Ribbons Here, Ribbons There, Ribbons, Ribbons Everywhere!

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So Mother Nature continues to be a real bee-itch and make riding darn near impossible in Virginia.  Sub zero wind chills and now the looming possibility of up to a foot of snow.  Seriously, Mother Nature, you suck.

What is a rider to do when they cannot ride and grooming your horse means white, stiff fingers within 20 minutes?  You go hibernate indoors.  My house is the cleanest it has been in months.  I have scrubbed grime from crevices that no one else would notice.  Closets and drawers have been decluttered.  Cabinets are organized.  Sketchy containers of condiments have left the refrigerator.

And then I decided to tackle my home office.  Yikes!  It is amazing how quickly papers and other assorted things accumulate in my office.  It is the dumping ground for things that don’t have a better home.  It is also the place where all my horse show ribbons live.  I have only been competing for 3 years with Ike and prior to that, 5 years with Cigar, but boy are there a lot of ribbons loitering about the room.  As you can see, they had become “curtains,” but I feared that the miniblinds would cry “Uncle!” and collapse into two heaps on the floor.  I am embarrassed to admit, but the ribbons were a bit dusty.  There were also cobwebs and one, all right two, sheesh, three dead stinkbugs found amongst the colorful satin.  The horror!!  I boxed Ike’s smaller ribbons from his first two years of showing and only left the yearend awards and his 2014 season ribbons on display…after removing the offending dust, cobwebs, and dead bugs.  (Seriously, where did those stinkbugs come from?!!)

There does come a point though that you need to do something with all the ribbons.  Leaving them in boxes seems silly; there were a lot of blood, sweat, and tears poured into earning those pieces of satin.  You can donate them to a class for projects, dump them in the trash, or find someone with mad-crafting skills to turn them into something decorative.

Heart Wreath

My crafting skills are limited;  I managed to make the Valentine’s wreath above with some of the ribbons, but sewing is beyond my reach.  I opted for option three and turned to a more talented crafter to make something fabulous.  I collected all of Cigar’s show ribbons and handed them over to my friend’s soon to be daughter-in-law who wanted to try her hand at upcycling ribbons.  Let me just say right now that I wish I had done this sooner!  What an awesome way to honor Cigar’s short-lived dressage career.  She made me a hanging quilt and a decorative pillow using the streamers and some of the rosettes.

Ribbon quilt

The coolest feature of the quilt is the back where the show details from each streamer are chronicled.  Lauren put a lot of thought into the design and I could not be more thrilled with the results.

ribbon pillow

The pillow is adorable and lives in a room that always has the door closed.  My dogs thought the pillow looked like a pretty dog toy…the rosette was particularly tempting.  Once I had these two commemorative pieces, I felt better about tossing the unused pieces and reclaiming some space in my closet to now store Ike’s ribbons.  It is a vicious cycle.

So now that the house is clean and organized, spring can hurry up and get here.  This girl is ready for more saddle time!

Our CBLM Finals Recap – What Would Hilda Think?

Getting ready for the victory lap

Getting ready for the Training Level awards ceremony

Phew!  We are now back to reality after living in Horse Show World for 4 days.  Horse Show World is a world unlike any other that I exist in on a daily basis.  Your entire day revolves around your equine family member.  You drag yourself to the barn in the dark to make sure that your beloved horse eats at his normal time.  You realize that your horse is a rather slovenly stall keeper who likes to watch you mine for the poop piles.  Your hands get chapped from fishing out water-logged hay from the water buckets four or five times a day.  Seriously, Ike, why must you leave so much hay in your buckets?  The day’s activities are predicated on what time you need to begin your grooming/tacking/warm up in order to make it down centerline on time.  If you have two rides, this process might have to be repeated…But wait, you can’t leave the show grounds yet, since then you must wait for the class(es) to end to determine if you must frantically retack your horse to make it to the mandatory mounted awards ceremonies.  Even after you scramble to get there, you have to have your baby situated for the night before you can even consider a shower and a real meal.  And who hasn’t driven back to the show grounds for one last night check?  If aliens are watching us, they must think that our horses are in charge and we are their servants.

