Friday, December 23, 2011

Making sense of things

One of the things I noticed early on about driving- any deviation in where you are going, be it straight down the rail, circles or diagonals- your wheel tracks show it. If the horse moves slightly to one side or the other, even a step or two- it shows in your wheel tracks.  As you come back around the arena you can see where you have been, when your horse moved this way or that, even a step or two before you corrected it- your wheel tracks will show every bit of it. When riding? Unless you are the first one out there using a freshly groomed arena- not so much.  Good luck with finding your horses hoof prints in there otherwise.

Which is why, when I know Kat was being resistant, leaning on the bit, refusing to bend one way or the other, moving with little or no contact or whatever he was doing or not doing as we made those circles- it should certainly show up in the dirt! Right? Yet the tracks I see are nice and round. No egg shapes, no points or bends where he suddenly moved over, no 'wobbly' or curvy lines, none of that... No, no, our tracks are nice, clean, very round- CIRCLES. Which makes me wonder how the hell he does it?

Yes he is talented, athletic and also quite gifted. Which may be part of the problem of WHY he gets bored working on such easy-peasy things as he may see them. But if we are going to do any of the bigger competitions- (ADT's & CDE's) he has to do the dressage portion and since the scores there help or hurt your overall, he has to do them well enough for us to get by so we can advance and move on.  Besides, it all carries over to the marathon and cones courses too.

In 3 Day Eventing, I know there are horse and riders alike who don't score so well in dressage. Maybe the stadium jumping isn't their strong suit, but they manage to pull it together long enough to get through that particular phase and still end up near or at the top in the standings. I get it.  The other two phases are strong enough to carry you and make up for it.

One of the other blogs I read, the writer was asking for ideas since they had done everything in the dressage tests for the level they were competing. Another poster commented and said to start working on things for the next level.  While that's a good idea and all, (and I may try it with Kat) I have my own set of concerns, particularly with him, on this.

Because he is a gifted and talented pony, I just hope he doesn't get bored with that stuff too, before we even move up to that level. Driving has 4 levels, Training, Prelim, Intermediate & Advanced.   If he is bored with preliminary level work while we are still showing training level, do we start working on Intermediate, just to give him something else to focus on?  If he is bored at home doing prelim or intermediate work, when we move up to prelim at the shows, is he going to revert back to being bored?  Is his boredom going to lead to him misbeaving in the ring?   Yeah, that's not good.... but it does happen.

Another thing I wonder about in all of this- Will I be able to keep up with him? I'm still learning a lot A LOT, as we go along.  This is only the second horse/pony I have trained to drive. Yeah, can you guys believe that? The first one was Pi and after our Epic Fail accident when she crashed into a car, bolted down the street and ended up completely destroying the cart, she made it very, very clear, she was never to be put to a cart again.  My track record so far is not what most people would call 'Stellar' by any means. Probably not even close by some judgement scale...  LOL! 

Did I mention Kat and I have never had any formal lessons? Nope. We haven't. Everything so far has been a flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants effort. For the most part it has been the work we have been able to fit in at home, hubby sharing input here and there along the way, the advice from Gary at the Darby in August, the driving club free clinic in November, whatever you guys point out here from the pictures (that I sometimes miss) and that's it.  Hubby has also teld me Kat is doing or not doing something, (dropping his hip or shoulder) yet I just don't see it and I certainly can't feel it. He may as well tell me the sky is purple for that matter because sometimes it just doesn't compute. That's all me. How do you fix things that just don't make sense?

Don't get me wrong. I am pretty damn impressed with everything we have done and how far we have come in a short time with barely any work.  For not having a lot of guidance or outside help- I think we are doing all right.  I don't expect to just go shooting straight to the top either. It would be nice, but let's be realistic here, can we? 

I have also had quite a few people ask us, "Who is your trainer?", followed by reccommendations to use theirs.  Our first ADT is in February with a dressage test, followed by a course with a few obstacles and cones. I guess our scores there will be a good place to start evaluating where we are at and what we do need help on, IF we do need help that is...
Sending Kat out to someone else is just not going to happen. Although I know there are people that could certainly do a lot more with him than I can, funding is an issue.  I don't have a bottomless bank account and the lotto gods have not smiled on me yet... Maybe some day they will, but I'm not holding my breath.

