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

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Anticipation

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To this day, I can still (poorly) sing along to Carly Simon’s 1971 top twenty song “Anticipation.”  My singing is not fit for public consumption – just ask my husband who is subjected to it in the car…That aside, things are gearing up for our show in two weeks.  Anticipation is building and hopes are high that we will do well.  My riding has come along way the past few years and is finally fit for public viewing.

With the seasonable temperatures, we have been able to ride and not finish looking like drowned rats.  Although the region could use some more rain, I am not complaining that the sun is out more often than not.   We have been able to school 4 or 5 days a week.  Ike had his pedicure last week as well as an acupuncture and chiropractic session.  My extensive packing lists are on my desk as well as the lists of stuff that I need to get done at home and work before we leave.  The dog sitter has been hired.  Ike has attempted to grow back some mane.  We have about 1.5 inches of spikey growth in the “bald zone.”  I am hopeful that there might be enough hair to fake some sort of braid.  Still praying that roached manes will surge into popularity with dressage riders in the next 10 days.

Our lessons have been intensive.  A lot of discussions about keeping Ike up in his bridle and not letting him dive into the connection.  My whip has been taken away since it not allowed in the championship classes.  I’ve played with a longer spur so that I can speak to the other time zone that is Ike’s hind end.  A few test movements are interspersed in the lessons, but we continue to focus on me understanding when I am connected and through and when Ike’s stride is too short/tight/quick/choppy.  Once the problem is identified (if I am successful at the identification) then we work on what I need to do to fix the problem.  Thankfully, I’m now better able to fix the problems.  Could it be that I might have discovered the secret language of the half halt?!  I’m still waiting to be taught the secret handshake, but that can wait until after the show.

Of course, anticipation can be a bad thing when your horse has ridden the dressage tests enough that he begins to anticipate the next move.  I finally realized that Ike was anticipating the up and down transitions in my Training Level Test 2 rides.  When I sat back and looked at my score sheets from this year, I saw that we quite frequently jig right before our trot transitions.  We also got hit a number of times for trotting before we finished our right lead canter circle.  While practicing my tests at home, sure enough, Ike is jigging and trotting too early.  Hmm.  Guess I need to change up my preparatory methods.  Part of it is that I might be on cruise control myself.  I should know better by now, but some habits are hard to break.

Back in the saddle again tomorrow and then a break on Wednesday.  Thanks for checking in on Ike and I!

alison

One of My Favorite Ways to View the World

Ike at the end of September 2014

A great way to view the world!

So Ike and I took time off last week.  Ike spent his week off just being a horse – no demands of his time except for feeding time.  Rumor has it that he did look for me every time he heard a car come down the driveway.  While he might have missed me, I think he enjoyed living like his brother, the lawn ornament.  I spent the week on Ocracoke Island with my husband and our dear friends imbibing on some adult beverages and engaging in some serious hands of Spades.  While I love to get away from the daily grind, I do miss our dogs and horses while we are gone.  How can you not miss sitting astride your horse and the ease of their power?

We caught the 4:30 a.m. ferry off the island (yes, we are those people) and were home by 10:30.  That meant that there would be some saddle time that afternoon!  What a great greeting I received upon arrival at the barn.  Every horse, except for Ike, nickered as I said hello.  Ike promptly greeted me with a gentle nudge, then gave me his “mean face.”  I suppose that was him admonishing me for leaving him for the week.  He is quick to forgive…after a Stud Muffin or two were procured.  Had a moment of panic when I saw Cigar’s face with what looked like blood splattered on his forehead.  Thankfully, it turned out to be pokeberry juice.  Such a shame that he has to resort to eating pokeberries rather the alfalfa/timothy hay that he is provided.  Enjoyed a short but productive ride with the realization that the CBLMs are only three weeks away.

So much to accomplish in the next few weeks.  The training plan involves mostly pure training rather than test riding.  Training Level Test 2 and First Level Test 2 are good tests for us.  We’ve been consistent with our scores all season, so no need to drill the movements.  We are just going to work on climbing the training pyramid which will only make our tests better.

