Hello All You Happy People!

Ike shares his latest thoughts...

Ike shares his latest thoughts…

A happy hello to all my friends!

My Mom is yet again a slacker, so I am tasked with filling you in on the latest news from my little corner of the world…Seriously, I don’t know what that woman does with her time.  I mean, she is only at the barn for two maybe three hours a day.  What could she possibly doing that is more important than spending time with me?!!

In fact, Mom left me for another week recently.  She went on what she called a “vaycashun” and said that I was getting one too.  Hmm, I think I got the short end of the straw.  She went to some place called a beach and came home with brown skin and a peeling nose.  I didn’t go anywhere!  How is that even close to being one of those “vaycashuns”?  I stayed in my same stall, hung out in my same paddock, saw my same friends each day.  No sign of a beach anywhere.  I hear a beach has sand and water.  I didn’t even step foot in our arena which is the only sand at the farm.  Water?  I had to paw the water trough to make the water slosh around.  To express my displeasure, I decided to rub off a large section of my mane.  Let’s see Mom try to put a braid in it next weekend!  Muwahaha!

And yes, you guessed it, we have another show next weekend.  Mom says we are going to yet again attempt the test with the canter loops.  Since after she arrived home, there were only two weeks until the show, she has been a bit of a maniacal slave driver.  We had not one,not two, but THREE lessons this past week.  I know that I don’t need that much help, so Mom must think she needs extra help from Ms. C.  I think it is funny when Ms. C asks Mom, “So what did you think of that transition/leg yield/circle/halt?”  Mom gets this blank look about her because she knows that obviously there was something lacking, but she isn’t quite sure what it was.  Why don’t they just ask me?  I can tell you when Mom is noncommittal or making a half-assed effort.  It amuses me to only kind of commit.  Ms. C then fusses at Mom to try harder.  Haha!  The problem is when Mom finally does, we both have to work a lot harder.  Ms. C gets all excited and tells Mom, “there’s your working trot,” “that is your lengthening!”  Phew!  It is hard work to get those comments.  Ms. C says that kind of work is what we need to continue to strive for during each ride.  No more putzing around.  Hmm, all this hard work makes a fellow tired.

At least we will be better prepared for those canter loops than we were at the last show.  Did Mom really think that only two weeks of practice were going to make us proficient?  After all, she’d never ridden countercanter before…and of course, neither had I (at least not intentionally).  Now we more often than not can ride a shallow loop without me showing off my flying changes or dropping out of the canter.  Thankfully, Mom is more refined with her aids.  She even knows where to put her legs.  What a good Mom.  She should get a cookie.  No wait, I get all the cookies at the lessons. 🙂

At least it hasn’t been blazing hot this past week for all this extra work.  Usually by now, we are roasting like marshmallows.  I’ve heard the term “unseasonably cool” used a few times.  That is okay with me.  I hope it is this way next weekend at the show.  If you are out and about in Culpeper, come see me!  I love when folks come and cheer me on!  It is okay to cheer for Mom as well, but we will know you are really there to see me.  I promise not to tell.







Yes, there is very exciting news from Ike’s Centerline Adventures!  Well, I should say that I am beyond giddy at the news;  Ike was nonplussed and continued to munch his hay and enjoy the unseasonably warm day.

I guess I should back up first.  Late last year, I received an e-mail from USDF (along with every other USDF member) announcing that Hilda Gurney would be the clinician for the USDF Adult Clinic Series (http://www.usdf.org/education/clinics/adult/index.asp).  She would be in Region 1 in April 2014.  Riders interested in being demonstration riders were invited to apply.  What the heck, I said to myself, go ahead and apply.  It cost nothing to send in the application.  How many other opportunities will you have to have a lesson with a former Olympian?

So I gathered up all the necessary information for the application:  Ms. C’s recommendation, my show record, and my clinic history.  I scoured all the videos that we’d taken over the past year and culled the best out of the bunch – one of a Training Level test, the only one I had from our one First Level test, and some leg yield video from a lesson.  In early January, I emailed the video links to USDF and mailed my completed application.

Then a week after I mailed it, I was launched and the snow began to fall with regularity.  Phew,  good thing I had some decent video already.  And then the wait began in earnest.  And we waited, and waited.  In an e-blast from the USDF Region 1 director, it was noted that there was a record-setting number of rider applications (37).  Oh, hmm, our chances seemed slim.