Ike and I after our First Level final 10th place finish

Ike and I after our First Level final 10th place finish

I am tickled to say that Ike and I finished out our 2014 show season with placings in both of our finals classes.  Yes, can you believe it?!  Both of them.  If you had asked me what the outcome would be, I would have told you that we might have pinned in one or both of our warm up classes, and had a slightly better than average chance of placing in our Training Level Final, but we’d be lucky to be in the top half of our First Level Final.  There were about 30 horse and rider pairs in each of the final’s classes.  Yikes!  When it was all said and done, we came home with a first place in our Training Level Test 2 warm up class, a 5th place in our Training Level Final, and a 10th place in our First Level Final.  [Shhh, don’t tell, I teared up when I realized I placed in each of my final’s classes.]

Here is video from the First Level Awards Ceremony – it cracks me up that Ike seems to realize that we were announced and that the crowd was cheering for him.  I have to say that I was so proud of Ike marching right into the Coliseum like he had done it before…I feared having to walk around by myself while Ike ran freely around the show grounds: 

It finally felt like validation for all our hard work.  We can do this in spite of all my self doubt and my lack of experience.  We started the season with the Hilda Gurney Clinic in Maryland and I can’t help but wonder what she would think of us now.  We were still trying to find a show worthy canter in April, and I am happy to say that we found it this past weekend.  The season that started off with scores of 5.5 for our canter work, ended with 7’s for both the left and right leads.  And let’s be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t be at this point without a cadre of amazing people who have helped Ike and I to establish our partnership.  Thank you to you all!!  If I try to name them all, I fear that I will inadvertently forget someone.  But I must say a special thanks to my husband who is my greatest cheerleader and supporter – I love you dearly for supporting this crazy horse habit!

alison

It Is All About Your Perspective.

Ike at RM 2014

Our final regular season show is now behind us and there is only the Region 1 Colonel Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championship Show (http://www.bglongaker.com/cblmain.htm ) left on the calendar.  It is hard to believe that our third year of showing is almost complete.  Where did the time go?  As I reflect on our show last weekend as well as the season as a whole, I realize that I have much to be thankful for, more than just the satin ribbons that hang on the wall of my home office.

At my show in August, I had my mental breakdown.  Cried like a baby with my frustration about our performance.  There, I said it.  Now everyone knows.  The frustration came from the numerous mistakes during my First 3 ride – cantering like an out-of-control freight train, falling out of canter on the canter loop, our inability to ride a centerline. and having the judge tell me to learn my leads (how pleasant of her).  Just wanted to crawl into a hole albeit a big one so that Ike could get in there with me.

During the weeks between that show and our September show, I have cried a few more times, but not because of my riding.  I cried when I heard the news that one of my dear blogger friends lost her sweet mare Sugar.  It was completely sudden and unexpected.  I never had the opportunity to meet Sugs, but I felt the loss as if she was my own horse.  I am now crying again with the news that a dear coworker, who only just retired last year, is now in hospice care.  How unfair life can be.

These recent events have placed some perspective on how I am going to look at my show performance.  We sometimes place too much importance on the attainment of a ribbon and a placing.  I am as guilty as the next person of this.  But, dressage provides us a way to rate our performance that has nothing to do with a ribbon.  Whether or not you place, you get to take home your dressage test; the test tells you how the judge rated each and every movement of the test with comments for all the lower scores.  Some judges will even give you comments with the higher scores.  You need only read the comments to know what you need to raise your score.  How lucky that we have written comments?!  You can compete against yourself from show to show.

