November 20, 2018

Product Review: 2019 TestPro USDF Dressage Test App

If you're like me, you have the spatial reasoning skills of a five year old, and reading through a written Dressage test makes your head swim.  If you're also like me, you've been using the EquiTests smartphone app for the last eight years to memorize your tests visually.

Me at 5.  Spatial reasoning skills stopped developing around this time.  Only halfway joking!

Sure, it wasn't without its faults, but it worked great.  Unfortunately the developer EOL'd it a couple of years ago, so I was excited when the USDF stepped in and said they'd release an app in time for the 2019 tests.  That app is now out as of today (*sort of - see the end of this post), so I wanted to do an in-depth review so you could decide if you wanted it or not.

(I am still having Blogger photo problems, so if you're reading this in an RSS reader please click through to my actual site to see clear photos of the app.  Thanks!)


First thing's first: this app does everything the EquiTests app did and more.  You can still move forward and back through test instructions that are also laid out visually on a Dressage court.  Unlike EquiTests, the 2019 TestPro app also shows you the entire test on the left and highlights it as you go (if you want - you can toggle that) so that you know where in the test you are.

On.  This is a much more efficient use of screen real estate than the same screen on the EquiTests app, which had a ton of blank space.

Off.  No it does not center or give you more real estate when the test is toggled off, so that option is really only good for reducing visual clutter.

If the inline instructions aren't enough, you can click the blue "PDF" button next to the test title and pull up the judge's scorecard for that test instantly.



The "gear" icon brings up tons of settings, including color choices, playback speed options, and competition mode, which we'll get to in a bit.


 You can also optionally turn on "previous movements" and "forward highlights" to remind you where you're going to and coming from in a test.


And you can optionally turn on the center lines, the centerline letters, or an overlay of 1m squares.

All of that off

1m gridlines and centerline letters on

Centerline letters and centerlines on

I've shown you screenshots of a lot of trotting so far, so I wanted to point out that just like EquiTests, this app also delineates gait and sub-gait with color and...ant sizes...?

Collected walk is small gold ants in purple, extended walk is long white ants in purple.  Don't tell me those are horses because this totally looks like ant Dressage to me!
For what it's worth, they do seem to also delineate bend direction with the ants, which is cool.

Now for the biggest "new" feature compared to the old EquiTests app: you can turn on Competition Mode to hide the test panel and trace your test with your finger to test yourself.


If you get it right, it highlights it automatically with the ant horses.  If you get it wrong, I had thought it was supposed to tell me I was wrong, but instead it just...sits there and lets you doodle until you hit the "play" button to check your work.

I kinda want to ride this test pattern...
So either I haven't fully figured that feature out, or they have a bit of a problem with what is otherwise a pretty intuitive user experience (or both, because good UX should be easily understood, JENJ WHERE YOU AT!)

Finally, once you get used to this app, it's going to be this UI your whole career, even when you hit FEI (although you do have to re-buy each version).  It was NOT written by the USEF/USDF, but by a company called Lion Dog Apps Limited that has re-used this same app for FEI Dressage, FEI Eventing Dressage, FEI Para Dressage, and Dressage Ireland and British Dressage.


Now for a couple bummers.  First, this app is $16.99.  Which, fine, the old one was $9.99, but the old one was basically maintained by a single person as far as I could tell from release notes.

I have a suspicion this unusually high price is because of either the relatively small number of Dressage riders out there and the even smaller percentage of them that are tech-forward enough to want this app (read: gotta charge more to make it worth the developer's time when your audience is that small), or because of the usual "equestrian stuff costs more" thing.  Or both.  Or maybe the USEF is taking a cut.  I have no idea.


Either way...I bought it, and you probably will too.  It's not like anyone else is waiting in the wings to develop one of these apps, this is not an app anyone is going to get rich on, let's be real with ourselves.  And since it's either this or my poor spatial reasoning skills, I choose to look at it as $4.25 per show season or four Starbucks lattes or one meal at Chipotle (because who goes to Chipotle and doesn't get chips and guac, am I right?)

The other bummer:  they're not going to release an Android version of this until June of 2019.  That's something that used to happen a lot in the early days of smartphones but isn't super common these days, so it's a bummer that they're treating the #1 smartphone by US market share as a second class citizen.

