Dig Out the Coggins, Show Season is Almost Here!

005Yes, it is true.  Show season in Virginia gets rolling the first weekend in April.  Yikes!  It seemed like I had a lot more time to prepare for the season to come.  I am still trying to work my way through my list of pre-season show preparations (the trailer is inspected and partially cleaned), but ready or not, it is time to dust off the USEF and USDF cards, dig out the Coggins, and write the checks.

Reality is setting in that I have committed myself to the licensed shows to try to qualify for the USDF/GAIGs Regional Championships.   Uh, was that the right thing to do?  My last foray into the licensed show world was a debacle of epic proportions.  I wasn’t even trying to qualify for regionals; I just wanted to get enough scores for All Breeds.  Cigar had other plans.  We made it to enough shows to get the necessary number of scores, but when you have to excuse yourself from the ring for your horse’s misconduct at least once at every show, then getting the needed scores is darn near impossible.  Thank you Cigar.  You might as well have just eaten the money that I spent on that class…I shouldn’t say that – he probably would have eaten the money (Note to new readers:  He did eat a $50 bill before one of my lessons and never gave change.  Stinker).

So, although our first planned shows aren’t until the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May, entries open next week.  That means that I need to decide what tests to ride.  One thing I have decided is that even though the shows are both two-day shows, Ike and I will only do one day each weekend.  He is just turning 5 on April 30th and I think it would be unfair to expect him to do two full weekends back-to-back.  He might be big, but he is still a baby in so many ways.

Now back to the decision of which tests to ride – Training Test 1, Test 2, or Test 3?  We need two qualifying scores (63% or greater) from Test 3 in order to qualify.  Test 3 does have the most canter work with the dreaded canter turn onto the long diagonal with a down transition at X.  While we ended last season with scores for Test 3 in the high-60’s, I fully expect our scores to be lower at the licensed shows.  I think the game plan right now is to do Test 1 and Test 2 at the first show, and then Test 2 and Test 3 the following weekend.  Once we see where we stand after those tests, I can decide how to proceed at the next show in June or go back to schooling shows if Ike decides to follow in his big brother’s footsteps.

Keeping fingers crossed that Ike can bring some glory back to the family.

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I am Goldilocks?

011So it is Sunday night and I really don’t have much to say.  Why?  Because somehow I have not been in the saddle since Friday.  Friday was an awesome day to ride.  Temperature was near 60 degrees and the sun was shining – one of those Goldilocks kind of days – not too hot and not too cold, but just right.  The weatherman told us that we were going to get snow Friday night into Saturday morning with snow showers all day Saturday.  I hear there was a dusting of snow north of us and some heavy snow showers south of us, but we received nothing.  Not a single flake.  I wish I could be that wrong at my job and still have a job.  Geez.  We did have cold rain Saturday morning and crazy cold winds today.

Am I becoming a bit of a Goldilocks in my old age?  I mean I could have ridden yesterday since it was just cloudy by the time I made it to the barn, but I opted to love on the boys and hand out treats instead…I could have layered up and ridden today, but opted to just hand walk Ike instead of wrestling with my tack and the stiff, cold leather.  Is it a bad thing to be a bit of a fair weather rider?  I’ve done my fair share of bad weather riding.  I’ve been mounted when it started snowing, sleeting and raining.  Been on my horse when the lightening started lighting up the sky.  Had the runny nose and tearing eyes from pollen or cold winds.  Had numb fingers and toes and chapped lips.  Almost suffered heat stroke in the middle of the summer.  I have decided that it is more than okay to be a weather wimp.

Before the cold weather returned, Ike and I had a great ride on Friday.  I love the rides where everything flows.  Transitions are easy.  There is no nagging to get the rhythm I want.  My half halts seemingly are given at the right moment.  I would like to say that Ike and I are starting to “get it.”  Instead of being a horse and a rider, we are partners.  What an amazing feeling that is.  We will continue to have our Goldilocks days where I do too much or too little when asking for an up transition or my half halt is more like a halt.  I will continue to wimp out on the really cold days, but I promise that this rider will continue, in spite of the weather, to swing her leg over Ike’s back to be the best she can be, runny nose and cold toes and all.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Heart Wreath

Have you ever wondered what to do with all those ribbons that you and your horse(s) have earned over the years?  Not the really pretty end of season ones or the coveted neck ribbons, but the average, every day schooling show variety that you have piled in boxes in the closet.  After a while, you run out of wall space, so the older ones get pushed aside to make room for the new ones.  I pulled out that pile of ribbons and decided that I was going to make a Valentine’s wreath with the red, white and pink ribbons.  I embellished with some pompoms and ribbon from the local craft store to fill in the holes.  Don’t look too closely or you will see all the flaws.

