Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Golden State Mule Show, my First Show!

My first show ever, at the Sugarland Horse Park in Woodland, was an absolutely phenomenal! I had a great experience and successfully showcased all my skills, everything I have been working on this past year, and my love of riding, which was exactly what Laura and I desired that I should do.  Although I was the only person riding in the walk/jog class, and there were no other youth in my classes, it was still an amazing experience, and Laura thinks that I rode well.

Saturday: Western Pleasure Walk/Jog

 My first class, the 16th of the day, wasn't until late Saturday morning, and I only had one class a day, so I didn't have a stressful show weekend.  Before my class, I watched the cutting and cow working, which I really enjoyed.  There were several champion cutting mules there that have done well against horses, just like Laura's mules do well against horses in dressage.  Dyna's half brother was even competing there.  Ruby's owner, Casie, rode Ruby as cutback, someone who diverts the cow back to the person competing if the cow gets too far away, in the cutting classes to warm her up for me.  Shortly after the cutting began, my parents arrived, and not long after that, it was time to get Ruby ready for my class.  I tacked her up in the saddle I would be using, got dressed in jeans, a show shirt, my helmet, and a western belt buckle, the mounted and waited near the gate for my class to begin.  Laura and I discussed what I would do, and I watched the Bridled, Green, Amateur, and Donkey pleasure classes.  The time ticked closer to the moment I would enter a show ring for the first time, and though I wasn't extremely nervous, I was a bit tense.

I was so tense and concentrated so hard that I forgot to smile until near the end.
 Finally, it was time for me to enter the ring.  I squeezed Ruby into the jog and began tracking to the left in the arena.  She started out a bit fast, but after passing the gate or the first time, we both relaxed more.  After I had jogged around twice, the announcer asked for the walk.  I sat deeply in the saddle and complied, making a smooth downward transition.  Before long, I was asked to reverse, which was easily done, then jog around once more before halting and backing several steps.  She nearly broke gait after reversing and jogging, but I kept her going.  Finally, I lined up before the judge.  Everyone was happy with how I had done!

My first blue!
 The show ran late that night, until well after dark.  I enjoyed watching the other cow working classes, some of which were like a combination of cow working and trail.  While I don't remember what that was called, it looked like a lot of fun. The last class was the cow sorting, also an exciting class.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hitting the Road

   Currently, I am on my way to my very first show.  It is strange that for me the show seemed an eternity away while I prepared for it, like something that would happen in the vague future.  Only now, I as am making the final preparations, does it hit me that this is really happening.  I will arrive at the grounds the day before the show, which begins on Saturday the 16th.

 Wednesday, I did my last training preparations.  Before I practiced any obstacle, I warmed up on my own, riding along the rail and maintaining an even, regular jog.  I practiced turning around as I would in a pleasure class, making a wide tear drop shape at the walk, and later the jog. I even jogged a clover leaf through the box.  Through all this, I did well.

 Finally, I practiced the rope gate for the first time, which turned out to no trouble at all since I relaxed and went through it one step at a time, pausing to breathe and think between each step.  First I had to line up parallel to the gate and put the reins in my right hand, as I would be opening a left handed gate.  I grabbed the rope in my left hand, paused, then back Ruby a couple steps.  Then I pushed her shoulders over so she was perpendicular to the gate.  After waiting a couple of seconds, I pushed her shockers over again, waited, then backed up and put the rope back in place.  It was simple, really.  The only problem I had was the Ruby began to anticipate; she's a champion trail mule, and has won at the Extreme Trail Challenges–the ones where people ride across rugged terrain and through water and such.  Needless to say, she knows her job.  It's just up to me to take my time.  As long as I do so, it should go well.  I don't expect it to be a breeze, but I'm confident and prepared.

I leave Friday morning; I'm so excited.  If you are friends with me on Facebook, you may pictures be posted over the weekend(I have to conserve my phone battery, so we'll see), and if you are not you are always welcome to friend me; just click the Facebook icon on the left-hand margin of this page, and go ahead and add me.  Otherwise, you can see them next week when I update my blog.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

One Week to Go!