That being said, I went to the show last weekend with my personal goals – to maintain my Training 2 and First 2 performance, obtain higher than 65% at Training 3, and to get higher than 60% at First 3.  If we placed, wonderful.  If we did not, that was okay as well.  I am happy to say that we obtained each and every one of our goals!  Could not have been prouder with Ike’s performance at the show.  If you would like to see some action shots, check out our pictures at Pics of You –

http://picsofyou.com/store/index.php?do=photocart&viewGallery=26756#page=thumbs

I can head to the CBLMs and know that we are more than capable of riding Training 2 and First 2 in our championship classes.  No matter how we finish, I know that we will have put forth our best effort.

I am so thankful and grateful that I am able to own a horse and that I have the means that allow me to compete.  I am lucky that we are both healthy are physically capable to do the sport I love.  Life is too short and our time with our horses and loved ones is a gift.  Remember to enjoy each and every ride.

Alison

The Rollercoaster Ride of Showing

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This past weekend was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting.  Ike and I had our third show of the 2014 show season at the revamped HITS Showgrounds in Culpeper, Virginia.  The show was hosted by the Virginia Dressage Association Charlottesville Chapter.  Ike and I came home with a first, second, fifth, and a six, but not without some tears shed, some aches and pains, and a huge blister on the inside of my right knee where my britches didn’t sit quite right.

Anyone, whether you are a professional sportsman or the amateur competitor, who commits their time, effort and money to the sport that they love, knows how vested you are in the outcome of your dressage test, game or match.  This is why you see 300 pound football players with tears in their eyes when they lose the big game.  The emotional, mental, and physical investment into the sport you love is huge.

You sacrifice in other areas of your life when you commit to the sport you love.  I’ve missed weekends away with friends and family because I’ve been sitting in the barn waiting for my ride time.  I’ve turned down promotional opportunities at work which would mean less time at the barn.  My yard looks like a jungle for most of the year since I’m at the barn rather than tending to the flowerbeds.  The dogs are a bit unruly since I lack the time to take them to obedience classes.  The house is “clean enough” but never ready for a white glove inspection.  I’ve become a budget ninja to fit my horses into my life…and have a credit card on file with the veterinarian which I’m pretty certain helped finance the vet’s latest vacation.  I’m a compulsive list maker to make sure that nothing is forgotten while trying to juggle home, work and barn time.

You feel bad when you fail to succeed.  There are so many people who support you as you pursue this crazy obsession – your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, and your horse support network that includes your vet and the farrier.  They miss seeing you since you are atop your horse for yet again another lesson.  They come and cheer for you as you head down centerline.  You want to do well to thank them for their commitment to you.  I know that I wish I could crinkle my nose and disappear after the end of a disastrous test.

The commitment to the training also takes its toll on you mentally.  There are dressage tests to memorize.  There are countless lessons and clinics so that you can become proficient enough to brave the scrutiny of the judge sitting at C.  It is a challenge to learn to coordinate your aids to obtain the movement you want…then you have to do it at least 1000 times the exact same way before it becomes effortless.  Even after 5 lessons in two weeks, I still enlisted help at the show to keep Ike and I focused.  A girlfriend who does competitive dog obedience trials and I noted that our trainers are much like our graduate school professors.  They nitpick the minutia since we are driven to do our best.  They constantly ask us questions and expect quick answers.  We are mortified when we cannot quickly answer since there is no time to deliberate in the show ring.  The answers must become second nature and you must always be thinking one or two movements ahead.  Um, yeah, sure, that is how I ride.  Ha!  There are times that I can barely hold it together for the movement at hand.  “Use your corners to rebalance.”  Right, I’m lucky to steer through the corner without knocking a rail down.

You can’t discuss riding without noting the physical toll riding takes.  I’ve had people note that “How hard can it be?  You are just sitting there while the horse does all the work.”  Yeah, no, how wrong you are.  This is not trail riding on a dead broke trail horse as you play follow the leader down the path.  Riding well enough for competition requires that you have aerobic stamina, core strength, leg strength, flexibility, and lightening quick reflexes.  And while you are sitting up there working your ass off, you should look like you are just along for the ride.  I haven’t quite mastered that part yet.  Smile, I’m told.  Photos show that I grimace while I concentrate.  It is a good look…There is also the fact that I managed to pick a horse I consider to be extremely big and who is very fit.  When I am done riding, I am spent.  It doesn’t get any easier as you move up the levels either or so I’m told.  Good heavens!  I guess I’ll join a gym in my spare time to be able to keep up with my horse.  Besides the physicality of riding a 1200 pound animal, I’ve also got my blisters and callouses, my mystery bruises, achy back, and sore ankles.

