Spring Is In Full Swing!

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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.

Alison

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Stuck

Ike November 2014

I have been trying to write this blog post for a few days.  I have struggled with what to say, what not to say, where we are, and where we are not.  Now that spring has officially arrived and the daffodils and crocus have popped up, show season lurks just around the corner.

I equate show season with the start of the school year.  You kind of assume that you are moving up a grade (level) with the new year (season)…and when you are a chronic overachiever, you expect that forward progress.  For years I have struggled to make the leap from a Training/First Level rider to one that can hold her own at Second Level.  While some people would say that reaching the FEI levels would mean the most to them, reaching Second Level has been the Holy Grail for me.  It is the level where it feels like the “real” dressage work starts – you have to show collected and medium gaits, you have to be able to move your horse’s shoulders and haunches independently, you had better be through and connected, and it all has to be done in sitting trot with an independent seat.

In January I honestly thought that we would be ready to try out Second Level Test 1 at a schooling show in April.  I was giddy when I thought about it.  This was it!  We were going to go out and show everyone that we do have some dressage skills.  There was work to be done on the simple transitions, but we had two and a half months, so it was not going to be a problem…and then the snow came…and All. Progress. Stopped. Dead.

As we have restarted, reality set in that we were not ready.  And then a bigger reality set in last weekend.  One of my besties with some serious riding skills came to the barn with me and hopped on Ike.  She last rode him 2 years ago when steering was still questionable most days.  She took just a few minutes to get a good feel for where he was, and off they went.  I will say it was nice to see Ike in action since I only get to see him on video with me astride.  When Miss L figured him out, his leg yield was stunning.  When asked for a flying change, Ike nailed it.  Whoa!  She then played with his simple changes and nailed them.

Hmmm……

Then the clouds parted and the realization set in – poor Ike’s progress is inhibited by his owner’s lack of any dressage skills past First Level.  Poor boy.  He is clearly ready for Second Level and could enter Second Level Test 1 in April, but sadly, I am not.  Too bad he wouldn’t be willing to give it a go on his own.  Heck, I’m even willing to call the test for him.

It is a difficult realization to digest when you are usually at the head of the class.  You see your friends moving onwards and upwards, yet you still remain where you were last year.  It is hard not to compare your progress with others.  It is human nature.  I found a quote on Pinterest the other night that hit home and is going to be my mantra this year:

10426133_10152794349317621_1201164302458210363_nThis year will be about bettering our dressage skills and finally riding down centerline for our first Second Level test ever.  Until we are ready for that, we will strive to improve our weaknesses (turn those shoulders!!) and better our First Level scores from last year.  That is the beauty of dressage.  Even if you never bring home a ribbon in a class, you can still compete against yourself.  Wish us luck!

alison

Still Not Back in the Saddle

Ike Jan 2014

So this picture about sums up what Ike and I have been doing since my fall…staring at each other as he begs for treats.  I am trying to be patient and let my body heal, but it is so very frustrating when the weather takes an upward swing to 70 degrees (yes, you read that right, that is the temperature today) and all I can do is hang out with my boys.

Why am I not back in the saddle?  Sadly, my ankle is still in recovery mode.  I did have it checked by an orthopedic doctor just to make sure that there wasn’t a stress fracture lurking in one of the many bones that comprise the foot and ankle.  He told me that I just have a doozy of a sprain.  I am now sporting a fancy ankle brace that narrows my shoe choices to one…and it isn’t a riding boot.  I have tried to shove my foot into all of my boots just on the off chance that I could make it work.  No luck whatsoever.  The bulk of the brace makes a riding boot an impossibility.  I guess that is one way to keep me grounded.  I’m not happy!

Ms. C has been able to ride Ike once during my unexpected hiatus.  The crazy mid-Atlantic weather has made riding challenging – one day of rain, a day of snow and ice, freezing temperatures, icy arenas, slushy arenas – we have it all.

The good news to share is that my bruises are fading, and I no longer look quite as colorful.  I have now returned to my pasty winter white tone.

The great news to share is that Ike’s brother Cigar has predicted that we will have an early spring.  Yes, this flies in the face of the groundhog’s prediction, but if you saw how much hair is blowing around the barn, you too might be persuaded to call the groundhog a liar.  I’m going to choose to believe my horse and his barn buddies since they haven’t been hiding in a hole for the past two months.  Bring on spring! 🙂

alison