I Think I Can? Maybe Not? Yes, We Can!

Commanders Eisenhower Spring 2013Ike and I have a few weeks before our next dressage show.  During this brief intermission, we are working hard towards boosting our scores.  I’m trying not to psych myself out, but to remain positive that we will see some improvement before we head down centerline again.  Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you are right.”  In other words, what you think, you become.  If I think Ike and I can’t hit that magical 70% mark, then chances are that we won’t.  So I’m going to push on and do what I can to make that magic happen.

One tool that we are going to try for the first time is the free analysis on the Global Dressage Analytics (GDA) website (http://www.globaldressageanalytics.com/).  I learned of this website in my latest edition of Dressage Today.  It is the brainchild of David Stickland, a British physicist, whose daughter was struggling to boost her dressage scores.  He sat down with her score sheets and discovered that she could achieve decent marks for every movement (6.5-7.0), but that she had a movement or two go poorly during each ride which kept her average score in the lower 60’s.  Hmm, that problem sounds vaguely familiar.  He then created GDA so that riders can see trends in their scores, and see which movements are hurting the final score.  If more than one judge scores the ride, it allows all the individual marks to be entered.  I’m certainly not averse to doing my own statistical analysis, but why not take advantage of this tool that has already been created.

It is easy to enroll for an evaluation package; the basic analysis is free and there are more options if you are willing to pay the monthly fee.   You enter some basic information on you and your horse and submit it to GDA along with your USEF/USDF member numbers.  If you are outside the USA, you would provide your member number for your national organization.  Once they create your account, you enter your scores from each competition.  Luckily, GDA is big on confidentiality, so have no fears that people will see any of your scores, including the abysmal ones.   I had my access the next day and uploaded my scores from this competition year.  Hmm, unfortunately with only four scores to enter, there aren’t any meaningful conclusions to be had from the statistics yet…too few data points.  Once I enter enough scores to actually generate meaningful statistics, I’ll be sure to share the results.  You may as well learn from my mistakes.  So much for this helping me out before my next show in June.

Luckily, Ms. C didn’t need any fancy statistical software to interpret the scores and judge’s comments on my newest score sheets.  She scrutinized the video of my Test 2 ride as well.  When she reads comments like “losing balance,” “rushing,” “head wagging,” and “not quite steady,” she knows immediately that my half halts are not effective (shocker) and that I am not maintaining thoroughness and a steady connection.  We are truly inconsistent at this point and no statistical evaluation is necessary to tell me that we need to be consistent to get the higher scores.  Part of it is Ike’s young age and lack of knowledge, strength and stamina.  The bigger part of the problem is of course the rider’s inability to be heard with too little a half halt or to pull on the reins rather than squeeze them so then I appear to be hanging on Ike’s mouth (where are those soft, following hands??).  Either way, it is not a pretty picture and we throw away valuable points in each test.

Much like Mr. Stickland’s daughter, Ike and I have also consistently botched at least one or two movements in every test.  I’m assuming our blunders were more costly than hers, but it still hurts that bottom line and the ribbon color.  Making mistakes during our tests is the only consistent thing we do right now.  When you want to cross that mythical 70% mark, you really cannot have 3’s, 4’s, or 5’s anywhere on your score sheet.  Sigh.  Maybe we need to reassess our goals for this competition year?  The plan is to successfully ride our four tests at the June competition and then decide if the game plan needs to be retooled.  In the meantime, we will channel Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, “We think we can.  We think we can.”

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The Latest Show News

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After yesterday’s pre-show antics, I feel I must add another definition to my last post.

Definition #5 – An involuntary spasm of a muscle when one’s horse acts like a fool.

