Whoa, That is What a Lengthening Feels Like?

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No, there are no new photos or videos of today’s ride.  The camera stayed in the car; probably a good thing since, yet again, a thunderstorm showed up at the end of my lesson.  Still trying to figure out how I pissed off Mother Nature enough that she’s decided that it should rain almost every time my butt hits the saddle.  I’m predicting a tropical storm or hurricane September 7th and 8th when I try for the last time to get my qualifying score.

For the 45 rain-free minutes of my lesson, Ike was a stellar pupil.  We are continuing to challenge him beyond the Training Level skill set we need for competition.  Why stagnate when there is no reason?  Are we ready to show First or Second Level?  Oh no!  But we will never be ready to compete at those levels if we don’t take the first steps to learning the new skills we will need.

Today’s lesson started with shoulder in to haunches in while tracking in both directions.  I found that shoulder in to the left is easier to the right, but I can more easily move Ike’s haunch to the right.  Go figure.  It is also a challenge to keep the giraffe neck and body in the correct alignment.  How easy it is to overbend that neck…especially for the girl who loves her inside rein a bit too much (I’m a work in progress).

This collected work helped to set up some lovely canter work.  Ike can still get a bit too strong in the hand with the canter.  Speed Racer made an appearance yesterday – no delicate half halt was going to slow down the boy yesterday.  Thank goodness we had none of that today as we worked on trot-canter-trot transitions on a circle.  Ms. C then had us feed off to a trot down the long side of the arena with me asking for the next trot gear.  We knew there was another gear lurking about and today, we found it.  I half halted and rebalanced on the short end and then with the gentlest squeeze of my fingers, I offered my hands forward and POW! the next trot gear revealed itself.  It felt like we were floating on air down the long side.  I honestly squealed with excitement.  Ms. C let us know that we’d found our trot lengthening.  Ah, said the blind girl.  Ohh dear, said the girl who realized she will have to sit that trot at second level.

We managed to again find that fabulous trot in the other direction right before the thunder rumbled and reminded us that we should seek cover.  We finished with a few circles of stretch down walk and trot and quickly headed to the barn.

Ike and I are still in the infancy of our journey, but it is gearing up to be a heck of a ride.  Now time to do some core work so I can keep up with my horse!

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Move Over Schleprock, Here Comes Eisenrock

scheprockIf you were a Flintstone’s fan as a child, you might remember the character Schleprock.  He was the poor soul who always had the rain cloud following him around Bedrock.  Well move over Schleprock, here comes Eisenrock with his unfortunate rider.  We seem to have found a rain cloud that doesn’t want to leave.

I have already filled you in on our lack of show last weekend because of the pouring rain at the ungodly hour of the morning, but there were two other rides this week that were either shortened or cancelled because of rain.  Make a note – if I am scheduled to attend a clinic or show, there will be a greater than normal chance for rain.  Keep that in mind when making plans and feel free to contact me to find out if Ike and I will be attending a particular event.

Our lesson was on Thursday afternoon this week.  When I left home, there were blue skies with some fluffy white clouds.  By the time I had travelled the 18 miles to the barn, there were some darker clouds looming on the back side of the tree line.  As soon as my butt hit the saddle, I heard the first rumble of thunder.  Super.  Ms. C had checked the radar and there was nothing to note.  How is this possible?  We decided to give it a go and got to work without further delay.  Our 25 minutes of work was stellar.  We focused our efforts on keeping Ike in front of my leg with a steady connection.  Once we had that, I asked for the next gear.  Ike could give me 5-6 strides at most and then he would get unbalanced so we’d slow things down.  There are still more gears to discover, but the thunderstorm decided that we would not find them on Thursday.  The thunder got louder and angrier and the rain arrived, so we decided to head to the barn rather than push our luck as the tallest moving object for any lightening to play, “tag, you’re it.”

Friday was supposed to be a fun show outing.  We were going to invade my friend’s barn that has a Friday afternoon fun show a few times a summer.  Never mind that it is a hunter barn and the classes are for hunters, western pleasure, and games (barrel racing, pole bending, and costume classes).  We were going just for the chance to get off the farm to school.  I’d planned to warm up and then enter the command class and the two flat classes…if Ike was calm and could do his stretch down trot, he could pretend to be a hunter for a few minutes.  Well, the forecast for the day was a cold front arriving midday with showers from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.  Wrong!!  It rained all afternoon and the rain stuck around until 5 p.m.  The show was cancelled and rescheduled for this Friday.  I will not state whether or not we are going so as to not doom the show to another cancelation.

We finally had the second half of my lesson yesterday.  Ike was in such a cooperative spirit that we worked on leg yield, leg yield to the right with a change of bend to left lead canter, leg yield to the left to right lead canter, and 10 meter canter turns to centerline.  So proud of the big boy.  He tried his hardest and succeeded at all of these exercises.  This was the sunny spot of the week.  🙂  I have no doubt that the rains will soon return.

