Midseason Show Reflections

Ike checking out the show barn.

Ike checking out the show barn.

Ike and I just survived our third licensed show of the year.  Three down, three to go.  Overall, I am thrilled with how our season is progressing, but as always, the perfectionist in me wants more.  But that must be tempered with reality.  Horses and showing are my hobby not my vocation.  I need to stop comparing my skills and performance against those who do it for a living.  I ride one horse four or five times a week.  I have a full time job, a house to maintain, a husband, dogs, family and friends.  I have (shockingly) other hobbies.  I also fight middle age aches and pains and fight my body when I ride.  Why won’t my body do what I want it to do??  In spite of my issues, Ike continues to learn and progress – a testament to his rideability and good nature.  It makes me realize that I did chose the right horse four years ago.

“You’ve come a long way baby.”

In fact, it was four years ago yesterday that Ike first stepped foot on Virginia soil and then promptly on my foot.

My first photo with Ike when we met in Florida.

My first photo with Ike when we met in Florida.

Sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday when I first threw my leg over his back.  But then I look back at photos and video from those early rides and realize that we have made progress.  He has grown 5 inches at the withers (yes, that is the correct number) and put on a few hundred pounds of muscle.  Ten meter canter circles are now a reality.  Ike can now ride a straight line instead of looking like a worm wriggling down centerline.  I can actually execute a half halt and he knows what it means…even if he doesn’t always respond.

We are still in the early, formative years of our dressage education.  The work we do now will determine how far we can go in the future.  There is still much work to do with building strength and stamina in our collected work.  Comments from this past weekend’s tests tell us that we need to improve our lengthenings and medium gaits.  “Show more change.”  I thought we were?  “Out behind” was written more than once.  We will fight that forever based on Ike’s conformation, but I need to help him use his body better.  Time and patience.  I am not a very good grasshopper.

“You win some, you lose some.”

We came home with one blue and two red ribbons.  Even more importantly, we had our best score ever at First Level Test 3 at a licensed show, and cleared 60% at our first attempt at Second Level Test 2.  I think my favorite comment on my Second Level test was “Good effort.  Keep working on developing the gaits for more expression.”  It was nice to know that the judge acknowledged that we were trying our hardest to show her our best.  In all our tests, our best scores came from our lateral work.  I was tickled to get such solid scores on our shoulder in and travers!  Our collected trot still needs more oomph, our collected canter needs more jump, our medium gaits need more of everything, and our canter-to-walk transitions are then only part that needs less (trot steps that is).  Our turn on the haunches?  Let’s just say that our scores were better than the Fix-a-Test, but that there is still A LOT of work to be done.  If you really need to know the blow by blow of my tests, the show’s website now allows you to see the individual movement scores.  Talk about TMI – no secrets anymore.

Our canter work in First 3 also got good marks from the judge; what a difference a year makes since it was at this show last year that I had my melt down about our inability to ride the canter loops.  It gives me hope that we can head to the GAIGs in October and stand a chance at making a good impression at the regional finals.

“Know when to fold them.”

And, yes, there was to be another Second Level test on Sunday, but I decided that there wasn’t going to be enough juice from either of us to put forth our best effort.  Why put ourselves through the agony of a bad ride?  And after seeing my scores and comments from the day before, I knew there were not going to be any miracles 24 hours later.  So it was best to pack up and let Ike go home for a peaceful afternoon in his paddock.

The other significant take away from my Saturday ride was that we are definitely not ready for Second Level Test 3.  I had optimistically signed up for Test 3 at the 2 one-day shows in September thinking that I’d miraculously get my qualifying scores and ride in the Second Level championships as well.  Of all the voices in my head, the realist finally screamed the loudest and said, “rethink this nonsense!!!”  Sigh, I did.  We changed our classes to the First 3 test.  We will still try Second 1 and 2, but we will save test 3 for a later date when we both are a bit more confident in our collected work.  I can hear Master Po saying, “More patience grasshopper” so many times that he is forced into early retirement because he has gone mad.

Enjoy the final weeks of summer my friends!



The Results Are In


“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.


From The Horse’s Mouth

Ike November 2014

Happy Fall Everyone!  I’m again taking over to fill you in on my life in my words.  I’m pretty sure that I should have my own blog by now, but Mom says that I’m not ready for such responsibility.  Sheesh!  What a mean Mom.  Seriously, how am I supposed to rely on her to give the full story?

