Ike’s One Man Skit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

191Show season is now officially over.  The schooling show yesterday was a mixed bag of results.  I naturally assumed that we’d kick butt at Training Level and have our bobbles during our first attempt at First Level.  Well as the saying goes, never assume anything.  Ike made sure that I will never again assume anything as far as his performance.  I had two tests to ride and two completely different horses to ride.  A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde skit played out in the dressage ring.

The First Act – Mr. Hyde’s performance.

Warm up was stellar.  Ms. C was there to school us and I felt confident that we could go out and hit the high 60’s or perhaps even clear that 70 percentile mark to end the season.  Our trot loop was too loopy, but the real trouble started once I asked for the left lead canter.  There was a lot of horse under me and I did my best to tame the wild beast.  Well, once we completed the circle, Ike shifted into a higher gear.  Pretty certain that the judge and scribe were fearful of Ike ending up in their laps as we headed toward the short end.  We careened around past C and Ike’s hind end skidded out from under us and took down part of the dressage arena.  That then sent him into a blind panic and he bolted down the long diagonal.  The fifth movement of the test calls for a trot transition at X.  Ike performed a canter-walk transition at A.  We somehow managed an average (6) free walk, but once we transitioned to trot and then to canter, surprise, the jets were turned back to high and we blasted through the remainder of the test.

The judge’s oral comments included the phrases “Scooby Doo” and “white knuckles.”  Hmm, not the comments one expects to hear.  She also commented that she feared that we’d not slow down before reaching the fencing of the adjoining paddocks.  Little did she know that while I was less than amused with Ike’s behavior, I was not fearful at all.  Many years of riding my whack-a-doodle Thoroughbred had prepared me well for any antics of my young horse.  While Ike can be very powerful in his spooks, they lack the feline quick spin/buck/bolts of Ike’s predecessor.  We gladly accepted our sixth place ribbon for the class.  My husband dubbed the ride the day’s comic relief.

Sir Ike then had to face Ms. C to explain his behavior.  He just batted his big brown eyes and begged for a peppermint.  Sorry, big boy, there is a lesson you must learn before your next ride with canter lengthenings…you must be patient, wait for your rider’s instructions, and then listen to the aids rather than blow through them.  You are expected to respond when Mom half halts.  Ike spent 40 minutes working on: Trot, more trot, halt.  Walk, canter, halt, reverse, trot, halt.  Trot, extend, halt.  Walk, canter, lengthen, halt.  The boy was a bit sweaty, but was listening well and on the aids when our next ride time arrived.

The Second Act – Dr. Jekyll’s Turn.

Finally time for the long awaited First Level debut.  Deep breath or as deep as I could with my cold.  As I gave my number to the scribe, I also said, “Round Two.”  The judge responded by asking that we not make her knuckles turn white again.  That might be a tall order, but we’d try our best.  The two 10 meter half circles were not great, but big boy still isn’t stellar with bending all 86 inches of his body.  Managed a 7 on our first trot lengthening and an 8 for our stretchy trot circle at the judge.  Phew, a third of the test down, and we were still in control.  Next up was the dreaded walk-trot-canter transition…squirrel pulled off a 7.  The canter circle was too big for a 5 and the lengthening show no clear comeback so that earned us a 5.5.  Stinker pulled a 7 for his left lead canter transition and a remarkable 8 on the left lead lengthening and comeback.  Best of all, we were still in control and the ring was still standing!  Our final halt found me beaming and giving Ike’s next a huge hug before we left the ring.  Thank you for that Ike.  Mom truly appreciates that effort.

The final score was a 63.793% (getting high marks for the movements with a coefficient helped the bottom line).  It still put us fourth of four, but that wasn’t the concern.  We survived our first First Level test, cleared 60% which was my goal, and best of all, we recovered from the disastrous first ride.  I think that last achievement was our greatest feat for the day.  It is how you weather the bumps and the rough rides that truly mark your progress as a rider.  No rider and no horse is perfect.  Just keep putting your foot in the stirrup and keep riding.