And this morning, there was an email from USDF with the subject line, “USDF Adult Clinic Region 1 Selected Riders.”  My stomach did a flip flop as I pressed the button to read the email…would we be on that list?  And there it was under the bold heading – Selected Riders  – Alison Thompson on Commanders Eisenhower!!

EEEEEEKKKK!  I read it three or four times and squealed like a little kid on Christmas morning.  The dogs went crazy as I jumped up and down.  I stared at the screen for another minute before I grabbed the phone to call my husband.  “Guess who was selected for the Hilda clinic?!”  He was thrilled for me.  My second call of course to was Ms. C.  She was very excited for us as well.

Now there is a real deadline for getting out of our wintertime lax schedule.  There is much to be done.  Ike needs to get back into the working mindset.  I need to get myself back into riding shape.  The new boots need to be pulled from the box and broken in before April 12th.  There is no way I’m showing up with my pathetic schooling boots.  Need to get the trailer inspected.  Should check the pads and white polo wraps to make sure they are presentable.  And there is the matter of Ike’s hippie mane that needs to be tamed.  I also suppose that the goat hairs should be trimmed and all the mud removed from his legs and tail.

The list will continue to grow, but tonight we celebrate!

You Know You Have a Problem When…

019Just the other day I had to admit to my husband that I might have a teeny tiny little problem with boots.  He smirked at my deliberation on Facebook about what to do with my windfall Smartpak gift certificate.  Should I be practical and buy essentials or splurge and buy another pair of boots??  Bet you can’t guess what I decided to buy.  I had the full and loving support of my friends who also provided some additional boot choices for consideration.  I still maintain that my riding boots really shouldn’t count when determining if I am just a lover of the boot or someone who requires an intervention.

My riding boot collection includes two pairs of Ariat tall boots- the really good pair that only make an appearance at licensed shows and the pair that have seen better days but are still serviceable, my Mountain Horse winter boots, my brand new and oh-so-pretty Dublin Pinnacle boots (thanks Smartpak!!), my rubber boots, and my paddock boots which I don’t think really qualify as real boots since they only cover my ankles.  My “fashion” boot collection has a fair number of pairs (I dare not reveal the actual number to protect the guilty) with the crown jewel being my Frye boots that joined the family a year ago.

I will be the first one to admit that what boots I wear won’t make one hill of beans difference in how I ride.  My feet might be warmer with my winter boots and I might look just as cute as I can be with my new Dublin boots, but I will still struggle with my half halt timing and Ike will still lean on my right leg with that strong right shoulder.  Too bad that they aren’t magic boots like Cinderella’s glass slipper.  Slip on your “glass boot” and magically be transformed into a Grand Prix rider who has their bronze, silver and gold medals and numerous national titles.  If you believe that, I’ve also got some magic beans to sell you that will make your horse move like an Olympic mount.

My Olympic contender has been full of himself my past two rides.  It could be youthful exuberance or more likely due to the charming children on their four-wheelers and the Wizard of Oz worthy winds that have returned to the mid-Atlantic.  Dear charming children, must you rev your engines every time you ride by my horse?  When your four-wheeler won’t start one day, I will claim to know NOTHING about why not.  I do not know how that engine doodad ended up in the manure pile.

Half halts and sit trot have been my saving grace with these rides.  Thank goodness Ike is really starting to understand what a half halt is even though I am still not fully understanding why I cannot perfect my timing.  Being able to work in sit trot for longer periods of time has allowed me to keep a steadier feel of Ike’s mouth (read – better connection) which has helped my half halt efforts.  Staying in the saddle also helps me better catch Ike’s efforts to bolt when the engine’s rev or the wind gusts…doesn’t help every time, but more often than not I can shut down the go before it happens.  There is that split second before the explosion when there is the stiffening of the muscles as they prepare to spring into action.  If I am paying attention and can feel that moment and half halt or even down transition, Ike will obey the request.  He might not like it, but he will do it.

Although the winds will continue to blow over the next three days along with some snow flurries and the neighborhood children will be out terrorizing the horses, I will be in the saddle sporting one of my many pairs of boots and attempting to master the ever elusive half halt.

Dressage Rings, Stone Dust, and Straight Lines

Tomorrow is our next dressage schooling show, and that means that today was the day to set up the dressage ring and complete all the other last-minute details for the arrival of the competitors.  I volunteered to help with the ring set up.  Why?  Because I’m not right in the head.  I also fit in a stop at a local rescue to drop off donations, a last-minute tune up ride, some limited grooming, and trailer loading before it was time to convene at the show grounds.  There were six of us plus the show manager to get the task done.  It seems so deceptively simple.  It is after all just a rectangle constructed of pre-formed plastic pylons and pre-cut rails.  (Thank goodness the days of the chain rings have gone the way of the dodo bird.)

