Red and Blue Banner Day

I love my big man.  He gets four gold stars for the schooling show today: the first one for being a gentleman for getting on and off the trailer with no fuss, the second one for being very well-behaved with his ground manners for tacking and waiting his turn, the third one for his performance in Training Level Test 1, and the fourth one for his second showing in Training Level Test 2.

This was the first show that Ike was asked to do two Training Level tests…and let us not forget that I just rode the current Test 2 for the first time ever from start to finish this past Thursday.  We arrived with plenty of time to tack and warmup – in all honesty, I could have arrived 30 minutes later and been just fine.  I’m just used to tacking taking 45-60 minutes as I played ring-around-the-rosy with Cigar in order to get the saddle in place.  But Ike being the stellar boy that he is, stood quietly and he was tacked in under 15 minutes.  Since we were early, I walked him to the competition area to observe the warmup ring and the competition arena.  I had many friends at this show who’d never met him, so he preened from the attention.  I have no doubt that he knew people were saying nice things about him.

Here we are in warmup receiving instruction from Ms. C.  This picture cracks me up since it looks like Ike is really trying to listen to and understand the direction we are receiving.

Test 1 was up first.  If you remember, we got a 58.3% in our first attempt at this test.  Today——-69.375%!!  Woot woot!  Ike was spot on today.  Canter transitions were prompt and correct.  We got an 8 for our stretch down trot which really helped our score since it is a coefficient movement.  Decent stretch down walk; I could have asked for more, but didn’t want to goose him and then really get hit.  We did get hit on our transition back to medium walk since Ike likes to show off his giraffe neck at that moment.  Our centerlines were not that spectacular in this test, but good enough.  The judge liked us as a pair and liked his trot.  I was in awe that we got first place – a totally unexpected, but delightful outcome for this ride.

We had an hour before Test 2.  Ike seemed a bit distracted in warmup (there were people starting to leave which seems to worry him) and the distraction continued into our ride…let me show you our entry halt…

“Look Mom, people are leaving me!  Oh dear, what if I am left alone?”  The trot to the right was also not our best effort.  Ike flattened and the hind end started its own orbit on our trot circle.  I got him back on the trot diagonal, so we were successful with the canter transition and our canter circle.  Our stretch down trot in this test was a 5.5 effort – Ike never really committed to the stretch.  The rest of the test was steady with lots of 6’s and 7’s.  Focus returned for the final halt (8).  When it was all said and done, we got a 67.857% and second place.  I’m tickled with Ike’s performance with this test as well. Again noted in the comments was the need to work on the transition from free walk to medium walk – point taken and understood.  The judge also commented that the front and hind ends sometimes appear to belong to two different horses – just not in sync.  I had to laugh since she was spot on with her observation.  She said that in time with consistent, correct work, we should see the problem less and less.

It was great to be amongst friends today.  Weather was great for the end of July.  Ms. C was present to witness her pupil’s success.  My supportive husband was there to cheer for us, and he was able to relax rather than having a white knuckle grip on the warmup ring with one hand and the cell phone in the other ready to dial 911.  Feeling very lucky as the day winds down.  Life is good.

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Pheww

Big sigh of relief.  Yesterday, I finally rode the Training Level Test 2 test from start to finish and the best part, I remembered it.  While it was not perfect, if we can ride the test on Sunday like we did yesterday, I will be happy.  Yesterday was only my second time on Ike in the past two weeks.  Some might say that it isn’t enough time to properly prepare for a show.  I say, that is life, and I’m just going to enjoy the rides I do have.  He is young.  He is fit.  He is smart.  I don’t think the time off has hurt his training at all.  So we don’t progress as fast as others.  Dressage training is not a race.  It is a process and a journey to be enjoyed.  There is no ribbon for the first one to reach a particular level by a particular time.

It has been over a month since Ike last rode on the trailer, so today before my lesson, I decided to load Ike for a refresher.  When I tried to unsnap the lead rope to thread the chain, I couldn’t.  The snap had rusted and I couldn’t open it enough to remove it from the halter.  Sigh.  So I decided to try loading without the chain….success!  Ike and I walked right up to the trailer, I said, “Ike, load up,” and my big star walked right on like it was the easiest thing in the world.  One less thing to worry about on Sunday.