I did get in a quick 30 minute ride this afternoon.  Ike was relaxed and all was going well until the local terror on his four-wheeler arrived home from school.  I could feel Ike tense up and the game plan had to be changed in order for the rest of the ride to be a productive one.  The plan changed from riding some of the Training Level test movements utilizing the whole arena to working on walk/trot transitions and 10 meter circles at the end of the arena closest to the barn (the safe zone).  Yes, yes, I know Ike needs to learn to work with distractions, but why risk it on Valentine’s Day when no one else was at the barn?  Better to be safe than sorry and fight the battle another day when there is someone to dial 9-1-1.

Ike tried hard to focus on our work.  We ended up working at a slower trot rhythm on a 10 meter figure eight.  The smaller circles force me to ride every step keeping my reins at the proper length.  That is no small feat for me.  I’m notorious for letting my reins get too long – hard to give an effective half halt with a floppy rein.  Riding the smaller circles helps me help Ike to keep all body parts on the one bending line; it is not uncommon to see us losing a shoulder or the hind end as we cruise around a 20 meter circle.  Now I know we aren’t suppose to turn on cruise control on any size circle, but who doesn’t have those momentary lapses (Olympians, Grand Prix riders, more focused amateurs) – I’ve got nothing to lose by admitting that I lack focus sometimes.  Can’t really get mad at my horse when he does the same thing.  Like I’ve said before, we are a work in progress.

Tucked Ike in for the night with some Valentine’s Stud Muffins.  Tomorrow looks to be another good day for riding.  Saturday is questionable, but thankfully I’ve still got a pile of ribbons to repurpose.  What shall I make next?

Got Ike tucked away in his stall with some special Valentine’s treats.

Hip to be Square

Ikes kind eyeOur lesson this week was all about square turns or in our case squarish turns.  It was all about moving the shoulders by using effective and appropriate leg, seat, and hand aids – code for half halting at the right time before getting a close up view of the fence. This is one of those exercises that Ms. C told me can be done from the halt, walk, trot, or canter.  When executed correctly, it would help Ike stand up in his shoulders rather than falling in or out and leaning on my thigh.  Ms. C decided that indeed I would try it at all gaits during this lesson.  Say what?  Did she really think that Ike and I could successfully execute a square turn at the canter?!  I had visions of crashing into the fence and black-and-blue knees, but agreed to try.

Our turns on the haunches as well as the square turns at the walk and trot were not half bad.  Did I really just say that?  Who would have thought that Ike and I would be proficient with this?  I could believe that Ike is fully capable of performing the exercise.  I cannot believe that I was able to corrrectly give a half halt more often than not and make the square-like turns.  I still have to be careful not to overuse that inside rein that I cling to like a security blanket.  But given the progress we have made, there is hope for us yet to escape the purgatory of the lower levels and make it to Second Level where you can’t hide from your inability to perform a half halt to influence the horse’s movement.

And then it was time to try the canter…I have to say I was a bit intimidated by this exercise at the canter.  To date, most of our canter work has been on circles and riding the short ends more like half of a circle.  To date, we’ve been lucky not to run into the fence as we careen around the short end.  That turn onto centerline at the canter in Training Level Test 3 at H?  We are lucky to turn in the vicinity of H and not topple the rails of the dressage arena.  We’ve spent the past year trying to avoid hitting the fence with my knee and now we were going to canter a straight line directly to the fence, execute a square turn, and then canter another straight line.  Um, sure, why not.  What is life if you don’t live on the edge sometimes…good thing my health insurance is paid up and covers knee surgery.

We let Ike have a break with some free walk and then I gathered the reins to restart the exercise.  Picked up a trot tracking left and executed a few square turns to remind Ike what we were doing.  Asked for canter right after one of the turns.  Ike’s stride is big and the fence was quickly approaching….half halt, sit tall, step into my inside stirrup, press right thigh to saddle and right rein to neck, let go a little inside rein (no, no, I don’t want to) and ta da!  We made the turn and were now cantering along the fence.  My knee was still intact, but no time to gloat since the fence on the short end was coming up.  Repeat aids and make another square turn.  And then Ike said that is all I can do and we transitioned back to trot.   We then attempted and successfully performed the exercise with the right lead canter.

