Peering through the fog towards Regional Finals

In four days we will end our show season as we head down centerline for the UDSF Region 1 Adult Amateur Third Level finals class. No matter what happens this week, this year went well above my expectations. Ike and I met all of our preseason goals…well, okay, they were more my goals, but Ike played along since he is such an agreeable fellow. How could I not be happy with a horse like Ike?!

Our finals class is HUGE. The entire show is HUGE with over 450 horses entered. I saw a post on Instagram from Heels Down Media earlier today that I will keep in mind at the show, “A rising tide lifts all boats. Someone else doing well doesn’t take away from your own success.” With that in mind, our goals for this show are to equal our Fourth Level score from last month and aim for a 65% in our finals class. We came close in August, so it is not out of our wheelhouse. Let’s just hope that the remnants of Hurricane Michael don’t try to dampen our fun.

Best of luck to all the competitors! We have all worked hard to make it Lexington. Enjoy the experience .

Alison

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The Nail Biter Finals Class

Alison and Ike USDF Region 1 GAIGs Photo by T. Perez

Alison and Ike USDF Region 1 GAIGs
Photo by T. Perez

At the start of the season, the October championship show feels so far away.  It feels like you have all the time in the world to practice and hone your skills.  Heck, I even thought that we’d be able to pull off both First and Second Levels successfully (we only managed First Level).  But in the blink of an eye, it is here and the weekend of the show always manages to fly by without me doing everything I thought I could do.

The morning of our departure day was sunny but cold.  I had enough clothing layers packed to protect myself from any arctic blast and the suitcase zipper was barely holding the case closed.  I also had packed everything but the kitchen sink and the barbeque grill.  One must be prepared – doesn’t everyone travel with two corkscrews when attending a horse show for 4 days?  Unfortunately, I managed to wake up with a sore throat and a runny nose.  Awesome, just freaking awesome.  Luckily we had some Dayquil in the house, so I threw a couple of those down my throat and headed off to the barn to load big man…after a stop at the local Target for the large economy-sized boxes of tissues with lotion.

The drive to Lexington was uneventful.  Our hacks around the show grounds and competition arenas were relaxed.  The excitement came later in the day when my friend realized that someone had stolen 2 of her credit cards out of her wallet while we were unloading the trailers (the sneaky thief left the wallet, cash, other cards and the purse behind).  All was resolved without her being responsible for any of the charges.  But when I went back to the barn for night check, that is when I realized that I’d spiked a fever.  More super news.  Did you know that Dayquil Severe packaging is practically adult-proof for a tired, feverish equestrian?  After over five minutes of struggling, I finally released the pills from the hellish packaging.  My head hit the pillow and I prayed for quick relief.

Quick recovery was not to be.  Both Friday and Saturday were spent fighting a fever and struggling to stay awake to do my barn chores and riding.  I felt so poorly that I even managed to sleep through my husband’s wakeup call on Saturday and almost sending him into a panic on my whereabouts.  Our Friday open class was not our best effort, but if we had to sacrifice a ride, it was better that it was an open class and not our finals class on Sunday.  Perhaps Ike was just missing Miss C’s presence since once she arrived on Saturday, he settled.  We had a little tension in Saturday warm-up, but Ike was much more focused and gave me a solid performance with no major bobbles.  My performance was marred by tearing eyes, a runny nose, a sprained finger, and a lack of oxygen.  Cold wind plus a viral infection equals a not photo ready rider.  Confession time – Desperate times mean that you just might use the same rag to wipe your horse’s nose to blow your nose.  We came out of that class with a 67.5%, a pink ribbon, and the confidence to head into our finals class knowing there we were as prepared as we would ever be.

Miss M and Miss T were kind enough to take care of my morning barn chores on Sunday, so I was able to sleep in a bit.  Thankfully, I heard my husband’s wakeup call on “championship day” and I woke up without a fever.  The day was already starting on a good note.  Ike was a saint and kept his braids intact.  Our ride was not until 1:00, so we had some time to stew and watch our friends in their open classes.  Part of the learning curve with these long weekends is knowing your horse, his mental state, and his energy level.  You want to have good practice rides, but you need to conserve something for the finals.  Our warm-up was peaceful and short.  We did spend some time riding through the sun spot on the ground since we’d seen a number of horses spook at the one in the indoor competition ring. 

