One of Those Hard Barn Days

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Today dawned a peaceful Thursday, no snow, no wind, no wretchedly cold temperatures.  The boys were scheduled for their monthly pedicures that had been rescheduled from last week when Mother Nature dumped almost 10 inches of snow on us.  I was in the middle of a typical work day when I received one of those emails that makes you pause, “Dooda is colicking and it doesn’t look good.”  There is that word that strikes fear into every horse owner’s gut – colic.  No, no, no, I thought to myself.  This can’t be happening to Ike’s best buddy, but it was.

Dooda was Ike’s first friend when Ike came to Virginia almost 3 years ago.  Yes, Ike has his brother, but brothers have to like each other.  Doo’s stall is across the aisle in the barn and their paddocks share a fence line.  One can only imagine the conversations they would have at night when we left them alone.  It brought a smile to my face to watch them play over the fence.  Dooda has been the barn’s first alert system to let everyone know when Ike left the farm and then again when we returned.  He never cared what color ribbon his friend had earned; he was just thrilled to have his buddy safe at home.

When I arrived at the farm today, my heart skipped a beat.  I did not see Doo’s grey head staring through his window nor did I see him in his paddock.  I then spied my boys staring towards the paddock at the end of the row.  There I found Ms. C and Mr. D sitting on an overturned water trough while they kept Dooda company.  He was laying down with his legs tucked under him.  The look on Ms. C’s face said so much.  My tears welled up as I approached my buddy.  I called his name and he nickered in response.  I crouched down next to him and whispered encouraging words.  He pressed his head into my chest as I scratched his ears.  It was a beautiful moment that I will not soon forget.

Recent articles online have declared that it is time we accept that animals are sentient.  One noted, “Shouldn’t we stop bickering about whether they are conscious, feel pain and experience emotions?” [http://www.livescience.com/39481-time-to-declare-animal-sentience.html]  I can confirm that they do feel pain and experience the same emotions we do.  End of discussion.  Both my boys today were very quiet for the farrier which is not normally the case.  All the other horses on the farm were also very quiet.  When I stopped to visit with each one, there was a knowing look in their eyes as they stared at me.  I have no doubt that they knew their herd member was suffering.

I helped get all the horses into the barn before I headed home.  My grey buddy immediately lay down with no interest in dinner.  After getting my boys squared away, I went and sat with Doo for one last time.  He sat up when I entered and again pressed his head to my chest as I stroked his neck and cheek.  Was it his way of trying to ease my pain?  I told him to be brave.  I told him how much I would miss him if he was to leave.  I told him to fight, but that I understood if it was his time.  I told him that Ike and I loved him very much.  I hugged Ms. C, kissed my boys, and headed home.

The sad news from Ms. C came late this afternoon.  They had to say goodbye.  Ms. C said that Ike called to Dooda as he walked out the barn doors for the last time and that Dooda nickered back to Ike.  Two dear friends saying their final farewells.  Rest in peace my friend.  We will always remember you.

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

 

Black and Blue and Sore All Over!

My two nurses made sure I was well cared for when I made it home.

My two nurses made sure I was well cared for when I made it home.

Well this has been an interesting week.  If you had asked me while I was sitting in the emergency room how I would be feeling four days later, I’d have told you that I’d be back to walking the dogs, practicing my vinyasa yoga, and dancing to my Zumba DVD by now.  Boy, was I WRONG!

I could barely walk Monday night and it would have been comical for you to see me trying to get out of the bed Tuesday morning.  I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck.  I suppose getting hurled to the partially frozen ground off a galloping horse isn’t quite equivalent, but it sure did take a lot out of my body.  I’ve had spills before, but I was younger and bounced back rather quickly.  Mr. D told me when I finally retrieved my car on Thursday that he was certain that I was unconscious or severely broken because I did not bounce when I hit the ground.  “Thud” is the word that came to mind.

I managed to knock the scab off my nose today while in the car.  Next thing I knew I had blood streaming down my nose and into my lap as I cruised down the road to the barn.  Awesome.  I was able to scrounge some napkins out of my center console to sponge up the flow.  What a mess.  I ended up folding a napkin, placing it on the wound, and holding it in place with my glasses.  And no, I did not take a photo.

