In four days we will end our show season as we head down centerline for the UDSF Region 1 Adult Amateur Third Level finals class. No matter what happens this week, this year went well above my expectations. Ike and I met all of our preseason goals…well, okay, they were more my goals, but Ike played along since he is such an agreeable fellow. How could I not be happy with a horse like Ike?!
Our finals class is HUGE. The entire show is HUGE with over 450 horses entered. I saw a post on Instagram from Heels Down Media earlier today that I will keep in mind at the show, “A rising tide lifts all boats. Someone else doing well doesn’t take away from your own success.” With that in mind, our goals for this show are to equal our Fourth Level score from last month and aim for a 65% in our finals class. We came close in August, so it is not out of our wheelhouse. Let’s just hope that the remnants of Hurricane Michael don’t try to dampen our fun.
Best of luck to all the competitors! We have all worked hard to make it Lexington. Enjoy the experience .
Here 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.
Mom is yet again “busy” so you know what that means…I get to fill you in and give you the uncensored updates on the goings on around the barn. And after all, isn’t that what you really want? The inside scoop and not Mom’s rose-tinted vision of our world.
We had our last big show of the year in October down in Lexington. I am not a fan of that show, because the stalls don’t let me hang my head out to visit. Why go to these shows if you aren’t going to socialize? And I had a bunch of my show buddies there. Did you know that I have two friends named Disco?! Also Lexi and Winslow were there. I hadn’t seen Winslow all year – his mom has been working on really hard stuff he said. He told me to play dumb for as long as I can to avoid things called tempi changes. Winslow said that they are challenging for us to learn even when the rider knows what they are doing. Great, then it should be even harder for me since Mom is a bit spastic with her aids. Heck, she even gets confused when it is time to ask for a single change. Maybe I should go ahead and send out a SOS now.
Well, Mom was not happy with me in our Second Level tests at that show. Called me a turd! She can be so mean, but seriously, we hadn’t done that test since last year. And she wouldn’t let me stop and poop during the test. So I was not my normal self. I find it difficult to perform under those conditions. So needless to say that we did not place this year. No biggie, I have a ribbon from last year that Mom confiscated. Not sure what she does with those things. I would prefer snacks or a boot to hang in my stall.
We also had to do a Third Level finals class. This level has been hard for us this year. Dad said that we have plateaued. Not sure what that means except that Mom will probably get her crazy-eyes-look and work me like a mad woman to get better. Mom came out of that test with a smile on her face. Unfortunately, the judges did not agree with Mom’s opinion that we did a solid test. Both of the judges said, “Nope, you don’t get it. Go back home and keep working.” Well, they didn’t exactly say that, but from the scores and comments, that was what Mom and Ms. C inferred.
Now, I am perfectly fine staying at Third Level based on what Winslow told me. So I was thinking that we would cruise through winter since we are staying at Third, but Miss C snuck in what she is calling the “winter improvement list.” Hmm, that sounds a bit suspicious to me – kind of like homework. I already work more than all the other horses at my home. Ladybug is the only other horse that ever wears a saddle. Not sure I’m cool with homework. I’m not sure what Mom thinks either, but since she is a bit of a nerd, she probably likes homework. She was probably that kid in school that did all her homework the first night it was assigned and did the extra credit too. I’m more of a “I’ll do it on the bus in the morning” kind of guy.
Well I was allowed to glance at this homework list and boy, do we have a lot to do…be better, do more, be consistent…I like to think that more of the burden lies with Mom. I mean she is supposed to be the captain of this team, right? One interesting thing that is resonating with Mom is the fact that the correct bend on a 10 meter circle, the correct angle for shoulder in, the correct bend for half pass, and the correct bend for turn on the haunches are ALL THE SAME. Wow, aren’t those dressage people clever. Now that doesn’t mean that we get it right all the time, but it does seem to help Mom using that as a guiding principle.
So being the team player that I am, I will try to accommodate our homework assignments as long as I get my regular downtime for playing with my brother. I hope Mom know that those 10 meter canter circles are hard for a big fellow like me, and that it feels like we are on a never ending merry-go-round but lacking any fun music or smiling children. (Mom really doesn’t smile much when we are training.) Can someone remind her that riding is her hobby and is supposed to be fun?