Just sayin'.  #teamandroid #openecosystem

That said, I put this on my work iPad, and I'm honestly glad it's not on my phone.  I don't have an iPhone to test with, but it's a really pleasant user experience to have this much real estate on the iPad to work with in the app, especially for Competition Mode.  If you have a tablet available, I would strongly consider downloading this app to it in addition to your phone. 

Bottom line: Yes, it's expensive for an app.  Yes, it's worth it.

What: 2019 TestPro USDF Dressage Test App
Price: $16.99 for up to six devices that use the same Apple ID
Supported Operating Systems: iOS today, Android support expected mid-2019

I bought this app with my own hard earned cash and this post was not sponsored by or influenced by any third parties.

November 19, 2018

Getting Back to It

To my best buddy, that is.

And his new buddy, who is, yes, a full two hands smaller than Connor is.

After another marathon business trip (in which the TSA exchanged my ID with someone else's...during the first leg of a three flight trip...yeah that was awesome), I finally got a chance to ride on Saturday evening.

Connor had been ridden twice by my trainer while I was gone, but I hadn't ridden in a very, very long time.  So all weekend, we walked, while I rediscovered what sitting on a horse feels like.  (Is this sounding familiar?)

Saturday

Sunday

That wasn't just walking in a circle though, it was leg yields and ToF and ToH and lots of other suppling things.   My trainer is on a vacation this week and then I have another (very) full week of travel the following week, so it'll be a while before I get a lesson again.

Hey, at least he's clearly feeling good!

Anyone else have Q4 madness interfering with your #1 hobby right now?

November 6, 2018

Product Review: Rambo Blanket Liners with Non-Rambo Blankets

Now that I'm into my fifth winter with my somewhat unusual and very thrifty blanketing setup, it's time for a proper review.


Back in 2014, money was tight, and I needed to make a decision on blankets since I was going to take the plunge on full clipping.  I spent a long time that summer trying to figure out the most cost-effective and durable way to blanket my naked pony in the upcoming winter.

I ended up buying a SmartPak Ultimate Turnout Sheet (review here), as well as a 100g, 200g and 300g Rambo blanket liner.  Because I deal hunted, I got his entire wardrobe for under $300.

Connor modeling the 300g liner

The main thing to take away from this is that with 4+ years of experience to back me up on this one, the Rambo blanket liners work GREAT with non-Rambo and non-Horseware blankets.  The Rambo blankets have a metal ring on either side of the neck that you run a Velcro tab on the liner through, but you do NOT need to use that to keep the liner stable.

Connor's liner attaches to his SmartPak sheet only at the back rings of the sheet, and has never shifted.  The only time a liner shifted and got destroyed was when a barn worker forgot to attach the liner clips to the leg strap rings.

The only attachment point, shown here with two liners ahead of a brutal cold snap a few winters ago.

Eventually I ended up buying the SP Ultimate Medium and Heavy in later years when they were on sale, because I thought both I and my BM would prefer legit blankets to my liner setup once I had the money to do it...but I was really surprised to find that that wasn't true. 

Pros of Blankets/Liners

  • The liners are very light and easy to store compared to blankets. 
  • The liners don't get muddy, so there's less dirt in my blanket bag, and I can wash them myself and not risk destroying my washing machine.
  • They're durable.  My set is entering it's fifth winter, minus the one I mentioned above that met an untimely and preventable death.
  • You always hear layering is more effective than one really heavy blanket, and that's super easy with these.
  • The SmartPak Ultimate Turnout has proven to be everything they advertise and more, so it's a great outer layer for this setup. 
  • It's one of the cheapest ways I've found to acquire a whole horse wardrobe that's still good quality and durable enough to last for the long haul.
This being a training barn, Connor's had all kinds of turnout buddies over the years and this is literally the worst thing that's ever happened to the sheet (and it's happened to the heavy as well, which I think is what he's wearing here).  And SP still sent me a new one anyway, overnighting it before I returned the old one since it was his only blanket at the time.