Where Do I Start? The Regional Finals In A Nutshell

Alison and Ike selfie

The BIG weekend is finally behind us.  The butterflies have left my stomach and started their migration south for the winter.  The nervous twitch in my neck is gone and I can finally sleep through the night.  Ike is safely tucked in his own stall after spending the day grazing in his paddock and visiting with his buddies.  I can only imagine the stories he shared with them about his stay in Lexington, Virginia.

It is hard to summarize a weekend like this.  There are so many stories and moments that I want to remember.  You only ever have one first time at a show like the USDF Regional Finals.  When we return (hopefully) next year, we will be wiser and stronger.  There will be no worrying about how to navigate the check-in process or how to get around the show grounds.  We will be smarter about packing for Ike and for us.  Hopefully Ike will no longer feel the need to spook and shy during our tests since he will have been-there-done-that.

So instead of droning on and on about things that only I want to remember, I will share what I think are the high points of the weekend.

The camaraderie with my friends:  I was fortunate enough to have two fellow competitors from my local dressage chapter at the show with me.  We all have young horses who are all showing Training Level.  Each of them has their “young horse issues” that they are working through, so we commiserate and cheer for each other.  This show would not have been nearly as much fun without them there to share the experience.  Each of our equine boys came home with exactly one pink ribbon.  (Ike got his in his Training Level Test 2 test despite his spook in the middle of his trot circle.)

The doggie costume contest:  So while this was a very horse centric weekend, the dogs did have the chance to have their moment in the spotlight.  The Virginia Dressage Association always holds a doggie costume contest in conjunction with the fall show to raise money for a local animal rescue group.  It is always a popular Saturday night activity, and this year there were over 40 dogs vying for one of the 6 placings.  My friends and I entered our canines as a group…Emma the leggy cocktail waitress, Meg the cosmopolitan, and Tim the dirty martini.  And our dogs pulled off what their equine companions could not…Champion status and a chance to stand in the middle of the coliseum with the crowd cheering.

The 2013 Champion Doggie Costume Contest Winners

The 2013 Champion Doggie Costume Contest Winners

The best support team:  There is no way that I could not acknowledge the greatest support team a girl and her pony could ever want.  My husband is always there to drive Ike and I to whatever show we enter.  He will wipe my boots, keep peppermints in his pockets, and babysit my naughty horse when Ike decides that he needs to rear to look out the window waaaay up on the side of the barn.  He is a saint and I love and appreciate him more than words can say.  Ms. C was there to coach me for my finals ride.  Without her Ike and I would never have made it to the finals.  She will scour my score sheets and help to decipher the judge’s illegible comments.  She will continue to help us strive to improve and we will do our best to be the best pupils so that next year we can earn that victory lap.  And I must give a big shout out to my friends who were able to come and watch our finals ride and all those who sent good luck and good karma our way.  I also need to thank two of my youngest supporters for their special gifs.  My good luck pipe cleaner bracelet from Peter made me smile all weekend.  And, below is a photo of Angelina and I and the inspirational gift she gave me when I returned home.  It is humbling to feel so loved and supported.

Angelina made this awesome card for Ike and I for our efforts at the GAIGs.  It says "I kicked butt at my horse show."

Angelina made this awesome card for Ike and I for our efforts at the GAIGs. It says “I kicked butt at my horse show.”

Riding down centerline for your first finals ride ever:  Wow!  How nerve-wracking was warmup for my finals ride.  Trying to be perfect is hard work!  I tried my best to breathe regularly, relax my shoulders, and smile.  Ike tried his best to do the same until the green tractor of doom decided to come groom the warmup arena we were using.  He decided that we needed to leave NOW and find a better place to work.  Ike left in such a hurry that he left Ms. C to face the tractor on her own.  We then moved to the warmup arena designated for our finals class.  It was lunch break, so things were quiet.  Hand walking was allowed around the arena, so I dismounted and Ms. C and I walked Ike around the indoor for one last look.  Then came the dilemma that I had to get back on my big pony…enter the nice gentleman who offered to give me a leg up…and then watch Alison thwack him in the face with her whip.  I apologized profusely for my gaff.  That will be the last time he tries to be nice to a stranger…Time flew by and soon the class started.  I watched the first rider head down centerline for her final salute, and then it was our turn.  The squirrel nailed his entry and we were off.  The ride was going well in my estimation until we rounded the short end and fell out of our left lead canter.  Got it back within a stride, but I knew that would be a costly mistake.  We did our final salute, thanked the judges, and left the arena.  Dare I say I felt tears of relief well up in my eyes?  We did it – good or bad – we did it.  In this day and age of instant information, it wasn’t long before we had our score:  64.5%  (62.4% from the judge at C, 66.6% from the judge at E).  18th of 38 competitors.  Not bad considering our bobble.

