How To Dance With Your Horse

It has been a while since Ike and I have offered up a “How To” blog.  We’ve tackled the subjects of assembling a double bridle and taking holiday photos, so it seems appropriate that we provide some advice on the subject of creating a musical freestyle.  If you recall, we discussed freestyles two years ago…and that was as far as it went.  But now we have a freestyle for next season, so I thought I’d show you how “easy” it is.

  1. Watch Andreas Helgstrand ride Blue Hors Matine at the 2006 WEG freestyle finals:
  2. Watch Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz ride Fuego XII at the 2010 WEG freestyle finals:
  3. Go to bed and dream of riding a musical freestyle with your horse.
  4. Wake up and daydream of riding a musical freestyle with your horse.
  5. Attend a Dance with your Horse clinic with Michael Matson ( ) and receive a CD of walk, trot, and canter music. We did in March 2013.
  6. Download free music editing software believing that you can edit your music and choreograph a freestyle routine.
  7. Curse at the computer when you realize the “free” software also downloaded “free” advertisements.
  8. Curse at the computer some more as you try to delete the “free” advertisements.
  9. Open music editing software and stare blankly at the computer screen. Heads up – it has as many knobs and buttons as a 747 cockpit.
  10. Mutter more curses softly under your breath as you attempt to even play your music with the software.
  11. Wish you had paid more attention in music class in elementary school as you try to recall musical terminology.
  12. Close software and drink wine.
  13. Stare at the software for another week to finally figure out how to play your music. Rejoice at this small victory.
  14. Drink wine to celebrate your cleverness.
  15. Delete software from computer when you realize you are not clever enough to edit music.
  16. Watch Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro at the 2014 London Olympics:
  17. Find a friend who wants to do a musical freestyle as much as you do.
  18. Celebrate when your friend organizes a musical freestyle clinic.  Thank friend profusely.
  19. Have Michael M. determine your horse’s beats per minute (BPM) at the walk, trot, and canter.
  20. Ride to various pieces with the correct BPM and pick the music that suits you and your horse the best. (FYI – after 2 years of training, Ike’s BPM changed and we received new music.)
  21. Stare in awe as Christine Betz ( ) choreographs a routine for you in well under an hour.
  22. Memorize your choreography.
  23. Drink wine AFTER you learn the routine.
  24. The next day, ride the routine so Christine can time each of the compulsory movements for the level.
  25. Try to hide your shock when she edits the music in under 20 minutes.  Again wish that you’d been more attentive in music class as a child.
  26. Ride your freestyle for the first time (You might need to turn up the volume to hear the music well) You will see that we will need to adjust our entry-

Second Level Freestyle Take One

27. Go home and drink wine and count the days until you can ride your new freestyle!

So, you see, it isn’t all that difficult…get out there and dance with your horse.  I promise you that you will be hooked!





The Final Hurrah of the Show Season

Ike Nov 5 2015

The 2015 show season is now in the books.  Done, finished, O-V-E-R.  We didn’t finish with any major victories; there were no victory laps.  Well, Ike may have had a gallop or two around his paddock, but I think that was more at the urging of his brother than for his show efforts this past year.  All in all, I am tickled with what we accomplished…and we are now two thirds of the way to our USDF Bronze Medal.  🙂

Our final show was a small schooling show so that I could try Second Level Test 3 in a less stressful atmosphere.  While the score was only a 59.76%, I am pleased with our overall effort in this test.  (If you remember, our Second Level goal this year was to hit the 60th percentile.)  When you look at the movement by movement scores, we are on the cusp of acceptability and we are going to work diligently over the winter to boost the low marks.  If you have a spare 6 minutes, here is a video of our ride…

So there it is, out on the internet for all the desktop judges to critique.  No need to tell me what we need to work on.  I am well aware.

Our medium trots need more oomph (I’m pretty sure this should be a dressage term defined in the USEF rulebook.)  Ike needs to engage his hind more and push.  It is a strengthening issue that we are plugging away at in our lessons.  Our goal is to always get at least a 6, and we did that with this test and even exceeded our goal with a 6.5 on our first attempt.

Our 10 meter circles are another area that we are giving away points.  We should be able to nail these, but I just can’t seem to keep Ike’s hind end from swinging out.  The 5.5 on our 10 meter circle to the left definitely didn’t help our final score.

