Ike’s Busy Week

004It is only Tuesday and Ike has had a busy, busy week.  He has decided that he is taking the day off tomorrow to recuperate.

Our veterinarian was at the farm yesterday to give Ike his last spring shot and to also give him his chiropractic/acupuncture tune up.  If you have followed us for a while now, you know that big man had a nasty reaction a couple of years ago when he was administered three vaccines in one day.  It was bad enough that there was discussion of sending him to one of the vet hospitals for observation and treatment (to make matters worse, the reaction showed up after I’d left on vacation 5 hours away and that required a ferry ride to get off the island.)  Luckily, he responded positively to the home treatment, but ever since, he has had to have his vaccines given one at a time along with an antihistamine.  That means 5-6 separate barn calls to get all the shots done.  The things we do for the love of our animals.  Dr. F was quite happy with Ike’s physical condition.  He was only slightly sore in his shoulders and hips which we attributed to the hyped up work schedule.  He has learned to stand quietly for the needles.  I hope that means he enjoys the treatment.

Today our saddle fitter paid a visit to the farm.  I had been dreading scheduling the visit for fear that I would learn that my most favorite saddle would have to become a dusty relic.  It is a Custom Saddlery Advantage buffalo leather saddle that I had custom built and fitted for Cigar back in 2007.  There were also some minor adjustments made to the block and flap to accommodate my legs.  There is no other saddle exactly like this one and it fits me like a glove.  Two previous saddle fitters did some minor flocking adjustments in 2012 and early 2013, but since then, Ike has “blossomed.”  Charlene spent 2 solid hours doing tracings, observing Ike’s back, feeling how the saddle sat on his back, adding some flocking, and then observing me ride.  At the end of the visit, she told me that the saddle was still a good fit for Ike (no adjustments to the tree necessary) and that I should never sell this saddle.  Phew!!  The best news I could have asked for…my wallet is also rejoicing.

Ike has also had two lessons in the past 5 days.  Not really his choice, but, to his dismay, he doesn’t really get a vote.  We have our next show dates set, and I am bound and determined to cross the 60% mark on First Level Test 3.  To accomplish that goal, there are a number of things that need to happen between now and August 9th that I shared with you in my last post.  Here is our progress – it is minimal, but I will take baby steps in the right direction.

1) I am doing better with riding counter canter correctly.  No more allowing Ike to straighten, since I’ve now learned what happens when I do.  Counter canter requires me maintaining the correct flexion, keeping my outside leg back, and using my hips to ride each stride.  Ms. C used trot half pass to help teach me the correct positioning for the shallow canter loop.  Ah!  That helped a lot.  The most important thing to remember?  Look where you are going!  Stop looking down to make sure you have Ike positioned correctly.  So much to remember and all I can hope is that I can slow down Ike’s canter enough after the lengthening to make the loop a remote possibility.  If he is too strung out, then we will yet again be doomed to more 4’s.

2) Ike and I are still working on establishing clearer signals for trot lengthenings.  Too much spur and we canter.  Giving too much rein and Ike flattens.  We are testing the use of the whip, but there are no conclusive decisions yet.  The key to remember is that forward does not mean faster.  Faster will get us more 5.5’s and the 60th percentile will get further and further away.

3) Those 15 meter canter circles?  It appears that I struggle the most when they are at A or C.  The video from the last show showed that I rode an egg shape right in front of the judge.  That isn’t going to get me into that 60th percentile.  Ms. C almost went hoarse screaming, “Turn your horse.” at my lessons.  When I forget to ride the quarters of the circle, we drift out on the half of the circle away from the rail – thus my perfect rendition of an egg.  I can only hope that either ovals are introduced when the new tests are released later this year or that I remember to turn my horse to execute a circle.

After all our strenuous riding these past few days, I know Ike is ready for his day off, but I think I am as well!  When you actually try to actively influence the horse’s movement, you find there are some muscles in your legs and core that have been coasting for a while.  Yikes, too bad the hot tub has been drained for the summer.

Happy riding everyone!



Sigh, There is Work To Be Done

Photo by High Time Photography

Photo by High Time Photography

I think that we have recovered after our second show of the season – all the laundry is finally done and the trailer is cleaned up and organized.  Ms. C has studied my scores and the accompanying comments and come up with a game plan to help me understand how to better ride the new movements when we head back out in August.  Needless to say, this show was not quite what we had at our first show.  If that show was a peak, we have now fallen into the deepest crevasse.  There is a lot of homework to be done to claw our way out of scores in the high 50%’s for First Level Test 3 and into scores that are ribbon-worthy.  Yes, that is right, the pair that kicked butt at the last show struggled to even ride a straight centerline…

These are my takeaways from this past weekend – perhaps someone will benefit from our misfortune and avoid the same mistakes:

1) Ike does not like sloppy footing.  There were multiple storms at the show grounds on Friday and the sand/felt footing was well saturated come Saturday morning.  Big Boy did not want to show any real spark in our morning test.  No lengthenings to speak of for the trot or canter.  He wiggled down centerline.  Perhaps he didn’t like the sand splashing on his belly.  Now we can’t really control the weather, but at least I will know what I am up against next time.