For now we are getting by, attending clinics and events when and where we can as time and money allows. The driving events, beside the gear and everything else- are kind of pricey. I will do a post on just that factor alone pretty soon to give you all an idea of what I'm talking about. Some of it, I know right now, you guys are going to suffer. serious. sticker. shock!  I know I look at some of these things and think Seriously? HOW MUCH? For Thaaaat????  Are you people crazy? Yes, yes we driving folks are. We don't suffer from our insanity, instead we rather enjoy it!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Doesn't that just figure?

I was able to drive Kat on Sunday this weekend. It has been raining a bit lately here. Not that we are complaining, because it makes for some nice puddles to train in, but at the same time... yeah. Footing can be slick, horses can go down and things can go wrong in a multitude of ways.  Luckily our arena was not soaked and the footing was good.

It looked like things had cleared up for a bit, so I grabbed the box with the harness in it and headed out. The girls wanted to come along, so hubby and I got them dressed & bundled up, grabbing their mittens & hats just in case...

It was clear while I got Kat out and groomed him up. Clear while I lunged him out back. In fact it was clear until we got back up under the shop and I busted out the harness. *grumbles*  But since the driving club runs things rain or shine- he's gotta get used to working through it all. Besides, what's a little rain? It's just water.

The girls stayed up under the cover for the most part while Kat and I braved the rain. It wasn't coming down too hard, but hard enough that every once in a while, I would turn or tilt my head and it would all run off that side of my helmet, onto the seat and under me. Kat wasn't too impressed with the weather either, but he did well enough and trudged along like the good little trooper that he is.

He was still leaning heavily on the left (inside) rein when going to the left and he was also still managing to make round circles, in spite of this.  How he pulls this off- I do not know. He was also being a bit lazy for the most part and pretty much wouldn't drive up into the bridle and look for any contact. Do you know what it is like trying to steer with a wet noodle?  It's like trying to shoot pool with a rope. 

For now we are going to back up and do some long line work. He needs to re-learn how to bend to the left (which is now his problem side because I wasn't letting him and because that side was fine so we focused more on the right...) and he needs to start moving forward again with impulsion, driving from behind and up into the bridle looking for contact.  Contact is one thing, driving without it is another. 

Oh and before I forget, as I was driving him back over to the shop to unhook him and put everything away, I said to hubby, You watch. As soon as everything is undone and put away, the rain will stop. Sure enough- it did! Argh!  And for playing in the rain, I have again, come down with a craptastic cold and have felt miserable the past couple of days.  

So for now, I leave you with pictures of him from the morning of the horse show last month. He was all braided up and wearing a sheet I had made for our other pony Pi. It doesn't fit him like it should, but it kept him dry which was the main reason for putting it on him. He needs his own clothes so I will need to get busy and make him something...  A guy has to look the part if we are going to do this!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Circles, circles and more circles

For a long time the idea or thought of working in continuous circles, was a concept I just didn't get. Why all the work on circles? Don't the horses travel straight when going down the rail??? Isn't that where you ride when you show? When you go around the arena, aren't you working in one big circle?

I am still feeling the lingering effects of my cold and getting out to work pony man is still a process, but it is fun and sitting in the cart as he goes cruising around- it's just awesome.

So Saturday I figured we would start out working on our circles. It may be what boosted our chances at the show, but it is never a bad thing to practice. Since we will be competing at our first ADT in February (which includes a dressage test) we need to work on all of the movements that will be in it. 

Kat was working pretty well, but I could tell that him having all the time off he has gotten- is not helping us any.  He seems to do better with steady work. Then again, maybe it's me that needs the steady work. Who knows, but yeah. I'm sure it doesn't hurt either of us. 

We worked for a while in the 'arena', making circles, doing serpentines, cutting across on the diagonals and Kat seems to just trot on forever. I finally stopped him and figured it would be best to let him walk and cool out as we went out in the neighborhood.  He got a bit amped up here and there. We didn't go our usual long route and by the time we got back home he was acting like he was ready to go again.

One of the things I though of while we were out, we may expect our horses to be 'right where we left off last time' with our training, be it riding or driving, but to be fair, they probably expect the same from us as well.  How many times can we honestly say our ride/drive today was as good if not better than the last one? Sometimes they are. Sometimes we steadily progress. Then one day it all goes down the drain in the blink of an eye.  It happens to everyone at some point...  Some days it is us, some days it is the horse and some days both of us are 'off'.