In spite of all the challenges riding presents, I would not give it up for anything.  The emotional low of failing to perform as you had hoped only helps you to appreciate the good rides even more.  Saturday was a challenging show day.  We did okay with our Training Level test, but with a huge spook with resulting tension, Ike and I completely botched our First Level Test 3 ride and the 60th percentile was again unachievable. {Insert tears of frustration and embarrassment here.}  The hardest part was the comments from the judge at the end of the test sheet.  [Note to judges = Please try to find a polite way of telling a competitor what they need to work on.  We all didn’t come out of the womb being world class riders.]  I am proud of Ike and I for regrouping on the second day.  We rocked our Training Level test 2 and won the class.  But best of all, we finally crossed the 60% mark for First Level Test 3 with a 65.6%.  It felt like redemption and gave me hope for our future success.

 

Sigh, There is Work To Be Done

Photo by High Time Photography

Photo by High Time Photography

I think that we have recovered after our second show of the season – all the laundry is finally done and the trailer is cleaned up and organized.  Ms. C has studied my scores and the accompanying comments and come up with a game plan to help me understand how to better ride the new movements when we head back out in August.  Needless to say, this show was not quite what we had at our first show.  If that show was a peak, we have now fallen into the deepest crevasse.  There is a lot of homework to be done to claw our way out of scores in the high 50%’s for First Level Test 3 and into scores that are ribbon-worthy.  Yes, that is right, the pair that kicked butt at the last show struggled to even ride a straight centerline…

These are my takeaways from this past weekend – perhaps someone will benefit from our misfortune and avoid the same mistakes:

1) Ike does not like sloppy footing.  There were multiple storms at the show grounds on Friday and the sand/felt footing was well saturated come Saturday morning.  Big Boy did not want to show any real spark in our morning test.  No lengthenings to speak of for the trot or canter.  He wiggled down centerline.  Perhaps he didn’t like the sand splashing on his belly.  Now we can’t really control the weather, but at least I will know what I am up against next time.

2) You’d better make sure that you have the correct flexion and body alignment for the canter before you start your shallow canter loop.  Even more important, make sure you maintain it.  End.Of.Discussion.  Do you know what happens if you get grabby with the reins or shift your weight/legs the wrong way?  Your horse will demonstrate his flying lead change ability.  Do you know what score you get for that even if you quickly fix the lead?  You get a 4…F-O-U-R.  How about if your horse falls out of the canter because you failed to maintain the correct alignment as you head back to the rail?  You get a 4…F-O-U-R.

3) Just because you are trotting faster does not mean you have lengthened the stride.  In my less than knowledgeable mind, it sure did feel like it was a lengthening.  Come to find out, I let Ike flatten and end up on the forehand.  Ah, no push from behind.  Ike did lengthen his neck, but that will only get you a 5.5 from the judge.   All the power originates from the hind end; I need to find a reliable way to harness that power without goosing Ike into a canter.

4) Learn the proper size of a 15 meter circle and make my horse stay on that circle.  How crazy that I managed to give away points because of my poor geometry skills.  I watched the video – one would think that I believed an oval is equivalent to a circle.  Someone needs to make sure that her horse doesn’t drift on the second half of the circle.  That person also needs to make sure that her 15 meter circle doesn’t get flat at the rail.  Remember: circles only have a bending line.  I need to remember to look where I am going and ride every quarter.  Turn the front of the horse first.  If you forget to turn the front of your horse, you get comments about your “haunches in on circle.”