Now back to the riding part.  Today was my first lesson since before vacation and my last chance to get Ms. C’s input and have her critical eye cast upon us.  She is tough!  Nothing gets by her eagle eye.  She was pleased with our canter work today, but our trot work was not up to par.  Weight was not in the right place and Ike kept trying to snatch the reins.  Not sure if Ike had some gas or just needed to poo, but for the first part of the lesson, he’d move a bit stilted in his hind end and keep lifting his tail.  We took a brief walk break to see if that might encourage something to happen.  Gas and a bit more gas.  Then I “pushed” the gas pedal and we continued working.  The trot work improved, but I also worked harder to get and keep a good connection over his back (read: many, many, many half halts).  We did ride Test 2 from start to finish – solid canter work, okay stretch down, and a 50/50 split on the trot work.  BTW, Ike nailed our centerlines today.  Fingers crossed that we can find that 9.5 again on Sunday for our final halt.

We only practiced the Test 1 canter transitions since at the last show Ike was disunited on the left which got us a 4 from the judge.  To help him keep his weight to the inside, I hinted at a counter flexion.  Boom!  Big man rolled into that left lead canter – what a yummy transition.  The canter itself was also fabulous.  If you recall, the canter is picked up on the second half of the 20 meter circle at A.  When we hit that open side of the circle, centrifugal force still haunts us and we fall out.  The slight counter flexion just helps prevent the fall to the outside and gives us a better chance of canter success.  It is only a temporary thing until Ike develops his self carriage (grows into those legs).

Decent ride times for Sunday T-1 at 9:52 and T-2 at 10:55.  Slightly cooler temperatures predicted.  Fingers are crossed that we clear the 60% mark.  Stay tuned…

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

I could have ridden yesterday, but thought that it was a bit too hot (my car said it was 104 degrees when I left the house).  I would have ridden if I’d realized that there was a nice breeze at the barn and the temperature was really only 94 degrees, but since I’m not Bent Jensen at PVDA’s Ride for Life (http://www.horsejunkiesunited.com/2012/06/24/bent-jensen-silva-martin-and-a-glow-in-the-dark-performance-fun-freestyles-at-pvda-ride-for-life/), I did not ride in my yoga shorts and sneakers.  I should have packed my riding clothing just in case.  Ah, hindsight, how clear you are.

My car said it was only 99 degrees when I left the house today, but the stifling humidity returned overnight, so it felt like 102 degrees with not a cloud to block the sun.  What was I crazy enough to do?  My riding lesson!  The horses were having a mid-day siesta with fans a-blowin’ when I arrived, and Ms. C and Mr. D had hosed them down to help bring down the body temperature.  Grooming was the bare minimum, i.e., the saddle and girth areas and the hooves.  We were ready to go in under 20 minutes.

Ike’s walk was nicely forward which was surprising given the weather conditions.  His trot was lovely, I mean really lovely.  Well connected, balanced and rhythmic.  Ms. C commented that the front and hind ends appeared to be moving as one cohesive unit.  Yea!  Progress.  So that means that either the boy is maturing into his body mass and the topline is getting stronger and/or the rider who sits astride the middle section is doing a better job with her half halts and aids to better help Ike find that sweet spot.  Since most everything is dependent on the rider, I guess we have to say that the rider is finally catching a clue.  Even his canter work was solid.  He hit his transitions and I was actually able to ask for and achieve a shoulder-fore on the right lead.  Ike still tends to get a bit quick to the left, especially down the long side, “Wee, let’s go faster!”  It too shall get better in time.  Total ride time – approximately 35 minutes before the rider cried Uncle, but I will take 35 minutes of the solid work we had today over an hour of, “Are you talking to me?” work with little accomplished.

I have to say that I thought I was in good physical condition, but this heat and humidity kicked me hard in the backside.  The weekend is not looking promising for riding here in Virginia.  We are facing more very high temperatures with heat index values well over 100 degrees by mid-afternoon.  I do so love the cloying humidity that plagues Virginia in the summer.  It will be interesting to see what my car registers as the temperature each day.  Maybe I can use the car as a roaster and slow-roast some of the 8 pounds of tomatoes we received from our CSA share.

Three Cheers for Ike

Another blue ribbon day for Mr. Ike.  I could not be prouder of my 4 year-old and how he handled himself today.  I am exhausted, but a power nap this afternoon has kept me going long enough to get this blog post done.

