I write this with tears in my eyes and my mind going a million miles a minute. Yes, I am worried about Ike as we try to get to the cause of his odd lameness, but when I take a step back from my problems, I realize that while it feels like a big deal, it is nothing compared to the struggles of my friends.

I have friends coping with major health issues, friends whose significant others have health concerns, friends struggling with depression, friends who have lost horses, and friends who have horses that are worse off than Ike. I wish I could blink my eyes or wrinkle my nose and make all the problems disappear.

But what I have found, is that I have an amazing circle of friends. It puts a smile on my face to receive a text or a message from someone checking in on us. What seems like a small gesture can really brighten someone’s day. It can make the unbearable tolerable. It can give you the strength to see past the moment. We are stronger together.

So reach out to that friend who has gone AWOL. Splurge and send someone a card. Offer to help. Be there for each other. And of course hug your horse.



Goals and Happenings in Ike’s World

Alison Ike Datthe M May 2018

As many do, I like to set my personal goals for show season. These goals have nothing to do with ribbons and are independent of what anyone else at any given show is doing.  While I may not meet every one of them, goals help me gage how our training is progressing. Are we moving forward, backwards, or sideways? Are we plateaued due to one particular problem? Have I driven Ms. C off the deep end with my inability to understand proper half pass alignment?!

Of course, I should have shared these before we got two shows under our belt this year, but that just didn’t happen…life just kept getting in the way. So, without further ado, here are our goals (okay, my goals…Ike would say his goal is to be retired like his brother.)

Increase the points earned by 5-6 points per test.

Progress: Steadily ticking upwards with occasional lapses in progress due to unfortunate tension, i.e. spooking and other silliness. Last year we kept regularly falling short of the points needed to keep our median score in the 60th percentile. That evil word “more” kept showing up in the comments: more engagement, more collection, more bend.  Somehow, despite the challenging weather this winter with weeks of little riding, we managed to get stronger and improve our collection and the ability to maintain it for longer periods of time. While we still have a ways to go, we are more often than not seeing our scores in the low 60s this year.

Earn a Third Level Horse Performance Certificate.

Progress: Completed! With our Test 3 score at the May show, we had the final necessary score for Ike to earn his Third Level Horse Performance Certificate. When I shared this great news with him, he didn’t even bother to stop munching on his hay.

Qualify for the USDF Region 1 Third Level Adult Amateur Championship Division.

Progress: Completed! My wallet is quite happy that I managed to get both my qualifying scores already. Sheesh, it is an extra $15 every time you select “qualifying” with the test registration. I also can now stop worrying about it and just focus on the test at hand.

Participate in the USDF All-Breeds Awards Program.

Progress: Enrolled. It was nice to see that Ike’s breed organization is now a participant in the All-Breeds program. The popularity of Dutch Harness Horses in dressage has increased significantly in recent years. I had never even heard of the breed when I met Ike seven years ago, but someone let the secret out and now DHHs are fairly common.

Improve our half pass scores at the trot and canter.

Progress: Well….umm, yeah, there is still work to be done. I think I’m doing it right, but end up still being too straight, or somehow Ike is counter-flexed due to me overthinking the movement, or we end up just falling in the direction we are moving. Luckily we are gaining half points which are boosting our overall scores. Thank you to whomever suggested half points at the judging conference!

Have solid flying changes.

Progress: Depends on the day. In recent weeks, we have had some lovely, drama free changes. I attribute that to the improvement in our collected canter.  Ike is using his hind end better – more thoroughness and jump. His rider is also figuring out how to help him improve his work rather than just flailing around and praying that Ike can interpret the chaotic movements correctly.

Perform a Fourth Level test.

Progress: None yet, but Ms. C pulled out the Fourth Level Test 1 test to see what we need to accomplish is an indication that there is a chance it will happen before the end of the year. I was exhausted after mentally riding the test as she read the movements. Phew, it is no surprise that you typically do only one test per day at a show. There are things to learn like the walk pirouettes and the introduction to tempi changes, but I am confident that we will figure it out together.

I set out some ambitious goals for a team that is usually more tortoise than rabbit, but slow forward progress beats stagnation any day.

Enjoy the weekend!


Happy Birthday Ike!

It is hard to believe, but big man turns 10 today. I am having a hard time wrapping my head around this fact. Where did the years go? Gone is the skinny baby with a pencil neck and gangly legs that could not work as a cohesive unit. The green horse is now a bronze medal recipient who quite possibly could make his Fourth Level debut before the end of the year. Crazy stuff, huh?!

So, Happy Birthday Ike, I am looking forward to our next trip around the sun and all the fun and challenges that come along with it.

Thought For The Day


Perhaps selecting my fleece-lined winter riding pants to wear to the barn today when the thermometer hit 74 degrees was not my smartest decision…maybe I should think of it as a new weight loss method?

At least the trailer is finally loaded and ready for this weekend. Will soon share my tale of woe trying to purchase a tack trunk; once I expanded my search beyond tack stores, I found the most amazing substitution. Not 100% sure that Ike or I are ready for our first centerline of the season, but there is only one way to find out. If you do happen to see us competing, don’t look too closely at the stray goat hairs on Ike’s chin. He is going through his Don Johnson phase.


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.


