The Power of the Horse

Well, the final hurrah of the year is over.  The show duds have been packed away until year.  The self-imposed stress of horse shows is behind us and we can get back to just training…after Ike enjoys a few days of well earned down time.
Our Second Level championship ride had a major spook, but the rest of the test was solid and our score enough for an eighth place ribbon.  While it now resides next to the two we earned at Training and First Levels, it somehow has an extra special place in my heart.

This year was a big one for us.  It was the first year ever that our shows did not include any of the lower levels.  This was the year that I felt that Ike and I truly connected – collection is possible and I have seen glimpses of the still untapped power. The falling acorns helped me find my medium trot and Ike’s passage.  It is scary and thrilling all at the same time.

But most of all, I marvel at the awesome group of friends who I have met through my equine endeavors and who share this grand adventure.  We all arrived at this point by different paths, yet as we sat together in the barn this weekend, it didn’t matter how we got there. We were all there to enjoy our horses and cheer for each other. Strangers became life long friends. Fellow competitors morph into friendly faces and you cheer for their success. You volunteer your time to help the show run smoothly and sometimes you can turn someone’s day around by wishing them luck or congratulating their nice ride.

Horsepower is a good thing, but the power of the horse is something truly amazing. To all my friends, I cherish you all and look forward to our future adventures. 

Alison 

The Art of Being Consistent

Ike at VADACH Aug 2016

Second Level work is H-A-R-D.  There, I said it.  It was such a thrill last year when I rode my first Second Level test ever.  It was a bigger thrill to earn my two Second Level scores for my USDF Bronze Medal.  The biggest thrill is that we are only one score away from Ike earning his Second Level USDF Horse Performance Certificate.  So why after all of these milestones do I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of  being an accomplished dressage rider at this level?  Well, it is because I came to the realization that we are not yet proficient or consistent in our Second Level work.

Merriam-Webster defines the word consistent as, “always acting or behaving in the same way, ” or “of the same quality; especially: good each time.”  You can look at either our marks for the individual movements or even the array of ribbon colors from the shows this year to know that we are still lacking in a consistent performance in our Second Level tests.

Overall, I am pleased with our work at the shows this year.  After our latest show, we came home with a blue, 2 reds, and a yellow.  And while it is nice to have the ribbons to show for our efforts, it is the score sheets and comments from the judges that are the most meaningful in our quest for consistency.  All four of our latest scores were in the 60th percentile.  For us, that is a huge accomplishment at Second Level.

Both of our Test 2 scores hit at or close to the 65% mark.  That is a huge improvement from last year.  Our marks for the two 10-meter half circles are improving, but I still need to figure out how to show more bend in Ike’s midsection as we ride our half circles.  I am finding it challenging to show the correct bend without over-bending the giraffe neck.  We are also successfully holding our countercanter in both directions in Test 2.  These two scores were confidence builders and I feel much more prepared to ride this test at the Region 1 CBLM Championship show in October.

Our marks for the dreaded turn on the haunches are also going up…except for the one when (yet again) the rider turned the WRONG WAY.  Seriously, what the eff is wrong with me?!  I have no doubt that the judge before my next ride chuckled as my husband yelled, “the left hand makes the L, Al” as I trotted around waiting for the bell to ring.  It really does help your overall score when you can get a 6.5 or a 7 rather than a 4 for these turns.  I have learned that the judge would rather see your turns be a little larger with active hind legs rather than your horse’s hind leg getting stuck and pivoting around that leg.  They might like that in the quarter horse world, but pivoting is frowned upon in dressage world.  I am also doing better at maintaining my weight on the inside rather than getting left behind as Ike makes the turn.  Hmm, funny how when the rider finally rides the movement rather than coasting along how the scores go up…

And while there is much improved with our Second Level work, there is still work to be done.  The left lead serpentine of Test 3 is our current arch nemesis.  We are holding the countercanter on the second loop, but it sure isn’t pretty.  I also struggle to get the correct angle for my shoulder in and haunches in – “too much angle,” “stiff movement,” and “too little angle shown” are common comments.  The best way to get those scores higher?  Practice, practice, practice.

