Spring Is In Full Swing!

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My flower beds are abloom, the lilac bush’s fragrance perfumes the side yard, Ike is in the final throes of shedding, and show season has kicked into high gear.  It has already been over two months since the forced halt in riding due to the wretched February weather.  Soon enough we will start complaining about sweat in our eyes and getting buzzed by horse flies.  But for now we are enjoying the warmer and sunnier spring days whilst wiping away the yellow pollen that coats everything.

We now have one schooling show and one licensed show in the books.  I am thrilled with where Ike and I are in our First Level work.  Is there still work to do on our trot lengthenings?  You bet, but so many of the things that plagued us all last season are now garnering solid scores.  Our canter work last year was still one part Scooby Doo and one part young dressage horse.  We can now canter respectable 15 meter circles, show a canter lengthening and a come back, and best of all, the shallow canter loops no longer include flying changes or breaking into trot.  Here is our First Level Test 3 ride from Sunday.  It earned us our best Test 3 score to date at a licensed show.

My most exciting news from the licensed show last weekend is that we now have our second First Level qualifying score for the Regional Finals in October.  That is a huge monkey off my back which means that we can now concentrate our efforts towards our Second Level debut.

And speaking of our debut, I committed us to riding Second Level Test 1 at a schooling show on May 24th.  Yikes!  We are now on a tight schedule to improve our simple changes, counter canter, 10 meter canter circles, and our collected gaits.  Oh. My.  Is that all?!?!!  Am I certain that we will have a mistake-free test?  Nope, but at some point, you just have to take a deep breath and give it a go.  If we score in the low 50’s, we know that we have more work to do before trying Second Level at a licensed show.  If we can hit the 60th percentile, then we know we are on the right track.

Our lesson yesterday was fairly intense given our timeline and the work that needs to be accomplished; we have another one scheduled for Saturday.  We practiced pieces and parts of Test 1.  If I can establish a balanced collected trot, then we can actually make it through the first 9 movements of the test with very little drama.  When Ike’s alignment is right, he can rock his shoulder in…if I am off in my aids and Ike’s trot gets choppy, it is more of a “neck in.”  But once we get past the free walk, all bets are off on how the test will go.  Five simple changes means 5 places to pick up the wrong lead, look like a giraffe in our canter-to-walk transitions, and 5 places for a mental breakdown by the rider or horse.  Breathe in, breathe out, move on.

The work is physically and mentally harder now, so Ike tends to get a bit stressed and on the muscle.  He then turns into a sweaty worm that squirms with even the slightest movement of my leg or weight.  More breathing.  More exhaling.  Less tension for me is key.  Easier said than done, but even more necessary.  This is not the time for me to get emotional while in the saddle.  Stay calm, wait out the “worminess” and then get back to work.  I keep reminding myself that progressing up the levels is more of a marathon than a sprint.  There is no Olympic team medal riding on this performance.  There is no prize for being the fastest to get to or succeed at any given level.  We will take the time to do it correctly.  Success will come when the time is right.

Alison

Bye Bye January

Ike November 2014

January 2015 is just about behind us and I am not sad to see it go.  The weather has made riding consistently next to impossible.  I am lucky to ride two or three times a week right now and our work is scaled back significantly.  We have thankfully had more rain than snow, but the frigid temperatures mean slick and frozen footing.  Slick and frozen footing means conservative rides to insure that there is no slipping on slick spots lurking just beneath the surface of the ring.  Had one scary moment last Sunday when Ike lost his hind end at the trot.  Luckily, we stayed upright with no sprains, strains, or lingering injuries.  The footing had appeared acceptable…needless to say that I avoided that end of the arena and kept Ike at a more conservative pace.  No point risking an injury.

Even if I don’t ride, I still worry about injuries.  The paddocks are a muddy mess right now and I fear that Ike will slip during one of his galloping jaunts around his field.  His friend Lady has fallen twice as she cavorts about her paddock.  His brother injured his left hind showing off his black belt board-breaking skills to the mares.  This time last year Ike had just come off stall rest for a lameness issue due to paddock antics.  We do not need any repeats.

We also do not need any repeats of my gymnastic dismounts from Ike.  At my age, my gymnastic skills are pathetic at best.  Truth be told, they were not that great in my younger days either.  My ability to get my feet under me as I flip off my galloping horse to stick the landing is nil/nada/zero.  Luckily for me, there have not been any vultures lurking around the ring.  Fingers are crossed that they have relocated to greener pastures.

