Disappointment Takes a Turn to Elation

Great photo of Ike and I...yes, I know, you can't see much of me.  That is what makes it great.

Great photo of Ike and I…yes, I know, you can’t see much of me. That is what makes it great.

So of course I was bummed that our show tomorrow was cancelled, but the money that was going to be spent on the show was used for an extra lesson with Ms. C and a clinic with Rebecca Langwost-Barlow.  It turns out that sometimes the unexpected can turn out to be just what you need to feel good about you and your horse and the progress you have made over the winter.  To hear from both these ladies that Ike and I are working well together and that they can see the progress that we’ve made, gave me a warm fuzzy feeling that perhaps I am starting to “get” what dressage is all about.  There is a glimmer of hope that we will succeed this season AND even more exciting, make it out of Training Level.

A big part of progressing is, of course, the half halt that I talk about incessantly, but the other necessary skill is (ugh) the sitting trot.  That was my nemesis today at the clinic.  OMG!  I do believe that it is going to be harder to master than the half halt.  I either lean too far back, or shoot my lower leg out like a water skier, or pinch with my knees, and most frequently, tense my shoulders.  Meanwhile, I’m also huffing and puffing and trying to move my seat with Ike’s trot rhythm.  It gets even more challenging when I try to down transition from canter to trot.  Ike’s trot as we come out of the canter is very forward.  Whoa, that is a lot of motion to absorb and keep my tush in the saddle in a somewhat relaxed fashion.  By the end of the clinic I was doing it, but so very glad that there is no video evidence of my less than masterful skills.

I find it interesting that there are so many things you can learn to do proficiently from reading a book: baking, cooking, gardening, and bike maintenance are all things I’ve learned from reading books.  In my humble opinion, riding is not one of those skills that can be learned from reading a book or magazine.  Sure you can read the concepts over and over, but to truly be proficient, one must ride.  Not just once, but over and over and over again.  But wait, if you truly want to master a riding skill, you must ride many different horses since each one is unique.  No wonder so many of us struggle to progress.  Who has limitless time and a barn full of horses to ride?  Not this girl.  So it means that much more to earn the complements from those skilled trainers…almost better than a blue ribbon. 🙂

p.s. We have ride times for next Sunday, so the countdown restarts…8 days.

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Time to Regroup

013Have some news to share with Ike’s friends – we will not be headed down our first centerline this coming weekend.  It is not through any actions we have taken or because of any injury.  We received an e-mail Saturday night that let competitors know that the show was cancelled for lack of entries.  Say what?!  We attended this same show last year and while it was not full, it was well attended.  The dressage chapter that organized the show did a wonderful job and had nice prizes and ribbons, so I’m flabbergasted that they didn’t get enough entries to hold the show.  So what to do, what to do?

Made the decision to attend a Rebecca Langwost-Barlow clinic this Saturday.  While it won’t get us any scores to use to qualify for the Region 1 GAIGs, it will get us off the farm and under Becky’s eagle eye, which like Ms. C’s eye, doesn’t miss a thing.  Nothing.  Nada.  You can’t even readjust your reins without it being noticed because as you readjusted, you caused your horse’s head to waggle.  Grr.

Why is it such a challenge for me to keep my reins at the correct length?  Can’t blame Ike since he has become stronger and much more stable with the contact.  Guess that leaves me as the culprit.  Grr, again.  Years ago when I taught riding lessons, I’d kid with students about having spaghetti fingers holding the reins – basically no grip or feel at all with all fingers dangling like noodles.  I’ve heard the advice to imagine that you are holding a baby bird – not too loose and not too tight. I’ve also tried the trick to press your thumb down on the rein while your hands are closed around them.  Despite knowing all this useful information, I still find myself with little feel in my hand because I have allowed the reins to get too long.  This isn’t going to help our efforts to escape Training Level either.  Perhaps some tacky glue applied liberally to my gloves?  Probably not a good idea.  I’d end up with my glove stuck to Ike’s mane and end up having to roach his mane to remove the glove.

Don’t have much time to regroup and get ourselves ready since I did receive confirmation that our show on May 5th is a go.  Going to attempt Training Test 1 and 3 and hopefully get one of the scores we need to qualify for regionals.  Hopes are high that we will achieve the necessary score.

The other goal for this season is to clear the 70% mark at any Training Level test.  We missed it by less than 1% at the end of last year.

Stay tuned and keep fingers crossed!

