The Nail Biter Finals Class

Alison and Ike USDF Region 1 GAIGs Photo by T. Perez

Alison and Ike USDF Region 1 GAIGs
Photo by T. Perez

At the start of the season, the October championship show feels so far away.  It feels like you have all the time in the world to practice and hone your skills.  Heck, I even thought that we’d be able to pull off both First and Second Levels successfully (we only managed First Level).  But in the blink of an eye, it is here and the weekend of the show always manages to fly by without me doing everything I thought I could do.

The morning of our departure day was sunny but cold.  I had enough clothing layers packed to protect myself from any arctic blast and the suitcase zipper was barely holding the case closed.  I also had packed everything but the kitchen sink and the barbeque grill.  One must be prepared – doesn’t everyone travel with two corkscrews when attending a horse show for 4 days?  Unfortunately, I managed to wake up with a sore throat and a runny nose.  Awesome, just freaking awesome.  Luckily we had some Dayquil in the house, so I threw a couple of those down my throat and headed off to the barn to load big man…after a stop at the local Target for the large economy-sized boxes of tissues with lotion.

The drive to Lexington was uneventful.  Our hacks around the show grounds and competition arenas were relaxed.  The excitement came later in the day when my friend realized that someone had stolen 2 of her credit cards out of her wallet while we were unloading the trailers (the sneaky thief left the wallet, cash, other cards and the purse behind).  All was resolved without her being responsible for any of the charges.  But when I went back to the barn for night check, that is when I realized that I’d spiked a fever.  More super news.  Did you know that Dayquil Severe packaging is practically adult-proof for a tired, feverish equestrian?  After over five minutes of struggling, I finally released the pills from the hellish packaging.  My head hit the pillow and I prayed for quick relief.

Quick recovery was not to be.  Both Friday and Saturday were spent fighting a fever and struggling to stay awake to do my barn chores and riding.  I felt so poorly that I even managed to sleep through my husband’s wakeup call on Saturday and almost sending him into a panic on my whereabouts.  Our Friday open class was not our best effort, but if we had to sacrifice a ride, it was better that it was an open class and not our finals class on Sunday.  Perhaps Ike was just missing Miss C’s presence since once she arrived on Saturday, he settled.  We had a little tension in Saturday warm-up, but Ike was much more focused and gave me a solid performance with no major bobbles.  My performance was marred by tearing eyes, a runny nose, a sprained finger, and a lack of oxygen.  Cold wind plus a viral infection equals a not photo ready rider.  Confession time – Desperate times mean that you just might use the same rag to wipe your horse’s nose to blow your nose.  We came out of that class with a 67.5%, a pink ribbon, and the confidence to head into our finals class knowing there we were as prepared as we would ever be.

Miss M and Miss T were kind enough to take care of my morning barn chores on Sunday, so I was able to sleep in a bit.  Thankfully, I heard my husband’s wakeup call on “championship day” and I woke up without a fever.  The day was already starting on a good note.  Ike was a saint and kept his braids intact.  Our ride was not until 1:00, so we had some time to stew and watch our friends in their open classes.  Part of the learning curve with these long weekends is knowing your horse, his mental state, and his energy level.  You want to have good practice rides, but you need to conserve something for the finals.  Our warm-up was peaceful and short.  We did spend some time riding through the sun spot on the ground since we’d seen a number of horses spook at the one in the indoor competition ring. 

It was finally our turn.  The indoor was quiet and Ike was focused as I rode around the outside of the ring waiting for the bell.  Rrriinnnnggg!  Time to make that turn down centerline.  Big man was with me as we cruised to X.  Exhale, salute, and trot on.  Our left-to-right leg yield was sticky, but there was no time to dwell on it.  Our 10-meter circles were fluid and our mid-test halt at X was one of our best of the year.  Super happy with our canter departs as well as our canter loops. Our weakest movement is the trot lengthening…we just don’t have one.  We made it through the ride with no spooks, no “unexpected tension,” and no major errors.