Today I was finally able to walk a little more normally and not have to take the stairs one at a time while gripping the rails.  I no longer grimace as I sit or try to get into the bed, and thankfully the whiplash has lessened.  And thank goodness it is wintertime and I can cover up the bruises with layers of clothing.  Yikes!  I am very colorful in multiple places.   There are bruises covering my right foot and ankle, my tailbone, my left waistline, and the granddaddy of them all is a hand-sized bruise down my left hip and thigh.  For those of you who like to stare at car accidents, I share the following:

Not as bad as some of my sprains from high school track.

Not as bad as some of my sprains from high school track.

Pretty.

Pretty.

It was good to finally see my boys yesterday and today.  Our arena still looks like an ice skating rink, so I suppose if I had to be out of commission, this is a good time to do it.  Ike and I had a good chat about what happened.  He was apologetic, but did ask if I could purchase a bb gun to scare away the vultures.

Not sure when I will be back in the saddle, but hoping that it is sooner rather than later.

Reasons to Hate Winter and Be a Snow Bird in Welliworld

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In case you have been wondering why things have been so silent about Ike’s adventures, it is because we have not had any saddle time since January 1.  Yes, that is right, the 1st.  “But why Alison, why have you been so unproductive?  You have to master the Ten Commandments According to George before show season.”

Well, let me fill you in on the past nine days…which will clearly explain why I hate winter and why I need to win the lottery so that I can afford to flee to Welliworld and warmer temperatures. [In case you aren’t aware, Wellington, Florida is like Disney World for dressage lovers in the winter.]

Ike had his teeth floated on January 2nd.  They had last been done in May 2012.  Now before you accuse me of being negligent, he had not needed them done until now.  Yes, I got lucky with a horse who does not need dental work every 6 months.  That same day, since he was sedated, he also got his sheath cleaned…he frowns upon any attempts at touching the area without the help of drugs.  I gave him the rest of the day off to chill since I know how my mouth feels after the hygienist has been scraping and probing around my gumline.

Anyhoo, January 3rd brought snow and ice to the mid-Atlantic region – not any appreciable snow amounts, but enough to send Virginians into a blind panic to buy bread and milk and toilet paper in large quantities (those in the north must get a good chuckle out of us.).  Those of us without indoor arenas stare out the window and frown.  January 4th and 5th were saddle-free days because the chilly temperatures froze the arena to the hardness of concrete and prevented any snow melt.  January 5th also brought in some more rain.  Why not?!  More insult to injury.

January 6th dawned with another morning of rain.  Seriously??  Luckily by afternoon when I was done working, the rain had stopped.  Finally, I thought, I can hop on Ike for a ride.  Even if the footing was a little sloppy, I could at least do walk and some trot….or so I thought.  Got Ike tacked up quickly and headed to the arena while there was still daylight.  We started walking to warm up and all felt fine.  I knew something was off as soon as Ike made half a stride of trot.  Almost felt like he hopped with the hind end, like a runner pulling up with a strained hamstring.  Luckily, Ms. C was jin the barn and she came out to watch.  There were some good strides tracking right, but left was definitely off.  Ike went back in his stall where he had some Surpass rubbed on his hamstring and some Bute added to dinner.  Since Ike was sound on January 1st for my last ride, that leaves cavorting with his brother as the number one suspected reason that he was off.  Rumor has it that they can cause quite the commotion when they start the gelding play over the hotwire fencing.  I perish to think about the damage to themselves and the farm that they could cause if they were to share a paddock.

Well since Ike was having some rest time, I wasn’t too upset about the whole Polar Vortex/record-setting cold that settled into the area January 7th and 8th and re-froze the ground  It also turned my hands into white, bloodless extremities.  Can’t really half halt, groom, secure buckles, or pick hooves efficiently when you can’t move or feel your fingers.  It was definitely cold here, but after seeing some of the negative temperature values around the country, I don’t feel that we have too much to complain about.

January 9th – Ike was still not quite right.  Vet has been called and scheduled.  Thankfully he just had his routine adjustment, so we have an excellent baseline for reference.  So much for my goal of saving some cash; we can start next month.

January 10th – freezing rain in the morning followed by more rain in the afternoon.  Small pools have formed in the far end of the arena.  I managed to find the only patch of ice in the area and had the sidewalk viciously attacked my knee.  My knee is a wimp.  Tylenol is a good thing.  Where is the leftover ice melt?

Looks like more rain for tomorrow the 11th.  We can start working next week.

Wish me luck with the lottery.  I just know that my numbers are going to come in!