Shoulder in and Travers are getting better and better.  Even I can tell from the video that Travers right is solid.  Travers left is a little more sticky, but it is coming.

The big surprise of the day was our Turn on the Haunches to the Right – we pulled a 6.5!  Whhhaatt?!  Yes, we are finally digging our way out of the lower end of the scoring for this movement.  The Turn on the Haunches to the Left was a bit sticky which earned us a whopping 4.5 (times 2 for the coefficient), but I have the utmost faith and confidence that we can improve it.

Most of our canter work scored 6’s and 6.5’s.  The costly mistake was on my first serpentine.  Ike decided to demonstrate “a movement not called for at this level.”  Thank you Ike for showing us your flying change skills, but since Mom was a goober and did not stop and fix it, our score reflected my failure to correct it (gotta love that 3 in the score column).  We then got a big-ole FOUR for the next simple change since we didn’t show any change.  Oops.  Lesson learned.  We also need to continue to school the simple changes.  I’m still not strong enough to support Ike in the canter-to-walk transition to eliminate the trot steps.  Occasionally I get it right, but more often than not, I am a goober and fail to do the proper prep work.

Having now ridden all the Second Level tests, I have to say that I like Test 3 the best.  I’m actually surprised at this admission since Test 2 was my favorite at Training and First levels.  That being said, if we intend to head to the Region 1 GAIGs next year at Second Level, we have our work cut out for us.  We have 10 months to practice, but we’d better get started…the 70th percentile doesn’t happen overnight.


Simple (?) Changes

Ike Nov 2015

So, just when I thought our show season was over, I got a wild hair and decided to head to a schooling show this coming weekend to try Second Level one more time.  We will continue to ride and work at home through the winter, but nothing beats an outing in front of a judge to really gage our progress. And, to up the ante, I signed up for tests 2 and 3…

Hmm, test 3.  Had not even contemplated trying that test until 7 days ago. Guess it is time to memorize the test and actually try riding it in its entirety.  Second Level Test 3 morphs pieces of Test 1 and Test 2 into one “supertest”…the reinback is there, shoulder in, travers, the simple changes, and everyone’s favorite turn on the haunches.  Let us not forget the 2 full-sized canter serpentines to showcase your countercanter skills. Oy vey. What have I done?

Our turn on the haunches still regularly resembles Frankenstein.  If I try opening my rein to help suggest the way to go, Ike somehow ends up flexed in the wrong direction (i.e., I am doing something wrong).  I try using various leg position with the whip as an aid, but Ike’s hind end still swings in the wrong direction.  I get so focused on what my hands and legs are doing that I forget to shift my weight in the saddle and there is no doubt that it ends up in the wrong place.  There are days that we get a few good steps and all we can hope is that Sunday is one of those days. 

And the designers of the tests really challenge your simple change skills by having you do your simple changes on a short diagonal.  That means you can’t use the ring to help keep your horse positioned correctly.  You have to maintain and change the proper bend on your own.  Clever, clever people.  Yes, I get that it is preparing you for doing a flying change, but no, we are not ready for THAT since I’m still challenged by simple changes…At this point, it is a crap shoot if we are going to  pull it off on Sunday.  The other day I managed to canter on the left lead, ask for the walk, and then pick up the left lead again.  Oops.  And poor Ike maintained the left lead for about three quarters of the arena and then gave me a flying change when he got off balance.  He is such a patient soul to deal with the likes of his clueless mother. 

So if you are in the area on Sunday, stop by the show.  It is bound to be an amusing 14 minutes.


#EnoughRainAlready – I Want To Ride!

"I will say my goodbyes from over here."

“I will say my goodbyes from over here.”

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

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

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

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



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

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

Fingers crossed for some sunshine this weekend!!


The Last Gasp Before The Finals

Ike at Rose Mount September 2015

Ike at Rose Mount September 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Thanks for sticking with us this season!




Midseason Show Reflections

Ike checking out the show barn.

Ike checking out the show barn.

Ike and I just survived our third licensed show of the year.  Three down, three to go.  Overall, I am thrilled with how our season is progressing, but as always, the perfectionist in me wants more.  But that must be tempered with reality.  Horses and showing are my hobby not my vocation.  I need to stop comparing my skills and performance against those who do it for a living.  I ride one horse four or five times a week.  I have a full time job, a house to maintain, a husband, dogs, family and friends.  I have (shockingly) other hobbies.  I also fight middle age aches and pains and fight my body when I ride.  Why won’t my body do what I want it to do??  In spite of my issues, Ike continues to learn and progress – a testament to his rideability and good nature.  It makes me realize that I did chose the right horse four years ago.