Now came the hardest part – we’d done our best with a 67.86% average from the two judges, but now we had to wait to see how the next 25 or so riders would do to know our fate.  We hung out in the top 5 for more than half the class, but slowly, we saw our name drifting lower in the placings.  At 4:30 we were sitting in 8th place – the last placing with a ribbon and participation in the awards ceremony….and then there were three riders left….and sadly, the second to last rider bumped us to 9th place.  Our fate was sealed and we could now finish loading the trailer for the 2 hour ride home.  I must admit that I choked up since I hoped to place – not just for me, but for all those who have tirelessly supported us on this journey.

I teared up even more when we arrived at the barn.  Ms. C had left a lovely ribbon hanging on Ike’s stall to welcome us home.  In her mind, we deserved a ribbon – she is our toughest judge of all, so this ribbon is so very precious to me.  My horse may not have the fanciest breeding, the most extravagant gaits, or the prettiest tail.  I may not have the advanced dressage skills or the money for winters in Wellington.  But, Ike does have the biggest heart and a lot of try.  We do have a trainer who believes in us and amazing friends and family that support our dreams.  We have an incredible bond and partnership, and in the end, isn’t that worth more than any accolades or championship ribbons?





The Final Push to the Finals

Ike selfie Oct 2015

Hello Friends!  Yet again my mother claims to be too busy to write to you about our preparations for the Region 1 GAIG Finals this coming weekend in Lexington, Virginia.  Sheesh.  So that means that I am taking charge.  How are my friends supposed to know to send good luck vibes unless they know when and where I will be?

We had some down time last month because of the weather.  It rained and rained and rained and then the cooler weather came rushing in.  The cooler air means that my brother and I decided it was time for our fence line games.  We like to walk to the far end of our paddocks and race back to the water trough.  He isn’t as fast an agile as he used to be, but he will try his best.  Mom got mad because I somehow managed to scrape some hide off the front of my hind leg with my front hoof.  I don’t know what she is so worried about.  I didn’t hurt myself.  She is such a fun sucker sometimes.  She also frets that I will slip and fall during my hijinks.  Does she not have any faith in my athletic ability?  It should be me worrying that she will slip and fall…she can be such a klutz sometimes. (I watched her hit her head on the stall door as she ducked under the stall guard.  I stifled my laugh, but I have to tell you that it was pretty funny!  But don’t tell her that I told you or I might not get to borrow the laptop again.)

I’m glad that it is getting colder since my winter coat is growing in pretty thick this year.  Mom will probably still make me wear my blanket even though I really don’t need it – I feel like Ralphie’s brother in A Christmas Story when I am all bundled up when no one else is wearing anything.  We should all be glad that Mom doesn’t try to clip me.  I would look like I’d been shaved by a blind woman using her feet to hold the clippers.  I hear it is supposed to be very cold in Lexington this weekend, but better that than too hot.

When Mom and I did get back to work after the rain, Ms. C said that I was looking very fit.  She also complimented my canter and how much it had improved since last year.  Mom is the one who bears the brunt of the criticism since she is the one making all the mistakes.  I always try to do what she asks, but sometimes she is not clear about what she wants and I have to guess.  I try and bail her out as best I can.  There is only so much a fellow can do in some instances.

Part of Mom’s problem might be that she can’t see very well.  She has these things she wears in front of her eye’s that supposedly help her see.  Many times though, I catch her squinting.  Other times, the things on her eyes are so dirty that I’m not even sure she can tell if I am clean or dirty.  The lack of eyesight might explain why we make ovals instead of circles when we are practicing or why we miss X when halting.  She had to go see a special doctor and now she is complaining that she had to buy eye things call bifocals.  I will have to run away if she shows up with more eyes on her head.

Mom and I had our final lesson this morning.  We rode our final’s test from start to finish, then Ms. C made Mom judge each of the movements and next asked how she could have made them better.  Haha!  See, it is all Mom’s fault when we do things wrong.  Well, I do sometimes make it hard for Mom to do some things, but a fellow can’t be all work and no play.  I like to think it keeps her on her toes and sharpens her skills to a certain degree.  Ms. C felt that our trot work was where we could pick up some extra points, so that is what we schooled for the rest of the lesson.  She made us focus on riding accurate 10 meter circles with my body in the proper alignment.  That is HARD!  Mom and I also worked on our leg yields since there is a tendency for my hind end to get left behind.  When we get it right, Mom says we get good scores.  Let us hope she uses her corner to help set up the movement properly.