Just like with anything you want to master – repetition of the skill is necessary in order to achieve proficiency and consistency.  A baker makes thousands of cookies in order to master a recipe.  A chef will slice and dice hundreds of vegetables to hone his/her knife skills. An archer will shoot arrow after arrow to improve their accuracy. And so a rider must spend hours upon hours in the saddle to master each skill necessary to move up the levels.

And while it would be easy to say it is time for Third Level, the perfectionist in me reminds me to slow down and hone our Second Level skills for a little longer.  Be consistent in our angle, be proficient at countercanter, be stable in our collected trot.  It only gets harder from here, so slow down and enjoy the ride.

alison

Sweaty Pants

Ike Aug 23 2015

“Can someone please turn down the heat?

So it has been hotter than Hades these past few weeks.  I will admit that I do not function at 100% when the heat index is over 100°F.  I am certain that neither does my horse – there is a certain lack of pep in his step when the temperatures soar.  So what is one to do when it is just too hot to put in any strenuous riding?  One goes on vacation!  Spent a week on the shore with family fishing, horseback riding on the beach, and amusing fellow beach goers with my feeble attempts on a standup paddleboard.  If you think riding takes good balance and a strong core, just try standing on a paddleboard while trying to paddle and steer.

 

077

Hatteras Island beach ride

 

And while I had a fabulous time soaking up the sun while floating in the cool ocean waters, Ike stayed home and had some one-on-one time with Ms. C.  He is not good at keeping our secrets and was obviously rather plow horse–like in his work with her since I received the following message:  “Rode the giant, too heavy in everything!!!!! (yes, there were that many exclamation points.) So we had some ‘enlightening’ right away with no leaning on hands, legs or [in] the movement.”

I am now not the only one paying the price for Ike’s actions during my absence.  During my first lesson after vacation, Ms. C first informed me that because of her work with Ike, that unless you are out for a hack and a relaxing ride, all of her students were now expected to actively ask for uphill balance…no more accepting lack of engagement or plodding around on the forehand.  If we accept that during our training rides, then why wouldn’t our horses believe that it is acceptable in competition.  Train like you are in the competition ring with a judge at C.  Train for excellence and not for mediocrity. I have asked Ike to apologize to everyone, but he is rather unrepentant.  So as his mother, I am truly sorry for Ike’s unapologetic behavior and half-assed work for Ms. C.

Achieving real uphill balance, having hind end engagement, sitting on the hind end, picking up the front end, making the forehand lighter, ending the plow horse movement, getting off the forehand.  Whatever you call it, it still means that you will no longer carry your horse’s oversized head yourself.  He is going to have to shoulder that load. It means that he will no longer bully you with his massive shoulder when resistant to the leg aids.  I understand the concepts, but putting those concepts into practice can be challenging.  It is much easier for me to achieve it with a double bridle, but for the time being, that toy has been taken away.  “You need to be able to do this without the double.”  Aaarrggghhh, but it is soooo much HARDER.  But I knuckled under, tacked up with my snaffle, and worked on lightening Ike’s forehand.  Ms. C provided me with a new visual to help drill in the concept of how to half halt effectively to achieve the desired result– Pretend you are pulling on a pair of wet riding pants when you are sweaty.  Now there is an image to haunt your dreams…

But the funny thing is, that the image worked for me.  My first solo ride after my lesson, I actually felt like Ike was sitting on his hind end more and moving like a real Second Level horse – not just a poser who gets lucky with good scores every now and again.  It is that uphill feeling that we will need to make the transition to Third Level; I’m almost certain that plow horses do not achieve high scores at Third.  So the next time you see me making a funny face while I am riding, you will know what is going through my head – “Must. Get. On. These. Sweaty. Pants.”

alison

The Show that Almost Didn’t Happen

Second 3 Dover Medal Ride June 2016

What do you get when you mix one part horse lameness with one part work and one part family obligations?  You get a hot mess of a rider and a lot of sweat from worrying if you are going to make it to the June show or not.  Of course, this all starts to ramp up just after the close date for the show which means no refunds.  It also meant that there was not a significant amount of schooling done in the two weeks leading up to our second licensed show of the year.