 

Master the Half Halt, Escape Training Level

463The title of this post kind of sums up this week’s riding lesson and it is going to be my new mantra…I think it would also make a fabulous book title as well.  It is a sobering realization that Ike’s success in the world of dressage is completely dependent on my ability to master the elusive half halt.  Before my riding career is done, I would love to say that I could execute a correct half halt and that I was able to be an effective rider at something other than Intro and Training Levels.  The half halt is the necessary skill to claw my way out of these lower levels.

I have written quite frequently about my struggles with learning a correct half halt.  Could probably be the poster child for How Not to Half Halt.  You know you are doing it wrong when your trainer screams, “Stop pulling on the reins and squeeze your fingers!”  “Stop squeezing your fingers and release.” “Close your legs as you squeeze your fingers.  Your lower leg is not on your horse.” Oh, yeah.  Yes, I do realize that I need to perform these movements as part of a correct half halt, but when the 1200 pound freight train ignores my gentle squeezes, the mind goes blank.  The arms, fingers and legs then start doing whatever they please until my blank mind reboots.

Another key point that I need to add to the list of skills to master is the ability to keep my reins at an equal length so that when I do half halt, I do not cause my horse to end up crooked.  Then I also have to make sure that my dominant hand doesn’t do more than my other hand whereby making Ike even more crooked.  Lots of crookedness plus my blank mind equals one very unattractive picture.  Think of a worm wiggling down centerline.  Pretty, huh?

With less than two weeks until the show, we schooled the movements of the tests during my lesson as well.  Lots of reminders from Ms. C to half halt my outside rein to help straighten Ike.  Yes, there was a lot of crookedness on centerline, on circles and on my long diagonals.  The centerline crookedness was subtle – Ike was slightly flexed to the right.  Worst part was that I couldn’t tell that he was, but I bet the judge will see it.  On circles, I need to make sure to let go of my inside rein a bit and utilize my outside rein to turn my horse…just don’t let that outside rein cross over the neck.  Arrgghhh!  So much to think about to be an effective rider – no wonder my brain likes to reboot regularly to help clear out the clutter.

Fingers crossed that one of my reboots doesn’t occur as we head down centerline nine days from now!

Just a Little Off the Sides Please

388Snip, snip, snip.  Less than two weeks away from our first centerline of the year and it is time to get Ike some spring maintenance.  Be afraid, be very afraid.  Hide your horse if you see me with scissors in hand.  These hands are capable of mass destruction of a mane/tail/forelock with a single snip.

Anyone who knows me knows that grooming is not my forte – you need only look at my hair to know that hair styling is not in my genes.  I admittedly have ridden my horse with just enough of his coat cleaned (read: mud clumps removed) to make room for the saddle, girth, and bridle.  Sometimes I just don’t see the point in spending over an hour grooming and then only have enough time to ride for 20 minutes.  Why not do less brushing and get more saddle time?  Who is going to see me?  The other horses?  The birds?  If it bothers you, then just view us from afar.  Think of it like viewing an impressionist painting.  Up close, it is just a bunch of messy brush strokes.  You have to stand back to truly appreciate the full effect and beauty.  Move over Monet.

While spring is in full force here, the horses who were not shaved for the winter are still shedding their winter coats…everywhere.  I did spend almost an hour the other day currying and brushing.  When I was done, I could still see more winter coat hairs mocking me.  “Ha, ha, you missed me and 1000 of my best friends.  Whatcha going to do now?”  Ride, you little hairy fool, I am going to ride.  Can’t improve my half halt timing or Ike’s rhythm while standing in a stall covered in dirt and hair.

Yes, most days I chose to ride, but with a licensed dressage show looming on the horizon, I really do need to address Ike’s winter length hippie mane.  I have not done squat with it since show season ended last year.  It is at least 6 inches long and his cowlick is quite prominent.  Even that length is too much for my “cheater braids,” so we must thin and shorten those locks to make them manageable.  I honestly do try to use a proper metal, mane comb to thin and shorten the mane, but I quickly tire of the task, and just like with my braids, I look for time-saving short cuts to get me to the endpoint faster.  There aren’t any shortcuts in training if you do things correctly, but grooming is one place that I do try to save some time.  Enter my scissors, plastic thinning comb (http://www.bigdweb.com/PLASTIC-THINNING-COMB/productinfo/244041/) and dollar store thinning shears.  Ta-da!  A shorter mane without the fear of overthinning in one place and not enough in another.  I typically leave the forelock alone or risk the crooked bangs look that I use to sport as a child.