Until next time, be happy my friends!
p.s. Mom is nerdy enough to have our homework displayed on her desk as a constant reminder…yep, this is what I have to contend with every day.
It has been a spell since my last post. Life has again decided that I should divert my attention elsewhere. Work, family, chores, dogs, and yardwork fill my waking hours. We squeeze in barn time, so time for creative writing falls to the wayside. Ike and Cigar are getting curtailed visits, but they don’t seem to mind as long as breakfast and dinner show up every day.
Ike and I did have our final prep show at Rose Mount two weeks ago. While our scores were not where I would like them to be, we did glean some valuable insight to use as we close in on the CBLM Championship Show in a couple of weeks in the scenic city of Lexington, Virginia.
While the double bridle has its benefits, it is not always a friend or the right answer. Perhaps it is that I have a comfort level with the good old snaffle. I seem to clutch that curb rein like Linus clutches his security blanket. That death grip causes Ike to end up behind vertical inhibiting our better forward motion. Our rides on Sunday were much less tense with me using the snaffle. So our schooling work in these weeks leading up to Lexington will be with me utilizing one set of reins.
You can’t blame me for wanting the double bridle given that Ike bolted like a bat out of hell the day before the show. Sadly, the double bridle did nothing to check his rather robust gallop. Me yelling “WHOA” just make Ike ask, “Puny human yelling loudly wants what?!” And then he ran faster. I had visions of my crumpled body partially wedged in the stone dust when Ms. C found me later that day. The visions grew more vivid after I lost a stirrup. Thankfully Ike does not have the stamina of his brother and he decided to stop and catch his breath. Unfortunately, I felt I had to reestablish leadership, so I made him trot and canter in both directions before sliding off and kissing the non-moving ground.
We learned that judges do have a sense of humor. Ike decided that turn on the haunches was the ideal time for a potty break in both our tests on Saturday. Not good for the scores…”stuck” and “hind end stopped” were really not necessary comments. I knew I was getting a 4 as we walked on to the next movement. Heard the judge told her scribe that “that is unfortunate timing.” At least we can keep things interesting. Thankfully Ike decided to not show off his extended gallop any of my tests over the weekend. I learned on Sunday that when we aren’t pooping, we are capable at earning 7’s for our turns.
Ms.C also extracted some “things needing improvement” from our tests. She is better at reading between the lines/comments. I see a 5 and the comment “tense;” she sees that we need more bend and suppleness. Basically our scores and comments boiled down to the following: more bending, more suppleness, more bending, better engagement, more suppleness, and more bending. Sure thing, easy enough to supple 86 inches of horse plus 3 feet of neck, plus 50 pounds of thick skull.
So our lessons and schooling involve countless small circles, frequent changing of the direction (“you were not fast enough – you lost his shoulder!”), and no double bridle. We throw in some shoulder in, renvers, haunches in, and half pass, but we always go back to the circle. No ovals, not squares, circles. Will our work be enough to secure a placement in the finals? Only time will tell, but it won’t be for lack of trying.
So, I must be frank, after the last licensed dressage show, I was feeling a bit dejected about our Third Level progress. There were some reality-check scores that made me question myself and my work. One judge told me that my collection was abysmal (I came to this conclusion from her 53% score of my ride), and yet another told me that my horse was lame (it was the last ride of the weekend and none of the other judges noted any lameness). It is amazing how those numbers and comments can strip any and all confidence you have in yourself and your horse. I even noted in my blog post that it was “death by comparison” with one of my better rides of the weekend.
We came home from that show and have been working hard on all pieces and parts of our work. We’ve been trying to engage Ike’s hind end more which is no small feat given the length of his body. “Sit, Ike, sit” does not work as well as it does with the dogs. I am working diligently on not restricting the flow of his half pass. I even believe that we are starting to see improvement on the dreaded turn on the haunches. Just as we were getting our confidence back, it was time for vacation. I always panic that a week off in the middle of the season is going to set us back months. A week off turned into almost two weeks since my week after vacation was crazy busy. I ended up with one lesson and one 20 minute schooling session before it was time for our next schooling show.
So as I am beating myself up about signing up for the schooling show, I come across a quote by Teddy Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And it resonated with me. Stop worrying about the professionals and their uber-talented horses. Stop worrying about fellow amateurs with more experience. Stop worrying about not riding (you are the only one who cares…your horse does not care). Stop fretting that everything is not perfect. Just ride your horse as best you can and enjoy the ride….and that is what I did. I just rode. I stayed relaxed, smiled at my fellow competitors, and did not over react when Ike panicked when the horses were doing their jump rounds.