Cons of Blankets/Liners
  • Barn staff can't tell at-a-glance what weight Connor is wearing.  To make this easier, I've written "Connor is wearing his ______ liner" on his whiteboard in the past.  I also labeled all of my blankets and sheets with blanket tags from haltertags.com so they can reach into his neck for the tag and easily see what weight it is
  • ...that's pretty much it.


Anyone else taken this aprpoach to blanketing before?

November 5, 2018

Lesson Wrap-Up: Jumping to Help Our Dressage

Since I hadn't ridden in...a while...I scheduled a lesson last weekend.  Like, yes, I am perfectly capable of reconnecting all my synapses by myself, but if I have the option, I'm voting for some adult supervision.

Also voting for adult supervision, plz.

It actually ended up being super interesting, a jump ride that helped me figure some Dressage things out. Our main focus was the fact that Connor likes to approach jumps with his nose down and his weight on his forehand, which is part of (but not all of) the reason jumping him often feels awkward.

No idea what you're talking about...
Fox River Valley, 2014

Encouraging him to approach jumps with his front end elevated will not only help his Dressage, it will eventually make jumping feel less awkward too.

Awkward?  Nah.
Jump Start, 2014

I had two main takeaways from this lesson.  First, engagement.  I don't know what a collected canter should feel like, and I'm struggling to contain him enough to collect him while still keeping the activity behind.  In effect, I can slow the canter down, but not really collect it yet.

The definition of a strung out canter.  Also, compare this photo to the next one to see how much muscle he's packed on in four years!  Wow.  Penny Oaks, 2014

In a Dressage ride, his underpowered canter feels good, it's easy to ride, and it's getting the job done...for now.  You can do that in the Second Level canter work and still squeak out a 60%.  But that's definitely not the case higher up the levels, so I don't want to get complacent with this, and I'm grateful my trainer is pointing this out to me now so I'm aware of it.

Squeaking by with this counter canter right now
IDS Schooling Show, 2018

The lesson's main exercise of ground pole > one stride > really small jump made it obvious what a difference having the right and wrong amount of engagement for an activity makes.

So small it would be considered a cavaletti if Connor wasn't 14hh and shaped like a dachshund.

As my trainer said (paraphrasing heavily here), when he approaches fences with not enough "quickness" behind, he doesn't have as many options to get out of trouble if/when (definitely when) we get a bad spot.  When I had the right amount, I got a bad spot, but it still rode really well.

CJF clinic, 2014

The second takeaway was how much my inability to fold over the fence contributes to our jumping awkwardness.  This post is long enough though, and I need some more time to think through this one before I write about it.  It's definitely one part bad riding, one part defensive riding, and one part my super tight hamstrings.

Penny Oaks, 2014
Anyone else using jumping to connect the dots in Dressage right now?

November 2, 2018

Trrrrrrrrrrrrrrravel

All's quiet here right now.  After three months of not getting out of my pajamas for work, suddenly I'm traveling 2 or 3 days a week for six weeks in a row.  Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Green Bay.  Two of those are personal trips, but it's still travel.

Me standing in front of my parents' old apartment just outside of Kansas City, MO on a business trip last week

This isn't translating into a whole lot of saddle time, of course.  I am SO grateful to have a good BM/trainer who stays on top of blanket changes and puts quality rides on him while I'm gone.  Couldn't do this job without someone like that in my corner.

"Don't mind me, just over here self-entertaining while you're flying around the country."

Even though Connor is staying in shape, I feel like I have to relearn how to ride every time I go out right now.  Try to remember what we were working on last time I rode (the blog definitely helps with that).  Try to remember WTF I do with all these body parts that I swear I knew how to use a couple weeks ago...!

Back on Track season has begun

I could get stressed about that, but instead I'm zen.  This job is still my dream job and it's always going to be unpredictably cyclical like this.  I'm lucky to travel on two weeks notice, most of the time it's more like a couple days notice.  The people that ask me to travel try their hardest not to make me travel if they can possibly avoid it, which is definitely appreciated.  Sometimes you just gotta get in a room with people though.

This is just that adult amateur life, knowing you'd make a ton of progress if you could ride 6 days a week and instead trading hour long rides for 20 minute trips out to snuggle him, pick his feet out, feed him cookies and go home! (The horse is not complaining, really!)