What was amazing to feel was, by riding truly straight lines rather then bending lines, how uphill Ike’s canter felt.  There was no leaking out or falling in, just pure, upright movement.  Yes, yes, I know that is what the canter should be even on a bending line, but big boy and I are still a work in progress.  I would never have imagined us doing this exercise a year ago.  So that leads me to wonder, what will we be able to do a year from now?  Stay tuned to find out.

Think Spring!

004As I write this, winter storm Nemo is invading New England.  I hope everyone is safely at home and all their animals are also sheltered from the blowing snow and wicked cold.  Virginia was spared and my emerging daffodils, peony tips, and Rose-of-Sharon buds are thankful.  Seeing my flowers begin to return to my garden beds reminds me that spring is not that far away.  If we can make it through February, any winter weather that decides to visit in March usually doesn’t stick around all that long.  Good thing since I’ve seen some dressage schooling shows on the calendar for March, and by April, winter is just a memory and we can look ahead to pretty days spent at the local show grounds.

I’ve spent some time looking at the available shows and trying to plan Ike’s second show season.  He spent his inaugural year doing Intro classes at licensed and schooling shows and then transitioning to Training Level only at schooling shows.  Because of the classes and shows we entered, I didn’t have to empty the pocketbook to obtain my USEF Membership, my USDF Participating Membership, Ike’s USEF registration, and Ike’s USDF registration.  Since our goal for the coming year is to qualify for the USDF/GAIG Region 1 Dressage Championships, I had to bite the bullet and empty the checkbook to get us street legal for licensed shows.  I’m now scraping together the funds to enter the necessary shows in hopes of qualifying.  I’ve also got my checklist of things to get done before our first scheduled outing on April 29, 2013:

1) Get the trailer inspected.  The inspection sticker expires this month, so hopefully the weather will cooperate and it will get done so that we are safe to travel.

2) Clean out the trailer dressing room.  I’m really not certain how the chaotic state happened, but every time I open the door, I cringe.  Okay, I lie, I KNOW how it happened, but I’m just in a deep state of denial that I actually let it happen.  I am so anal about everything else at the barn that it is so wrong to let the dressing room exist in such a state.  Unfolded blankets, a Christmas gift bag with trash, unidentifiable packages of stuff, and none of it where it should be.

3) Try on my show clothing.  Need I explain why this is necessary?  I did already purchase a new pair of white gloves for this year.  The ones I have been using since 2007 are the color of dirty street snow and it is time for them to retire.

4) Condition and polish my boots. Dreadful, but necessary chore.  I’m seriously considering paying the local shoe repair place or a Marine to do it for me.

5) Tame Ike’s mane.  Yes, there will be a spa day coming up soon.  I openly admit that I am not proficient at pulling and thinning a mane.  I compare it to plucking my eyebrows,  I do the bare minimum to prevent unibrow for fear that I will overpluck and be left with bare skin where hair should be.  My greatest worry is that I will pull too much mane in one place and not enough in others leaving no alternative but to roach it and pray for quick regrowth.

6) Work on my half halt.  Practice centerlines.  Improve our up and down transitions.  Work on my half halt.  Improve our stretch down trot.  Learn half halt timing.  Perfect our circles.  Square halts.  More half halts.  Hmm, there seems to be a preponderance of work on my end in this entry.

7) Do something really nice for my husband.  Without his support, I would not be on this journey with Ike.  Without him, Ike and I would be hacking to shows.  Without him, shows would be lonely.  He is our greatest cheerleader.

8) Organize my paperwork.  All our necessary registration paperwork, rule books, vet certificates are shoved into a file box.  It is all in one place, but that place is my home office and that will not help me when I’m at a show scratching my head while trying to remember membership numbers or test patterns.  Guess I need to accomplish task #2 or fear losing this paperwork in the chaos.

9) Measure my whip.  How awful it would be to put in the ride of a lifetime to only have it negated by a whip that is 1 centimeter too long.

10) Take time to breathe and just spend time with Ike.  While time in the saddle is important to success, I believe the real partnership bond forms with time spent out of the saddle.  The new spring grass will be here soon enough.  I will steal some time to find a quiet spot at the barn and let Ike graze while I stroke his neck and back and remind him how lucky I am to have him in my life.

Back in the Saddle Again

023So when you hear the phrase, “Back in the Saddle Again,” what musical act pops into your head?  Is it Gene Autry or Aerosmith?  The right answer?  There really isn’t one.  What does matter is that no matter what keeps you out of the saddle, that you get yourself back into the saddle as soon as possible.  Your sanity is at stake and you don’t want to mess with that.