Did we make mistakes? Yep. Our turn on the haunch to the right was a bit sticky and we earned a 5.5 for it, but it is better than the 4 that we are known to see on a regular basis. Ike misfired on his right to left lead change and got disunited. I then could not decide if I should stop and fix it, go to trot and fix it, or keep tapping with my outside leg and mentally will him to change the hind legs. I went with telepathy and the outside leg and he finally corrected himself – that earned us a 4 for the change and a 4 for the extended canter. Luckily the rest of our work was decent and we earned a 61.27% for Test 1.
Our second test was Third Level Test 3. I’ve only ridden it once in competition, earning a 59.1%, so our goal was to crack the 60th percentile. I took a deep breath, exhaled and headed down centerline. The test flowed well through our trot work which was rewarded with scores from 6 to 7.5. An unforced rider error cost us when I completely forgot the halt rein back. Whoops! The highlight for me was earning 7’s for both of our turn on the haunches. Squeee!!! Our left lead canter work was better than our right lead. A jumping horse on the cross country course caused Ike a bit of worry, so the tenseness was noted in our scores. I think my biggest thrill was having the judge comment about how nice it was to see us moving on up and doing well. She provided some helpful pointers that we will use in our future schooling. And, drum roll please, we got a 63.85%! Yes! We made it into the 60th percentile.
So maybe Teddy R. was onto something. Let go of the comparison. Enjoy the ride everyone!
Last weekend was our second licensed show of the year. I was feeling fairly confident with where we were going into the weekend, since we’d pulled off earning our Bronze Medal in our first two tests and we’d some decent scores at a subsequent schooling show. Even our half pass work at home had been steadily improving…though after watching the video of Laura on Diddy, I might have to retract that comment and say that we have no clue how to ride a proper half pass.
In any case, we arrived at the HITS facility in Culpeper on Friday in plenty of time to get a schooling session in with Ms. C before the afternoon storms were to arrive. This facility has always been challenging for Ike. It is a busy venue with a lot for a horse to take in: trains, traffic, tractor noises from the other side of the woods, static filled speakers, flags, and a light pole that gave me more concern than it did Ike…
In case you are wondering, it appeared to be tethered to the adjacent tree…safety first, right?
We schooled in our double bridle on Friday. It becomes our enemy when Ike is tense; he gets even more behind the bit due to his grabby-handed rider. But we persevered and we both finally relaxed enough to do some decent work. Note to self: When you trainer notes that the half pass work of the horse schooling with you would earn a score of a 9, you should correctly guess that your half pass work would not earn a 9.
Saturday dawned a warm and sunny day. Ms. C was able to help school us for both our Saturday rides. Due to our ride on Friday, I opted to work in our snaffle for fear that the double would just cause issues. Warm up was busy and for some reason, Ike did not like any of the horses in the warm up ring. He would ball up every time we would ride by anyone. Superb. After the less than ideal warm up, Ike settled in our test – Third Level Test 2. Just as we were getting ready to ask for the change from left to right, there was a loud “CRACK,” and Ike bolted. I lost both stirrups and almost had an unplanned dismount. I managed to stop and noticed that the horse in the adjacent ring was no longer in their ring and had broken one of the rails in two pieces. Superb.
We finished the test and shall we just say that the 53% we received was not what I expected. It was clear that the judge did not like us from Enter At A. You can’t please everyone. I called my husband to share the news, and his response..”It is nice that you can laugh it off. Good luck on the next one.” And yes, the next one was the one I wanted to get the magical 60% – Third Level Test 3. Not for qualification purposes, but to prove to myself that we do have what it takes to succeed.
Warm up was better than the morning. We could at least canter without fear of unintended consequences. I have to say that Test 3 is a pretty intimidating test for a newbie Third Level rider. It is all about control of your horse’s pieces and parts, and if you have followed our journey, you know that we are not always skilled at controlling all pieces all the time. But at some point, you just have to go for it. Of course, having to have your debut come following a 4* event rider on her dressage horse, and 2 Grand Prix professional dressage riders is a bit intimidating. As my friend’s husband noted, “It is death by comparison.” Our best will pale next to their every day work. But we went in and gave it our all.