Product Review: 2019 TestPro USDF Dressage Test App

If you're like me, you have the spatial reasoning skills of a five year old, and reading through a written Dressage test makes your head swim.  If you're also like me, you've been using the EquiTests smartphone app for the last eight years to memorize your tests visually.

Me at 5.  Spatial reasoning skills stopped developing around this time.  Only halfway joking!

Sure, it wasn't without its faults, but it worked great.  Unfortunately the developer EOL'd it a couple of years ago, so I was excited when the USDF stepped in and said they'd release an app in time for the 2019 tests.  That app is now out as of today (*sort of - see the end of this post), so I wanted to do an in-depth review so you could decide if you wanted it or not.

(I am still having Blogger photo problems, so if you're reading this in an RSS reader please click through to my actual site to see clear photos of the app.  Thanks!)


First thing's first: this app does everything the EquiTests app did and more.  You can still move forward and back through test instructions that are also laid out visually on a Dressage court.  Unlike EquiTests, the 2019 TestPro app also shows you the entire test on the left and highlights it as you go (if you want - you can toggle that) so that you know where in the test you are.

On.  This is a much more efficient use of screen real estate than the same screen on the EquiTests app, which had a ton of blank space.

Off.  No it does not center or give you more real estate when the test is toggled off, so that option is really only good for reducing visual clutter.

If the inline instructions aren't enough, you can click the blue "PDF" button next to the test title and pull up the judge's scorecard for that test instantly.



The "gear" icon brings up tons of settings, including color choices, playback speed options, and competition mode, which we'll get to in a bit.


 You can also optionally turn on "previous movements" and "forward highlights" to remind you where you're going to and coming from in a test.


And you can optionally turn on the center lines, the centerline letters, or an overlay of 1m squares.

All of that off

1m gridlines and centerline letters on

Centerline letters and centerlines on

I've shown you screenshots of a lot of trotting so far, so I wanted to point out that just like EquiTests, this app also delineates gait and sub-gait with color and...ant sizes...?

Collected walk is small gold ants in purple, extended walk is long white ants in purple.  Don't tell me those are horses because this totally looks like ant Dressage to me!
For what it's worth, they do seem to also delineate bend direction with the ants, which is cool.

Now for the biggest "new" feature compared to the old EquiTests app: you can turn on Competition Mode to hide the test panel and trace your test with your finger to test yourself.


If you get it right, it highlights it automatically with the ant horses.  If you get it wrong, I had thought it was supposed to tell me I was wrong, but instead it just...sits there and lets you doodle until you hit the "play" button to check your work.

I kinda want to ride this test pattern...
So either I haven't fully figured that feature out, or they have a bit of a problem with what is otherwise a pretty intuitive user experience (or both, because good UX should be easily understood, JENJ WHERE YOU AT!)

Finally, once you get used to this app, it's going to be this UI your whole career, even when you hit FEI (although you do have to re-buy each version).  It was NOT written by the USEF/USDF, but by a company called Lion Dog Apps Limited that has re-used this same app for FEI Dressage, FEI Eventing Dressage, FEI Para Dressage, and Dressage Ireland and British Dressage.


Now for a couple bummers.  First, this app is $16.99.  Which, fine, the old one was $9.99, but the old one was basically maintained by a single person as far as I could tell from release notes.

I have a suspicion this unusually high price is because of either the relatively small number of Dressage riders out there and the even smaller percentage of them that are tech-forward enough to want this app (read: gotta charge more to make it worth the developer's time when your audience is that small), or because of the usual "equestrian stuff costs more" thing.  Or both.  Or maybe the USEF is taking a cut.  I have no idea.


Either way...I bought it, and you probably will too.  It's not like anyone else is waiting in the wings to develop one of these apps, this is not an app anyone is going to get rich on, let's be real with ourselves.  And since it's either this or my poor spatial reasoning skills, I choose to look at it as $4.25 per show season or four Starbucks lattes or one meal at Chipotle (because who goes to Chipotle and doesn't get chips and guac, am I right?)

The other bummer:  they're not going to release an Android version of this until June of 2019.  That's something that used to happen a lot in the early days of smartphones but isn't super common these days, so it's a bummer that they're treating the #1 smartphone by US market share as a second class citizen.