A Spring-like Lesson in December

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Here we are 5 days away from Christmas, but it sure doesn’t feel like it outside.  Heat Miser has decided to push his brother Cold Miser out of the state for the time being.  By the end of the weekend, temperatures will be close to the 70-degree mark.  Crazy!  If we were further south, I’d buy it, but I was enjoying some riding without the sweaty hair and smelly riding helmet.

My fabulous husband gave me a very nice video camera and tripod for my birthday a few weeks ago.  For years I have been trying to use my Flip Video Camera or the video option on my digital camera to capture video of my rides.  These required Ms. C to hold them, follow my movement, and keep Ike and I in the frame all while trying to instruct.  We had some limited success, but it really wasn’t the best solution.  This new video camera mounts to the tripod and it will actually stay ON and continue recording until Ms. C turns it off.  [My camera was notorious for turning itself off after two or three minutes of recording, so we really didn’t get to see much of the lesson.]  Ms. C is actually able to watch Ike and I and instruct and it is all captured on video.  🙂  I reviewed the lesson this evening and seeing what was happening while Ms. C provided input was definitely helpful to this visual learner.

Today’s lesson was tough.  I spent most of the lesson in sit trot while trying to follow Ms. C’s detailed instructions on riding Ike with the proper flexion and body alignment while on a circle.  The concept sounds so simple, but in practice it is very technical and challenging…plus trying to maintain my seat in sit trot just added to the ongoing conversation with myself (relax your butt, shoulders down and back, long leg, stop pinching with your knees, fingers closed, breathe, half halt, oops too late on that half halt…) all while trying to execute Ms. C’s instructions.  Ike is still young and trying to learn where all his body parts are supposed to be at any given moment.  He might know what I want him to do, but that doesn’t mean that his hulking body cooperates all the time.  Perhaps it is also my lack of eye/hand coordination that contributes to the challenge.  Watching the video was a definite plus in cementing what the proper movement should look like.  The true test will come tomorrow when I try to reproduce what we achieved today.

We also worked on some walk-canter transitions which were not as crisp as I would like.  Since it has been a while since we schooled them, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that they need some work.  Note to self to add that to our wintertime homework list.

After our canter work, it was time for leg yield and some trot lengthening.  Ike and I had laid off the schooling of lengthenings in recent weeks due to the slippery footing.  Before this odd heat wave, we had some very cold nights, some light snow, some ice and rain which made the arena footing a bit slick.  You know it is bad when your horse loses his hind end while just doing your trot warm up on light contact.  Today the footing was just right, so we took advantage of the day and schooled our lateral work and our trot lengthenings.  I’m sharing with you a snippet of today’s video footage.  Yes, I know that we are not always perfectly aligned with our leg yields – the hind end gets ahead of the rest of the body and sometimes it gets left behind.    Yes, I know we still need better push over Ike’s back for our lengthenings.  I need to do a better job with my half halts to rebalance Ike, but I thought I’d let you see where we are with our schooling.  Are we perfect?  Nope, but I’m perfectly happy with where we are and where we are going!

Enjoy the show:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0ttSZnl1Ik

alison

Ike Has a Few Things To Say

Sporting my new blanket!

Sporting my new blanket!

Howdy Everyone!  Mom has a lot going on right now, so I thought I’d step up and fill you in on how things are going at the barn in recent days.  You might as well hear things directly from the horse’s mouth rather than Mom’s sanitized version with her slanted point of view.

I have to say that I am liking the weather of late.  All this cold wind and cold temperatures and rain and ice mean that I don’t have to do much except be a horse and play with my brother.  Mom is a weather wimp.  She says that I am one too, but I would like it to be known that I was out in the sleet this morning while she hid in the house.  Oh, yeah, wait, she made it out to the barn long enough to pat my head and give me two Stud Muffins.  Only two?!!  Doesn’t she know that two is really nothing more than an amuse-bouche?  Not amused, but I did forgive her because when I did return to the barn, she had put an Uncle Jimmy’s Licky Snack in the holder.  Clever woman remembered to put the top on the holder this time.  Darn her!  It takes a lot more work to eat it with the lid.  I can finish it off in about two nights without the lid…

As you can see, I managed to get a new blanket for the winter.  I told her in the spring that she should go ahead and order me a new one, but, Noooooo, silly woman waited until the cold weather had already arrived this winter.  She actually tried to convince me and herself that I could get by with the 84 inch size.  I quickly pointed out that it wasn’t going to work and the blanket would look more like a scarf all scrunched up above my shoulders.  I hear they went to a happy home so I won’t have to suffer the embarrassment of wearing too small clothing.

