It only took Ms. C repeating herself a thousand times for me to finally grasp the concept that the alignment for shoulder in, turn on the haunches, 10 meter circles, and half pass are all the same. #PatienceOfASaint
After I spent my most recent dressage lesson trying to teach my 18 hand, 86-inch-blanket-wearing pony how to better engage his hind end and collect his canter, I realized that my fitness level of “moderately fit but likes wine and cheese” may not be enough for us to be successful in the upper levels.
Hello my favorite horse peeps!
Mom is yet again “busy” so you know what that means…I get to fill you in and give you the uncensored updates on the goings on around the barn. And after all, isn’t that what you really want? The inside scoop and not Mom’s rose-tinted vision of our world.
We had our last big show of the year in October down in Lexington. I am not a fan of that show, because the stalls don’t let me hang my head out to visit. Why go to these shows if you aren’t going to socialize? And I had a bunch of my show buddies there. Did you know that I have two friends named Disco?! Also Lexi and Winslow were there. I hadn’t seen Winslow all year – his mom has been working on really hard stuff he said. He told me to play dumb for as long as I can to avoid things called tempi changes. Winslow said that they are challenging for us to learn even when the rider knows what they are doing. Great, then it should be even harder for me since Mom is a bit spastic with her aids. Heck, she even gets confused when it is time to ask for a single change. Maybe I should go ahead and send out a SOS now.
Well, Mom was not happy with me in our Second Level tests at that show. Called me a turd! She can be so mean, but seriously, we hadn’t done that test since last year. And she wouldn’t let me stop and poop during the test. So I was not my normal self. I find it difficult to perform under those conditions. So needless to say that we did not place this year. No biggie, I have a ribbon from last year that Mom confiscated. Not sure what she does with those things. I would prefer snacks or a boot to hang in my stall.
We also had to do a Third Level finals class. This level has been hard for us this year. Dad said that we have plateaued. Not sure what that means except that Mom will probably get her crazy-eyes-look and work me like a mad woman to get better. Mom came out of that test with a smile on her face. Unfortunately, the judges did not agree with Mom’s opinion that we did a solid test. Both of the judges said, “Nope, you don’t get it. Go back home and keep working.” Well, they didn’t exactly say that, but from the scores and comments, that was what Mom and Ms. C inferred.
Now, I am perfectly fine staying at Third Level based on what Winslow told me. So I was thinking that we would cruise through winter since we are staying at Third, but Miss C snuck in what she is calling the “winter improvement list.” Hmm, that sounds a bit suspicious to me – kind of like homework. I already work more than all the other horses at my home. Ladybug is the only other horse that ever wears a saddle. Not sure I’m cool with homework. I’m not sure what Mom thinks either, but since she is a bit of a nerd, she probably likes homework. She was probably that kid in school that did all her homework the first night it was assigned and did the extra credit too. I’m more of a “I’ll do it on the bus in the morning” kind of guy.
Well I was allowed to glance at this homework list and boy, do we have a lot to do…be better, do more, be consistent…I like to think that more of the burden lies with Mom. I mean she is supposed to be the captain of this team, right? One interesting thing that is resonating with Mom is the fact that the correct bend on a 10 meter circle, the correct angle for shoulder in, the correct bend for half pass, and the correct bend for turn on the haunches are ALL THE SAME. Wow, aren’t those dressage people clever. Now that doesn’t mean that we get it right all the time, but it does seem to help Mom using that as a guiding principle.
So being the team player that I am, I will try to accommodate our homework assignments as long as I get my regular downtime for playing with my brother. I hope Mom know that those 10 meter canter circles are hard for a big fellow like me, and that it feels like we are on a never ending merry-go-round but lacking any fun music or smiling children. (Mom really doesn’t smile much when we are training.) Can someone remind her that riding is her hobby and is supposed to be fun?
Until next time, be happy my friends!
p.s. Mom is nerdy enough to have our homework displayed on her desk as a constant reminder…yep, this is what I have to contend with every day.