“You’ve come a long way baby.”

In fact, it was four years ago yesterday that Ike first stepped foot on Virginia soil and then promptly on my foot.

My first photo with Ike when we met in Florida.

My first photo with Ike when we met in Florida.

Sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday when I first threw my leg over his back.  But then I look back at photos and video from those early rides and realize that we have made progress.  He has grown 5 inches at the withers (yes, that is the correct number) and put on a few hundred pounds of muscle.  Ten meter canter circles are now a reality.  Ike can now ride a straight line instead of looking like a worm wriggling down centerline.  I can actually execute a half halt and he knows what it means…even if he doesn’t always respond.

We are still in the early, formative years of our dressage education.  The work we do now will determine how far we can go in the future.  There is still much work to do with building strength and stamina in our collected work.  Comments from this past weekend’s tests tell us that we need to improve our lengthenings and medium gaits.  “Show more change.”  I thought we were?  “Out behind” was written more than once.  We will fight that forever based on Ike’s conformation, but I need to help him use his body better.  Time and patience.  I am not a very good grasshopper.

“You win some, you lose some.”

We came home with one blue and two red ribbons.  Even more importantly, we had our best score ever at First Level Test 3 at a licensed show, and cleared 60% at our first attempt at Second Level Test 2.  I think my favorite comment on my Second Level test was “Good effort.  Keep working on developing the gaits for more expression.”  It was nice to know that the judge acknowledged that we were trying our hardest to show her our best.  In all our tests, our best scores came from our lateral work.  I was tickled to get such solid scores on our shoulder in and travers!  Our collected trot still needs more oomph, our collected canter needs more jump, our medium gaits need more of everything, and our canter-to-walk transitions are then only part that needs less (trot steps that is).  Our turn on the haunches?  Let’s just say that our scores were better than the Fix-a-Test, but that there is still A LOT of work to be done.  If you really need to know the blow by blow of my tests, the show’s website now allows you to see the individual movement scores.  Talk about TMI – no secrets anymore.

Our canter work in First 3 also got good marks from the judge; what a difference a year makes since it was at this show last year that I had my melt down about our inability to ride the canter loops.  It gives me hope that we can head to the GAIGs in October and stand a chance at making a good impression at the regional finals.

“Know when to fold them.”

And, yes, there was to be another Second Level test on Sunday, but I decided that there wasn’t going to be enough juice from either of us to put forth our best effort.  Why put ourselves through the agony of a bad ride?  And after seeing my scores and comments from the day before, I knew there were not going to be any miracles 24 hours later.  So it was best to pack up and let Ike go home for a peaceful afternoon in his paddock.

The other significant take away from my Saturday ride was that we are definitely not ready for Second Level Test 3.  I had optimistically signed up for Test 3 at the 2 one-day shows in September thinking that I’d miraculously get my qualifying scores and ride in the Second Level championships as well.  Of all the voices in my head, the realist finally screamed the loudest and said, “rethink this nonsense!!!”  Sigh, I did.  We changed our classes to the First 3 test.  We will still try Second 1 and 2, but we will save test 3 for a later date when we both are a bit more confident in our collected work.  I can hear Master Po saying, “More patience grasshopper” so many times that he is forced into early retirement because he has gone mad.

Enjoy the final weeks of summer my friends!


Feeling a Little OOC


The abbreviation OOC brings back memories of my laboratory days spent mixing chemicals, using acetylene flames and playing with really cool instrumentation.  All laboratory work done for regulatory purposes requires a lot of quality control in order to certify the results as true and accurate.  Of course, things don’t always come out as planned, and when you just cannot figure out why things went awry, those analyses were noted with the term “OOC” – Out of Control.  Basically, it means that you have no freaking idea why the analysis went south.

Ike and I sweated through our first lesson since last weekend’s show.  Ms. C and I spent some time discussing my Second Level rides and how we can improve upon those scores.  Mind you, we were both very pleased with last weekend since we hit our goal of getting in the 60th percentile with both my Second Level rides (64.242% and 61.212%), but now we need to refine the work and boost those scores a few more percentage points.  She was there to see my rides, so she can definitively tell me what we need more of – more jump in our canter, more oomph and engagement in our collected trot work, more of everything in our medium trot and canter work, more shoulder freedom in our shoulder ins, and less tension in my body.  That isn’t too much to ask now is it?