It was finally our turn.  The indoor was quiet and Ike was focused as I rode around the outside of the ring waiting for the bell.  Rrriinnnnggg!  Time to make that turn down centerline.  Big man was with me as we cruised to X.  Exhale, salute, and trot on.  Our left-to-right leg yield was sticky, but there was no time to dwell on it.  Our 10-meter circles were fluid and our mid-test halt at X was one of our best of the year.  Super happy with our canter departs as well as our canter loops. Our weakest movement is the trot lengthening…we just don’t have one.  We made it through the ride with no spooks, no “unexpected tension,” and no major errors.

Now came the hardest part – we’d done our best with a 67.86% average from the two judges, but now we had to wait to see how the next 25 or so riders would do to know our fate.  We hung out in the top 5 for more than half the class, but slowly, we saw our name drifting lower in the placings.  At 4:30 we were sitting in 8th place – the last placing with a ribbon and participation in the awards ceremony….and then there were three riders left….and sadly, the second to last rider bumped us to 9th place.  Our fate was sealed and we could now finish loading the trailer for the 2 hour ride home.  I must admit that I choked up since I hoped to place – not just for me, but for all those who have tirelessly supported us on this journey.

I teared up even more when we arrived at the barn.  Ms. C had left a lovely ribbon hanging on Ike’s stall to welcome us home.  In her mind, we deserved a ribbon – she is our toughest judge of all, so this ribbon is so very precious to me.  My horse may not have the fanciest breeding, the most extravagant gaits, or the prettiest tail.  I may not have the advanced dressage skills or the money for winters in Wellington.  But, Ike does have the biggest heart and a lot of try.  We do have a trainer who believes in us and amazing friends and family that support our dreams.  We have an incredible bond and partnership, and in the end, isn’t that worth more than any accolades or championship ribbons?

alison

 

 

#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.)

Lena

Lena

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!!

Alison

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

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

 

Digesting What Was Served by Hilda

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Holy Moly.  What an amazing, overwhelming, humbling, inspiring weekend.  I am not even certain where to start to capture all the details.  Amazing to have met one of the legends of dressage.  Overwhelming to have been selected even though Ike and I were the least experienced of the rider group.  Humbling in so far as I realized that I know next to nothing about dressage.  Inspiring to see the upper level riders and their talented mounts.

If you want to know what I looked like, feel free to ask any of the 200 auditors.  Yes, 2-0-0.  I have never ridden in front of that many pairs of eyes; not even at the Region 1 championship last year.  I unfortunately cannot publicize the videos of my ride, but suffice to say that Hilda pretty much pegged me after about a minute.  Now, so can the 200 auditors.  They will now have no fear when they see the name spastic rider getting hauled around by her larger than average pony when they are in one of my classes.  “Don’t be afraid to use your hands.” “Relax your back.” “You are not sitting.” “Move your legs back.” “Where were you to help your horse?” “You forgot your corner.”  She said nothing that Ms. C hasn’t told me before, and that I haven’t been working on for the past two years.  I’m back to feeling like a beginner rider entering the arena for the first time.

The nice thing is that I have learned that I’m not alone with my struggles to grasp the intricacies of this sport.  So many of the auditors approached me after my ride to share with me their impressions of my lesson.  Many said that they thought I handled it wonderfully and that it was great to see someone working at their level bravely attempting to follow Hilda’s instructions.  I don’t know the names of these kind souls, but they helped me to rally and do it again on Sunday.  My fabulous friends from my local chapter also gave me a shot in the arm to bolster my confidence to face the crowd for a second day.

Sunrise over Wyndham Oaks Farm.

Sunrise over Wyndham Oaks Farm.

Sunday dawned a gorgeous spring day.  My dear friend Ms. L again made certain that Ike and I were impeccably turned out.  What we lacked in dressage knowledge and skills, we made up for by looking marvelous.  Ike and I were definitely more relaxed – not surprising given that we worked our butts off the day before.  We’d each had a chance to dwell on what we’d learned the day before and hopefully improve our performance.