So I just have to ask, how come in this day and age when technology can remotely start cars and keep us connected with friends and family in an instant, setting up a dressage ring is still a royal PITA?  I mean really, it is a physical and dirty task completed using tools that were available to our ancestors.  A hammer and metal spike are driven into the ground, a premeasured wire is walked to the other end of the arena, and then a string is pulled down the length of the wire.  The process is repeated on diagonals and the other three sides to complete the measurements.  Where is the technology to make this all happen in an instant?  Where are the frickin’ laser beams?

Then the fun starts for unloading the arena off the trailer.  By this time the volunteers are all sweaty so the stone dust crust from the rails decides that it would rather stick to arms and clothing.  Nice.  You next walk behind the trailer unloading the pylons and rails, and then you walk around again fitting the pieces together.  The letters are placed (All King Edward’s Horses Can Move Big Fences and don’t forget to RSVP).  Phew, you think you are done, but you are wrong…using the very sophisticated “eye-ball method,” you look down the long sides to check for straightness.  Even with that piece of string as your guide, it is amazing how crooked that line can be.  You then walk down the side again while someone at the corner gives you hand signals directing which way to push the pylons.  Again, so very high-tech and exact.  Is this how it goes at big events like the Olympics or do they have a faster, cleaner way to accomplish the task?  I’d love to know any secrets to successful ring setup that folks want to share.

Time to head to bed – early day down centerline tomorrow.

You Are Not the Boss of Me!

So I am now certain that we have entered the rebellious teenaged years.  Every ride this week has included an attempt or two or three by Ike to control the gait at which we are traveling.  He opts for the Scooby Doo Scramble every time and also chooses to ignore my attempts to regain control.  This devil-may-care attitude is completely out of character for Ike which led to the certainty of my conclusion.  I fully expect him to put his hooves on his hips and scream, “you aren’t the boss of me!”  then stomp off to his stall and slam the stall door shut.  Of course, the top of the stall is open and I will be able to see him sulking in “his room” but he will have made his point.  I can only hope that this phase will pass quickly.  The schooling show this weekend will be fun if Ike decides to take this show on the road; I foresee low submission and harmony scores in the collectives…awesome.

I started my ride yesterday with walk-halt transitions and some one rein flexes for good measure.  I tried to set the tone quickly hoping that it would shut down any naughtiness.  Ha!  Was I ever wrong.  I thought I had lightening quick reflexes from riding Cigar for 7 years, but Ike managed to outwit my aids numerous times yesterday.  At one point I was pretty certain that we were going to either run through the fence or have to jump over it.  Somehow at the last second, I managed to pull Ike’s nose around enough to make a turn and avoid the collision.  Can I just say how strong the boy is when he gets that motor going.  Yikes!  There is a lot of power in his engine and the brakes need to be adjusted.  He even took advantage while I was attempting a free walk.  Boom!  We are careening down the long diagonal.  I can see the judge’s comment now – “impressive canter lengthening, but you were supposed to be walking, neck needs more stretch.”  Just like a frustrated parent, I tried to remain calm through the commotion.

Today we rode alone.  We had someone with us in the ring every other ride this week;  I also did not carry a whip to see if the behavior would stop.  Wrong.  Again I was lulled into a false sense of peace.  I was riding a three loop serpentine and was thinking to myself that all was back to normal…and then, Ike popped into canter before I could even think half halt.  Luckily I had good rein contact and was able to regain control and our trot within 5 strides.  Looped around again and the stinker again tried to bolt.  Finally, my reflexes were faster than his and I stopped the nonsense before it started…much like a parent waiting outside as their teenager tries to sneak out the window.  For the rest of the ride, Ike was an angel.  I’m certain that he will try again and fingers are crossed that I am on my toes and waiting outside that window.

My motto for the upcoming week:  Stay calm and ride on.

Wellington Memories

                                                          Photo by High Time Photography

As Ike and I close in on one year in our partnership, I’ve been thinking back to the trip to Wellington, Florida last August.  Yes, I know, I know, who goes to Wellington in August?  Crazy people like me looking for a horse.