Well, all our homework is done.  I get the next 2 days off to rest.  Mom has lots of packing to do and has to go to work.  She says that without work, I would not live the lifestyle that I’ve become accustomed to having, so I encourage her to work hard at her job.  She tells me that unlike apples, money does not grow on trees.  That’s okay with me since I like eating apples.  I leave the money eating to my brother.

I promise to try my hardest this weekend.  Mom promises to let you know how we do.


#EnoughRainAlready – I Want To Ride!

"I will say my goodbyes from over here."

“I will say my goodbyes from over here.”

Sigh, it has been a challenging few weeks.  The Mid-Atlantic region has been coping with copious amounts of rain after a dry spell.  We were run out of our fall beach week 2 days early because of a nor ‘ easter, only to come home to a rainstorm and another nor ‘ easter.  Thank goodness Joaquin decided not to pay us a visit.

The foggy photo was taken the last morning before vacation.   Ike must have thought that he was expected to come with us because he avoided all interaction with me. I didn’t push the issue, gave all the apples to his brother,  screamed goodbye, and headed down the road for a week.  Did he learn anything from this? Probably not, but he came right to me when I returned,  “Hi Mom!  Come see me! Do you have treats?”

In the few rides that I have squeezed in between rain events, I am feeling confident with our First Level work heading into the last weeks before the finals.  Someone read my blog post from 2 ½ years ago titled “C is for Canter, P is for Patience” just the other day.  It was a good reminder of how far we have come with our work.  Back then we struggled to stay on a 20 meter circle.  Ike resembled Scooby Doo on more than one occasion.  Our walk and trot work carried our scores.  I can proudly say that we have now seen 7’s and 7.5’s in our canter work later this season.  Real evidence of progress! 

Our Second Level endeavors are also coming along.  Even Ms. C was pleasantly surprised with our turn on the haunches. There is hope for us yet.  I am pretty certain that our scores for the movement could finally exceed the 5 ‘s that we received earlier this year.  We have scaled back our simple change schooling until after the finals. Ike sometimes offers canter when I want trot…honest mistake, but it would be costly in our finals class.  The changes are coming and we will be ready in the spring when the plan is to go full Second Level.  (It would be the first time EVER that my season didn’t involve Intro, Training, or First Levels.  I feel like a big kid now.)



In other news, we have added an adorable Husky cross to the family. Lena is a five-year old from our local SPCA.  She is a lovable doll who just today barked for the first time since joining the family.  Briefly considered bringing her to the fall show for the doggie costume contest, but decided against it since she has yet to be introduced to the equine side of the family. Better to wait until she is more settled.  They can be a bit overwhelming the first time.

Sorry for the delay posting since our return.  I started drafting this last night and lost the post.  Not sure where it wandered off to, but I hope it finds a happy home like Lena did.

Fingers crossed for some sunshine this weekend!!


The Last Gasp Before The Finals

Ike at Rose Mount September 2015

Ike at Rose Mount September 2015

Phew, our last regular show weekend of the year is in the books – we just now have to power through to the championship show in October.  This particular show is a special one to me since my dressage chapter is the one that hosts the show.  We only have 45 members, so it takes everyone plus our supportive family members to pull off the weekend successfully.  Planning starts pretty much the year before when dates are selected and judges are secured.  Since so many of us also like to compete at the show, there is careful planning so that everything is set so that we can still get our horses ready for the competition.  Needless to say that the week leading up to the show is crazy as all the pieces and parts must be delivered to the show grounds and then assembled before the competitors arrive on Friday.

 And, if I can boast for just a second, I must say that we might be a small group, but we are mighty, and we pull off a mighty nice dressage show.  We’ve got a tent full of vendors with fabulous wares to sell, delicious food, an air-conditioned and flushable port-a-john trailer (yes, you read that correctly, air-conditioned), lovely ribbons and prizes, generous sponsors, and the BEST volunteers.  Mother Nature was a bit of a wicked witch on Saturday with some heavy rain, but the show went on and Sunday dawned a stunning fall day. 