Ms. C introduced half steps to our training right before our week off; she said that both Ike and I are ready for them. Uh, okay.  I think Ike is picking up on the concept faster than I am.  I have a tendency to get a bit strong with my hands, not use my legs enough, and then forget to release my half halt…that of course creates tension which makes Ike’s back tight which then causes all the dominoes to fall and we end up back at square one.  Phew, we are now well outside my comfort zone with what we are doing.  No more happy-go-lucky Training Level stuff allowed.  I can read books and websites all day and night about half steps and teaching collection to a horse and rider, but there is no comparison to actually sitting on the horse and performing the tasks at hand.  It is much like swimming – the only way to become proficient is to jump in the water and do it.  Yes, it will be hard at first (and you might sink like a rock/get some low scores), but with steady practice and repetition, you will hopefully see improvement.  That is what I’m hoping with our half steps/collection work.  Good thing there is no hurry to get to Second Level.  (Sshhh, don’t tell, I’m also still not proficient with sitting ike’s medium trot either and I think posting is frowned upon.)

It is shaping up to be a busy week with the farrier and vet stopping by, but hopefully there will be plenty of saddle time!

alison

Can You Guess What They Tried To Do To Me Yesterday???

Alison and Ike Culpeper August 2014

I have yet again seized control of the blog to share with my fans the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Mom just doesn’t do a stellar job providing you the facts.  Mom forgets to take off her rose colored glasses sometimes as she skips through her days.

The poor woman continues to struggle with what to do with her appendages.  I hear her reminiscing about how I used to attempt to ram her knee into the fence since I couldn’t make all my body parts work together.  Well here we are three years later and I am more than capable of coordinating my legs.  I cannot say the same for Mom and she is almost 46 years old.  Come on woman! Put your inside leg up near the girth when I’m cantering to help me bend.  You can clearly see from the photo that she is incapable of listening while in the show ring.  Just look where her leg is!  Sheesh!  And then she is surprised when I break from the canter or lean in.  Will someone please tell her to be there to help me…yes, I do a lot of the work, but she’s got to learn to do her part for the team.  I can only hope for better leg/seat/hand coordination at our upcoming show at Rose Mount.  With only a week until the show, I have to hope for a miracle.

That whole feed bucket debacle had nothing to do with what was in my feed bucket.  I’m not really a picky fellow, except for peaches, those things are gross.  I might have been pawing one morning while waiting for my breakfast and might have gotten my hoof stuck in the bucket.  When I pulled back to get it out, somehow the bucket got in the way and it broke.  Yeah, that is what happened.  Or wait, is it too late to blame my brother.  Yeah, he made me do it.

Lately, it has not been fun to be outside.  The weather has been okay, but the horseflies have been out in droves.  We horses have decided that they are evil.  We are pretty certain that they are the devil’s spawn sent forth to make us all miserable.  I have mastered the tail flick and the neck-reach-around to combat the flying devils.  My brother does a nonstop shimmy shake so that they cannot land on him.  He only stops when Mom is close by and then he shows her where it is so she can kill it.  While she is uncoordinated in the saddle, she does have lightning quick thwacking skills to kill the flies.  Go Mom!

And let me tell you about yesterday…Mom and I had another lesson with Ms. C.  I’m pretty sure they tried to kill me.  We worked very hard on the various movements that we will need for our upcoming show: cantering, trot lengthenings, canter lengthenings, centerlines, and leg yields.  We didn’t stop much because the horseflies were lying in wait if we paused.  After about 50 minutes I was breathing very hard.  It was scary.  I huffed and puffed and couldn’t catch my breathe.  Mom dismounted and they hosed me off for at least 20 minutes (I didn’t think I was that dirty).  Mom then stuck this tube of brown goo in my mouth.  She called it “elektrolights.”  I called it gross and tried to spit it back at her.  After about 20 more minutes I felt better.  I hope that never happens again.

If you are going to be in town next weekend, come see me at the show.  I love when my friends come to cheer for me!  Especially the ones who bring snacks!

Until next time,

Ike

 

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.