I attempted to ride on Saturday, but the footing was less than ideal since the moisture in the blue stone had frozen and there was absolutely no give to the footing.  After 20 minutes of mostly walk and some light trot work, I toss in the towel and called it a day.  Sunday was a sunless, cold day and I just wasn’t feeling inspired.  Monday I spent the day out-of-town with my newest puppy while he had Femoral Head Ostectomy on his right hip; basically the head of the femur is fractured by something or someone and needs to be removed.  [Here comes my soapbox speech.]  The poor boy was returned to the local SPCA with this injury and the former owners said nothing during the intake.  Seriously?  Some people should not be allowed to own animals.  I saw the x-ray – there was a lot of force behind whatever hurt him.  I hope I never meet the people who did this.  Luckily, the surgery went well, and he should have a full recovery with no lasting limp.

So after life’s diversions and my lack of motivation for riding in the cold, Ike and I got right back to it today with our weekly lesson.  Ms. C declared that it was Lateral Day.  Ugh – it is relatively new to Ike so mistakes are common.  He doesn’t hear the bump of my leg so the hind end trails…only to be exaggerated by the fact that I forgot to half halt that outside shoulder so it is steaming ahead without the rest of the body.  Then we switch directions only to find that we have the opposite issues tracking the other direction.  More information to process and store.  I also had a challenge today trying to establish a steady connection and throughness, so it made giving aids for the leg yield more challenging as I fought the giraffe neck and an unyielding back.  Why was it challenging?  Because a certain horse who I shall not call out needed to poop, but would not.

When we do manage to get all pieces and parts working together, Ike has a really nice reach to his lateral steps.  There is a flow to the movement and it feels effortless…ah, that is the feeling I strive for with every stride and every stride of every ride.  Guess I’ll just have to keep getting back in the saddle to see if we can find it again.

You Know You Have a Problem When…

019Just the other day I had to admit to my husband that I might have a teeny tiny little problem with boots.  He smirked at my deliberation on Facebook about what to do with my windfall Smartpak gift certificate.  Should I be practical and buy essentials or splurge and buy another pair of boots??  Bet you can’t guess what I decided to buy.  I had the full and loving support of my friends who also provided some additional boot choices for consideration.  I still maintain that my riding boots really shouldn’t count when determining if I am just a lover of the boot or someone who requires an intervention.

My riding boot collection includes two pairs of Ariat tall boots- the really good pair that only make an appearance at licensed shows and the pair that have seen better days but are still serviceable, my Mountain Horse winter boots, my brand new and oh-so-pretty Dublin Pinnacle boots (thanks Smartpak!!), my rubber boots, and my paddock boots which I don’t think really qualify as real boots since they only cover my ankles.  My “fashion” boot collection has a fair number of pairs (I dare not reveal the actual number to protect the guilty) with the crown jewel being my Frye boots that joined the family a year ago.

I will be the first one to admit that what boots I wear won’t make one hill of beans difference in how I ride.  My feet might be warmer with my winter boots and I might look just as cute as I can be with my new Dublin boots, but I will still struggle with my half halt timing and Ike will still lean on my right leg with that strong right shoulder.  Too bad that they aren’t magic boots like Cinderella’s glass slipper.  Slip on your “glass boot” and magically be transformed into a Grand Prix rider who has their bronze, silver and gold medals and numerous national titles.  If you believe that, I’ve also got some magic beans to sell you that will make your horse move like an Olympic mount.

My Olympic contender has been full of himself my past two rides.  It could be youthful exuberance or more likely due to the charming children on their four-wheelers and the Wizard of Oz worthy winds that have returned to the mid-Atlantic.  Dear charming children, must you rev your engines every time you ride by my horse?  When your four-wheeler won’t start one day, I will claim to know NOTHING about why not.  I do not know how that engine doodad ended up in the manure pile.

Half halts and sit trot have been my saving grace with these rides.  Thank goodness Ike is really starting to understand what a half halt is even though I am still not fully understanding why I cannot perfect my timing.  Being able to work in sit trot for longer periods of time has allowed me to keep a steadier feel of Ike’s mouth (read – better connection) which has helped my half halt efforts.  Staying in the saddle also helps me better catch Ike’s efforts to bolt when the engine’s rev or the wind gusts…doesn’t help every time, but more often than not I can shut down the go before it happens.  There is that split second before the explosion when there is the stiffening of the muscles as they prepare to spring into action.  If I am paying attention and can feel that moment and half halt or even down transition, Ike will obey the request.  He might not like it, but he will do it.

Although the winds will continue to blow over the next three days along with some snow flurries and the neighborhood children will be out terrorizing the horses, I will be in the saddle sporting one of my many pairs of boots and attempting to master the ever elusive half halt.