Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Dressage Championships: 07.06.15

As I've mentioned recently, Ernest and I have been having lessons again and changing quite a few things. We were seeing some good results already, such as Ernest rounding better and being more supple, as well as reacting to my aids.

I was looking forward to the Championships to try and put into practice our new riding skills. Our championship class was Prelim 17, but I'd also entered a Grass Roots Badminton qualifier - for people with no British Eventing or British Dressage points and who haven't competed above Novice. The two who came 1st or 2nd in the class would qualify for Badminton in July. I've never entered a class like this before, but I thought why not? If we qualify, it would be amazing, but even so it would be great practice. The test for this class was Prelim 13.

The warm up for Prelim 17 was promising. I tried to ride exactly as I had in our lesson the day before, working on his flexibility, suppleness and listening to my leg. Ernest is still a little resistant in the canter so I knew that would lose us marks, and as he didn't buck I knew perhaps I wasn't being assertive enough! As Nadine said, though, having a fight with him in a competition warm up arena is not the place to do it. 

We came 5th in the Championship (P17) with 64.23%. I was pleased because he was much rounder and I didn't feel like I was fighting to keep him round, either. We lost a little impulsion (which is energy and not speed) and our final centre line was... interesting, but that just gave me something to work on for the next test! He always pulls me down the final centre line, so I was fighting him quite a lot. His head went wonky! 

The judge's comments for P17 were: 'Sweet pony, attentive & regular in pace but needs to be much softer through the neck to an elastic contact'. Judges always comment on how wonderful Ernest is! The comment didn't surprise me, either, as there were times - particularly in the canter - where he braced himself against my hand. 

A serious case of final-centre-line-excitement

There was a four-and-a-half hour wait between my first and second tests. Luckily we came prepared with a big picnic, so we relaxed in the sun (and burnt) while eating sandwiches, cakes and penguin bars. Yum! Ernest had his haynet to keep him content.

When the wait was finally over, I realised I may have made an error in entering the Badminton qualifier: there were a lot of bouncy beasts in the warm up arena! Thankfully most of them weren't in the same class, but a few were left and I realised that this wasn't for people like me, who actually rode at Prelim / Novice level. It was for those taking their dressage horses out for the first time, horses who would move up the ranks to much bigger, affiliated competitions. There were also two judges!

In a way, it took the pressure off, and a couple of us in the warm up had the same feeling. So I went into the test just hoping to improve on my last one.

We came 3rd with 69.58%, missing out on qualifying by 0.42%. I couldn't believe it - there I was, talking myself down when actually we were up there with the big guns! One of the judges gave us a very big smile at the end, which was encouraging. I know that if we carry on training how we have been, we'll be scoring some pretty high marks soon.

The first judge's comments said: 'A super pony and very well presented test. Need to be more supple through the back for more fluency and more acceptance of the contact in the transitions and your marks will go up. Accurately ridden.' She gave us 68.54% and a 7.5 for my riding!

The second judge's comments said: 'Horse has 3 correct paces just needs to be more supple to help outline and bend. Well done.' He gave us 70.63% and a 7 for my riding.

So, I know there's still a way to go in the areas I've already talked about. We've got three weeks until the Festival of Dressage, where I'm hoping to do a Prelim and Novice, so hopefully we'll continue improving in that time. I'm so proud of little Biffy - he worked his beautiful big butt off and was well-behaved all day, even during that long gap between tests.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Lara's Two-Month Anniversary

Lara Bingle

Today is Lara’s two-month anniversary with us. She’s gone from quiet skinny mouse to playful, affectionate, slightly less skinny mouse. She’s gone from Lara, to Lara Bingle, to Bingus, to Stinky Binky.

Lara has charmed everyone she’s met through her snuggly nature and quirky habits. Here are 10 things which really characterise our funny little snout:
  1. She is a man’s dog; her favourite people are my brother and granddad.

  2. But she also really loves my female cousin; Bingle followed her to the toilet the first time they met. It’s been a love affair ever since – and my cousin isn’t normally a dog person due to severe allergies.

  3. She is a hardcore snuggler.

  4. Bingle is a very windy hound. Every time she stretches she parps – loudly.

  5. Her favourite defensive move is ‘the sag of uselessness’. If you want her to get down off the sofa or off my bed, she goes all floppy; I’ve had to pick her up several times.

  6. She’s the messiest eater we’ve ever seen. I honestly think she only eats about 20% of each biscuit she takes from the bowl.

  7. If Bingle wants to play or wants attention, she will poke you with her snout. Usually in the bottom.

  8. When she gets overexcited, she spins in a really tight circle, like a mini Twister.

  9. She loves raiding the toy box, and has taken a shine to my old hedgehog slipper and Claus’ red bird (the squeaker is long gone!).

  10. When the phone rings, she howls! Not just a little, either; the entire time the phone is ringing. Then Claus and Princess join in! It’s a cacophony of noise.
Lara and her daddy

Monday, 1 June 2015

Pony Tales: A Very Horsy Weekend

I've not written a Pony Tales for so long! Which is ridiculous, as Ernest is my life (for lack of a less irritating cliche).

Since moving to my wonderful 'new' yard in February - technically not new anymore, and I used to have a Saturday job there - I've been hacking out round some beautiful places. But the other benefit is that one of my closest horsy friends keeps her horse around the corner, and she's been kicking me up the butt to take Ernest out more.

On Saturday we had a cross country (XC) lesson together. I haven't done an XC competition since 2009, and haven't taken him XC schooling for.... maybe 3 years? I can't really remember. To say I was nervous is an understatement, as I knew he'd be excited and would throw in a few bucks. 

It was surprisingly fun! I rode quite well, handled his wilder moments calmly, and felt very positive about the whole experience at the end. The instructor, Julia, was patient and encouraging, and I liked that she always told us to give our horses a pat after each fence. Ernest loved every second, especially cantering through the water! 

pony rolling
Ernest enjoying a roll after his busy weekend of lessons

There was one drop fence which was very scary. I was halfheartedly nudging Ernest to jump down, but he wouldn't move because he knew I was terrified. Julia didn't force us to do it, but I said I'd like to try it at the end. Jaime led us over it after we'd finished jumping some of the other fences and had done a round of the whole course. It felt like free-falling; I can honestly say I felt sick! Julia asked if I wanted to do it again afterwards, but I thought once was quite enough... until the next time, when I might be a bit braver!

pony On Sunday I had a dressage lesson booked with Nadine, as it's Sparsholt Dressage Championships on the 7th. I was looking forward to my lesson as I have a lot of improvements to make, and knew that Nadine would set me on the right track.

The main issue is when I close my fingers on the reins, there's no reaction. I need to encourage him to round over his back - one of the comments I often get from dressage judges is that he needs to be more supple over his back. There's also no reaction when I use my legs, so we worked on getting him more responsive to my hand and leg aids. We created 'gears' in his paces - walk, trot and canter - and tackled his strops when I ask him for more in his canter (he bucks). This weekend was pretty good for me getting to grips with him when he throws shapes, instead of backing off.

Overall, I think Ernest and I had a fabulous weekend. My head is buzzing with all the information from Julia and Nadine, so I can't wait to get on and practice tomorrow. Jaime and I are also hoping to go out again in a couple of weeks' time to the same XC course. Roll on the weekend!