After 40 minutes, my arms tired and Ike got bored with me, so the mane will have to be finished on another day.  I look at it this way, in a way we are a Monet painting to the judge for most of the ride.  We are at least 20-25 feet away from the judge and on the move, so they really don’t have much of a chance to study our mane length or braid quality.  Better that we focus on our movement, rhythm, and transitions since last I checked, there is not a score for quality of grooming….thank goodness!!

Feel the Rhythm, Feel the Beat…Sort Of

463The newest obsession in my life?  Trying to put together a musical freestyle for competition this summer.  Ready or not world, here comes Baby Huey dancing down centerline.  Ike of course is too busy swatting away the early spring flies and renovating the barn to care about this new obsession.  So all the details of the production fall on my shoulders.

I listen to our music while I work; I listen to it in the car; I hum it when I don’t have any other option.  Over and over and over again.  I now understand why it is so important for the rider to like the music as well as having it work with your horse’s gaits.  Who wants to listen to crappy music repeatedly?

I try to imagine which parts of the musical pieces will work best for the choreography I’ve drafted.  We aren’t talking a high degree of difficulty since all we have to work with are Training Level movements – no lateral motion, no canter pirouettes, no flying changes to  jazz things up.  Just basic walk, trot and canter.  With the time constraints placed on the freestyle, plus the compulsory movements required, that doesn’t leave a lot of spare time for extra flair.  We will have to get into the ring, dance and prance, and halt before the clock strikes 5 minutes gone and we turn into a pumpkin and a mouse wearing riding boots.

Ms. C has been pressed into service in this endeavor.  I hijacked our weekly lesson to brainstorm freestyle ideas.  I brought the small CD player from home and set it up on the mounting block.  Even with the volume at the highest setting, it was almost impossible to hear the music if I moved more than 15 meters away from the speakers.  That is going to be a bit of an issue.  Hard to tell if things are working if you cannot hear the music.  Issue number two – even though I know the CD player works just fine indoors and that the CD has no problems when played on the laptop or in the car, when I blasted it outside, it skipped, skipped, and skipped some more.  I would just get our rhythm in time with the music, and it would skip, and then we’d be a half a beat off.  Half halt quickly!  “You are still off the beat – listen for the clap.”  Grr.  Just can’t escape those half halts even while trying to have some fun with music.

Overall, I think Ms. C liked my initial attempt at choreography.  She gave me some great tips to improve it and to also give Ike and I some wiggle room especially with our transitions.  No point setting ourselves up for failure from the start.  By the way, hats off to those who are responsible for writing the regular tests for each of the levels.  I now have a greater appreciation for how difficult it must be when the tests are rewritten every four years.

While all this freestyle planning is fun and interesting, we can’t lose site of the fact that two weeks from Sunday is our first show of the season followed quickly by our second one the following weekend.  If we can’t get the scores we need from the regular tests, all this musical freestyle planning will go no where but home…and the audience there (the hawks, horses, and the barn cat, Annie) aren’t always appreciative of all our hard work.  Guess we will refocus and knuckle down this weekend.

Working On Our Un-Musical Freestyle

475Greetings!  Sorry it has been a few days since I’ve updated the blog.  Ike and I have been busy enjoying the spring weather that has finally appeared in the Mid Atlantic region.  While enjoying the weather, I’ve also been contemplating our musical freestyle routine.  It seems simple enough on the surface: pick some cohesive musical pieces and then choreograph a routine with the music.  For the more musically inclined, I’m sure that it is simple.  For people like me who can’t tell an A from a C when listening to someone sing and who believes that sheets of music look like hieroglyphics, editing music pieces into a cohesive musical performance is almost an impossibility.

At least we have three pieces of music that I know work for Ike and I thanks to the Riding to Music Clinic with Michael Matson.  We have them on an audio CD that is either in the CD drive of my computer or in my CD player so I can listen to the pieces over and over and over as I try to determine which parts of the pieces could work for a freestyle. Too bad that I just can’t head down centerline with the pieces as they are right now.