So yesterday’s lesson was about finding the latent gears in Ike’s trot work.  Ms. C kindly let me work in rising trot or I don’t think there would have been anyway we could have accomplished anything.  We started in a solid working trot.  Once we were stable there, I asked for a little more, and then more, and a smidge more, and then when I thought that was it, we went for another power push.  At that point an elephant could have charged out of the woods and would not have noticed.  I felt like we were riding the edge – barely in control – teetering on the brink of chaos.  A little OOC if you will.  Finally Ike really found that six gear in his hind end- Ah!  There was the engagement.  There was the lengthening of his frame.  Does anyone seriously think I can sit THAT trot?!

We finally had to take a break, not for Ike’s sake but for mine.  I really need to get my butt more aerobically fit to keep up with my horse.  Between figuring out how to sit Ike’s medium trot and remembering to breathe, I have a lot of work to do before I am capable of getting the most out of my horse.

And speaking of work to do, our turn on the haunches also has miles to go to get out of the 5-6 range in scoring.  We have better luck to the left than to the right.  Ike’s bully of a right shoulder really likes to get in the way and interrupt our flow to the right.  His hind end would rather shift to the left than put up a fight with that shoulder.  If I get to busy in the saddle, it confuses the situation even more and we end up with a small shuffling circle with the haunches doing most of the moving.  Not pretty.

But even with our issues, we are moving forward with our Second Level work.  Going to try Second Level Test 2 at a Fix-a-Test clinic in a couple of weeks.  It is the perfect opportunity to give that test a try and get some instant feedback from one of the local judges.  She was one of the judges last weekend as well, so I can’t wait to hear her advice for boosting our scores.

We have no shows scheduled for July, so we have plenty of time to practice before we go public again.

Stay cool!



Rainy start to JuneWell as far as I can tell, Mother Nature and the month of June must be having one heck of an argument.  I am not sure what June did to piss her off, but someone needs to apologize so that the sun can return.  This has been the view from my windshield for the past 3 days.

Needless to say that there has not been much riding this week.  I did tack up and ride in the drizzle yesterday for 30 minutes, but once the rain started getting more and more steady, I threw in the towel because…1) I could barely see through all the rain drops accumulating on my eyeglasses, and 2) I really didn’t think it was wise to get a brand new saddle sopping wet.

Sad to think that I didn’t think twice about Ike or myself getting wet, but the saddle will be treated with kid gloves for some time to come.  We do not need a repeat of 9 years ago with my last saddle.  It didn’t involve rain, but watching a brand new custom saddle get flung onto the ground because your Thoroughbred won’t stand still for the girth is gut wrenching.  Four times it hit the ground and at least once it was the recipient of a hoof print on one of the billets.  Thankfully, there was no damage but for some dirt.  Also, thankfully, Ike is a bit more cooperative during the tacking process.

Our work was decent for what we were able to accomplish.  We are starting to school haunches in, turn on the haunches, and the countercanter work for the Second Level Test 2 test.  Hopefully by August we will be ready to give it a go.  Our turn on the haunches right now looks more like Frankenstein turning a corner and is not yet fit for public viewing.

Hoping for a lesson tomorrow if the rain will end early enough to allow the arena to drain.  Otherwise, does anyone have four flippers I can borrow for Ike?

The Results Are In


“So, where are all the peppermints I was promised?!”

Well, we did it!  We confidently rode down centerline in our best collected trot, performed a respectable Second Level test, and then collapsed with exhaustion after the final halt and salute.  We can now officially say that we have entered the ranks of Second Level horses and riders, right?

The test was not bobble free, but the judge commented that we did a fine job for our debut and that we are on the right track with our training.

It has taken me a few days of reflection to come up with the most important “take aways” from this ride:

1) Second Level is much harder than Training or First Levels.  It is much more mentally and physically challenging for horse and rider… at least it is for this rider.  Having ridden my First Level test only 15 minutes before my Second Level one was probably not the wisest move at this point.  Until we build up more strength and stamina for the collected work, I will need to be wiser in my warm up and riding before my Second Level rides.  We need to conserve as much energy as we can to get the most out of our ride. (I honestly did not know if Ike and I were going to make it to X for our final halt.)