It has been a spell since my last post. Life has again decided that I should divert my attention elsewhere. Work, family, chores, dogs, and yardwork fill my waking hours. We squeeze in barn time, so time for creative writing falls to the wayside. Ike and Cigar are getting curtailed visits, but they don’t seem to mind as long as breakfast and dinner show up every day.
Ike and I did have our final prep show at Rose Mount two weeks ago. While our scores were not where I would like them to be, we did glean some valuable insight to use as we close in on the CBLM Championship Show in a couple of weeks in the scenic city of Lexington, Virginia.
While the double bridle has its benefits, it is not always a friend or the right answer. Perhaps it is that I have a comfort level with the good old snaffle. I seem to clutch that curb rein like Linus clutches his security blanket. That death grip causes Ike to end up behind vertical inhibiting our better forward motion. Our rides on Sunday were much less tense with me using the snaffle. So our schooling work in these weeks leading up to Lexington will be with me utilizing one set of reins.
You can’t blame me for wanting the double bridle given that Ike bolted like a bat out of hell the day before the show. Sadly, the double bridle did nothing to check his rather robust gallop. Me yelling “WHOA” just make Ike ask, “Puny human yelling loudly wants what?!” And then he ran faster. I had visions of my crumpled body partially wedged in the stone dust when Ms. C found me later that day. The visions grew more vivid after I lost a stirrup. Thankfully Ike does not have the stamina of his brother and he decided to stop and catch his breath. Unfortunately, I felt I had to reestablish leadership, so I made him trot and canter in both directions before sliding off and kissing the non-moving ground.
We learned that judges do have a sense of humor. Ike decided that turn on the haunches was the ideal time for a potty break in both our tests on Saturday. Not good for the scores…”stuck” and “hind end stopped” were really not necessary comments. I knew I was getting a 4 as we walked on to the next movement. Heard the judge told her scribe that “that is unfortunate timing.” At least we can keep things interesting. Thankfully Ike decided to not show off his extended gallop any of my tests over the weekend. I learned on Sunday that when we aren’t pooping, we are capable at earning 7’s for our turns.
Ms.C also extracted some “things needing improvement” from our tests. She is better at reading between the lines/comments. I see a 5 and the comment “tense;” she sees that we need more bend and suppleness. Basically our scores and comments boiled down to the following: more bending, more suppleness, more bending, better engagement, more suppleness, and more bending. Sure thing, easy enough to supple 86 inches of horse plus 3 feet of neck, plus 50 pounds of thick skull.
So our lessons and schooling involve countless small circles, frequent changing of the direction (“you were not fast enough – you lost his shoulder!”), and no double bridle. We throw in some shoulder in, renvers, haunches in, and half pass, but we always go back to the circle. No ovals, not squares, circles. Will our work be enough to secure a placement in the finals? Only time will tell, but it won’t be for lack of trying.
So, I must be frank, after the last licensed dressage show, I was feeling a bit dejected about our Third Level progress. There were some reality-check scores that made me question myself and my work. One judge told me that my collection was abysmal (I came to this conclusion from her 53% score of my ride), and yet another told me that my horse was lame (it was the last ride of the weekend and none of the other judges noted any lameness). It is amazing how those numbers and comments can strip any and all confidence you have in yourself and your horse. I even noted in my blog post that it was “death by comparison” with one of my better rides of the weekend.
We came home from that show and have been working hard on all pieces and parts of our work. We’ve been trying to engage Ike’s hind end more which is no small feat given the length of his body. “Sit, Ike, sit” does not work as well as it does with the dogs. I am working diligently on not restricting the flow of his half pass. I even believe that we are starting to see improvement on the dreaded turn on the haunches. Just as we were getting our confidence back, it was time for vacation. I always panic that a week off in the middle of the season is going to set us back months. A week off turned into almost two weeks since my week after vacation was crazy busy. I ended up with one lesson and one 20 minute schooling session before it was time for our next schooling show.