 I rode Ruby a two times last week, and have been steadily improving.  All the work at turning Ruby without out my hands are finally paying off; I did some nice maneuvers the last couple rides, and even improved at the cone serpentine.  While doing the cone serpentine, the goal is to keep the horse almost straight, sidestepping slightly rather than making a part circle, which I have done successfully. However, turning around the last cone proved to be the most difficult part until Laura explained how to do it properly.  Instead of trying to pivot around the final cone, she told me to start turning just after the second to last cone, making a circle around the last cone.  It worked out much better than attempting to turn tightly around the last cone.  I even attempted to jog the serpentine, though the cones were made a bit wider than it was before I attempted it at a jog.

 Laura also made me do a short course.  I started by entering the box at the walk and halting, then prepared to do a turn on the haunches to the right.  When I asked her to turn her shoulders, she went a bit fast, but didm;t bump any poles.  I straightened her, took a breath, and gently asked her to walk off.  As she stepped out of the box, I asked for the jog, heading straight towards the rail.  I focused intently on keeping straight lines of travel rather than allowing Ruby to cut in on the turns as I have before.  Cutting in does not look pretty, and I would likely lose points for that.  Once I reached the rail I turned right, continuing along until I was across from a cone marker.  Here I turned right again, traveling several strides before turning directly to the box.  I entered it, halting. After a few moments, I took off again, heading directly to the white wooden side pass pole.  Taking a deep intake of breath, I began to side pass to the right.  I slowly, carefully, pushed her over step by step.  I reached the end of the pole, jogging off almost immediately.  After just a few strides, I reached the rail, traveling left along the rail, down the short side and around the corner.  I swerved left and right through the serpentine.  I had barely exited the serpentine when I turned Ruby left into the box.  Laura thought I had done really well!

 I also practiced a side pass around the corner of the box. At first, my aids were discordant;  Ruby was unclear at what I was asking her to do, and I didn't prevent her from becoming crooked.  She began to get flustered, balking and becoming discombobulated.  I inhaled deeply.  Laura mounted her for a few moments to school her for a couple minutes, then allowed me to remount.  This time I relaxed, taking my time as I pushed her to the corner.  Then, I put my outside leg forward to push her shoulders over, asking her to do a quarter turn on the haunches around the corner of the box.  I poised my inside leg at her side block her should her shoulders move too far.  This time she moved around the corner smoothly and fluidly.

 I also worked on some western pleasure and cantering this week.  The walk and jog is going well, though I'm having struggles with the canter.  During the canter, my aids become discordant and unclear, my body tenses, my hips move against the rhythm and/or comes out of the saddle, and everything falls apart, becoming inconsonant, wild, and inharmonious.  In short, it was a disaster. It doesn't always happen to that extent, but I've had some of these struggles for a while.  Funnily enough, when I accidentally cantered last week, I did not have these problems, which proves that when asking for canter, something in my mind makes me shut down slightly.  It's not that I'm scared or nervous; I'm not sure why it happens.  Does anyone have any ideas on how I can relax in the canter, and move my hips in rhythm with it, and not against the rhythm?  I'm looking at articles online, but I'd like to know what anyone else thinks as well!  I'm just doing walk/jog classes, so I'm not too worried, and besides that, everything went really well!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Interview: Sarah Crowe, Creator of Dyna Does Dressage Documentary

 Sarah Crowe and Amy Enser have been working on the project "Dyna Does Dressage," a documentary about Laura Hermanson and her mule Dyna, the first mule to ever compete in the U.S. Dressage Finals, which is an incredible feat.  Together, Laura and Dyna have defied the odds and realized their seemingly impossible dream.  Sarah and Amy were there to document it, and have since worked with Laura to record Laura and Dyna's backstory as well.  I had the opportunity to discuss the documentary with Sarah Crowe.

The Aspiring Equestrian: How did you get started filmmaking? What made you become interested in filmmaking?  

Sarah Crowe: I had a friend who went to film school and I helped out on all of the student projects. I fell in love with the process and from that friend’s networks started working and volunteering on film sets. Eight years later I am a professional producer and I direct and produce documentaries for the love of it. 

A poster by Isaac Novak.
TAE: When and where did you first meet Laura Hermanson?  