So Sunday dawned with clouds in the sky and a drizzly rain falling – fingers were crossed that we’d have no heavy rain showers.  We headed out to the barn to put the finishing touches on Ike’s braids and to get the trailer hooked to the truck.  Ike was peacefully grazing when we arrived and decided that grazing would be his chosen activity for the day.  When I went to retrieve him for grooming, he decided to be the gingerbread man, as in “Run, run, as fast as you can!  You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!!!”  Aaarggghhh!  Really Ike?!  He trotted, and pranced, and galloped and bucked, and almost ran into the fence as he came to a sliding stop.  The bucket of grain was not even tempting enough to stop the silliness.  Ms. C finally caught the stinker with an armful of fresh cut hay.  As if running wasn’t enough, he had also practiced his Stop, Drop, and Roll technique to plaster mud on the left side of his body.  Cool.  The best I could do was smear it around and wait for it to dry.  I could feel my neck muscles beginning to tighten and threaten to throb and tick.  Deep breath.  The day will get better.

And the day did get better.  We arrived at the show with plenty of time to spare.  Warm up went smoothly and I was lucky enough to meet a fellow blogger Geri who was at the show with a friend!  How awesome was that!  And Geri was kind enough to video our first ride (which was the better of the two), so for your viewing pleasure:  Alison and Ike – Training Level Test 2:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QghrZad7wa4

We received a 65% and fourth place.  Now I need to spend some time comparing the video to my score sheet, but even without that analysis, I can see the difference in the 7 trot and the 6ish trot.  Not quite sure what caused Ike to scoot down the long side after the right lead canter transition, but luckily we recovered soon enough to attempt our circle.  Judge wants more half halts (surprise) – I want Ike to listen to more of my half halts.

Our Training 3 test was not as stellar.  Our canter work was FAST!  Marmaduke decided to pop out for a romp.  Not sure what changed, but such is life.  Still trying to find that magic formula where the stars and planets align and all our work is solid.  Right now we just have bits and pieces of good in each test, but not everything at one time.  Came home with a 62%…the 70% mark seems like it will never come to fruition.  Patience, grasshopper, patience.

Tick, Tick, Tick

025Tick is an interesting word.  It can be a verb or a noun.  When it is a noun, it can have many meanings.  You need context in order to know what the definition is for a given sentence.  I think all the definitions below have been used this past week.

Definition #1 – A light mark used to check off or call attention to an item.

Ever since our last show, buying a new show helmet has been on my list of things to do.  As I was taking a break before my last ride, Ms. C looked at me and asked what the heck was going on with the strap on my helmet.  [Insert a blank stare from me.]  I reach up and feel a piece of a strap that is no longer attached.  Hmm.  I didn’t want to dismount for fear that Ike would believe we were done, so I fiddled for a good ten minutes and “fixed” the strap.  Okay, so I tied a knot between the free piece and the rest of the strap.  Probably not ASTM-certified safe, but I survived and vowed to get a new one before our next show.

I went to one of the local tack shops yesterday, determined to leave with a new helmet.  I tried on two black velvet helmets that were fairly priced and looked suitable.  One style just did not fit my oddly large head; the other was close to what I have now and it made it into the running.  And……………then……….I tried on a Charles Owen………….no comparison.  It was so comfortable – like a pillow stuffed inside the helmet.  There would be no odd red dent in my forehead.  There would be no headaches.  Mine, mine, mine.  Praying the rain holds off on Sunday so I can wear it – if it rains, I’m wearing my schooling helmet.  CO will not be getting wet on the first outing.

That expensive, yet successful shopping excursion allowed me to tick “buy a new show helmet” off my list of things to do. 🙂

Definition #2 – A parasitic arachnid (suborder Ixodida, order Acarina) that attaches itself to the skin of a terrestrial vertebrate from which it sucks…

My least favorite of the definitions.  These horrible little creatures that burrow into the skin of the closest warm-blooded creature and transmit disease.  I remember my ecology lessons: every creature supposedly has a purpose in the ecosystem, part of the food web, blah, blah, blah.  Unless there is a bird or other creature that eats ticks, I really don’t see what purpose ticks serve except to drive me crazy and make my skin crawl.  [Feel free to disagree if you like them.]  Ike has taken to sticking his head through his paddock fence to eat the grass on the other side.  The photo included with today’s post is Ike demonstrating his head tilting technique to fit his head between the fence boards.  The grass on the other side is taller than the grass on his side and appears to be a tick mecca.  I look like a monkey checking for and removing ticks from Ike.  He finds the task objectionable, but I persevere.  I won’t reveal what I do with the ticks I find. [Insert evil grin.]

