The Struggle Continues

Ike April 2018

There have been a number of posts lately on social media from fellow adult amateurs noting their struggles with their dressage journey. Some are almost at the point of throwing in the towel, while others are just looking for some encouraging words. We have all been there. I wrote about it years ago, early last year, late last year, and last month. The weather halts our progress. Our horse is injured and needs time off to recover. The other parts of our amateur lifestyle demand attention. Then there is the struggle of trying to learn the nuances of this sport at the same time that our horse is learning. It can sometimes all be too much, but that is when it is time to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing – IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN! Yeah, I definitely forget that part sometimes as I struggle to find the appropriate bend in our canter half pass or struggle to slow down the big brown freight train who decides that collected canter is for other horses.

With Mother Nature continuing her bipolar personality, spring training has been more like a game of red light, green light. I get to ride two, maybe three days, and then she decides to throw in three days of rain and some late spring snow just to muck up forward progress. I honestly don’t feel well prepared going into this show season. One would think that since we are staying at Third Level that we should be brimming with confidence. One would be wrong.

Third Level has definitely been the hardest level for me to conquer. Looking back, Ike and I were able to spend a lot of our time on cruise control in the lower levels. Intro? Walk and Trot and stay in the ring. Training Level? Can you now canter a circle on the correct lead and stay in the ring? First Level? Go sideways and canter in smaller circles. Second Level? Has the rider learned to sit the trot, control the horse’s shoulders, and suggest that they have a clue about what collection is? A review of our scores would say that we have a solid grasp of the lower levels…..Then we hit Third Level…in case you aren’t sure, this is where the shit gets real. No more half ass collection allowed. No more tuning out and cruising around. No more lack of throughness. Do you know what proper bend is and can you do it while trotting and cantering? [Yes, but that doesn’t mean I can do it all the time.] Can you control pieces and parts of your horse and yourself? [Sometimes.] Can you show collected gaits, medium gaits, and extended gaits and not look like a freight train or a 3-year old giraffe? [We can usually pretend.]

If I had to do a self-assessment, I would say that we can probably earn an extra 5 to 6 points in any given Third Level test. Our collected trot work is definitely stronger than this point last year. I think I am finally grasping the proper alignment of trot half pass. I am much more proficient with the double bridle which definitely comes in handy when I need to ask Ike to collect after a medium or extended gait. While I would like to think I could do it off my seat alone, alas, I currently cannot. Ike’s collected canter is slowly improving. But the inability to maintain consistent work is hindering that progress. And our canter half pass? Well, that is still a work in progress for both of us. Confession (no judgement allowed): I cannot reliably tell when his haunch is leading.

The interesting thing in our training is our flying changes. When we first introduced the concept, the change from left to right was our strongest. From right to left, we cross-cantered and struggled mightily. At this point, the right to left change is our best with a clean, nice jump. Go figure. When I ask for the change from left to right, Ike has decided that he wants to crow hop half the time. I’ve told him that just because he sees the crows hopping around his paddock does not make him a crow as well. Thus far my argument has fallen on deaf ears.

Sometimes we forget that struggling is part of the learning process. How many times did I fall while learning to walk? Pretty sure my mother lost count, and sadly, I can still fall while I am walking. I just have to hope that no one is around to capture it on YouTube. So, we will head down centerline soon, hope for the best and those extra 5 or 6 points. If we fail, we shall pick up the pieces and try again knowing that the one thing I will never struggle with is loving my big, brown horse.



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