There was a brief moment on Saturday morning that I questioned whether or not we would make it to the show.  My husband and I arrived at the farm to hook up the trailer and load Ike.  While my husband hitched the trailer, I was responsible for retrieving said horse and having him at the ready when the ramp went down.  Ike revived his one man play of “The Gingerbread Man” and ran as fast as he could around his paddock avoiding Mom.  Not even an apple would draw him close even when I shared the better part of it with his brother.  Luckily Ms. C felt sorry for me and stepped in to help.  Thank goodness that Ike never says “No” to her.  When that happens, we are doomed.

As I mentioned, Saturday was a bit of a soggy day.  And when I say soggy, I mean soaked through to your underwear as you watch the rain stream off your very expensive saddle as you pray that there is no permanent damage.  I must also get on my soap box for a moment and ask again who thought that WHITE pants were appropriate riding attire??!!  Unflattering to most of us and rather transparent when wet.  I’m fairly certain that the tag on my underwear was readable through the wet fabric. We ended up only riding our First Level test and with a personal licensed show best of 67.9% we came home with a pretty red ribbon.  That test made me feel secure with where we are as we head to the championship show.

Sunday dawned a better day.  Crisp fall air and bright sunshine.  Since we didn’t want a repeat of Saturday, Ms. C brought Ike in before we arrived.  Sorry big boy.  My first ride time was identical to Saturday and my second was shortly after – that meant we only had to tack up once which is always a good thing in my book.  Anyway, our First Level test was not as tension free as Saturday’s ride, but we still managed a respectable 65.7% and another red ribbon.  Would you like to take a guess at what caused our tension?  Geese.  Canadian geese waddling about right outside the fence line.  Just what is it about birds that Ike cannot handle?  At least they did not take flight since that would have guaranteed that I would have had a short duration flight as well.

Our second test of the day was Second Level Test 1 or as I like to call it, the one with all the simple changes.  Luckily, Ike and I have made progress in our simple changes and we actually received some 7’s for them during this test. Woohoo!  There is hope for us yet.  As you can see from the video, we still need to develop better throughness and Ike needs to sit on his hind end more, but considering that we really just started Second Level a few months ago, I am pleased with our progress.  The plan is to work hard all winter and be ready to bust a move with Tests 2 and 3 at our first show in May 2016. 


We ended up with a 63.333% and a third place ribbon.  Our goal for Second Level this season was not to make it to any of the championships, but to achieve at least 60% in our scores.  I’m just thrilled to say that all of the Second Level tests that we have ridden this year have hit the 60th percentile range.

With this show behind us, our sights are now set on the Region 1 GAIGs in mid-October.  Big man is going to get a well deserved break for a few days and then we will be back to work to fine tune the elements for the First 3 test.

Thanks for sticking with us this season!




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!


Spring Is In Full Swing!


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.


Working My Way Out of the Quicksand


Finally, after feeling like we were mired in quicksand for way too long, Ike and I are making some tangible progress toward our goal of competing at Second Level.  The past week has given me a very optimistic attitude for the season ahead.

The schooling show last weekend was just the spark I needed to get the season started on an uptick.  I had forgotten what a wonderful thing a schooling show can be.  It was a low key and white-britches-free experience.  We arrived well in advance of our rides, but I wanted to give Ike plenty of time to “drink it in” as my friend D likes to say.  Instead of drinking anything, Ike opted to bury his muzzle in the grass in the parking area and ignore everyone.  If we’d left after that, Ike would have considered the day a success.

Warm up was a bit of Ike’s wild ride, but luckily we had Ms. C on the ground to comfort Ike with Mrs. Pasture’s cookies.  We’d signed up for First Level Test 1 and Test 3.  The rider in front of me scratched, so we opted to head down centerline early.

I was pleased with our first effort.  I goosed Ike on our first lengthening, and we had a bit of a spook on our left lead lengthening, but overall it was a solid test.  It earned us a 71.11%.  Our first ever First Level score over 70%.  I was elated.  The judge was very generous with both her written and oral comments.  Many of her comments were geared towards what we need to add for our transition to Second Level…I greatly appreciate all of her insightful words of wisdom.