A recent purchase of bug repellent with 40% DEET is currently in beta-testing to see if it might reduce the tick-picking time to less than 20 minutes.

Definition #3 – A regular short, sharp sound, esp. that made every second by a clock or watch.

The clock is ticking away to the schooling show on Sunday.  We have our ride times and managed to get in two lessons this week with Ms. C to get some final tune ups in hopes that we can achieve that magical 70% mark.  This week’s lessons were all about getting and keeping Ike in front of my leg at the trot.  No sucking back on a centerline turn or as we trot down centerline to X.  No fading as we work our way around a circle.  Ms. C kept me focused on the task at hand.  No drifting off to stare at the other horses or at the trees.  She fussed every time I let Ike slow down from an 8 trot to a 6.  I have to admit that when we hit that 8 trot, it felt like riding on the edge of the cliff.  It was very forward yet still connected.  It felt as though we would break to canter at any moment.  Is this that magical “ride to your hands” feeling that is spoken of but that I never experience?  Why yes it is.   It is hard to keep it going without disturbing the connection.  I had to fight that ever-present urge to pull back or overuse that inside rein.  The big question will be can I achieve that feeling at the show without having Ms. C there to school me.

Ike’s free walk and stretch down trot are also progressing.  Our canter is still our weak spot.  Ike got some 7’s on his transitions at the first show, but since then we’ve had 5’s and 6’s tossed into the mix as well.  Marmaduke still lurks just under the surface.  The goal for Sunday is to not break stride and lose points.  I’ll take two 6’s over the 3 and a 4 that we received in our last Test 3 scores.

We are just about 36 hours out from our first ride.  Tick, tock, tick, tock.

Definition #4 – A fabric case stuffed with feathers or other material to form a mattress or pillow.

With work, housework, cooking, laundry, riding lessons, dog walking, yard work, and one very stressful night worrying about a friend’s horse that had to have colic surgery, this has been a very busy and tiring week.  I think I hear my pillow calling my name.

Good Night!

The Liebster Blog Award

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I am again humbled by one of my fellow bloggers.  Today I received an award from http://thecasualphilosopher.wordpress.com/ who is now known as The Casual Rider.  We share a common love of equines and also share the same highs and lows that come with having a piece of sport’s equipment capable of independent thought.

HOW TO ACCEPT THE AWARD:

As I understand from The Casual Rider’s blog, The Liebster Blog Award is a way to recognize blogs who have less than 200 followers.  Liebster is a German word that means beloved and valued.  Here are the rules for accepting the award:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and include a link back to their blog.
  2. List 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions given to you.
  4. Create 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate.
  5. Choose 11 bloggers with 200 or less followers to nominate and include links to their blogs.
  6. Go to each bloggers page and let them know you have nominated them.”

Many bloggers aren’t into the award aspect of WordPress.   If I nominated one of you, please don’t feel like you have to put the award on your page.  I have received awards and do a post about them, and then they are rarely seen on my page again because I have no idea how to embellish my blog.  Most of the awards come with all sorts of things which have to be done.  Some people just don’t have that kind of time, so understood.  My apologies if you have already received the award.  How can more than one nomination be a bad thing!