SC: I met Laura in Yosemite National Park.  We worked together in the back country. She was a packer that brought all of our supplies to the High Sierra Camps where I managed a back country retreat. We became fast friends and have supported each other in our careers and personal endeavors. Even after we both left Yosemite we stayed friends.

TAE: How did you become interested in filming the documentary Dyna Does Dressage about Laura and her mule, Dyna? 

SC: I have always known that Laura had a unique and interesting story. When she told me that she and Dyna were invited to the Finals, I helped her with some fundraising ideas and got her going with the GoFundMe page. In only 2 weeks she raised $11,000 and was flooded with an outpouring of support. When she called to say thank you, I knew that the timing was finally right and I asked her if I could join in Kentucky to document the adventure. She said, "Yes!" and has graciously allowed me to follow her around all over this year and is supporting me in telling her story in a full on documentary film.

TAE: What is your main purpose in filming it?  

SC: Laura’s story is the ultimate underdog story. Laura and Dyna’s journey have inspired so many people already. I want to share it with the world. 

TAE: Could you write a brief summary of the documentary? 

“Dyna Does Dressage” is a documentary about the first mule ever to compete at the national level in the competitive equestrian sport of Dressage. Defined by the International Equestrian Federation as “the highest expression of horse training,” the idea of mules competing at this level has never been considered.  This underdog story follows Dyna and her owner/rider, Laura, as they defy the odds to find their place among this elite world of horse riding.

A behind the scenes shot of Sarah Crowe(front right) filming Laura(at the left in the stall), her friend Casie(middle), her trainer Renee Johnson(right), and Dyna at the U.S. Dressage Finals. 
TAE: Could you tell me a little bit about what has gone into making the documentary? 

SC: I invested $8,000 of my own money, and flew to Kentucky in November 2014 to film Laura and Dyna competing at the U.S. Dressage Finals in order to film the origins of this story. My filmmaking partner Amy Enser has traveled with me to almost all of the locations and worked with me to capture the footage. She will also be editing the movie. We needed to raise an additional $15,000 to really make this happen. With a successful GoFundMe fundraiser of my own, together as a team we were able to travel to California and visit Laura where she lives and trains at the Oak Star Ranch with Dyna and her other mules. We went to Mule Days, which is one of the largest mule competitions in the world. In August we filmed in Yosemite National Park with Laura, to learn about the traditional roles of mules and see the place where she discovered and fell in love with them and then our last location was the USDF CA area 7 regional finals in CA, where we saw Laura competing at a proper horse show.

TAE: What has been the most exciting part about filming the “Dyna Does Dressage?”  

SC: The most exciting part of filming "Dyna Does Dressage" is being able to spend so much time with Laura this year. She trusted me through this whole process but over the course of these last 10 months she has opened up and truly forgotten that the camera was even there sometimes. She believes in me and is so supportive of this whole process, and so open to allowing me in her world with cameras. 
Laura Hermanson and BB at the Region 7 Dressage Championships

TAE: What has been the most difficult part?  

SC: The most difficult part of the process has been the challenge of recreating a story and showing the path of Laura after it had already happened. Traveling to so many places was necessary to tell the story. 

TAE: What is one thing you want people to know about the documentary before it is released? 

SC: I am so thankful for the support that both Laura and I have received on this journey of filmmaking and Laura’s work with the mules in Dressage and beyond. I appreciate everyone that is believing in us and supporting us. I can’t wait to share the finished product. 

TAE: Is there anything you would like to say about the documentary that I have not asked about?

SC: I  really hope that people enjoy the story and are inspired to take on their own dreams and adventures. 

Support "Dyna Does Dressage" by liking their Facebook page  You can watch the trailer here.  Photos are courtesy of Sarah Crowe, Amy Enser, and "Dyna Does Dressage."  The documentary  will be released in 2016. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Preparations Continue

 I rode Ruby two other times last week.  The second time, I rode her out of the arena and in an empty pasture while warming up, with Laura, who was on BB, following me.  I took up and down several steep hills, and circled around trees and rocks, trying to use as little aids as possible to turn her.  Before heading back to the arena, I worked on riding her on a perfect square.  It was difficult, and I kept letting her dive in on accident, causing the corners to become round rather than the sharp, 90 degree turns I desired.  I also overused my hands.  After riding it a few times in each direction, I got pretty good corners, though it still needed some work.