We didn’t have long to wait for our second ride (another bonus for schooling shows).  I was a bit worried that the horses in the adjacent paddock might decide to have another gallop as they did for the rider ahead of me, but we lucked out with 7 minutes of calm.  My apologies, but I have not yet uploaded the second video to YouTube.  But I am happy to report that we received a 70.588% on Test 3 and managed to get a 7.0 and an 8.0 on our canter loops!!  Hallelujah!!  The girl has finally learned how to properly ride a canter loop.  There is hope yet for successful countercanter!

We also survived a visit with the saddle fitter with my saddle still adequately fitting Baby Huey.  She did have to stretch the tree which means if someone’s shoulders muscle up anymore, I am doomed as is my pocketbook…Since it appears that I am on borrowed time, I did test ride in a few of the newer models that Custom Saddlery ( ) offers to see what my options might be.  There were a few that I immediately cringed as soon as I sat in them (a medium twist is NOT for me), but luckily my saddle fitter had about 30-35 saddles in her trailer.  I’m currently test riding in a Icon Flight model with hybrid memory foam and wool flocking.  It is the new design that will be available on their website soon.  Oooh, it is comfy.  The knee blocks put my leg in a very steady position and I was able to stay in sit trot for more than a couple of minutes.  Ike also seemed quite content with the fit.  He too “told” us when he did not like the fit of the demo saddles.  While I like it now, it will be interesting to see how I feel about it after 7 or 8 rides.

So I am looking towards our licensed show in two weeks with new found optimism; hoping that I can recreate the rides of last weekend for all our First Level rides.  I am also eyeing our Second Level debut for May 24th.  Full steam ahead!

Breathe In, Breathe Out, Repeat

Tim April 9 2015

Jimmy Buffett tells us in one of his songs to, “Breathe in, breathe out, move on,” but today I find myself holding my breath and wanting to go back in time.  I catch myself holding the inhale just a wee bit too long and then I must remind myself to breathe out.  It is not my equines causing this lack of oxygen exchange, but the loss of our beloved canine Tim.  We said our final goodbyes yesterday, but it still doesn’t seem real.  I keep hoping his scruffy face will pop around the corner to see me.  I would love to hold him just one last time to tell him how lucky we were to have him as part of our lives.

He was 14 and the gentlest soul.  I think I can honestly say that everyone who met him liked if not loved him.  He was a great ambassador for dogs.  He did a stint as a therapy dog and enjoyed letting children read to him.  He was an attentive listener and they always thought he was reading right long with them.  Little did they know that I hid treats in the books at home so that Tim would stare at the pages…hoping for more treats to fall into his mouth.  If ever there was a dog that needed to be cloned, he was an ideal candidate.  His final days were peaceful and I feel certain that all our family dogs that went before him and my husband’s Dad (Mepaw) were there to greet him with wagging tails and open arms on the other side of the bridge.

But, maybe, just maybe, Jimmy Buffett was right about the “move on” part.  But though I grieve, time marches forward and I must look ahead to our first show this weekend.  Thankfully it is a small schooling show and we are doing two First Level tests that we feel comfortable performing.  No pressure.  Just a fun outing to distract my thoughts for a few hours.

"Mom, I gave myself a mud bath!"

“Mom, I gave myself a mud bath!”

Maybe that is what Ike was trying to do by wallowing like a pig in the mud hole he has created in his paddock.  There was mud in most every orifice, in his forelock, his tail, and covering at least 95% of his hulking body.  Grooming today was a strength and aerobic workout rolled into one.  I curried, and brushed, and wiped away clump after clump.  I used my fingers to detangle his mane and tail.  After an hour, he was presentable.  But for that hour, I did not cry.  I just talked to Ike as he munched his hay.  Perhaps it was his way of getting my mind off the sadness of Tim’s loss.

Ms.C did her best to keep my mind distracted for the next hour as she gave us one final lesson before the show.  I did my best to keep my mind on the tasks at hand.  It really is how I should ride each and every time I throw my leg over Ike’s back.  Be present during my ride just as I expect from Ike.  From there, we are two minds working as one.  We really did have some great leg yields and canter work today.  Fingers crossed that we can replicate the lesson on Sunday.