Thankfully Ike’s lameness turned out to be the need for his annual Equithane application.  For those of you who are wondering, it is basically a custom gel pad to keep his highness’ feet from getting too sore on the hard ground.  This is now the third year that he has needed it, so I should just put a tickler on the month of May to get it done and stop waiting for the pain to appear.

We went to the show with high expectations that we’d continue to earn scores in the 60th percentile as we have for most of the year.  Ha ha!  I should learn to stop setting the bar so high since there are just too many things that are out of my control – like sloppy footing, unexpected spooks, and a judge who just didn’t seem to care for us as a team.

It is hard to not take the low scores personally, but when you see most of the scores as 4.5, 5.0 and 5.5 in a test, you can’t help but feel like a failure.  I’ve shown enough to have a sense of what my score will be when I complete my final salute.  It is devastating when you see a score that doesn’t mesh with your expectations.  I think all the competitors were feeling the same as I did when they saw their scores from this judge.  After the particularly brutal beating we got after our Sunday morning ride, I took a walk to clear my head, shed a tear or two in frustration, and to try to get myself ready for my final ride of the weekend.

Our final class of the weekend was the Dover Medal class – Second Level Test 3.  All adult amateurs are eligible for this award; the award goes to the high score adult amateur in the class as long as the score is greater than 60%.  My goal for the class was to get at least 60% and to hold our countercanters in both three-loop serpentines.  I wasn’t even worried about my placement.  We had to warm up on our own without any adult supervision.  Ike felt a bit tired, but he was calm and on the aids.  I didn’t school countercanter since we’ve found that it can fire him up and encourage him to show off his flying change skills.

It was finally time for us to head down centerline.  I love it when we make the turn at A and Ike puts on his game face.  He knows it is time, and we can usually make a good first impression on the initial halt and salute.  I was doing my best to breathe and to keep him supple in my hands.  Our medium trots were two of our best for the weekend and we got solid scores on our 10 meter circles.  Frankenhorse did not make an appearance and we got a 6.0 and a 6.5 on our turns on the haunches.  Yea for us!  Our simple changes were not our best, BUT I am happy to report that we held our countercanters in both directions.  Hallelujah!! Especially since they are a double coefficient in the scoring.  We did our best and now just had to wait for the final tally.

While we waited for the score, we got Ike hosed down and our tack loaded on the trailer.  He and my husband were going to head back to the barn to get Ike some afternoon paddock time while I gathered our test once the class placed.  Amazingly, we heard our score right before the boys departed.  I knew I’d done well when I heard the announcer share the news that we were the recipients of the Dover Medal.  What?!  Never did I think that I’d be able to claim I owned one of these medals.  It was such redemption after the challenging rides we’d had all weekend.  Our score was a 63.049%.

My only wish was that Ms. C had been there to watch our ride.  Thankfully my husband recorded our ride so she would be able to see it for herself.  This medal is as much hers as it is mine.

 

Get Smart

 

Ike at the Meadows May 2016

Photo by Melana K.

 

If you are of a certain age, you have probably watched the television show Get Smart starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon.  Younger generations are probably more familiar with the movie of the same title starring Steve Carrell and Anne Hathaway.  Maxwell Smart’s famous tag line was, “Missed it by that much.”  That line pretty much sums up  our first licensed show last weekend.  It is that wee little bit that costs you dearly.