MY NOMINEES:

Blogs I have nominated are those I find inspiring, interesting, beautiful, humorous, and otherwise engaging.  As I am awful with the minute details of WordPress, I am not certain that all these blogs meet the less than 200 follower criteria, but I have them all in my reader and they are all awesome.

http://mellchan.wordpress.com/

http://thetravellingsock.wordpress.com/

http://machomojave.wordpress.com/

http://charliedogandfriends.wordpress.com/

http://leroyandcompany.wordpress.com/

http://kathleenmccoydressage.com/

http://littlemousejane.wordpress.com/

http://sparrowgrass.wordpress.com/

http://lifeinawalnutshell.wordpress.com/

http://suburbanferndaleark.wordpress.com/

http://goodcooks.wordpress.com/

My 11 questions to my nominees:

1.  Dogs or cats?

2.  Favorite dessert?

3.  Have you ever ridden a motorcycle?

4.  Spring, summer, fall or winter?

5.  Glass half full or half empty?

6.  Can you play an instrument?

7.  Facebook or Twitter?

8.  Why do you blog?

9.  How do you keep up with the world?  TV, internet, newspaper?

10. What do you like most about blogging?

11. Do you read blogs on subjects different than your primary blog subject?

Eleven Random Facts About Me:

I can consume 6 donuts in one sitting if given the chance – not saying I should or that I do this regularly, but I have in the past.  Wine is divine.  I cannot whistle…  I do not like my feet.  I can walk in 4 inch heels, but trip when walking up the stairs.  My horse’s get new shoes more frequently than I do.  Peonies are my favorite flower.  I do not like walnuts.  I love decorating Christmas cookies.  I love deep-sea fishing even though I rarely get to go.  I believe that chocolate should be a food group.

The Answers to the questions given to me:

1. Do you speak a foreign language?  Sadly, no.  It is on my list of things to do, but keeps getting bumped by “vacuum dog hair again.”

2.  Have you adopted any stray or rescue animals?  Yes, all my dogs are rescues.

3.  Any arts/crafts you do?  I dabble in many but am proficient at none.

4.  Favorite junk food?  TNTC (too numerous to count), but I do have a big weakness for potato chips.

5.  Introvert or extrovert?  Depends on the day and the situation.

6.  Last movie seen, or watched at home?  Sherlock Holmes – Game of Shadows

7.  Book you are currently reading?  Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui

8.  Why do you blog?  So that years from now, I will remember the mundane details that are part of my adventure with my young horse.

9. How many countries have you lived in? Two, the US and the Philippines.

10. What do you like most about blogging?  The creative writing aspect.

11. Do you read blogs on subjects different than your primary blog subject?  Yes, there are some really creative people out there.

Thanks again to my blogger buddy The Casual Rider for the nomination.  I will fill you in on our weekly lesson later this week.  Suffice to say that Ike and I had to have a discussion about his listening skills…naughty, naughty pony.

How Could You Have Made That Better?

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That is the dreaded question that Ms. C likes to ask me during my weekly lesson.  “That” could be a transition, a circle, a halt, a centerline.  Well, just about anything during the lesson.  This is when I most appreciate that it is a private lesson with no one watching or listening.  The Socratic Method of Teaching is well-known to law school students and many of my graduate school professors also enjoyed putting you on the spot by firing questions at you.  It must also be recommended in the secret handbook of dressage trainers.  In grad school, it is amazing how they would always manage to call on me when I’d either not done the required reading or spent most of the lecture doodling in my notebook and not paying attention.  That bright crimson flush would overcome my face as I stammered through a pathetic answer.  These days, I don’t flush, but I still muddle through when asked what I could have done to better my ride.

Class participation almost always played a role in my final grade, and here I am, almost 20 years later, still having to participate to improve my grade.  Only now, my grade is a score from a stern looking judge sitting at C.  If my dressage scores were graded on the same scale as my engineering courses, I would still be in school attempting to bring my grades up enough to graduate.  Mid-60’s would not cut it.  In my current world, mid-60’s are the norm.  My how times have changed.

But back to the question at hand, “How could you have made that better?”  My go-to answer is “a half halt.”  Safe enough, but the follow-up question of, “And, what else??”  or “What was wrong with that half halt?” is usually where I get tripped up and the stammering starts.  Lucky for me, Ms. C will patiently explain what the “else” is when it is evident that am clueless.  Typically, I forget to include enough leg with my half halt. I also have the tendency to pull rather than squeeze my reins during a half halt which puts Ike behind vertical.  And if you have followed our adventures for a while, you know that I tend to overuse my inside rein and overbend Ike’s neck rather than just achieving the proper flexion at the poll.   These problems were clearly evident in the photos from the show.  If you are so inclined and need a good chuckle or a good example of what not to do, here is the link: http://www.picsofyou.com/store/index.php?do=photocart&viewGallery=20459#page=1.