 In the arena, I once again worked on riding into the box.  This time I added a second element: a turn on the haunches to the left while inside the box.  The trick with this is to work it slowly, one step at the time, but the first several times I didn't block her with my inside leg in time,  causing the turn to become uncontrolled.  After a few times, I relaxed and successfully asked her to turn slowly.

 Next, I needed to jog out of the box.  This required me to be quick with my aids.  I had to first ask softly, and if she only walked, I had to immediately back it up with a kick.  If I was too slow, she would walk a few strides, which is undesirable.  I squeezed lightly.  She began to walk off, so I backed it up with a kick.  It was a bit to strong, because she ended up loping instead, which was not completely bad excuse it at least meant that she was listening.  However, she continued to be super responsive extremely responsive to me leg aids.  Even when I squeezed lightly to sake her to exit the box, she loped off.

 A couple tries later, I managed to slow her down, halting at a white ground pole several strides away from the box.  I was going to learn how to side-pass, a movement that is often required in a trail class. I walked Ruby over the pole, halting when I was directly over the pole.  Side-passing takes concentration, coordination, and skill.  Like the turn on the haunches, it is best done one step at a time.  I had to just barely lift my inside leg off Ruby's side, poising it near her side in case I had to block her from going too fast.  Furthermore, I had to keep my hands ready to stop her from stepping forward.  I side-passed to the left.  The first few times were fiascos–I failed to block her with my inside leg and my hands.  Consequently, she rushed to the side, becoming crooked and knocking the pole with her hoof, then surged forward a couple steps.  It took many tries, but finally I was able to push her sideways, step by step, without hitting the pole a single time.

 Friday,  I rode her for the third time.  This time, I worked on turning and on riding over the walkovers, a series of four poles that the horse walks over in a trail course.  I rode an exercise in which I would go over the walkovers, turn around a cone to the right, go back over them, turn left around a different cone, then repeat.  It was quite similar to an exercise I have done on Lucky before.

Such a good girl on Friday.
At the beginning of the ride, I had difficulty making tight turns, and used my hands way too much.  Once of my problems is that I don't turn my shoulders nearly enough while turning, especially to the left.  The walkovers, however, went well almost from the beginning.  Ruby bumped them the first few times through, but when I actually put my hand forward, allowing her to stretch, she walked over them nicely.  Midway through the lesson, I really concentrated on preparing ahead of time for the turns, making them much more tightly.  I did the same exercise at the jog,  but still walked over the walkovers.  I struggled with turning left tightly in the jog, had difficulty slowing the walk enough; Ruby bumped the poles with her legs as a result.

I then tried another exercise.  The walkovers were situated near the rail, so I headed over them, jogged off, and continued along the rail right after, tracking left.   When I was across from the box, which was not far from the walkovers, I turned left, entered it, then halted.  Next, I trotted out of it, turn right immediately, and circled to the right around the cone.  I jogged toward the walkovers(which were ahead of and to the left of the box), slowed to the walk, and walked over them.  I went a little too far out of the box before halting one time, but the exercise otherwise went well.

 Now, the only obstacle I haven't tried is the rope gate.  It's still a work in progress, and I have a lot to learn, but I'm starting to feel more confident in my trail abilities.  I am better at turning Ruby than I was the first time.  I need to focus on taking my time more when doing the obstacles though.  The show is on the 17th and 18th, so I have a couple more weeks.  I'll be entering a couple walk-jog classes: pleasure and trail.  I feel pretty confident about the pleasure class.  As long as I prepare during the transitions the same way I do with Lucky, and keep my split reins even, which I've had a problem with; I'm a rein leaker, I should do well.  Regardless of that, this show is about having a fun, successful first show experience.  A successful experience doesn't necessarily mean one where I place in the ribbons(although I would like to as I am a very competitive person).  Mostly,  I want to ride the way I am learning and not throw everything I learned out the window while I'm there.  I'm looking forward to it!