I’ve been working hard under saddle to learn what I need to know to be a dressage horse.  There are all sorts of new words and movements they are making me do.  I even tried a walk pirouette last week.  Mom and Ms. C are also teaching me how to move sideways and forward at the same time.  Phew, it is hard to move that way.  They have had me do it at the walk and trot and even a little in canter.  I am very tired after those lessons.  Ms. C told me that I’m starting to look like a horse.  What?  What did I look like before?  A big dog?  Maybe it has something to do with my old blankets no longer fitting.

This growing stuff is awesome.  I keep growing and working hard; Ms. C keeps handing me treats while Mom keeps buying me new stuff.  Score!  So far I have amassed a new bridle, a couple of new bits, a turnout sheet, a medium weight blanket, new saddle pads, and some new polo wraps this year.  Best part is that Christmas is just a few weeks away!  I’m hoping for a new saddle (Humph, I have to use my brother’s stinky old saddle!) and a new boot to hang in my stall.  I like to play with the boot at night and it is the penthouse suite for the local mouse population.  It is close by my feed bowl, so it is convenient to dining.  Had to interview some new tenants recently though, since the old one went on a date with the barn cat and never came home.

I’m still very happy in Virginia with my family.  I am very thankful that I have the family that I do and have a nice barn to call my home.  Mom takes very good care of me even if she is stingy with treats sometimes.  I get to go to a bunch of new places during the warmer months where I’ve overheard people tell Dad how happy they are that Mom has a horse like me to ride.  That makes me try really hard to be good, but I still get scared sometimes at the new places.  I hope that doesn’t make me get in trouble.  I asked my older brother about that to see if he had any insight.  He told me not to worry; he says that Mom will be our Mom forever.  I think knowing that is the best Christmas gift of all.

Ike

Finally, We Are in Motion Again – In a Sideways Direction

Ike sporting his new yellow polo wraps

Ike sporting his new yellow polo wraps

Ike and I had a bit of a hiatus from work this week.  Or I guess it would be better stated that Ike had a hiatus from work this week while I had a hiatus from riding.  Skipped a day because of the bitter cold and my hands were frozen from fiddling with Ike’s too small winter blankets.  Missed a day because of my job that pays for my fun hobby.  Sat idly by and watched the rain/sleet/wet snow fall for two days (thanks Mother Nature).  Spent Thanksgiving cooking, eating, and spending time with my family.  So finally today, the sun was out, I had a day off from work, and it was time to get my butt back in the saddle with a lesson from Ms. C.

As you can see in today’s picture, Ike wore his new yellow polo wraps.  Ms. C tried to convince me to buy some a few weeks ago, but I balked for fear that Ike would look like a giant bumblebee.  I finally ordered some when I ordered the big and husky sized sheet and blanket.  We unveiled them today at our lesson and I have to say that he does look pretty good in yellow.  I should have listened to Ms. C at the tack store…just like I do during our lessons.  Lesson learned.

Today’s lesson was all about our lateral work.  It is time to start strengthening our sideways motion since it becomes more important once you move beyond Training Level.  Yes!  It is finally time to move beyond Training Level.  Luckily Ike showed us that he is indeed ready for the more demanding work.  The question is:  Am I ready?  I hope so.

We started off with the simple turn on the forehand.  At least, it should be easy.  Turn the hind quarters around the front.  I picked up contact with the reins, placed my weight in the appropriate foot and lightly touched Ike’s side.  Hmm, Ike demonstrated side pass, backing, circles, and some yet-to-be-named movements.  Every once in a while, Ms. C would note when we had a step or two that qualified as a turn on the forehand.  Note to self – add turn on the forehand to our winter homework list.

Next up was leg yield in both directions.  Ike is going to have a dynamite leg yield once the two of us can coordinate my aids with his movement.  I need to learn to keep the boy’s body in the proper alignment.  It is easy for me to correct the alignment when Ike’s shoulders start to get ahead of the hindquarters.  But Alison, can you tell when you’ve let the hindquarters take the lead?  Umm, nope.  Not so much.  Perhaps I need a rear view mirror.  At least for now I have Ms. C to correct our position.  I was proud that we did do well with the exercise of leg yield, to straight line, then back to leg yield.  Phew, all our time spent schooling straightness is paying off.  Patience, young grasshopper, patience.