On a positive note, I can now identify what the problem is when I see the photos.  Now I just need to translate and transmit that knowledge to my arms and legs while astride.  There is a disconnect or maybe it is a lack of……SQUIRREL………..focus. [My dogs tend to have great focus during training until one of our furry-tailed friends cross our path; then all bets are off.]  Whatever the problem is, it is keeping us from crossing that magical 70% threshold in our scores.  Luckily, there is no pending graduation, just a passion to indulge and a dream to fulfill.

There is No Place Like Home, No Place Like Home

DSC02382Well, that was a lonnnnnnnnngggg weekend.  It is no wonder that I only consider doing big licensed shows one weekend a month.  We were all exhausted last night and bedtime arrived early.  Brain was non-functional so the thought of writing was quickly cast aside.  Unfortunately as well, the laundry and cooking fairies did not show up at the house to magically take care of the neglected chores.

Overall it was a successful weekend.  Sadly we missed a qualifying score by 0.4%, but there was too much other good to worry about that.  Here are the  observations and high points from the weekend:

1) After schooling on Saturday, Ike and I walked around the competition rings.  Sound checks for the musical freestyles were in progress, so he got to hear the squelching speakers so it wouldn’t be a surprise on Sunday.  As we were standing around a freak gust of wind blew over a pop up tent and a trashcan.  I think Ike grew about 2 feet taller in his panic.  Luckily, I kept my ass in the saddle (many years of practice with his brother), so crisis was averted.  So proud of Ike trusting in me to save him from the evil tent monster.

2) Ike survived his first night away from home and overcame his disappointment at the lack of a surprise party.  If I’m completely honest, I really didn’t sleep much Saturday night as I worried about what was happening back at the show grounds.  This must be what parents feel like when their child leaves for college and you realize that you have to trust that all will be okay.  Ike obviously got some rest as evidenced by the shavings in his braids and tail.  Maybe I should have taken the Gastrogard.

3) I learned that leaving a young horse cooped up for over 12 hours makes for a very energetic walk around the show grounds.  I quickly gave up for fear that Ike would dislocate my shoulder.  So when he couldn’t move forward, he decided to go up….as in I’m going to rear in my stall to try to see the horse on the other side of the stall wall.  Suggesting to Ike that he keep four on the floor was met with pinned ears and a very grumpy facial expression.

4) Warm up for my first ride at 8:37 started well over an hour before.  Since I couldn’t walk Ike from the ground, I let him do the walking, and more walking, and even more walking.  We were early enough that we were able to do a couple of laps around the outside of our ring.  Not sure that Ike liked the flowers.  He stopped to sniff the petunias, but seemed disappointed that they were not more fragrant.  I had to strongly suggest that he not try to eat one.

5) Our first test was going extremely well until I decided to half halt at the end of our canter circle to rebalance as we went down the long side.  Ike heard “trot” and we got the wrong lead when I asked for canter again.  Our lovely canter circle work was erased and the number 3 appeared on the score sheet.  And since we trotted early, there went the next score as well.  Lesson learned.  If things are going well, be a quiet rider.  That was a hard lesson because it cost us enough to prevent us getting the magical 63% to qualify.  We came out of the class with a pink ribbon.  The rest of the test was scored quite well and I agreed with the scores we received and the comments the judge provided.

6) We had five hours until our next ride, but the silver lining to that long wait was that Ms. C was able to be there for our second warm up and ride!!  Phew!  She analyzed our first test and developed our game plan for warm up.  Thank goodness Ike is a willing partner for part two of the day.  His darling brother hated the restart “I already worked today.  I’m done.”  Let us hope that Ike does not learn that behavior.  It also doesn’t hurt that he loves Ms. C and know she comes bearing candy if he is good.  Food motivation is a good thing when training animals.