Just sayin'.  #teamandroid #openecosystem

That said, I put this on my work iPad, and I'm honestly glad it's not on my phone.  I don't have an iPhone to test with, but it's a really pleasant user experience to have this much real estate on the iPad to work with in the app, especially for Competition Mode.  If you have a tablet available, I would strongly consider downloading this app to it in addition to your phone. 

Bottom line: Yes, it's expensive for an app.  Yes, it's worth it.

What: 2019 TestPro USDF Dressage Test App
Price: $16.99 for up to six devices that use the same Apple ID
Supported Operating Systems: iOS today, Android support expected mid-2019

I bought this app with my own hard earned cash and this post was not sponsored by or influenced by any third parties.

Read more...

Getting Back to It

To my best buddy, that is.

And his new buddy, who is, yes, a full two hands smaller than Connor is.

After another marathon business trip (in which the TSA exchanged my ID with someone else's...during the first leg of a three flight trip...yeah that was awesome), I finally got a chance to ride on Saturday evening.

Connor had been ridden twice by my trainer while I was gone, but I hadn't ridden in a very, very long time.  So all weekend, we walked, while I rediscovered what sitting on a horse feels like.  (Is this sounding familiar?)

Saturday

Sunday

That wasn't just walking in a circle though, it was leg yields and ToF and ToH and lots of other suppling things.   My trainer is on a vacation this week and then I have another (very) full week of travel the following week, so it'll be a while before I get a lesson again.

Hey, at least he's clearly feeling good!

Anyone else have Q4 madness interfering with your #1 hobby right now?

Read more...

Product Review: Rambo Blanket Liners with Non-Rambo Blankets

Now that I'm into my fifth winter with my somewhat unusual and very thrifty blanketing setup, it's time for a proper review.


Back in 2014, money was tight, and I needed to make a decision on blankets since I was going to take the plunge on full clipping.  I spent a long time that summer trying to figure out the most cost-effective and durable way to blanket my naked pony in the upcoming winter.

I ended up buying a SmartPak Ultimate Turnout Sheet (review here), as well as a 100g, 200g and 300g Rambo blanket liner.  Because I deal hunted, I got his entire wardrobe for under $300.

Connor modeling the 300g liner

The main thing to take away from this is that with 4+ years of experience to back me up on this one, the Rambo blanket liners work GREAT with non-Rambo and non-Horseware blankets.  The Rambo blankets have a metal ring on either side of the neck that you run a Velcro tab on the liner through, but you do NOT need to use that to keep the liner stable.

Connor's liner attaches to his SmartPak sheet only at the back rings of the sheet, and has never shifted.  The only time a liner shifted and got destroyed was when a barn worker forgot to attach the liner clips to the leg strap rings.

The only attachment point, shown here with two liners ahead of a brutal cold snap a few winters ago.

Eventually I ended up buying the SP Ultimate Medium and Heavy in later years when they were on sale, because I thought both I and my BM would prefer legit blankets to my liner setup once I had the money to do it...but I was really surprised to find that that wasn't true. 

Pros of Blankets/Liners

  • The liners are very light and easy to store compared to blankets. 
  • The liners don't get muddy, so there's less dirt in my blanket bag, and I can wash them myself and not risk destroying my washing machine.
  • They're durable.  My set is entering it's fifth winter, minus the one I mentioned above that met an untimely and preventable death.
  • You always hear layering is more effective than one really heavy blanket, and that's super easy with these.
  • The SmartPak Ultimate Turnout has proven to be everything they advertise and more, so it's a great outer layer for this setup. 
  • It's one of the cheapest ways I've found to acquire a whole horse wardrobe that's still good quality and durable enough to last for the long haul.
This being a training barn, Connor's had all kinds of turnout buddies over the years and this is literally the worst thing that's ever happened to the sheet (and it's happened to the heavy as well, which I think is what he's wearing here).  And SP still sent me a new one anyway, overnighting it before I returned the old one since it was his only blanket at the time.