The trip of course included flying, which is never much fun anymore.  Ms. C and I decided to make the trek with only carry on luggage for fear that the luggage would go MIA in Atlanta and we’d be without our stuff.  Well it was definitely a challenge to fit everything into my suitcase and “one personal item.”  Not only did I have tall boots and a riding helmet (which is not carry on size luggage friendly in any way, shape, or form), I had my quart bag of toiletries (that fits next to nothing), regular clothing, riding clothes, a laptop, a camera, a video camera, all the cords for said electronics, and a notebook filled with information on potential horses.  Heaven only knows what airport security thought when my bags went through the scanner.  Probably a good thing I left the spurs at home; I’d probably still be sitting in the security office of the Richmond Airport.

Ms. C and I still reminisce about the tack stores in Wellington.  There was time to kill our second day, so what better way to spend it than poking around the mecca of horsey stores in Wellington.  We only dream of having so many stores with so many items here at home.  Stores with brands I’ve never seen and haven’t seen since.  Leather goods that make a rider’s heart flutter.  The boots in one store invoked instantaneous boot lust.  They were way too pretty to ever see the inside of the barn, and unfortunately, way too pricey for someone who was shopping for a horse.  I did spend an inordinate amount of time admiring them in the store.  I did manage to purchase some polo wraps, a shirt, and a bridle that all had to be mashed into the carry on bags as well.  I was half tempted to wear the bridle as a necklace and my helmet as a hat, but in this day of Instagram, I wisely chose not to go that route…my suitcase barely fit in the overhead.

If you’ve never been to Wellington and need a recommendation on a hotel – the Hampton Inn & Suites was fabulous.  No questionable linens or unexplained odors in this hotel.  Plenty of outlets for all my electronic devices.  No one looks at you funny when you walk around in riding gear.  They even had cookies at the front desk. 🙂 Never did see the pool, but really didn’t miss it.

One other observation about Wellington – there are some AMAZING homes, barns and arenas in that town.  And that is just what I could see from the road.  I doubt the owners would have welcomed us with open arms were we to have just popped out of our car for a “look-see.”

One of these days I’d love to head back to Wellington when the season is in full swing and swoon at the shiny horseflesh.  I read that Uthopia and Valegro (two of Great Britain’s gold-winning dressage mounts) will most likely go up for sale after the Olympics.  Maybe they will head across the pond and dazzle Florida audiences.  In my dreams, maybe Ike will dazzle them too.

Awe Inspiring

If you are a dressage enthusiast, then today was one of those days that made you go, “Wow!”  By the time the day was over, 30 of the Olympic riders had scores over 70% at Grand Prix and three were over the 80% mark.  Holy <horse poop>!!!  Can’t even imagine achieving 80% at any level let alone Grand Prix.  Thank goodness that so many magazines and companies are posting photos and information online and on Facebook.  Certainly not getting great coverage on television.  Had to resort to using my cell phone to be able to access the online videos in order to see some of the rides…way to go NBC.

Today was our weekly lesson.  Ms. C is trying to instill in me correct riding and training as well as what the correct movement/connection/throughness feels like.  Teaching feel is a tricky thing especially on a green horse.  We have glimpses of correctness, but just as quickly they are gone.  I have moments of proper position, and then it is gone and I’m again flapping like a chicken.  Ms. C has impeccable timing and will let me know when I’ve achieved the perfect moment, “there, did you feel that, you had it for the first three strides and then you threw it away.”  *^%$$* Rider error again.  Keeping the proper rein length is sometimes challenging for me.  Inattentiveness, sweaty gloves, loose fingers…I’ve got it all.  Ike has good reasons for his inability to maintain his position – he is young, he is still filling out and muscling up, and he is still learning what I want from him.  I could come up with excuses, but what is the point.  If I want to ever make it out of the lower levels, I’ve got to figure it out and learn to do things correctly.

Straightness was a problem to start, but once the rider guided him a bit more, Ike’s body parts stopped wiggling.  Ms. C worked with us on our transitions since that seemed to garner us the most comments from the judge at the last show.  We are the weakest in the comeback from free walk to medium walk, so that is where we spent a good amount of time.  Hmm, yet again, rider error in gathering the reins too slowly contributes to the problem.  So many problems to solve…  We also worked on our walk-trot and trot-walk transitions.  Ike starts to anticipate the trot and will hop into the trot.  No Ike, you must wait for me.  Found that Ike was stiffer on the right today and I really had to work to get the proper bend and flexion.  The right lead canter is also not as solid as the left because of the stiffness.  Ended the lesson working on a figure 8 at the trot;  we even had some successful sit trot on the circles.  The circles helped the stiffness to the right and finally, Ike unlocked that throatlatch area for some flexion.  Phew!