The weekend did not start off well given that Mother Nature had decided that we needed 15 straight days of rain leading up to the show.  I was so desperate to squeeze a lesson in before we went that I rode in some light rain.  We traveled to the show grounds in the rain, unloaded in the rain, and then sat in the barn listening to it rain even harder.  The covered arena was in use by the breed show, so most of us tacked up and rode in the rain and slop and prayed that Saturday would dawn a clearer day.

My first ride on Saturday was Second Level Test 2 – the qualifier for the USDF Region 1 CBLM Championship.  I needed a 62% to be qualified for the fall.  You only need one score and to be a member of one of the group membership organizations.  We’d been able to get some scores over the minimum at the schooling shows, so I was hopeful that we could get our score at this show to take some pressure off at future shows.  Heads up, watch my face closely as we make our first turn off centerline:

First Attempt at Second Level Test 2

When your horse decided to show his medium canter rather than a medium trot, spook at the judge/scribe/plants/invisible boogey men, and then show his pivoting skills rather than a correct turn on the haunches, you end up with a score of 61.795% – a mere 0.205% away…yep, missed it by that much.  I would have to wait until Sunday to try again.

We also attempted to obtain that magical 60% in Second Level Test 3 that I need in order to try my musical freestyle at a licensed show.  This test has continued to vex us even though we are stronger in all of our Second Level work.  We have yet to ride it without a bobble or two, but I took a deep breath and headed down centerline.  Well, let me tell you, we did manage to ride both canter serpentines without breaking in the countercanter, but we again demonstrated our ability to plant Ike’s hind legs in the turn on the haunches.  Our score?  A 59.5%…sigh, another swing and a miss.  Since we only signed up for this test on Sunday, the coveted 60% will have to wait until June.

Finally, it was time to try Second Level Test 2 again.  This test would be ridden in the covered arena…and guess who never schooled in the covered arena.  We’d just have to hope that Ike would maintain his composure, and let’s admit it, it was fingers crossed that I could maintain mine as well.  Here is the ride:

Second Level Test 2 Dressage at the Meadow

We had the one little bobble in the right lead countercanter, but after a quick prayer, I was able to get Ike back into the right lead so that we could demonstrate our simple change just a few strides later.  Phew!  Overall I was pleased with the ride; I had to just hope that the judge felt the same way.  After a 30 minute wait, the score was finally available online.  Drumroll please!  65.128%!!  We did it!!  Qualified!!  What?!  Ooohmmaahhhggeerrrrd!  What a huge relief.  Finally, we didn’t miss out by a hair or a nose.  There is hope for us yet.  We had many very good movement scores in this test.  I am proud to say that we earned a 6 and a 7 for our turn on the haunches (the secret is to nag at the caboose the entire time).  Our simple changes also were strong.

So now I can breathe a huge sigh of relief.  Don’t worry, I’m sure there will be plenty more misses on our way to the championship and plenty more comedic relief moments as well.  But that is part of the journey.

alison

 

 

The Other Left

Ike Morningside April 2016.jpg

Hello friends!

It has been too long since we have had a heart to heart.  I have had a busy spring, and this weekend will be my first weekend away from home since the championship show last fall.

Mom and I have already done three schooling shows this spring.  Three!  A poor boy can’t catch a break these days.  She is a woman possessed this spring – like she is on a mission and everyone had best stay out of her way.  I tried to get out of her way by busting out of my stall, but she was less than amused at my efforts to thwart the third outing of the year.

Two of the shows were at this place that has a lot of high-flying horses and also horses that race around on perfectly good grass and jumped bushes and big logs.  I can’t figure out why they would choose to jump over fences or bushes. That seems like a lot of extra work. Why not just run around them? I could show them fence deconstruction techniques that are rather effective.  Or, here’s a thought, how about not run at all and just eat the grass?  Such silly ponies.  Mom did let me taste some of the grass before and after we worked.  It was very delicious.  I think all shows should offer it to the competitors – a snack bar for horses if you will.  There is a snack bar for the people, and I think since we are doing most of the work that we should have one too.  I shall have to remember to bring this up with show management at each of the shows this year.