5) Sometimes you can surprise yourself and pull off some good scores when you least expect it.  The high point of my Test 3 ride was the leg yield, circle, circle, leg yield.  Ike and I pulled 7’s for our leg yields and 6-6.5 for the circles.  He is not as supple on the right circle, so our score reflected that.  But, overall, I am pleased with how we rode this portion of the test.  I am capable of maintaining the proper rein length to better steer my horse!

6) Finally, on a non-riding note, I discovered a new item for my show wardrobe – the vest.  Coats were waived for the entire show.  Even though they were waived, I typically still wear mine since I like the way the coat completes the picture, and the coat hides a multitude of middle-aged woman sins (sagging body parts, a larger than desired abdominal area, above-the-bra bulge).  On Saturday I noticed a number of riders wearing black, navy or grey vests over their show shirts in lieu of coats.  Oooh, I like that.  Cooler than a show coat, but still provides the much desired coverage.  To my delight and my wallet’s dismay, the vendors at the show had some for sale.  I selected the Arista Modern Dressage Vest (https://aristaequestrian.com/shop/arista-modern-dressage-vest/ ) in black.  The bit detail on the back is particularly pretty.  Romfh has a pretty one with bling on the lapel that is reasonably priced – if you are a bling person, this is the one for you.  Pikeur also makes a lovely one that is well out of my price range.

So there you have it.  We only came home with one third place ribbon for our First Level Test 1.  Would have had a sixth place ribbon for our Training Level Test 3 test, but the show only gave out ribbons to fifth place.  Chalk up our two First Level Test 3 tests to experience.  The show was still great fun.  We are better for the experience and will be stronger in our next show.

 

Horse Lovers Rejoice! Our Homes are Finally Trendy!

 

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Well, at least that is what the article in last Friday’s newspaper said.  All things equine are turning up in various home collections according to the author.  How lucky are we that we are finally on the leading edge of home decoration?!  Finally Elle Décor will be knocking on our doors to do a photo shoot for their next issue.  Guess I’d better break out the broom and sweep up the stray horse hair that has escaped from the lint trap of the dryer.  Suppose I’d better neatly roll that pile of polo wraps that came out of the dryer last week.  Hmm, is that mud and/or manure that I tracked home from the barn?  What is that intoxicating aroma that Yankee Candle will want to use for their new campaign…horse/manure/sweat/leather cleaner?

Oh, pul-lease.  Hello?!!  They obviously must not shop in the same stores that we do.  I have never had trouble finding equine-centric home furnishings to adorn my home.  As far as I know, my fellow horse-crazed friends also have no problems adorning their homes with equine inspired décor.

Of course, I don’t think the home decorators would agree with some of my equine “décor” or the amount of equine related knick knacks that are strewn about the house.  They are probably of the notion that one or two horse things are more than enough to evoke a feeling for the room.  Any good horse junkie will tell you that one horse is never enough.  Horses like to live in herds, so the more the merrier!

With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite items:

1) The print I bought at an auction to support the Virginia Dressage Association about 6 years ago.  I think it looks like Ike.  Maybe it was a sign.

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2) A vase from my mother with horse hair used to create the pattern.

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3) The perpetual award that I was presented at my dressage chapter’s banquet in January.  I get to keep it until the end of the year.

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4) The painting I saw at a wine festival.  My awesome stepdaughter, who was there with me, called my husband and insisted that he buy it for me. 🙂

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And now a few things that “decorate” the house that would probably make a designer cringe and declare that I have committed some designing faux pas:

1) The “feed bag sculpture” that adorns the family room.  [Purina discontinued the feed I use as a supplement, so I stockpiled 15 bags while I researched a replacement.] As you can see, the sculpture has shrunk and we’ve now added a winter blanket to enhance the pile.

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2) The toothbrush holder.

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3) The ribbon “curtains.”  I’m running out of window space!

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4) My eyeglass stand.