When we got back home, since Kat was wound up again, I took him out back and put him to work some more. We worked on bending to the inside and making 'round' circles.  Amazingly enough, even if he was being a brat, judging by our wheel tracks in the dirt- our circles were pretty damn round!  He was being a total brat too. Going to the left he was hanging on the bit. Going to the right he would not bend or tip his nose to the inside of the circle.

Yet somehow through it all, our circles were still fairly round, which makes no sense to me at all.  I mean if things are going well, everything is flowing like it should, they should be round. But if something is not right, there is resistance, a tug of war or craziness going on- the circles should be anything BUT round, right?  That's how it makes sense in my world anyways, but looking at the wheel tracks was telling me different.

Before we finished up and called it good, Kat did give and soften going to the left. Or maybe I did, but at least we came to an agreeable middle and left it alone. He also tipped his nose to the inside when going to the right. He was bending in a beautiful arc, at least as much as the shafts would allow and it was all like it should be. At least for a few strides before I stopped him so it couldn't fall apart from there.

Maybe this weekend we can work on another part of the dressage test and see what else needs help.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Whole lotta FUN!

The local driving club hosts a few Darby's throughout the year and I have to say, they are wicked, Wicked FUN!  There are 3 divisions, VSE, pony and horse- two levels each, training or expert.  Training you are only allowed to trot, expert- galloping is allowed and encouraged.  Oddly enough, the minis or VSE's seem to throw down some seriously fast times.  Sometimes they are quicker than the ponies and horses.  Crazy I know, right? But it happens. 

The Darbies are a good way to get into the competitions and get comfortable competing before moving on to the ADT's & CDE's.  They are also just a lot of fun for you both, even when you do start competing and move up.  You maneuver through the obstacles, have to go through the cones without knocking down any balls and you have to remember your chosen course, navigating it all as you go. You may change where you decide to turn, take sharper or wider turns, all depending on how your horse/pony/VSE is doing when you get there...

I am trying to post the course or a picture of the course map here, so everyone would have an idea of what it was. As soon as I find my map, I will get it up here.

When we were on course, Kat was ready to go. He walked in and stood still while I saluted the judge and looked ahead to the first obstacle. We started off and the whistle blew as we went through the start/finish gate.  I let Kat go and work at a good strong trot as I turned him to aim through gate #1. My intention was to go through it, make a sharp left and head off to circle around left and through gate 2. That was the idea anyways and it only sort of happened like that. 

We made the turn, just not as sharp as we needed too. The right shaft tip slammed into the pole and the cart stopped dead! So did Kat and so did we. Kind of. I think hubby and I both slid forward a bit on the seat.  (Go ahead and laugh. You know you want to!)  When we hit the pole I may have said 'whoa', or maybe not?  I really don't remember, but I do remember thinking, "He handled that well enough!" as I looked at my pony's back and rear end.  I backed Kat a couple of steps, turned him to the left enough to clear the pole this time and we took off again.   

We made it through gate two, three and four, then we headed off for the gate to number five. As we neared the gate between the fields  I realized my right hand hurt.  I must have hit the rein rail with it when we hit the pole after gate number one. No time to worry about it now... We went through gates 5, 6 & 7 and headed back to the gate and into the field for the rest of the course. For all of the 'big scary objects' on the course, Kat spooked a little bit at the person judging the gates around the covered wagons as we went by them.  Seriously?  He ducked out a few strides to the left before I got him straightened out and back on track.

We went through 8, made a left and went through 9, circled around to the right and went through 10, circled left around 8 and back through 11... headed off for #12, through it, and back around to the right for 13, sharp left for 14 and "Whoa!" I stopped him dead again just before Kat would have ran plowed over the red cone on the right... Back a few steps, 'get around' to the left and off we went again through 14, circling around right to 15 and seen one of the balls was down before we got there... It was ok though because we were clean going through it anyways. 

We turned to the right and headed out for gate 16- through the pipes. I had never thought about it and whether or not Kat would spook at some of this stuff and the trooper that he is, he blasted through it all unfazed. Sharp left and through 17, sharp right and into 18.  I was going for it and so far we were clear.  Our turn in 18 wasn't as tight as it could have been and I had to stop Kat again, back him and turn hard to the right so we didn't hit another pole.  What is it with the stupid Poles???