The judge at C’s comment at the end of my score sheet was that “horse has greater talent than was shown.”  So there it is.  My homework for the winter.  Ike is going to continue to mature and get stronger.  Alison is going to hone her skills and finally execute an effective half halt and learn to relax.  Together we are going to refine that raw talent and show the world what we can do.  Can’t wait to see what is in store in the year to come!

What The!?!

The Big, Bad Horse

The Big, Bad Horse

So I go out-of-town for a week of sand between my toes and I came home to an ENORMOUS horse.  I swear that Ike added 6 inches in height and at least 100-200 pounds while I was gone.  How is this possible?  What did Ike eat in the 7 days I was gone to bulk up that quickly?  I checked around the barn, but did not find any secret stash of steroids or evidence of weight gain powder residual in his food bowl.  Of course, I am certain that he really didn’t gain any height or weight in one week, but the mind sure can play tricks.

While I didn’t do much besides play in the surf and soak up some rays, Ike had to face the daunting task of performing for Ms. C on two days.  Luckily he was his usual stellar self for both of his training sessions.  She put Ike through his paces and confirmed that indeed, he is ready to move to harder concepts.  She played with pushing Ike forward and then bringing him back to a working gait.  There are more gears yet to be discovered.  Oh, dear.  While an extended canter does nothing to faze me, a huge extended trot is enough to give me the vapors.  Thank goodness that you can now rise the trot even at First Level.

Knowing that our (okay, my) next big hurdle is sitting Ike’s trot while keeping him together and keeping my legs from shooting out in front of me, that is what I worked on for my ride on Sunday.  Why not go full-out my first day back in the saddle!?  I used my SOS strap as best I could to help keep my ass in the saddle where it is supposed to be.  Also used all my yoga breathing techniques to keep me from holding my breath as I am prone to do.  Had limited success with the SOS strap since I then would forget to half halt and Ike would lose his connection and raise his head.  Arrrgh!  Oh yeah, as I was forgetting to half halt, I also managed to let my reins get too long so Ike was left to wonder what the heck was going on in the saddle.  He did his best at interpreting what he thought were my aids, but were in fact just me flopping around like a fish out of water.  And no, there is no video.

Today was a challenging day.  Ike must have woken up on the wrong side of the stall, because he was recalcitrant from the moment I retrieved him for the farrier appointment.  He tried to bite me.  He tried and almost succeeded in biting his farrier (he must have forgotten what happened the one time he did bite Phil…).  He then tried to bite me again.  Once the shoeing was done, he pawed the shavings in his stall until there was a hole near the door.  I yelled.  Ike then turned around and pushed with all his might on the stall door which got him a poke on the butt from me.  He then tried biting me while pinning his ears as I wrote the check to the farrier.

I decided to tack up to see if the mood would carry over.  Why yes, it did.  He tried to bite me as I tightened the girth.  He spit the bit out.  He even spit out his peppermint.  A squeeze from my leg resulted in an ear-pinning, cow kick to which I responded with a tap from my whip.  I got an ear-pinning, “I’m going to bite you” look from that.  Ike then sucked back and would not connect.  Then he decided to play giraffe and blow through my half halts.  After 30 minutes of arguing, we FINALLY had 10 minutes of pleasantness.  I considered that a success and dismounted.  Tomorrow is another day.  Hoping Ike has a better night’s sleep tonight.  Vacation is over!