I think I can confidently say that we showed improvement in our second lesson.  Can I give myself a pat on the back that Hilda complemented me on being a good student?  Awesome!  She was a special education teacher for 14 years, so she knows a thing or two about teaching.  Ike showed clear improvement in his right lead canter – he was kind enough to not lean so much on my inside leg.  I demonstrated better following hands at the walk and canter.  I did some passable sitting trot work.  We even attempted some centerlines and leg yield.  Our turns onto centerline were squirrely, but Ike was supple and responsive in his lateral work.

The videos Ms. L recorded will help me to see for myself my errant ways (eek, what a funny face I make while concentrating and will you please stop doing THAT with your hands!).  They confirmed with Ms. C that we are on the right track and that I need to be a better leader/rider in order for Ike to progress.  The clinic helped me to realize that I should not be afraid to take chances.  Yes, you will make mistakes when you take yourself outside of your comfort zone, but it is at that point that you will grow as a rider and the path up the levels will become just that more clear.

alison

Back to Work – Hilda and the First Show of the Season Await!

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This has been one of those winters – one of those that the cold seems colder, the sky more grey than blue, and riding seems like a distant dream.  Mother Nature dropped another 6 inches of snow on the region yesterday.  The only upside is that when it snows in March in the mid-Atlantic region, it usually doesn’t stick around for long.  In fact, by Friday, temperatures should be in the 60s – much more spring like.  Given the fact that spring starts on Thursday, I’d say that we are due some 60 degree days.  The boys would agree – they are tired of eating hay and would like some lush spring grass for grazing.

I did luck out last week and managed to ride FIVE times with two of them being excellent lessons with Ms. C.  I haven’t ridden that many times in a week since last December.  It felt good to mount up and begin to re-establish our rhythm.  It is amazing how rusty you become.  It takes forever to find the training sweet spot and yet within a few weeks, you lose months and months of stamina and training.

Ms. C asked me an interesting question at the start of one of my lessons, “If you are asked at the clinic with Hilda what you need her to help you with, what will you tell her?”  [Insert sound of crickets chirping.]  Umm, well, ah, yeah, I dunno…guess I need to give that some thought.  Perhaps I need to refer back to George Morris’ commandments and just pick one of those.  Ms. C suggested that I let her know that we are beginning our first year of showing First Level, so perhaps we should tell her that we need help becoming a First Level team.  No more plodding around on the forehand or racing around like Scooby Doo.  No longer is Ike allowed to ride a circle with a stiff and straight body; a circle needs to be more of a circle than a decagon.  Guess whose job it is to make sure that he moves correctly?  No more cruise control for this girl…one must ride every stride and plan for the movements to come.  I suppose that means that my half halt timing will be closely scrutinized.  And if my two lessons last week are any indication, my timing definitely still needs improvement!

And speaking of close scrutiny, I have to admit, that while I am thrilled at the opportunity to be a demonstration rider at the Hilda Gurney clinic, I’m also a bit nervous.  I am imagining hundreds of auditor eyeballs staring at my every move and looking for any and every mistake.  That is more attention than I had at the regional finals!  Yikes!  “How did she get selected for this?  Did you see her blow that half halt?!  Look at her hand position!  Ike’s head is so big and the ears belong on a mule.  That poor horse could be great if his rider was more talented.”  Yes, this is what loops through my head when I’m not busy with work or other tasks.  I know that I need to stop the madness, but that is easier said than done.

The money has been sent for our first show of the season as well.  Our first show will be the first weekend of May.  While there are shows in March and April, I knew that there was no way we were going to enter them.  It is no wonder they call the show at the end of the month March Madness.  You have got to be darn near insane to enter it since ride time has been steady practically nonexistent this winter.  There is also an outlay of cash for the April clinic, so since there are not unlimited funds, the first show needed to wait.  Call me insane, but I signed up for a couple of First Level tests.  I guess if the one on Saturday is a complete disaster, I can always scratch my Sunday ride.  I also signed up for a couple of Training Level tests just so that we have two rides that we can feel confident about as we head down centerline.

Fingers crossed for great things for our third show season!  Hope you stick around for the ride,

Alison and Ike