And while we fell just short of our goal, I am pleased with our 59.1% for our first attempt. We had plenty of 6’s, and even a few 7’s sprinkled in the mix. The 5’s on our half pass work killed us as did the 4 when Ike cross cantered for the simple change. Ike is capable of better half pass scores, but his rider must learn the correct alignment. In trying to get the correct bend, I end up restricting the movement. First I have got to stop pulling back with my outside rein. Second, I must remember the Kung Fu master reminding the young man, “Patience Grasshopper, patience.” Not always a word that one associates with me, but it is my life long goal. Be patient and good things will come. Be patient, it is okay to make mistakes as you are learning…says the person who wants to master it in the first attempt.
So we will now regroup and stay home for a few months. Ike will continue to strengthen in his collected work. I will work on providing the correct aids to set Ike up for success. One step at a time, one day at a time, we will keep our eyes looking ahead and keep reaching for success.
We are just a little over a week away from heading down centerline in our attempt to claim a Bronze Medal from USDF. If you had asked me six years ago if I thought this might even be possible, I would have snorted with a hint of derision and skipped on my merry way.
It was spring six years ago when I was faced with retiring Cigar and my future in dressage was uncertain. I was riding Ms. C’s Hanoverian mare who let me know in no uncertain terms that she had no desire to leave the farm. Lots of uncertainty and I would not meet Ike until late July. Showing at a schooling show was not in the cards since Miss Willow would not load. A Magic 8 Ball would have said “Definitely No” for a Bronze Medal.
There has been a lot of learning the past six years. It sometimes feels like I really didn’t start to understand the nuances of the sport until last year. Cigar taught me many things, but sitting trot, half pass, and collection were not among the lessons.
But now here we are teetering at the finish line for that elusive medal. It might not happen next weekend, but the possibility for success this year is real.
We had a solid lesson today with Ms. C. Ike is back working in his snaffle. For many things, we are better without the double bridle. I am still learning to be a little more subtle in my use of the curb. I tend to keep just a wee bit too much contact with the curb which impacts Ike’s ability to bend his neck and his ability to maintain good jump and throughness in his canter…and as you can guess, the lack of bend is bad for our half pass and the lack of jump ruins our flying changes. Oh the struggle is real. Thankfully we don’t need the “braking power” of the curb we needed over the winter.
This weekend we will head to a clinic with Michael Bragdell from Hilltop Farm. The game plan is to ask for some help and suggestions with our half pass work. Ike has a really good half pass in him; we just need to figure out how to get me out of his way. There will probably be no miracle cures, but it should be a nice outing at my friend’s farm.
Hoping for some sunshine and moderate temperatures next weekend. Anyone have an in with Mother Nature?
No matter what you call them, equestrians are masters at telling themselves alternativefacts/lies/falsehoods. We can pretty much rationalize anything if it is related to our precious equines.
“My dearest pony NEEDS this new brush.” No, your pony does not care that this brush is handmade in England by master brush makers. Your pony just wants for you to be done with your latest grooming session so he can roll in the new mud hole created after last night’s rainstorm.
“This new saddle pad will make the saddle slip less and improve my score.” Umm, sure. Just like the 15 others that you have squirreled away in your spare bedroom closet. You like it because you don’t have that color in your stack. You like the braided trim that none of your other pads has. It is okay, admitting the problem is the first step to recovery.
“Ooooh, this mane and tail product smells divine so that must mean it works better than the one (or ten others) that I already have in my tack box.” Every once in a while, I dive into the depths of my tack box to see what is lurking in the back besides some mouse poop. I have bottles of shampoo that I bought 10 years ago (bathing the boys is not a priority). I have conditioner that we got as a prize. I have about 40 sample sized bottles from competitor bags. There are $100’s of dollars worth of products…it won’t stop me from buying more.
“Going to the clinic with X will surely mean that we will improve.” You see it all the time. A rider will go to any and every clinic with a big name rider. They love to tell you all the big names that they have ridden with over the years, yet they are still struggling with the basics. What they lack is a clear system to help them master the basics and see steady progress forward. Regular training with the one competent person is what they need.