2) With a few tweaks, we can easily boost our score another 3-4%.  Of course, those tweaks aren’t overnight fixes.  We need a better medium trot and medium canter.  We need to show a better change on our comebacks from the medium gaits.  We need to eliminate the trot steps into and out of our simple changes.  The judge was kind enough to offer some training exercises to help us with each of these.  Smaller canter loops and circles will help maintain engagement to teach the simple changes.  Train the medium gaits using shorter distances.  We’d better get busy since we are going to try this test again in June.

3) Breathing is very important.  I am pretty sure that I did take a breath or two during this ride, but I really need to practice my yoga breathing while in sitting trot.  I also need to remember to relax my arms and shoulders.  Much like the simple tweaks in our work, it is easier said than done.  I’m hoping that it will get better with my next Second Level ride since I’ve now got my initial fears behind me (LOL).

4) The new saddle was a good, albeit expensive, investment.  The hybrid foam/wool flocking innards and design of the saddle make sitting Ike’s trot much easier for me.  Even more importantly, Ike is more relaxed over his topline with the new saddle.  I am still hyperventilating over the cost and hope that I can get 9-10 years out of this one like I did for my last saddle.

In case you are wondering, the judge gave us a 64.545% for that test, and I have never been so excited to get back a score sheet.  I rarely save my dressage tests once the competition year is over, but I do secretly hoard the one’s that have the most meaning to me.  I do believe I will be saving this one.


Spring Is In Full Swing!


My flower beds are abloom, the lilac bush’s fragrance perfumes the side yard, Ike is in the final throes of shedding, and show season has kicked into high gear.  It has already been over two months since the forced halt in riding due to the wretched February weather.  Soon enough we will start complaining about sweat in our eyes and getting buzzed by horse flies.  But for now we are enjoying the warmer and sunnier spring days whilst wiping away the yellow pollen that coats everything.

We now have one schooling show and one licensed show in the books.  I am thrilled with where Ike and I are in our First Level work.  Is there still work to do on our trot lengthenings?  You bet, but so many of the things that plagued us all last season are now garnering solid scores.  Our canter work last year was still one part Scooby Doo and one part young dressage horse.  We can now canter respectable 15 meter circles, show a canter lengthening and a come back, and best of all, the shallow canter loops no longer include flying changes or breaking into trot.  Here is our First Level Test 3 ride from Sunday.  It earned us our best Test 3 score to date at a licensed show.

My most exciting news from the licensed show last weekend is that we now have our second First Level qualifying score for the Regional Finals in October.  That is a huge monkey off my back which means that we can now concentrate our efforts towards our Second Level debut.

And speaking of our debut, I committed us to riding Second Level Test 1 at a schooling show on May 24th.  Yikes!  We are now on a tight schedule to improve our simple changes, counter canter, 10 meter canter circles, and our collected gaits.  Oh. My.  Is that all?!?!!  Am I certain that we will have a mistake-free test?  Nope, but at some point, you just have to take a deep breath and give it a go.  If we score in the low 50’s, we know that we have more work to do before trying Second Level at a licensed show.  If we can hit the 60th percentile, then we know we are on the right track.

Our lesson yesterday was fairly intense given our timeline and the work that needs to be accomplished; we have another one scheduled for Saturday.  We practiced pieces and parts of Test 1.  If I can establish a balanced collected trot, then we can actually make it through the first 9 movements of the test with very little drama.  When Ike’s alignment is right, he can rock his shoulder in…if I am off in my aids and Ike’s trot gets choppy, it is more of a “neck in.”  But once we get past the free walk, all bets are off on how the test will go.  Five simple changes means 5 places to pick up the wrong lead, look like a giraffe in our canter-to-walk transitions, and 5 places for a mental breakdown by the rider or horse.  Breathe in, breathe out, move on.

The work is physically and mentally harder now, so Ike tends to get a bit stressed and on the muscle.  He then turns into a sweaty worm that squirms with even the slightest movement of my leg or weight.  More breathing.  More exhaling.  Less tension for me is key.  Easier said than done, but even more necessary.  This is not the time for me to get emotional while in the saddle.  Stay calm, wait out the “worminess” and then get back to work.  I keep reminding myself that progressing up the levels is more of a marathon than a sprint.  There is no Olympic team medal riding on this performance.  There is no prize for being the fastest to get to or succeed at any given level.  We will take the time to do it correctly.  Success will come when the time is right.