Olympic Dreams

So today was day one of the Olympic Dressage competition.  Finally, the nights of suffering through ping pong are over.  What gorgeous horses – I’d kill to have half the knowledge that the horses do and a tenth of what those competitors know.  Who among us wouldn’t love to have the opportunity to ride at the Olympics.  I would not even care if I was the rider in last place.  You could still say, “Ha ha, I rode in the Olympics and you didn’t” to pretty much everyone you know.  What a rush it must be to head down that centerline.  But then you’d remember that there were SEVEN judges watching your every move.  No place to hide and no mistake will go unnoticed.  There wouldn’t just be butterflies in my stomach, there would be a flock of hummingbirds with their razor-sharp beaks and tongues flitting about my innards.

I jokingly told a coworker the other day that I still had a shot at making a future Olympic team.  After all, Japan’s rider is 71 and did a fabulous job today.  I’ve still got 27 years to practice and train; Ike will be 31 by then and will have at least been told about the Grand Prix movements.  We could get our Olympic medal and our Dressage Foundation Century Ride ribbon at the same time.  The equestrian events are one of the few sports where you don’t “age out” by the time you are 25.  [As an aside, it would be interesting to compare the average age of the competitors in each event.  I bet the equestrian disciplines have one of the higher averages.]  Never mind that my skills are average at best and that riding is my hobby.  Truth be told, if Ike and I could qualify for the USDF Region 1 Championship at any level and place in the top ten so as to get one of the coveted neck ribbons, it would be just as awesome and a lot less expensive.

Yesterday was my barn-free day.  Not by choice, but by necessity.  Made sure to get to the barn today to see the boys.  Ike and his stablemates were in the barn when I arrived.  There was lots of bucket banging and whinnying when I walked into the barn.  Quite the cacophony.  Much like a celebrity walking the red carpet at the Oscars, “And the crowd goes wild as Alison draws closer.”  This crowd though doesn’t want an autograph or picture…they want snacks and an ear rub.

I quickly curried off the salt crust from Ike’s coat, checked his hooves, and tacked.  I was sweating profusely even before I placed a foot in the stirrup.  Fall can’t get here quick enough.  Ike must have taken care of his business before I rode today, because there was no awkward movement today.  His floaty, rhythmic trot was back.  I do like his trot and it only gets better as his balance and topline improve.  I can now sit his trot for short periods without his back stiffening (that bouncing on concrete feeling we all know and love).  Canter transitions were a bit exuberant today.  I did introduce the Training Level Test 3 concept of continuing the canter around the short end and onto the diagonal.  Surprisingly, Ike held his canter.  What a good boy.  Ike and I lasted 20 minutes before we withered.

Lesson tomorrow – need to stay sharp for the next show on the 18th.

Living Vicariously

My wild riding days are well behind me, and I now choose to live vicariously through the Olympic eventers.  As a young rider, helmets were unheard of at my barn.  I look back in wonder at how we all survived virtually unscathed considering the foolish things we did on horseback.  Bareback rides on the trails, into the ravine, over the river and through the woods…(now you’ve got that song in your head, don’t you?)  Silly games like hanky pick up, rider pick up, and red rover, red rover.  Somehow I never sustained any significant injuries except for my pride.  One day, I thought I had my girth tight enough during a rousing game of red rover, red rover, but alas, I did not, and after one very quick rollback, slid off the side of my horse with the saddle now suspended under my horse.  Needless to say, I never let that happen again.  We’d also jump anything we could sans helmet.  Ah, the foolishness and stupidity of youth.

These days dressage fits my lifestyle.  Keeping four on the floor so to speak suits me just fine.  My supervisor and regional director already get white knuckles when I describe my days at the barn.  I can only imagine what they’d say if I told them I was taking up eventing while showing them a photo of 20A from today’s Olympic cross country course.  [It was the steep drop portion of the Royal Greenwich Borough.]  They’d somehow revise my job description to prohibit any and all equine pursuits.  Since that would be unthinkable, I’ll stick with the more staid pursuit of dressage.  Training a 4-year-old is good enough at this point in my life…but I wouldn’t be above going for a good gallop every now and again.  Think I’ll wear a helmet as well.

Ike enjoyed his day off today as well as a handful of peppermints.  Plan to ride tomorrow and work on our transitions from free walk to medium and stretch down trot to medium trot without performing “the giraffe.”