2) You’d better make sure that you have the correct flexion and body alignment for the canter before you start your shallow canter loop.  Even more important, make sure you maintain it.  End.Of.Discussion.  Do you know what happens if you get grabby with the reins or shift your weight/legs the wrong way?  Your horse will demonstrate his flying lead change ability.  Do you know what score you get for that even if you quickly fix the lead?  You get a 4…F-O-U-R.  How about if your horse falls out of the canter because you failed to maintain the correct alignment as you head back to the rail?  You get a 4…F-O-U-R.

3) Just because you are trotting faster does not mean you have lengthened the stride.  In my less than knowledgeable mind, it sure did feel like it was a lengthening.  Come to find out, I let Ike flatten and end up on the forehand.  Ah, no push from behind.  Ike did lengthen his neck, but that will only get you a 5.5 from the judge.   All the power originates from the hind end; I need to find a reliable way to harness that power without goosing Ike into a canter.

4) Learn the proper size of a 15 meter circle and make my horse stay on that circle.  How crazy that I managed to give away points because of my poor geometry skills.  I watched the video – one would think that I believed an oval is equivalent to a circle.  Someone needs to make sure that her horse doesn’t drift on the second half of the circle.  That person also needs to make sure that her 15 meter circle doesn’t get flat at the rail.  Remember: circles only have a bending line.  I need to remember to look where I am going and ride every quarter.  Turn the front of the horse first.  If you forget to turn the front of your horse, you get comments about your “haunches in on circle.”

5) Sometimes you can surprise yourself and pull off some good scores when you least expect it.  The high point of my Test 3 ride was the leg yield, circle, circle, leg yield.  Ike and I pulled 7’s for our leg yields and 6-6.5 for the circles.  He is not as supple on the right circle, so our score reflected that.  But, overall, I am pleased with how we rode this portion of the test.  I am capable of maintaining the proper rein length to better steer my horse!

6) Finally, on a non-riding note, I discovered a new item for my show wardrobe – the vest.  Coats were waived for the entire show.  Even though they were waived, I typically still wear mine since I like the way the coat completes the picture, and the coat hides a multitude of middle-aged woman sins (sagging body parts, a larger than desired abdominal area, above-the-bra bulge).  On Saturday I noticed a number of riders wearing black, navy or grey vests over their show shirts in lieu of coats.  Oooh, I like that.  Cooler than a show coat, but still provides the much desired coverage.  To my delight and my wallet’s dismay, the vendors at the show had some for sale.  I selected the Arista Modern Dressage Vest (https://aristaequestrian.com/shop/arista-modern-dressage-vest/ ) in black.  The bit detail on the back is particularly pretty.  Romfh has a pretty one with bling on the lapel that is reasonably priced – if you are a bling person, this is the one for you.  Pikeur also makes a lovely one that is well out of my price range.

So there you have it.  We only came home with one third place ribbon for our First Level Test 1.  Would have had a sixth place ribbon for our Training Level Test 3 test, but the show only gave out ribbons to fifth place.  Chalk up our two First Level Test 3 tests to experience.  The show was still great fun.  We are better for the experience and will be stronger in our next show.


Did You Ever Believe That You Would Be Where You Are?


Believing in yourself can be hard at times.  While you may have supporters standing with you, there are just as many people who will look at you and place doubt in your mind.  “Is that the best she can do?”  “Why is she still trying?”  Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy and feel like you will never make progress.  It can be hard to turn off those negative voices since they sometimes scream louder than the positive ones.  The voices in my head seem to like to chatter right when it is time for bed…

You can easily lose sight of how far you have come when you look at the journey that still lies ahead or you are bogged down trying to master one particular new skill.  It sometimes takes someone saying something to you to make you appreciate the progress that you have made.  That someone, in this case, would be Ms. C.

After my last preparatory lesson earlier this week, I was getting Ike settled and cleaning my tack.  Ms. C was working on evening barn chores.  I mentioned that at the upcoming show, I would be riding First Level Test 3 for the first time ever.  Yes, that is right, the first time EVER.  She turned to me and asked, “When you started taking riding lessons (back in 2005), did you ever think that you would be where you are now and have had the opportunity to ride with Hilda?!”  I paused for a moment.  No, if you had told me then that I’d have a wall filled with ribbons, that I’d fly to Florida to find a horse, that I’d own a horse like Ike, that I’d get to ride with Hilda Gurney, or that I’d be getting ready to school Second Level dressage, I would have cackled like a crazy lady.

That conversation got me thinking that while I was still a newbie in the world of dressage, I had still come a long way from being a first time dressage rider in 2006.  It is well known that I struggled to progress with Cigar, but much of that was his unwillingness to play nicely.  But, in his own way, he taught me persistence, patience, and how to keep my butt in the saddle.  When he retired, I felt confident enough to purchase a very green, very big 3-year-old horse.  In just a few months shy of 3 years, I can now say that I have successfully shown him at Training Level and First Level.  Not a meteoric rise, but I am proud of what we have accomplished.

With that said, I am looking forward to our second show of the season this weekend.  I can hold my head up high as we head down centerline.  We have done all we can do to get ready for our First Level Test 3 debut.  Here’s hoping we can silent those negative voices again and celebrate our next milestone!