So as I am beating myself up about signing up for the schooling show, I come across a quote by Teddy Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And it resonated with me. Stop worrying about the professionals and their uber-talented horses. Stop worrying about fellow amateurs with more experience. Stop worrying about not riding (you are the only one who cares…your horse does not care). Stop fretting that everything is not perfect. Just ride your horse as best you can and enjoy the ride….and that is what I did. I just rode. I stayed relaxed, smiled at my fellow competitors, and did not over react when Ike panicked when the horses were doing their jump rounds.
Did we make mistakes? Yep. Our turn on the haunch to the right was a bit sticky and we earned a 5.5 for it, but it is better than the 4 that we are known to see on a regular basis. Ike misfired on his right to left lead change and got disunited. I then could not decide if I should stop and fix it, go to trot and fix it, or keep tapping with my outside leg and mentally will him to change the hind legs. I went with telepathy and the outside leg and he finally corrected himself – that earned us a 4 for the change and a 4 for the extended canter. Luckily the rest of our work was decent and we earned a 61.27% for Test 1.
Our second test was Third Level Test 3. I’ve only ridden it once in competition, earning a 59.1%, so our goal was to crack the 60th percentile. I took a deep breath, exhaled and headed down centerline. The test flowed well through our trot work which was rewarded with scores from 6 to 7.5. An unforced rider error cost us when I completely forgot the halt rein back. Whoops! The highlight for me was earning 7’s for both of our turn on the haunches. Squeee!!! Our left lead canter work was better than our right lead. A jumping horse on the cross country course caused Ike a bit of worry, so the tenseness was noted in our scores. I think my biggest thrill was having the judge comment about how nice it was to see us moving on up and doing well. She provided some helpful pointers that we will use in our future schooling. And, drum roll please, we got a 63.85%! Yes! We made it into the 60th percentile.
So maybe Teddy R. was onto something. Let go of the comparison. Enjoy the ride everyone!
Today Mom and I celebrate 6 years together. I am really not certain why she likes to make a big deal out of the day I arrived in Virginia. But every year she shows up at the barn on August 10th and screams, “Happy Gotcha Day Ike!” She babbles on about how it is nice to reminisce about how far we have come with our training and what we have accomplished. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Sometimes I think she sounds like a Charlie Brown school teacher.
So let’s talk about what I think is really important – how HARD my life is compared to what my friends and brother have to do. Over the six years that I have lived in Virginia, I think I have done more work that all the other horses at the barn combined. What gives? Mom says that my brother has worked hard and is now enjoying retirement. I like mints, so I’m not sure why I don’t get to enjoy retirement. I wonder if it is a different flavor and if it tastes better. I ask Cigar to share his retirement, but he just ignores me or tries to bite me. Such a selfish older brother. And speaking of mints, I do not recommend eating them with the crinkly coating. It really does dull the flavor.
And it seems that the longer I’m in Virginia, the harder my work gets. How can this be something to celebrate? I used to get to motor around the arena making big circles and straight lines. Mom made a big deal about me maintaining straightness in my work. Now, the crazy lady talks about bending my body around one of her legs and going sideways. And she and Ms. C talk about making me sit on my hind end. If I sit, how am I supposed to move? And they are all about making me move. Mom has a whip, Ms. C has a whip, Mom has things strapped to her feet that she uses to jab me. Go, go, go, but sit. I just don’t get it. I try to get Mr. D to rescue me from the two of them, but I think he has either been bribed or is in cahoots with them. Dad is my best hope for a savior. I’m pretty sure he is the sanest of them all, but since I don’t see him as much as mom, it is hard to get messages to him. Dad if you are reading this, save me from these loony toons.