I’m pretty sure that I did a very good job at the regional competition.  Mom had that silly grin on her face and tears in her eyes when she realized we got one of those big ribbons with the long streamers.  I gave one of the streamers a taste and I have to say that it was disappointing.  I will stick with apples and horse treats.  It was cool to have people cheer for me when Mom and I went into the big indoor.  People called it a “koliseeim.”  I say it was a really big indoor with lots of chairs and few windows.  How do I get one of those at the farm?  Maybe Santa will bring me one for Christmas…

Being at the show was a lot of fun, but by the end of the weekend I was really tired of being inside all the time.   We horses need to start a union and get some better benefits – stalls with attached paddocks will be on my list of demands.  An internet connection at the barn, a private apple orchard, and a climate-controlled barn will also be discussed.  And none of that pay-for-performance stuff.  I get my pay and benefits regardless of the color of the ribbon.  But I digress…My friend Winslow was there as were Roo and Flori.  Dad came along as well as my canine brother Tim.  Ms. C was there to cheer for me on Saturday.  It was big fun to have Miss Melana visit me at night.  We had fun sending photos to Mom.

Once I got home from the show, I had a whole week of doing nothing but hanging out in my paddock.  Mom came to visit, but there was no riding.  She said that I had earned my vacation.  I’m trying to figure out how to have vacation every day like my brother.  He won’t tell me the secret to full-time vacation.  I think he is afraid Mom might put him back to work.

But now that I am back to work, I have to say that things have become much HARDER!  What?!  I did really well all year, so how can the work get harder?  Mom and Ms. C have introduced me to this medieval torture device they call a double bridle.  They stick not one, but two bits in my mouth.  Two!!  What was wrong with one?  It has something to do with the work getting harder.  I keep hearing the word “kollekshun” used more frequently.  It basically means that I have to use my hind legs more and more.  There is also talk around the barn about some sort of Second Level.  The only other level in the barn is where they keep the extra hay.  I’m waiting to see if we will have horses moving in up there.  Mom and Dad have a second level at their house, so maybe my brother and I are moving.  None of the other horses are telling me much, but they all like to smugly stand along the rail while I have to work with all that metal in my mouth.  Luckily, I don’t have to use it every day.

You might be interested to know that my mane is finally growing back.  I really didn’t mean to scratch out as much as I did this summer, but the tick bite was really itchy.  My mane is at the length now that it looks like a Mohawk.  Cool, huh?  Maybe we can introduce that as a talking point at the union discussions this winter.

If you know anyone who wants to help me with my union formation, please send them my way.  It is awfully hard to type on Mom’s laptop.


One of My Favorite Ways to View the World

Ike at the end of September 2014

A great way to view the world!

So Ike and I took time off last week.  Ike spent his week off just being a horse – no demands of his time except for feeding time.  Rumor has it that he did look for me every time he heard a car come down the driveway.  While he might have missed me, I think he enjoyed living like his brother, the lawn ornament.  I spent the week on Ocracoke Island with my husband and our dear friends imbibing on some adult beverages and engaging in some serious hands of Spades.  While I love to get away from the daily grind, I do miss our dogs and horses while we are gone.  How can you not miss sitting astride your horse and the ease of their power?

We caught the 4:30 a.m. ferry off the island (yes, we are those people) and were home by 10:30.  That meant that there would be some saddle time that afternoon!  What a great greeting I received upon arrival at the barn.  Every horse, except for Ike, nickered as I said hello.  Ike promptly greeted me with a gentle nudge, then gave me his “mean face.”  I suppose that was him admonishing me for leaving him for the week.  He is quick to forgive…after a Stud Muffin or two were procured.  Had a moment of panic when I saw Cigar’s face with what looked like blood splattered on his forehead.  Thankfully, it turned out to be pokeberry juice.  Such a shame that he has to resort to eating pokeberries rather the alfalfa/timothy hay that he is provided.  Enjoyed a short but productive ride with the realization that the CBLMs are only three weeks away.

So much to accomplish in the next few weeks.  The training plan involves mostly pure training rather than test riding.  Training Level Test 2 and First Level Test 2 are good tests for us.  We’ve been consistent with our scores all season, so no need to drill the movements.  We are just going to work on climbing the training pyramid which will only make our tests better.

Ms. C introduced half steps to our training right before our week off; she said that both Ike and I are ready for them. Uh, okay.  I think Ike is picking up on the concept faster than I am.  I have a tendency to get a bit strong with my hands, not use my legs enough, and then forget to release my half halt…that of course creates tension which makes Ike’s back tight which then causes all the dominoes to fall and we end up back at square one.  Phew, we are now well outside my comfort zone with what we are doing.  No more happy-go-lucky Training Level stuff allowed.  I can read books and websites all day and night about half steps and teaching collection to a horse and rider, but there is no comparison to actually sitting on the horse and performing the tasks at hand.  It is much like swimming – the only way to become proficient is to jump in the water and do it.  Yes, it will be hard at first (and you might sink like a rock/get some low scores), but with steady practice and repetition, you will hopefully see improvement.  That is what I’m hoping with our half steps/collection work.  Good thing there is no hurry to get to Second Level.  (Sshhh, don’t tell, I’m also still not proficient with sitting ike’s medium trot either and I think posting is frowned upon.)

It is shaping up to be a busy week with the farrier and vet stopping by, but hopefully there will be plenty of saddle time!