We went through 19 and headed for 20. I circled around it to inform the judge/timer a ball on #15 was down before we went through it and came around lined up at 20 headed the wrong direction! I realized it and called out "Pilot Error!" as we turned at the last minute, swung around and went through the cones the Right Way!!!  and out through the start/finish gate.

I was feeling quite pleased with our performance. I managed to pull off a clear round for once!  Even with slamming into the one pole, almost hitting another one (on #18) and nearly plowing over the cone at #14, I figured we did pretty good.  Until....

One of the guys there on the sidelines come over and told me I went through #9 the wrong way. I had been eliminated as soon as I went through #10 because I hadn't corrected it before going on. Dammit! Again, I had to sit there and stare at the cones, think about the way I went through that one, LOOK at the red one sitting there on the right- had I gone through like I should have and it finally, Finally sank in. RED ON RIGHT!  I had even said this out loud just before we almost went through #20 the wrong way.  

I realized what I had done. And started to laugh. WTH??? Maybe if I stopped looking at my pony all the time and watched the course?  Because this is another thing I do a lot and shouldn't.  But it is sooo easy watching him as he works and I forget to pay attention to what I should be doing, where we are supposed to be going and yeah. This is the result.

The gentleman who told us about our error on #9 also asked if we had hit the pole after gate #1. Um, yes. Yes, we did!  He wondered because all he could see was the cart moving and then all of a sudden it wasn't! *snork* 

This weekend I will be going over the cart and checking everything to make sure there was no damage done and if so, what needs to be fixed and how?  It's always a good idea to check things over once in a while. After something like that- it's kind of important that you do it. I am also going to look for a red light or red tape or something to put on the right side of the cart as a reminder of which way I am supposed to go through the gates. Maybe that will help ME get it right. Or maybe not?  I guess we will find out at the ADT in February.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Last Darby of the season

I should have known something was up... When I was hauling down to the host facility, I had two copies of the Darby course maps in the truck.  I was trying to get the route in mind of how I would navigate, while I was driving to get there. Does that EVER work?  I was looking down towards the back of the facility for the other trailers and didn't see them, so I kept on going.... past the driveway. The first time.

I came to a 4 way stop, turned  the truck & trailer around, came back and went past it again. This time I managed to see the club logo in giant size on the side of a cargo type trailer as I went on past the driveway. The second time.  Once I was turned back around, I went in this driveway and headed back to where I seen people already walking the course. The driveway I was on, had a small space to park which turned out to be sort of in the middle of the course.  Yep I was really doing well so far.

Walking the course and keeping in mind the RED cones go on the RIGHT, a few of us found #9 to have the cones backwards. Number 4 also had the red/white, left/right mixed up too.  We were told to go by the printed route map and someone would come around and make sure things were right before any horses were on course.  I walked the course a few times, going through the gates and cones as mapped out, plotting my route, thinking it through and where I could change it if need be.

I lunged Kat before doing anything with him. He. was. wound. even though he had been turned out overnight. I haven't done anything with him since the show, partly to give him a rest, partly because I have been sick as a dog! The weekend following the show I was supposed to attend a clinic and take a lesson from one of the trainers in the club.  I was hesitant about signing up, since I had originally planned to give Kat a break. After the show, I emailed and cancelled. I just couldn't afford it.

Then during the week, it was a good thing I had cancelled because I got really sick. I had been sick off and on since October. I brought it home, then I was sorta over it and hubby got it. Then he would get over it and I got it again.  The weekend of the clinic in Paulden- he had it. Then it seemed to finally clear up and go away. The week after the show- I got it again only this time it hit with something different and hard! Fever, headache, congestion, sore throat, all over achy everything.  I even lost my voice for about a week and would cough so hard at times I would throw up...  This was not what I had in mind for Thanksgiving!

After lunging Kat he had seemed to settle down and was ready to work. Hubby had arrived after dropping the girls off and walked the course with me so now we needed to get Kat ready and put to the cart.  There were 8 people in the VSE divisions to go before us, which worked well since I needed to work Kat and get a feel for where his mind was that day.

He started out pretty quiet, but as we got closer and he seen the course, the other horses, minis and ponies, Kat started getting a bit amped up again.  We made our way towards the obstacles and found a few not included in the Darby. We put them to use and started warming him up and wearing him down some. Kat was warming up all right, wearing down?  Well he he doesn't always seem to see it that way...