Breathing will eventually return to normal, but life will be a little different without Tim around.  But though he is no longer by my side, he will always be in my heart.  I will ride with that joy in my heart each time I head down centerline.



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.


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!


Squeak, Squeak, Squeak Goes the Diesel Engine

Ike peering from barnDid you hear that horrible squeaking noise on Tuesday afternoon?  The one that sounded like a 50 year old bike being pedaled up a hill?  That would have been Ike and me in our dressage lesson.  Sheesh, it sure doesn’t take long for Ike to get a little stiff and rusty, and seemingly lose all the progress we’ve made towards Second Level.  It takes even less time for my riding to fall to pieces.  I suppose that is what happens when you are down to riding once a week.

Such is the plight of the average rider in the middle of winter.  We are at the mercy of the weather since we have no indoor arena.  Why am I not riding regularly?  Too wet, too cold, too frozen, too windy can all be used to explain why.  People like me are not able to leave our jobs, homes, and family and spend the winter in Florida playing with our horses every day.  We live vicariously through videos posted online; we jealously stew over their short-sleeved shirts and shiny, mud-free horses.

It was probably a good thing that I didn’t ride in the gale force winds on Monday.  Ike had a very busy day applying a mud mask to all exposed parts of his body.  It took me a good hour or so of grooming to get the dried, caked mud from Ike’s head, neck, legs, and tail.  There was even mud under the blanket – I’m not sure how he managed that feat.  I was as dirty as he was just from taking off his blanket.  As you can see from this photo, there was a clear line of demarcation between the land of the blanket and the mud flats.

Line of demarcation

Ike’s neck after 15 minutes with the curry…

While I cursed the blanket for sharing Ike’s mud with me, I also was thankful that it was in place or my task would have been even more daunting.  When I was done, even my teeth felt gritty.  A friend suggested that I get some Orbit gum for my dirty mouth.

Thankfully, Ike did not reapply his mud mask on Tuesday, so grooming was quick work and we could get straight to our lesson.  It. Was. Not.  Pretty.  Ike was stiff; all body parts were moving, but all parts were not moving together.  My fingers were stiff in the cooler weather which meant that my reins kept getting too long and uneven and I was always a half a step too slow for a proper half halt.  Transitions were our saving grace.  It took a good 25-30 minutes, but finally Ike’s body started moving more fluidly.  Ah, he is like a diesel engine – he just needs some time to warm up before getting to work.

Once the engine was humming, our work improved 10 fold.  We starting working on our leg yields to supple Ike even more.  I still have trouble keeping the correct alignment.  All too often, I leave Ike’s hind end playing catch up as I let the shoulders bully their way ahead.  Just half halt that outside rein to stop it they say; I say bully to that.  Once Ike’s shoulders take the lead, it is all I can do to slow them down.  I also have to be careful that I maintain the proper flexion since Ike is more than happy to demonstrate his half pass ability. (which by the way is lovely.)  We tried the new First Level Test 3 movement of leg yielding from K to X and then from X to H.  Make sure you have control of those shoulders well before X – it is way too easy to overshoot X and end up with a very steep line to H.

We then moved on to shoulder in and started introducing the Second Level Test 1 pattern.  Holy moly!  We can actually do it!  I am still in shock.  There is a dim chance that we might actually be ready to try Second Level at a schooling show in April.  Ike and I can finally ride the first 8 movements of the test with some level of success.  We are able to show a change between a collected trot and a “medium-like” trot.  The medium trot is still a work in progress, but work has stalled with the poor footing.  We are really in a correct shoulder in position and don’t just have an over bent giraffe neck.  We can ride smooth square turns onto and off of the rail.  Reinbacks are decent.  Luckily, Ike can already walk and free walk, so movements 7 and 8 feel like bonus points.

But that is where are work ended for the lesson.  The footing was not safe enough to push for medium trots or canter.  Call me a wuss, but I’d rather err on the side of caution then end up with a tendon injury that sidelines any work.  Warmer weather will be here soon enough and we will be back to full speed.  I am still practicing my impatiently patient skills.  They too are a work in progress.