I like these little shows since it means that I still get some time in my paddock to play with my brother and I get to sleep at home.  Yes, I get a stall at the away shows, but with my late night visits with my selfie buddy and the fact that the new barn makes scary noises, I don’t sleep as much and get very tired by Sunday.

And I must say that poor Mom needs some directional help.  At the last show, I almost had to change my name and disassociate myself with her.  Mind you, she had Ms. C READING the test and we have ridden Second Level Test 2 many times already so it wasn’t like she didn’t know which way we needed to turn.  I even tried to strongly hint to her that she was trying to turn the wrong way and I tried to go to the left as called for by the test and Ms. C…but the crazy woman insisted that we do a second turn on the haunches to the right.  Umm, Mom, we just went that way, it is time to go LEFT!!  The judge never rang the bell, but politely told Mom that she failed to demonstrate a turn on the haunches to the left.  Mom laughed.  I just hung my head in shame.

Thankfully I have heard through the grapevine that she has now enlisted the help of a 6 year old for some tips on remembering which way is left.  (“The left hand makes the ‘L’ Ali.”)  Hopefully mom has practiced making the “L” so that we don’t have another misstep this weekend.  If you are reading this and will be at the show grounds, remind her to avoid the other left and stick with the correct one.

And, in case you hadn’t heard, I’m 8 years old now.  That’s like 25 in human years so I am waiting for the opportunity to have more of a say in what I do and don’t have to do.  My brother doesn’t have to go places or work hard, so I think it is high time I get to live like him.  When I asked him about approaching Mom with the idea, this was his response:

The boys Apr 2016

“Seriously, why does Mom keep him around? Shouldn’t he have moved out by now?”

 

He thinks he is such a comedian.  I am not amused.  I will just have to figure things out on my own.  Stop by my stall this weekend if you have any tips to share.

Ike

Frankenhorse

Ike Culpeper Aug 2015

Yes, that’s right puny human, come closer…

Move over Frankenstein (or Fraank-en-shteen if you are more of a Mel Brooks fan), there is a new monster in town to terrorize the villagers.  If you are attending a dressage show in the mid-Atlantic area this year, keep your eye out for Frankenhorse.  This creature is typically one of the larger equines in attendance with a ginormous, block-like head and a long bed body.  He might look like any ordinary horse, but if you look closely at the button braids, they will be hiding the bolts in his neck. 

 

 In the stabling area, you might see him dragging around a young-ish maiden as he bulls his way to the nearest grass patch.  Stud chains and lead ropes are no match for this monster who can be very single minded when hunger pains strike .  It is suggested that you just step aside and let him pass rather than risk having him dent your $800 Deniro boots and/or your foot with his sizeable hooves.  If you see him in his stall, do not be fooled by the friendly expression on his face as he watches your approach toward his temporary living quarters.  Frankenhorse’s long neck makes easy work of nipping at unsuspecting passersby.  Barn visitors should also be wary of flying feed buckets.  This monster can be very grumpy when hungry.  You might consider wearing your riding helmet when visiting the barn housing this creature.

 Frankenhorse typically reveals his awkward self during the more challenging movements in the Second Level tests, so mosey over to the ring to catch a glimpse of the Second Level classes to see this creature in action.  Ten meter circles are more hexagonal than circular since a supple midsection is not typically seen on a FH.  Countercanter is also not FH’s strong suite since that also requires a supple body rather than bullish shoulders and a board-like ribcage.  Most often, FH gives himself away with the turn on the haunches.  That movement exaggerates FH’s stiffness.  If you are quiet and listen very closely, you will hear him grunt and groan when asked for the turn.  Pinned ears and a swishing tale are also telltale signs that you are watching a Frankenhorse.

Thankfully, with regular work, timely feeding, and appropriate training to keep his mind occupied, Frankenhorse’s reign of terror can be minimized and peace can be maintained. 

Consider yourself warned!