We then moved on to shoulder in on the short ends to trot lengthening on the long side to collect the trot onto a small circle.  While this tested Ike’s ability, it definitely tested my ability to execute a proper half halt, keep Ike properly aligned on a circle, achieve shoulder in without over bending the giraffe neck, then straightening Ike before asking for a lengthening.  Having been a Training Level rider for most of my dressage career, I’ve not had to execute quick transitions or be as on point with my aids.  This is all very new to me and somewhat overwhelming.  More wintertime homework – less cruise control, more precision driving.

Our canter work today was less Scooby Doo, but still not where it needs to be for First Level.  Improving the canter was already on the homework list, so it will continue to be there for the foreseeable future.  Wax on, wax off, grasshopper.

It is so very exciting to see and feel Ike progressing in his training.  It is tempting to blast ahead and keep asking for more and more.  It is so very hard not to get greedy.  But as I have learned during my equine adventures, continue to be patient and listen to my dear friend and trainer Ms. C.  Our day will come and it will be worth the wait.

The Big & Husky Boy

A photo of Ike from March 2013 when his sheet still fit him...

A photo of Ike from March 2013 when his sheet still fit him…

Well, it is official.  I knew that this day might get here sooner than later, but I can no longer deny the truth: Ike has now transitioned from the normal horse clothing to the Big & Husky sizes.  I now have an 84 inch turnout sheet and an 84 inch medium weight blanket looking for new homes.  They no longer are able to adequately cover Ike’s burgeoning 5 year old body.  Seeing Ike in his way-too-small winter attire made me laugh.  It was much like seeing a young child trying on last year’s winter coat – there is just no way you can make it work.  Sadly I know that they fit him back in March…a mere nine months ago.

I optimistically tried them on today since temperatures have started plummeting into the 20s at night and the high temperature on Sunday was a balmy 35 degrees before the wind chill was factored into the equation.  If Ike was to stand perfectly still, he could have worn either the turnout sheet or the mid-weight blanket.  They would have been very snug around the shoulders and a bit short on the sides, but at least he could have stayed a bit warmer.  But I know that wasn’t going to happen and I envisioned the sheet creeping up his shoulders and bunching around his neck as Ike cavorted with his brother.  The bunching blanket would have caused blind panic with the sheet somehow getting ripped and tangled around his legs.  Sadly, this is how it played out in my head.  The blanket’s fit was no better, even with the belly straps let out 9 inches.

So Ike got to be naked all day and will remain so until I can get a larger sized blanket shipped to me (the local tack store does not carry anything in the Big & Husky sizes.)  Don’t feel too bad for him.  He now has a decent unclipped winter coat, obviously more weight and mass, and will spend his nights in his toasty stall.  If the weather during the day doesn’t suit his highness, a hissy fit ensues and Ike usually will get to have a nap in his stall.  Can you say spoiled rotten?

I’ve been in the saddle a few times since my grandmother passed away.  Riding is very cathartic for me.  I learned many years ago to put aside the cell phone, the to-do lists, and the million other random thoughts that are on a constant loop in my brain.  Just like other sports, riding requires you to be present and be mindful.  It is good to put everything else on hold for an hour and just enjoy my horse.  There were no breakthroughs with our training, just steady, happy rides.  Who could ask for anything more?

Wintertime Homework

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Here we are just a little over a week away from Thanksgiving.  There is a lot to be thankful for this year, but while I give thanks for everything and everyone who have been a part of my journey with Ike, I also have taken some time to reflect on what needs to be done over the winter in order to continue forward progress on our dressage adventure.

More bending – We received a lot of comments this year for the lack of bend shown on circles, half circles and trot loops.  I guess we looked like a board making an octagon rather than a supple horse traveling on a circle.  When I did manage to bend the front end of Ike, the hind end would still fishtail and swing out onto its own circle.  Hmm, perhaps Ike’s rider needs to connect that front and hind end a little better…

Better half halts – This one is all on me.  My timing is still not ideal and my attempts are not always loud enough to make any noticeable change in Ike’s movement.  “Where was your half halt?!” is probably the one statement I hear the most from Ms. C during my lessons.  “Not enough!” is a close second.