Cons of Blankets/Liners
  • Barn staff can't tell at-a-glance what weight Connor is wearing.  To make this easier, I've written "Connor is wearing his ______ liner" on his whiteboard in the past.  I also labeled all of my blankets and sheets with blanket tags from haltertags.com so they can reach into his neck for the tag and easily see what weight it is
  • ...that's pretty much it.


Anyone else taken this aprpoach to blanketing before?

Read more...

Lesson Wrap-Up: Jumping to Help Our Dressage

Since I hadn't ridden in...a while...I scheduled a lesson last weekend.  Like, yes, I am perfectly capable of reconnecting all my synapses by myself, but if I have the option, I'm voting for some adult supervision.

Also voting for adult supervision, plz.

It actually ended up being super interesting, a jump ride that helped me figure some Dressage things out. Our main focus was the fact that Connor likes to approach jumps with his nose down and his weight on his forehand, which is part of (but not all of) the reason jumping him often feels awkward.

No idea what you're talking about...
Fox River Valley, 2014

Encouraging him to approach jumps with his front end elevated will not only help his Dressage, it will eventually make jumping feel less awkward too.

Awkward?  Nah.
Jump Start, 2014

I had two main takeaways from this lesson.  First, engagement.  I don't know what a collected canter should feel like, and I'm struggling to contain him enough to collect him while still keeping the activity behind.  In effect, I can slow the canter down, but not really collect it yet.

The definition of a strung out canter.  Also, compare this photo to the next one to see how much muscle he's packed on in four years!  Wow.  Penny Oaks, 2014

In a Dressage ride, his underpowered canter feels good, it's easy to ride, and it's getting the job done...for now.  You can do that in the Second Level canter work and still squeak out a 60%.  But that's definitely not the case higher up the levels, so I don't want to get complacent with this, and I'm grateful my trainer is pointing this out to me now so I'm aware of it.

Squeaking by with this counter canter right now
IDS Schooling Show, 2018

The lesson's main exercise of ground pole > one stride > really small jump made it obvious what a difference having the right and wrong amount of engagement for an activity makes.

So small it would be considered a cavaletti if Connor wasn't 14hh and shaped like a dachshund.

As my trainer said (paraphrasing heavily here), when he approaches fences with not enough "quickness" behind, he doesn't have as many options to get out of trouble if/when (definitely when) we get a bad spot.  When I had the right amount, I got a bad spot, but it still rode really well.

CJF clinic, 2014

The second takeaway was how much my inability to fold over the fence contributes to our jumping awkwardness.  This post is long enough though, and I need some more time to think through this one before I write about it.  It's definitely one part bad riding, one part defensive riding, and one part my super tight hamstrings.

Penny Oaks, 2014
Anyone else using jumping to connect the dots in Dressage right now?

Read more...

Trrrrrrrrrrrrrrravel

All's quiet here right now.  After three months of not getting out of my pajamas for work, suddenly I'm traveling 2 or 3 days a week for six weeks in a row.  Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Green Bay.  Two of those are personal trips, but it's still travel.

Me standing in front of my parents' old apartment just outside of Kansas City, MO on a business trip last week

This isn't translating into a whole lot of saddle time, of course.  I am SO grateful to have a good BM/trainer who stays on top of blanket changes and puts quality rides on him while I'm gone.  Couldn't do this job without someone like that in my corner.

"Don't mind me, just over here self-entertaining while you're flying around the country."

Even though Connor is staying in shape, I feel like I have to relearn how to ride every time I go out right now.  Try to remember what we were working on last time I rode (the blog definitely helps with that).  Try to remember WTF I do with all these body parts that I swear I knew how to use a couple weeks ago...!

Back on Track season has begun

I could get stressed about that, but instead I'm zen.  This job is still my dream job and it's always going to be unpredictably cyclical like this.  I'm lucky to travel on two weeks notice, most of the time it's more like a couple days notice.  The people that ask me to travel try their hardest not to make me travel if they can possibly avoid it, which is definitely appreciated.  Sometimes you just gotta get in a room with people though.

This is just that adult amateur life, knowing you'd make a ton of progress if you could ride 6 days a week and instead trading hour long rides for 20 minute trips out to snuggle him, pick his feet out, feed him cookies and go home! (The horse is not complaining, really!)

Read more...