The Results Are In

Ike

“So, where are all the peppermints I was promised?!”

Well, we did it!  We confidently rode down centerline in our best collected trot, performed a respectable Second Level test, and then collapsed with exhaustion after the final halt and salute.  We can now officially say that we have entered the ranks of Second Level horses and riders, right?

The test was not bobble free, but the judge commented that we did a fine job for our debut and that we are on the right track with our training.

It has taken me a few days of reflection to come up with the most important “take aways” from this ride:

1) Second Level is much harder than Training or First Levels.  It is much more mentally and physically challenging for horse and rider… at least it is for this rider.  Having ridden my First Level test only 15 minutes before my Second Level one was probably not the wisest move at this point.  Until we build up more strength and stamina for the collected work, I will need to be wiser in my warm up and riding before my Second Level rides.  We need to conserve as much energy as we can to get the most out of our ride. (I honestly did not know if Ike and I were going to make it to X for our final halt.)

2) With a few tweaks, we can easily boost our score another 3-4%.  Of course, those tweaks aren’t overnight fixes.  We need a better medium trot and medium canter.  We need to show a better change on our comebacks from the medium gaits.  We need to eliminate the trot steps into and out of our simple changes.  The judge was kind enough to offer some training exercises to help us with each of these.  Smaller canter loops and circles will help maintain engagement to teach the simple changes.  Train the medium gaits using shorter distances.  We’d better get busy since we are going to try this test again in June.

3) Breathing is very important.  I am pretty sure that I did take a breath or two during this ride, but I really need to practice my yoga breathing while in sitting trot.  I also need to remember to relax my arms and shoulders.  Much like the simple tweaks in our work, it is easier said than done.  I’m hoping that it will get better with my next Second Level ride since I’ve now got my initial fears behind me (LOL).

4) The new saddle was a good, albeit expensive, investment.  The hybrid foam/wool flocking innards and design of the saddle make sitting Ike’s trot much easier for me.  Even more importantly, Ike is more relaxed over his topline with the new saddle.  I am still hyperventilating over the cost and hope that I can get 9-10 years out of this one like I did for my last saddle.

In case you are wondering, the judge gave us a 64.545% for that test, and I have never been so excited to get back a score sheet.  I rarely save my dressage tests once the competition year is over, but I do secretly hoard the one’s that have the most meaning to me.  I do believe I will be saving this one.

Alison

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Stuck

Ike November 2014

I have been trying to write this blog post for a few days.  I have struggled with what to say, what not to say, where we are, and where we are not.  Now that spring has officially arrived and the daffodils and crocus have popped up, show season lurks just around the corner.

I equate show season with the start of the school year.  You kind of assume that you are moving up a grade (level) with the new year (season)…and when you are a chronic overachiever, you expect that forward progress.  For years I have struggled to make the leap from a Training/First Level rider to one that can hold her own at Second Level.  While some people would say that reaching the FEI levels would mean the most to them, reaching Second Level has been the Holy Grail for me.  It is the level where it feels like the “real” dressage work starts – you have to show collected and medium gaits, you have to be able to move your horse’s shoulders and haunches independently, you had better be through and connected, and it all has to be done in sitting trot with an independent seat.

In January I honestly thought that we would be ready to try out Second Level Test 1 at a schooling show in April.  I was giddy when I thought about it.  This was it!  We were going to go out and show everyone that we do have some dressage skills.  There was work to be done on the simple transitions, but we had two and a half months, so it was not going to be a problem…and then the snow came…and All. Progress. Stopped. Dead.

As we have restarted, reality set in that we were not ready.  And then a bigger reality set in last weekend.  One of my besties with some serious riding skills came to the barn with me and hopped on Ike.  She last rode him 2 years ago when steering was still questionable most days.  She took just a few minutes to get a good feel for where he was, and off they went.  I will say it was nice to see Ike in action since I only get to see him on video with me astride.  When Miss L figured him out, his leg yield was stunning.  When asked for a flying change, Ike nailed it.  Whoa!  She then played with his simple changes and nailed them.

Hmmm……

Then the clouds parted and the realization set in – poor Ike’s progress is inhibited by his owner’s lack of any dressage skills past First Level.  Poor boy.  He is clearly ready for Second Level and could enter Second Level Test 1 in April, but sadly, I am not.  Too bad he wouldn’t be willing to give it a go on his own.  Heck, I’m even willing to call the test for him.

It is a difficult realization to digest when you are usually at the head of the class.  You see your friends moving onwards and upwards, yet you still remain where you were last year.  It is hard not to compare your progress with others.  It is human nature.  I found a quote on Pinterest the other night that hit home and is going to be my mantra this year:

10426133_10152794349317621_1201164302458210363_nThis year will be about bettering our dressage skills and finally riding down centerline for our first Second Level test ever.  Until we are ready for that, we will strive to improve our weaknesses (turn those shoulders!!) and better our First Level scores from last year.  That is the beauty of dressage.  Even if you never bring home a ribbon in a class, you can still compete against yourself.  Wish us luck!

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.