“I will only be at the barn for 30 minutes.” Bahahahahahahahaaa! Ask any significant other how long a typical visit to the barn takes. They will tell you the truth. They will get a good laugh about this lie.
“I can get my horse tacked and ready for our class in 30 minutes.” Many years of showing has taught me that when I try to cut preparations that close, something can and will go wrong. Your horse decides today is the day he won’t stand still for braiding. Your gloves decide they no longer want to be a pair. Your horse does his best giraffe impression so getting the bridle on is impossible. The zipper on your boot breaks. Mysterious stains appear on your jacket and breeches and they stubbornly resist your attempts to rub them off.
“It won’t be that hot/cold this weekend at the show.” The sun is searing hot or the frigid winds make you debate the merits of fur-lined boots. You then begin to question the whole showing concept. A weekend sipping margaritas by the pool sounds divine. Why didn’t you just curl up under the covers with a good book instead of braving 20 degree wind chills?
“If I am careful, I can clean the stall without getting anything on my white breeches.” Perhaps someone else has this expert skill level. I do not.
“I am going to stop at the tack store and just pick up my horse’s supplement.” And then somehow a pair of socks, a belt, some treats, a new show shirt (it was on sale!), and a deliciously scented tail detangler appear in your shopping basket.
“The vet bill will only be $100.” Never have I ever had a vet bill that small except for a supplemental medication that was shipped to me after the visit that cost $300-400.”
“I don’t need to wear a helmet.” YES YOU DO. End of discussion.
“That is a great price for that pair of boots/saddle/bridle/bit.” It is amazing once you are indoctrinated into the equine world how $500 no longer seems like a lot of money. $800 boots? What a bargain! I’m pretty sure that there is a change in your brain chemistry when exposed to the scent of a horse that rewires normal monetary logic.
Bonus “My horse is the best horse/most handsome/most talented.” This is one alternate fact that I think is okay. We all certainly cannot have the number 1 horse, but there is certainly nothing wrong with believing that you do. It shows true affection and love and there is nothing wrong with that.
Thus far, we have been fortunate to have a mild winter with plenty of opportunities to keep our horses in regular training. That being said, we still have to make it through February and the beginning of March before we can say we are done with the misery of frozen fingers and toes. And all we can hope is that the groundhog is wrong in his prediction for 6 more weeks of winter. Too bad my hound dog Holly is no longer with us…she would be able to convince the groundhog to change his tune.
Our Third Level progress has been slow but steady. We can’t seem to break out of our tortoise mode. Rabbits we are not. Since neither Ike nor I have ever schooled nor competed at this level, poor Ms. C has the difficult task of training us simultaneously. And, for the most part, I am the one holding back our progress.
I manage to stifle Ike’s trot and canter half pass. Every once in a while, I manage to align his body just right and we flow across the arena. I get all excited and giddy like a schoolgirl, but when asked to do it again….well, we hobble across the arena looking like a ginormous wooden puppet. It seems that I cannot grasp the concept that the shoulders must start the movement. I prefer to let the haunch take the lead. Yes, yes, it is wrong but I just can’t seem to help myself! I promise to keep practicing since I know there is a great half pass in the big man.
The extended gaits are still rather elusive. I am happy to report that finally we are beginning to have a decent medium trot. A real one, not a “horse just goes faster” medium. I guess it just took some time for Ike’s strength to develop. It also helps that on the cold and blustery days, Ike wants to go forward, so we use that to our advantage.
And I know you must be curious about our flying changes, since that is the make or break for Third Level. Let’s just say that they are a work in progress. Some days we nail them in both directions. Some days Ike’s hind end doesn’t get the message to do anything so we get disunited. Some days Ike ignores me and we careen around with an ugly countercanter. And then other days, Ike anticipates them and they are textbook perfect when he does it without my interference. Sigh… We did have one amazing day where we had solid changes and countercanter all in one training session. I’m trying not to get too excited about that day since it is about as frequent as a blue moon.
The spring schedules and prize lists are starting to pop up in my newsfeed and on websites. Not sure what the year will shape up to be, but we are aiming for a Fix-a-Test clinic at the end of March. Based on the outcome of that, we will make some decisions about our spring show schedule.
p.s. For those of you who are wondering about Cigar, he continues to improve. There are still some proudflesh scabs that we are combating, but my old man is back to his normal, grumpy, independent self. And yes, he is filthy!!