Dear Mother Nature


wp-image-563025182jpg.jpegWell, dearest mother, as I type this post, you have decided to huff and puff and shut the mid-Atlantic down. Seriously, what is up with the crazy wind? Gusts around 70 mph are wrecking havoc with my attempts to get Ike and myself back into shape for show season. When I should be riding, I am instead lashing the corner of the fence together with an extension cord to keep the dogs from escaping. And with all the downed trees, all my normal barn routes were blocked. Even if I had managed to get to the barn, it would have been foolhardy to throw my leg over my horse. High profile “vehicles” don’t fair well in high winds.

If I really think about it, you have had a bee in your bonnet this entire winter season. What gives? That brutal cold spell in late December and early January turned our ring into concrete and my fingers into blue icicles. You try soaking a hoof and wrapping it when your fingers won’t function. Who wants to be outdoors when you have to dress like the StaPuff Marshmallow Man to stay warm and stuff your gloves and boots with Hot Hands? You are warm but unable to move normally. Do you secretly laugh at us as we struggle? Imagine I am staring at you with resting bitch face. No, I am not joking.

You were kind to us as far as snow amounts. For that I am grateful. You did manage to stick it to me with that mid-December event that was just enough to make me question my decision to enter a schooling show. Could you please provide me your mailing address? Look for my reimbursement request in the coming weeks.

And lest we not forget the never-ending days of rain. Yes, I am aware of our rain deficit but enough is enough. Mud season is not supposed to start until April. You recall that catchy phrase, “April showers bring May flowers.” Hello! It is only the second day of March. Please check your calendar. All that rain has probably contributed to the tree issues we are having because of the wind. The paddocks look like pig wallows. Try as I might, my horse is never clean. There are always mud clumps that I miss until I am astride. Thank goodness no one but Ms. C ever sees our decrepit grooming skills.

So, what is it going to take to get you to calm down? You have already demonstrated your mad skills for causing chaos. If I promise to plant a tree, will you take a nap? Please let me know what sacrifice you command…you already got my original Charles Owen helmet and I refuse to give you my new one, so just get that notion out of your thoughts.

Here’s to a more pleasant spring season. Sincerely ,

Alison and the entire equine community of the mid-Atlantic region

Being Worthy

IMG_20180119_150145_027.jpgThere has been a lot of time for reflection this winter. Mother Nature has reminded us repeatedly that she is in charge and we had better respect her authority. Weeks of beyond brutal, face numbing cold, a little snow, and now flooding rains mean that I spend more time thinking about riding rather than actually being in the saddle.

Sadly, I care more about not riding than does my horse. He is entertaining himself by standing on his overturned water trough (just the front hooves thankfully…for now), breaking fence boards, and testing the hot wire…you see when you realize the hot wire is off, playtime with your brother is so much more fun as is reaching over the fence to eat the tree.

I can share that we did earn some year end awards from both our local chapter and at the state level. It was nice to have our work recognized and to have work worthy of recognition. Now to build on that success and continue the journey.

2017 vada awards

When we can ride, we have been strengthening Ike’s ability to carry himself. Incrementally we are building our collection in the trot and canter. Slowly but surely we are seeing improvements in our work. The plan is to stay at Third Level and to get scores consistently in the mid-60’s before we move on to Fourth Level. Luckily Ike’s rider is finally figuring out correct half pass alignment. Hopefully that coupled with better collection and clean flying changes will mean higher scores and fewer “needs more ____” comments. Once we master those skills, poor Ms. C can face teaching me the coordination I will need for tempi changes. I fear it will be reminiscent of tap class or gymnastics – lots of flailing with little accomplished. Stay tuned.

One of my biggest concerns for the coming year is Ike’s lack of tail. He managed to rub a significant portion of it out last summer and what is left barely qualifies as a tail. We have moved into Appaloosa territory, and I am researching hair weaves for horses. It is too embarrassing to share a photo. Well, I am embarrassed; Ike is rather blasé about the situation. He might change his tune when the bugs return and he has no tail to swat them away.

As I reflect on our journey thus far, I am grateful for my equine partner’s willingness. He is not the most gifted dressage athlete, but he more than makes up for that with his heart and his try. He gives me everything he has when I ask him to try new skills. He has become rather adept at interpreting my requests. The year to comes holds so much promise. Let us hope it will also be worthy of recognition.


The Newest Four Letter Word


20171127_1526091678075069.jpgHere we are at the end of 2017. Another year behind us. Before we start planning for the season to come, I find it is helpful to take a look back at our work from the past season. So, I took some time to read the judge’s comments from my Third Level tests. Yikes, they are not the comments I am accustomed to seeing. And, after some deliberation, I have declared the following word a dirty word – More.

Ugh, I am certain that I now hate it “more” than any of the other four letter words. But apparently, dressage judges love it. They must get some sort of judge’s award if they use it greater than 10 times in one test. More bend. More engagement. More collection. More thoroughness. More cadence. More extension. More, more, more. I get it, we aren’t quite where we need to be to get the higher scores, but for the love of god, please find another word to use. Perhaps this can be a topic at a judge’s forum. Sadly, Google was not as helpful as I had hoped when I searched “synonyms for more.” I came up with a few options that you can test out at the spring shows: use better half halts to increase engagement of the hind end, bend the horse around your inside leg, have horse sit and close hind leg angles, be less like a plow horse, be less like a fence board, what the *#$% was that supposed to be? Hmm, perhaps some folks would not see the humor in those last three choices…

But, I beg you, have mercy on me. We are doing our best to be more.