7) Warm up went smoothly with Ms. C reminding me not to pull Ike behind vertical and also schooling our canter – let go of that inside rein Alison!!  Our second ride was one of my favorite Training Level rides ever on Ike.  Ike didn’t want to give me 100% committment at the trot and I decided against any arguments.  We received a decent score (63.9%), but the high point for me was his canter work.  This is the canter that we have all been waiting for – balanced, rhythmic, uphill, and just way too much fun to ride.  Ms. C even said it was some of his best.  What a way to end the weekend.

And while we didn’t have ruby slippers to click together, we rubbed our red ribbon from our second test and said, “there is no place like home, no place like home,” and we headed home with smiles on our faces and visions of the future in our heads.

Can Anyone Tell Me What a Sleepover Is?

DSC02383Hi Everyone!  Ike here.  I’ve hijacked Mom’s blog since she is apparently too busy to keep you updated on the goings on this week.  She is very distracted getting ready for our first show of the season.  She seems a bit more keyed up with this particular show that she was last year.  I keep hearing the word “licensed” paired with the word show, but I’m still not clear what that means besides the fact that she has been harping about the money she has spent and is very worried about what the scores will be.

Sheesh!  All this fuss about a show overshadowed my 5th birthday on April 30th.  Where was the cake?  The peppermints?  How about a massage?  Where are my PRESENTS?!!  All I got were some stinking carrots and I had to share them with my brother and barnmates.  Uncool.  Everyone tells me that I’m starting to look more mature and less like a baby.  I might be looking older, but I still want a party.  If I can ever figure out how to dial a phone, look out.  I shall be calling the Humane Society to report this apparent lack of follow through on my birthday celebration.

I have really been enjoying the weather this week.  The recent rain and the warmer days mean that I finally have tender spring grass growing in my paddock.  Yum.  Hay is good, but nothing beats the first green grass of the season.  My brother and I have been playing a lot over the fence which is tons of fun.  I rear, Cigar does a rear/buck/cow kick, and then we run down the fenceline and do it again.  Big fun.  We got in trouble to getting a bit too rambunctious and pulling down the electric fencing.  Cigar didn’t like getting in trouble, so he went and kicked down a fence board in protest.  I just stood there and looked adorable when asked what transpired.  Brothers have to look out for each other.

Mom and I did two back-to-back riding lessons with Ms. C to try to fine tune us for the “licensed” show.  More money spent that should have been used for an awesome birthday present.  They seem pleased with how I’m doing.  Thank goodness that she is finally figuring out the whole half halt timing.  Mom keeps saying how much better our canter is this year that it was last April.  Again, sheesh, what did she expect?  I was only 3 years old when we went to the first show last year.  My bet is that she wasn’t exactly the most graceful mover when she was 3 years old.  You don’t get scarred up knees if you aren’t eating gravel every once in a while.  My knees are still scar-free thank you very much.

Now, I need to ask you kind readers for some help.  I heard a new word today that has not to date been part of my every day vocabulary.  Can someone please tell me what a sleepover is and why I am going on one?  It seems to have something to do with our show.  Mom was in a frenzy this afternoon putting stuff in the trailer.  She even put some covered buckets filled with water, some of my food (with no sharing with me), and a whole bale of hay.  If we are just going to a show, why do we need all these provisions?  Ms. C then gave me a tube of GastroGard right before dinner and said that I need it to keep me healthy in case I get stressed.  I think all this has something to do with that sleepover word.  I sleep in my stall, so sleeping over my stall would put me on the roof of the barn.  It is so confusing.  I asked the other horses, but no one is divulging any details.  The best I can hope for is that maybe sleepover is code for “Ike’s Surprise Party.”

Hoping to come home from the show with some new ribbons to decorate my stall.  Mom will fill you in on all those details on Sunday night.

Ike