And speaking of fingers, let me just say that it is impossible to execute an effective half halt or maintain the proper rein length when your fingers are partially frozen.  When you add thick winter gloves and hand warmers as well, it is like riding with oven mitts.  On the days I have ridden, I usually have a lesson with Ms. C.  Might as well make the most of the ass-in-saddle days.  Even if we cannot canter or work on lengthenings, there is still much we can do.  Rein backs, shoulder in, haunches in, turn on the haunches (currently our worst nemesis), square halts, 10 meter collected trot circles, and of course, my sitting trot, are all on the “things we can do most days” list.

Here’s hoping that warmer days are just around the corner.

Start Where You Are

Ike November 2014

I have practiced yoga for over 12 years now.  I remember struggling with even doing plank pose; and the thought of mastering scorpion pose, crow pose, or half moon pose seemed a pipe dream.  Yet now, I can perform all of those poses without a second thought.  As Baron Baptiste tells you on one of his DVDs, “Start where you are and from there you will progress.”  I try to remember those words as I struggle with mastering the skills necessary to progress to Second  Level.  You have to start somewhere and if you never start, you will never progress.   

The thought of Second Level  is daunting.  For more accomplished riders, they are probably thinking, “What is the big deal?”  I am thinking “Yikes!  This is where the crap hits the fan!”  No more posting the trot, no more big circles or bee bopping around on half speed.  You need to be fully present during every stride – much like you need to be fully present when attempting scorpion pose. 

I have spent some time checking out the new 2015 dressage tests for Second Level.  There is A LOT of work to be done this winter.  Well, let’s be honest, we might need spring  and some of summer to get into Second Level show shape.  I’ve broken down the tests and decided these are the key items for Ike and I to master.

Sitting Trot – This one is all on me.  I still tilt my pelvis in the wrong direction.  I still stiffen rather than relaxing.  I still lean either too far forward or too far back.  When I lean back and brace in my stirrups, I look like I’m water skiing.  (This is as close as I’ve ever come to actually water skiing.)  People say, “strengthen your core.”  My core is strong, but yet I still struggle to find the sweet spot. 

Collected Trot – Phew!  It is a lot of work to get the giraffe to sit down and really engage his hind end.  It is also a revelation to me to feel what a correct collected trot feels like.  It is not just slowing the horse down.  It is all about mushing the energy inwards and upwards.  When Ms. C yells, “there is your collected trot!”  I am thinking, “You have got to be kidding me!  How am I supposed to maintain this?!”

Medium Trot – This fall at the regional championships, we received a 6 for our trot lengthening with the comment “Conservative.”  I could not argue with the score or the comment.  If I tried to push for more, poor Ike would get unbalanced and we’d get scores of 5.  It was better to be conservative.  I am happy to say that our trot lengthenings are coming along.  They are not quite medium trots yet, but I am hopeful that they will be there come spring…of course, I still have to figure out how to sit that medium trot.

Collected Canter and 10 meter canter circles.  What size?!  I am pretty certain with Baby Huey that a ten meter circle is probably  a canter pirouette.  Still not sure how we are going to master this.  Any circle smaller than 15 meters usually ends up in trot.  Our collected canter quality isn’t always the best; Ike gets a little sticky and the canter feels like a pogo stick.  Just need more time and less help from the neighborhood wildlife (Ike wants to move quickly away from any wild creature.)

Counter canter.  Still our nemesis.  The shallow canter loop of the First Level Test 3 test is about the extent of our counter canter success.  A full three loop serpentine?  No way.  Even just riding the short end of the arena in counter canter is a crap shoot.  I have to over ride and over emphasize the counter bend and yet the boy can still throw in a flying change.  All we can do is keep trying.

Simple Transitions.  Slowly, but surely, we are progressing with our simple transitions.  Our walk-to-canter transitions are better than our canter-to-walk transitions.  The down transitions are better when we train in our double bridle; not at all surprising.  Ike still needs a few trot strides before the walk when we work in our snaffle.  I am still pleased with where we are. 

As if the above isn’t  enough…we also have….

Shoulder in and Travers.  If I had to pick Ike’s stronger movements, I would say it is his lateral work.  How could it not be with those long legs?  As long as I set him up for success, both shoulder in and travers are going well.  At least we have two strong points in our quest for Second Level success.

Rein back.  Rein back is one of Ike’s favorite movements when evading my aids for turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches.  Unfortunately, he also likes to duck behind vertical and give me more than the required number of steps. 

Turn on the haunches.  The best I can say about this required movement is that it is not in Test 1.  This is definitely a work in progress.  “Start where you are.  Start where you are.”

Our work is currently on hiatus as I fight the flu.  Have no fear.  Ike and I will be back to work before you know it.