect bending line, we did a third course and this time Renee made it a short course. We hadn't practice many of those and I think after my victory with the bending line, she figured that was a good point to end on with that line, so left it out of the short course. We had one or two long spots on this course and one line that was a bit quicker and ramblier which caused us to take a rail. I collected her up and our final attempt resulted in a just about perfect course, so Renee decided that was a good point to call it quits. I was quite happy with us both, as was Renee, so it was a quite a successful lesson.