Mr. Matson recommended some free music editing software called Audacity, so I have downloaded it onto my laptop.  I managed to do it without too much hassle.  I then copied the three music pieces onto my laptop so I had working copies to edit.  Yes, I was able to do that as well.  And then things got sticky.  It turns out that the pieces were in a format that Audacity could not play or edit; the software which is smarter than I am about music formats suggested that I convert the files to .wav files so that I could edit them.  Back to the internet I went to find some software that could help me.  I downloaded that software (and a bunch of “crap” since nothing is truly free), and after a couple of false starts, I now have my three pieces of music in a format that can be edited…supposedly.  I stared at the Audacity screen for quite a while the other night.  The best I could manage was to play the music and then stop it.  Yeah, yeah, guess I will have to try to decipher the manual.  I don’t have high hopes.

Luckily I have a couple of friends and some friends of friends who are musically inclined.  I’m hoping that they can show me some basic music editing skills that will get me started in the right direction or at least past the start and stop buttons.

While I struggle at home to edit, I also need to overcome the obstacle of how to listen to the music while I ride.  Currently, I do not own an iPod.  Yes, really.  I do not.  Do I really want to invest in one just for this purpose?  While it could be helpful, it won’t help me if I enlist Ms. C’s help in the choreography for the routine.  How will she hear the music?  I have a Bose system, but do I really want it exposed to the dust and dirt at the barn?  Nope.  My only option right now is a small radio/CD player in our guest room.  Fingers crossed that the volume can go loud enough that I can hear it at the far end of the arena.  I think Ike is tiring of listening to my off-key humming of the parts of the music that I can remember.  Sadly, the only part of the trot music that sticks with me is the tune “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” so poor Ike has been subjected to it repeatedly for the past week.  I’m most certain that he is decidedly not dreaming of any white form of precipitation.

Looks like the weather will cooperate until the end of the week, so we will give my little sound system a go in the next day or two.  Wish us luck!

Alison

P.S.  Thought I would fill you in on Ike’s barn renovation work.  Sigh, I guess it was not enough that Ike decided to nibble on the critical infrastructure of the barn.  He has now broken off the chain of the ceiling fan hung above his stall.  Well, Ike, I hope you like the speed of the fan since we will no longer be able to adjust the fan speed.  I fear that we will have to raise the fan higher or risk Ike eating the fan blades.

Lesson Tip #345 – Do Not Head Butt Your Trainer

013More importantly, do not let your horse head butt your trainer.  I should have reiterated this lesson to Ike before our weekly lesson with Ms. C.  She was on the ground trying to help me unlock Ike’s jaw so I could achieve a hint of left flexion.  I’m pretty sure he knows what she wants him to do, but like the errant child, he sometimes fights the fight just because he can.  Ms. C kept after him until he finally flinched an inch.  She let go of the rein and the bugger deliberately clunked her with the side of his head.  If I had not witnessed it, I’d say that there was no way he did it on purpose.  Needless to say that he received a stern reprimand from Ms. C.

Ike must be going through a rebellious phase.  The list of transgressions continues to grow.  If he was a high school student, he’d be on Out of School Suspension for a few weeks for his recalcitrant behavior.  So far since the start of the new year, he has chewed the barn’s support beam, destroyed the old boot that we tied in his stall, refused to load on the trailer for the clinic, tried to bite me while tightening the girth, objected to my leg when asked to move, stomped on my foot a couple of times, bolted with me on board, snatched the reins from my hand on a few occasions, and now we can add head butted our trainer.  Sheesh!  I want my quiet, obedient 3-year old back.  Maybe?

While his behavior has been questionable at times, when he does set aside the naughtiness, there is a talented young horse emerging.  This time last year we were lucky if we could trot a circle that approached a round shape; more often than not Ike’s hind end would drift to the outside.  And canter circles?  Forget about it – we definitely only had canter ovals.  Heck, we were lucky if Ike could pick up the correct lead and if we could make the turn on the short end of the arena without me losing a knee.  We had lateral movement last spring only because Ike was so unbalanced and I was not strong enough to stop the sideways drift.

We are definitely coming out of winter this year with more strength and stamina.  Ike’s body is starting to fill out and look less like a gangly giraffe baby.  His back is strong enough to accept some sit trot and to maintain a connection in the canter (at least for most of a circle).  My skill set has improved which may be the best accomplishment from our winter work.  I dare say that my half halt timing is better and even better yet, rather than just slamming on the brakes in our down transitions, I can guide Ike to a smooth down transition where he stays up in his withers and bridle (oh, yeah, use your legs Alison rather than just your reins – dare I say a light bulb moment).

Weather is warming up and we are gearing up for that first centerline of the season – have hight hopes that we might actually hit that 70% mark this season.