Engage the hind end more effectively – Ike is a big boy.  Most likely he has surpassed the 17 hand mark (have not measured since springtime), and he has definitely grown into an 86 inch blanket this year.  There is a lot of horse under me, in front of me, and behind me.  Sometimes as we are trucking along, Ms. C lets me know that I’ve left the hind end trailing behind.  [See above for why the hind end can’t keep up.]  Our lesson last week focused on getting Ike to get those long hind legs under his body and teaching me how to get those legs in the right place.  Phew!  That is a lot of work getting Ike to sit down and really engage.

Improving Ike’s canter rhythm and stamina – The Scooby Doo comment really stuck with me after the last show.  I know that Ike is capable of a better canter, but the boy can scoot when he gets scared or the wind blows up his tail.  The better canter did come out during our First Level debut, but it was still quick.  By the end of the test, it was all I could do to keep him from falling out of the canter.  Luckily, the cooler temperatures will make it easier to school canter for longer periods of time.  Ike is also doing his part to improve his stamina by performing wind sprints with his brother during turnout.

Master Sit Trot (or make an attempt at improving) – Well this is probably a pipe dream, but I am going to continue my efforts at improving my sit trot on Ike.  There are days that I can and days that I can’t.  I definitely cannot sit that trot lengthening stride yet.

All this wintertime homework is predicated on the hopes that we have another mild winter with little frozen precipitation.  I’m hoping that the Farmer’s Almanac is wrong. 🙂

Our First Level Debut…

Ike dressed and ready for one of his lessons.

Ike dressed and ready for one of his lessons.

This Sunday is our last show of the year.  I thought the regional finals would be the end, but I got a bit of an itch to give First Level a go, so we are headed to one last schooling show to try First Level Test 1.  It should be an interesting afternoon.

We signed up for Training Level Test 3 as well.  The comfort zone.  I would love, love, love to cross that 70% mark.  We came oh so close once this year with a 69.4%, but then we kind of found a comfort zone in the 64%-66% range.  If we could just have once error free ride, we might actually be able to accomplish this elusive goal.  No spooks, no shies, no falling out of the canter, no eyeing the horses in the distance, and definitely no hand galloping.  All that nonsense ends up hurting us in the collective marks, which we all know, can kill any chances of crossing the magical 70-mark.  This is my last ditch effort to achieve the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the season.  Please keep all fingers and toes crossed; I know I am.

We are just hoping to stay in the ring and survive the First Level test.  No real expectations for a high score.  Just hoping to not completely embarrass ourselves or make the judge regret getting out of bed that morning.  Throughout this year, we have played with lengthening the trot, but we really didn’t spend a lot of time schooling it on a regular basis.  The focus was a connected working trot with a steady connection.  Our work this year has Ike in top notch condition – when we work on lengthening the trot, he isn’t even breathing hard while I stop discuss what Ms. C saw or did not see in our work (and to catch my breath!).  The problem comes when I get a bit greedy with the lengthening or use a bit too much leg or whip without the necessary half halt to rebalance Ike’s movement.  Imagine a toddler running down a hill.  They get faster and faster and you can see the fall unfolding.  They just don’t have the body control to stop themselves…well Ike has the same problem.  If I’m not there to help him hold things together, he loses his hind end and stumbling ensues.  Graceful as his mother.

The hardest parts of the First One test are the transitions, i.e., free walk to medium walk at P to trot at F to right lead canter AT the letter A.  It all happens really quickly and unfortunately has a coefficient of 2 in the scoring.  We have practiced repeatedly, but it will still be a crap shoot on show day.  All the canter to trot transitions are also at the letter (with a double coefficient as well), and usually right in front of the judge.  Please Ike listen to me when I ask for the down transition.  Down transitions are not optional in the test.

The other tricky part will be the canter, only because there is so much of it in this test.  Poor Ike is exhausted when we are done with our lessons that include all the canter work required for this test.  Canter, canter circle, keep cantering, lengthen the canter, show a comeback from the lengthening or attempt to show one, canter to the appropriate letter for a down transition…Yikes!  It is probably a good thing that we are starting this work in the cooler weather and not in the wretched heat of summer.  I too would be as exhausted as Ike is at the end of our lessons except for the fact that the USEF test writers kindly made sit trot optional at First Level.  A big shout out to the person or persons who made this call.  You are now some of my favorite people.

I’ve got my bet on what our score will be for our First Level debut.  Anyone else want to throw a number into the mix?