The rumor around the barn is that all my hard work has paid off and Mom got some sort of medal. The horses overheard her telling Ms. C that it is a rider award from USDF. Umm, how can it just be for her?? Seriously, I was with her for all the shows. I had to carry her around the tests; I had to huff and puff in the abominable heat, freezing cold, and pouring rain. (If you didn’t think she was crazy before, knowing this should push you in that direction.) What do I get out of all this nonsense? Personally, I think I should receive extra green hay and a whole apple a day. Reality is that they keep giving me timothy and other hay. I have to share an apple with my brother. Can you believe that? Sharing?
But, besides the work, I really don’t mind living in Virginia. I get fed every day and have my own paddock so I don’t have to share with my brother. My brother is pretty cool except when he won’t share his retirement. Mom might be a bit loony, but she means well. She makes sure I get regular pedicures so my feet look better than hers. I even get chiropractic adjustments and massages.
So cheers to another year together.
We need to have a candid discussion about personal space, i.e., my space versus your space and “forbidden zones.” I have tried to be patient, but it is now time for our peace talks. Well, it is more that I will do the talking and you will heed my advice.
Now, it is no secret that we have never been BFFs. You can thank my mother and the python population of the Philippines for my complete lack of trust and compassion for your kind. “Don’t worry, Mrs. T, it is only a baby python in the tree right next to your front door,” said the 21 year old military police officer. “Yes, but babies grow up…” my mother countered to the base MPs…it was all they could do not to smirk as they walked away. There was also a timber rattlesnake at the National Zoo who also closed the door on any future relationship we may have had.
Now, I do not wish harm to you and your families. I completely understand that you have a role to play in our ecosystem. In fact, let me say thank you for all you do in controlling the rodent population around the barn and in our shed and yard. That being said, if you do cross into the Forbidden Zone or the No Trespassing areas, and there is no one else to safely remove you, don’t be surprised if I go full Lizzy Borden on your scaly ass.
So let’s talk about acceptable places for you to live, exist, love and hang out. The barn yard is acceptable as long as you respect a ring of at least 10 feet around me and the boys. We will call it the No Trespassing Zone. I cannot be held responsible if they step on you when you are inside the 10 foot safety zone. I will deny any wrongdoing if I must pummel you with a shovel or pitchfork if you come within 10 feet of me. The shavings pile is not a snake make out room. Please find other suitable areas for those activities. The barn will also be deemed an acceptable snake hangout place only when Ms. C, Mr. D, Ms. M, and I are not in the barn. Poking your head out of the drawer in my tack box and coiling around the broom hanging right next to the trash can in the tack room is not cool. It is akin to popping out of the bushes and yelling, “Boo!” I am not amused. How about we just make the tack room a Forbidden Zone? You can have the space under the tack room floor, the hay stall and the hay loft on alternate weeks.
Now let’s really get a little more serious. I understand that the front yard and backyard of our home appears to be a hospitable environment. There are birds, bugs, and (unfortunately) rodents. There are numerous places that you might find to be suitable shelter: shrubs, flagstones, the shed, and brush piles. I bet the space under the deck is a bit of a snake singles bar. But, I must insist that the same 10-foot ring of personal space be respected. It is unnerving to be working in the flower bed only to find one of your buddies coiled up less than a foot away from my hand. I then must suffer the unbridled mirth of my husband when he laughs at my girly screams about a snake in the yard.
Finally, we must discuss the most recent incident. Your buddy Mr. Black Snake violated the boundary of the Forbidden Zone known as our house. That’s right. He barged right in without knocking. Thank goodness that our dog Brownie alerted us to his unwanted presence in the upstairs guest bathroom. Brownie howled and went bat crap crazy. I made it halfway up the stairs and saw his eyes glowing. I screamed. My husband calmly extricated your friend and relocated him to a more suitable area. Seriously, what was he thinking dropping in unannounced???? Did he think it would be a welcome surprise? Reminder: Please do not forget my Lizzy Borden threat.
So to sum things up: STAY AT LEAST 10 FEET AWAY FROM ME AT ALL TIMES AND DO NOT COME IN THE HOUSE.