The day started early, but what a gorgeous day for a dressage show.  I finished Ike’s braids while he was still in his paddock – such a good boy to be so cooperative rather than playing catch me if you can.  He walked on the trailer like a champ and we were on our way.  We arrived at the show grounds about 90 minutes before my first ride.  Ike was much calmer this time out.  Could it be that he is gaining confidence?  No whinnying at every other horse.  No rearing in our stall.  Ms. C arrived soon after we did; we are very lucky to have her support for our centerline adventures.  I know we’d be lost without her guidance.  Hopped onboard with 45 minutes to warm up.  The scary tractor was nowhere to be seen, so warm up went smoothly.  The judge’s booth was scary today…you just never know.  I was the only one in the Intro B class, so this blue ribbon gets an asterisk like Ike’s first show ribbons.  Even with his nervousness near the judge, Ike got a 69.375%.

Had a 90 minute break before the next test.  Ah, now Ike had to learn the restart.  I did leave his saddle on so he understood that work was not over.  Ike had no problems with the second warmup.  Got my first test back just before my second ride.  You would think that you had to use differential equations to score with how long the scoring takes at shows.  The judge wanted Ike to be more forward, so we rode the edge for Intro C.  Overall, that strategy worked, but we did break into canter on our circle to the left…so we went a bit too far over the edge on that one.  Such is life.  67.75% for this test with both canter leads correct and a 9.5 for our final centerline!!!  How cool is that?

Had a two-hour wait for our Training Level debut, so Ike was untacked and had some down time.  I was feeling confident about the restart, but that balloon was deflated when we arrived at warmup.  The water truck and the big tractor were out working on Ring 3.  Pretty sure that Ike believed the boogie man was hiding in one of them.  Warmup was challenging with a couple of explosive airs-above-the-ground canter transitions that I didn’t ask Ike to do.  I was hopeful that the chaos would be over before my ride, but I WAS WRONG.  It got worse.  The tractor was parked right outside our arena as we entered, but then it started up and headed to Ring 2 just as we entered at A.  The water truck then went into the warmup arena…boogie men everywhere.  Ike was a bundle of nerves under me.  I could feel his heart pounding through the saddle.  Needless to say our individual movement scores took a hit as well as the collectives.  58.6% for our Training Level debut, but we still won the class.

So Ike now has three shows behind him and he keeps getting better with each one.  I think he is going to be a super dressage mount as he gets older and gains more confidence.  We now have 5 weeks before our next outing – a schooling show hosted by my local chapter.  Lots of time to decide what tests to ride.  Stay tuned!

Runaway, runaway

So above is a tranquil photo of Ike…rewind to about 30 minutes earlier and it was a much different picture…

Ike and I had just finished our short and productive ride.  I initially worked on establishing our forward and rhythmic trot -no four wheelers revving their engines today.  We then rode Intro B and Training 1 back to back.  I was pleased with our efforts.  Broke into trot during our right lead canter, but that was our only bobble.  I had started the ride with my dressage whip, but dropped it near the mounting block after a few minutes since Ike’s right shoulder was not as pushy today.  I had finished my ride, run up my stirrups, and then leaned over to pick up my whip.  For whatever reason, it startled Ike and the reins slipped from my hand.  Luckily, they were still over my his neck so there was less of a chance for Ike to step on them.  I said, “whoa,” but Ike said, “No,” and he struts off looking like a high-stepping Dutch Harness Horse.  Neck was up, tail was up, and his front legs were perfect right angles.  You could have served drinks on his forearms.

Well Ike’s antics got all the horses fired up.  Why does he get to run around the barnyard????  Thankfully, all the gates were closed.  And more thankfully, the farrier was done working on my friend’s horse.  We were able to catch the runaway fairly quickly and calm the barnyard.

Ride times aren’t too bad for a recognized show:  8:48, 10:37, and 12:37.  Tests run Intro B, Intro C, and Training 1.  If all goes well, I should have my first two scores in hand before the final ride.  Same judge for all three rides as well.  Best news – Ms. C will be there to school us!

Goals for Sunday:  1) Breathe and enjoy the ride; 2) Keep our impulsion on the circles; and 3) Get the correct leads for canter.  Hopefully Ike’s Training Level debut will go better than Cigar’s did.  We scored a 49% (yes, that number is correct) since Cigar decided that he was not going to canter that day.  Much like a young child who clams up when Mom asks them to speak in public.  Would love to get above 60% for Ike’s first try.  Is that too much to ask?

Do You Ride?