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5) The boot corner.  No, there is not a closet available to hide them…

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Then there are the other items that also decorate the house from time to time – various bridle pieces, bits, and reins, Ike’s saddle when it needs a good cleaning, sweaty saddle pads, clean saddle pads, show clothes, mail order boxes from various tack stores.  If I wanted an immaculate home, animals would not be part of my life…I will take the dirt and clutter.  It is a small price to pay for the joy they bring to my day.

Would love to hear what some of your favorite “designer-approved” items are as well as those cringe-worthy items you possess.

Alison

 

 

This Was the Trifecta of Show Weekends

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Since horse racing took center stage this past weekend with the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby, it seems appropriate to share my show news in racing terms.  Sadly, I did not have a trifecta bid on the Derby, but if I had, I’d be $1700 richer today.  But, in terms of success, I’d say that this past weekend’s show outcome is just as exciting…at least in my mind.

Ike’s behavior was stellar.

I can honestly say that Ike continues to amaze me with his show demeanor.  After so many years of hanging my head in shame after Cigar would exhibit his wild side, it is nice to have a horse who is easy to handle.  There is no stress during trailer loading.  The trailer does not rock from side-to-side because we are trying to escape as the trailer rolls down the road.  I love that I can braid Ike in under 1 1/2 hours (yes, that is how long it would take to braid Cigar).  In fact, I can now have presentable braids in about 30 minutes using bands.  I love that although he gets rattled by the large tractors, he does try his best to focus and continue to work.  Ike is usually not bothered by the disobedience of other horses in warmup.  He is an amazing partner for this dressage adventure.

The show was well run; the weather was perfect.

The show was hosted by the Central Chapter of the Virginia Dressage Association.  They should be commended for pulling together a show that offered a pleasant atmosphere, friendly volunteers, great ribbons and prizes, and timely classes and scoring.  There is nothing worse than waiting over 2 hours to find out how you did in a class.  Kudos to the stewards, scribes, runners and scorers that kept the wait to a minimum.  Mother Nature also was cooperative and gave us perfect spring weather for the entire weekend.  We were due since the week before had been drenched with almost 6 inches of rain.

Ike has the best fan club.

There is no way I could write this and not thank everyone who helped to make this weekend as memorable as it was.  My husband is my rock that helps keep me from going off the deep end with nervousness.  Ms. C was there to school us on Saturday.  My show buddy Ms. D made hanging out in the barn so much more fun.  And I must sincerely thank all my friends and family who made the trip to the show grounds to sit in the stands and cheer for us.  I’m pretty sure Ike had the biggest fan base at the show; he especially appreciated his junior fans who brought him apple slices.

Our scores were our best EVER!

I am still in a bit of shock.  There I said it.  I have never had show success like this.  I might not ever have it again, but for this one weekend, all the stars and planets aligned to give us our best scores ever at Training and First Levels.  I kept staring at the score sheets in disbelief fully expecting to hear that my scores were for someone else.  My hands shook as I was handed my test sheet and ribbon from the smiling volunteer.

Ike came home with two blue ribbons for his Training Level tests (both were Test 2) with scores of 71.607% and 71.071%.  Mom came home with two hand painted, commemorative wine glasses.  How awesome is that?

ribbon and wineglass

He also has a red ribbon and a yellow ribbon for his First Level tests with scores of 68.108% and 68.103%(Test 2 and Test 1, respectively) .

The most surprising was that Ike also received the High Point Training Level Award for the weekend.  What?!  That never happens.  Never, ever.  I think I am most excited about our First Level scores since we’d only ever tried First 1 last fall at a schooling show.  It was perhaps a bit ballsy to sign up for two First Level tests at our first show of the season, but what did we have to lose?  If we can survive a clinic with 200 auditors, we can try a test with a few spectators, a judge, and a scribe.

So there you have it.  Our first show of the season is behind us.  Now we need to forge ahead, master sit trot, conquer First Level Test 3, and continue the journey for our Bronze Medal.  Hope you stick around, it is just starting to get interesting!