Imagine if you will the following picture as you are walking through the grocery store: before you stands a woman with a ball cap shoved on her head to hide her sweaty, helmet-flattened hair, her shirt is also wet with sweat and has a green smear of something across her chest, her tan pants are close-fitting and also have unidentified stains on them, and she has on a pair of tie-dyed Zocks with her feet wearing a pair of clogs.  As you approach her, there is an intoxicating aroma of horse, sweat, and hay with a hint of leather conditioner lingering in the background.  Do you ask that woman, “Do you ride?”  Really?!  The devil on my shoulder is goading me to say, “why no I don’t, why do you ask?”  The angel on my other shoulder twists my earlobe until I do say, “why yes I do.”  Why else would I  be clad in such odd attire?  Unless I was aiming to get my photo on the last page of Glamour magazine with the black box obscuring my identity, there really isn’t any other reason to look that awful except when you are done riding but desperately need groceries.

Have had two productive rides this weekend.  I have tried to focus on our trot rhythm and my proper timing for half halts.  Sometimes I really feel like an uncoordinated klutz in the saddle.  It gives you a true respect for those riders trying out for the US Olympic team who regularly score in the high 70s at Grand Prix.  In any case, I persevere and continue to practice.  Still debating on whether or not to carry my whip at the next show.  Sometimes it seems to help, but shifting the whip from one hand to the other is another one of those klutz-inspired moments for me.  And then I have to decide where does the whip need to be to make it useful.  I could really use it behind my left leg when asking for right lead canter, but within a stride desperately need it at the right shoulder to keep us from collapsing to the right.  AARGGH.  It will have to be a show day decision and based on how Ike feels in warm up.

We did a practice session with the trailer yesterday.  Ike performed flawlessly.  Phew.  One less thing to fret about.

Ike also is in need of another beauty school day.  It seems like his mane has grown at least an inch since April and he is also sporting a Miami Vice five o’clock shadow.  Put that on the list of things to do this week.  The dry cleaner did manage to remove the slobber from my show coat.  Thank goodness they put the protective plastic sleeve over the clean item…I managed to promptly drop the coat as soon as I arrived at the barn.  Couldn’t even make it the 50 feet from my car to the trailer.  Klutz.

One week from today is our Training Level debut.  I think I’m actually a bit nervous already.  It will be a long and sleepless week.

But I’m Hungry

Today was one of those days that Ike’s worlds collided.  I showed up which means peppermints and neck scratches before and after we work, but I showed up at dinner time.  So, what is better?  Me or dinner?  It was apparent today that dinner ranks higher than I do.  I had to drag him from his stall.  When I tried to capture his attention for a photo, the above is what I got, “No, I will not look at the camera or give you my attention.”  Ike just knew that everyone else would be fed while he was “forced” to work before he would get his afternoon ration.  Yes, I am just that evil.  Ike might be joining the dog’s lawsuit sooner than I think.

I left the gate to the arena open while we worked.  It was like a siren of the seas drawing Ike closer and closer.  Correct flexion was next to impossible as we would approach the gate.  Trainers would say it should just take a squeeze and release of the inside rein to recapture his attention.  Ha!  Tell that to Ike’s stomach.  Pretty sure that it was calling the shots for half my ride.  I’d have to open my inside rein and shift all my weight to the inside just to get Ike to be straight at the poll.  I can see a judge’s comment, “too much use of the inside rein.”  Yes, I’ve seen that comment before, but sometimes it is all I have to fight the battle.  I finally gave up and moved to the far end of the arena to get something accomplished.

The half of the ride that I could capture Ike’s attention went pretty well.  Worked on the evil test combo of canter-trot transition-stretch down trot circle-working trot.  It is a shame that the stretch down trot has a coefficient of 2 for the movement.  It is just not our friend.  We are hovering in the score range of 4.5-5.5 and I’m being optimistic.  Too bad that dressage scores don’t have the high and the low marks thrown out before computing the final score – like they do in ice skating.  I’m also still OK with using mulligans like I suggested in a past blog entry.

Our canter continues to improve.  Practiced the T-1 canter movements.  Our half circles in the middle of the arena are sometimes half ovals.  Again, sometimes all I have is that inside rein to save me.  At the schooling show last weekend the judge thought that our canter was a bit too slow.  Really?  That caught me by surprise since I’ve been trying to slow down the Marmaduke canter to something more presentable.  Hoping that at the next show that I get to ride Intro C AND get the test (comments) back before my T-1 ride.  At least then I know what that judge thinks we should be doing and try to show a change in the T-1 test.

Lesson with Ms. C tomorrow.  Betcha we work on that stretchy trot thing…