It Wasn’t Worth the Ribbon

Hey Cigar, Did you hear that I didn't have to show this past weekend?

Hey Cigar, Did you hear that I didn’t have to show this past weekend?

A 3:00 a.m. alarm is rude.  It doesn’t matter if it is one of the dogs waking me, the radio, or the alarm.  It just is inhuman to wake at that hour, but that is what we horse people do when your show is 1.5 hours away from your barn and you get stuck with one of the earliest ride times.  So I let the dogs out to find that the forecasted rain did indeed arrive in the wee hours of the morning.  Great, my Polish luck strikes again (for those of you wondering, Polish luck is the polar opposite of Irish luck.  I have Polish and Irish ancestors, but sadly, no Irish luck.)

We forge ahead to the local Wawa for extra-large cups of coffee.  As we get back on the road towards the barn, it starts to rain harder and even harder still.  Ugh.  I check the radar on my phone.  The entire region is covered in a large green blob.  Super-duper.  Do I chance loading Ike and head to the show?  Will he even leave the barn in the pouring down rain; he is a bit of a fair weather fairy after all.  Do we drive 1.5 hours to ride in the rain, wait in the rain, and ride again in the rain?  Is the ribbon and the score worth it?  I envision a score of 55% with comments reading, “erratic trot around puddle,” “this is not a prix caprilli class, horse should not be jumping.”

One last traffic light before we head down the road towards the barn.  The rain comes down harder and the wipers are barely keeping the windshield clear.  I pulled the plug then.  No sense stirring up the horses when we aren’t going anywhere.  I’m sure my disappointment was evident.  I send an email to the show secretary.  I hear a flushing noise as my show fees float away.

When daylight finally came, I headed out to the barn to visit with the boys.  They were peacefully grazing in the rain.  Ah, Ike will leave the barn if the rain isn’t too heavy.  Felt like a wimp for not going, but given the information available in the dead of night, I made the decision that made sense at that time.  Hindsight is a pesky bitch.  She nags at you and pokes holes in your logic.  I sent her down the drain with the show fees.

Was I disappointed?  Yes.  But really, it is just a score and maybe just a ribbon if it had been a decent score.  So what?  I have an acquaintance whose horse was just released from the vet hospital after battling an infection and a stifle injury.  My friend who bolstered my mood last night is still grieving from the unexpected loss of her talented young mare (Thanks S!  We will uncork a few bottles soon!).  And today, a gentle draft cross at my barn was rushed to the surgical clinic for his second severe colic in three months – fingers are crossed that he survives the night.  For as large and as strong as our horses are, they are also amazingly fragile creatures.  We take them for granted when things are going well.  They can be gone before we have a chance to say goodbye.  Remember it isn’t about the ribbons, it is about the journey and having these amazing creatures as part of your life.

Sliding Into Show Weekend

So Mom, can you take my brother to the show this weekend instead of me?

So Mom, can you take my brother to the show this weekend instead of me?

Well here we are.  It is Friday night and I’m finally sitting down to fill you in on our week.  Ike and I had a pretty sane week.  We abandoned leg yields, half pass, and counter canter and refocused on our Training Level needs.  Last time I checked, there were no lateral movements in any of the Training Level tests.  That is not to say that we haven’t thrown in a sideways step or two trying to escape the corners at the judge’s end of the arena, but we get no extra credit for that.  Judge’s just aren’t impressed.  In fact, we often hear “too much use of outside rein.”  Well, duh, when Baby Huey decides to throw his full weight against my inside leg, there is no way that my thigh will prevent him from going wherever he decides we need to be.  The outside rein is all I have left – no, it is not ideal and thank you for pointing that out in my test comments.

The show this Sunday is one of my last chances to qualify for the regionals in October.  It feels like the test right before spring break with the regionals being our final exam.    So doing what every good college student does, we crammed for our test at the last minute hoping for all the knowledge to transfer from Ms. C’s lessons and carry us to a qualifying score on Sunday.  We did two lessons in two days.

Yesterday we worked the basics.  Can Alison find a good rhythm and tempo at the walk, trot and canter?  Answer: sometimes.  I still have the tendency to overuse my reins and Ike ends up behind vertical.  Maybe it is his long neck, maybe it is me just having a hard time trusting that I can send my hands forward to get Ike to open up at the throatlatch.  We can thank Cigar for that tendency; you just never knew what might happen if you gave Cigar an inch.  Give him an inch and you could end up in the next ring in record time.

Our canter is still a work in progress.  How we handle the canter depends on what canter Ike gives me.  If we are careening around in freight train mode, I just try to be heard and pray that our down transition is close to where it is supposed to be.  If Ike decides to show off his rocking horse, moving up to First Level canter, then I can finesse a bit more and position shoulders and even get the correct flexion.

Today we practiced our tests.  We have rediscovered our centerlines and square halts.  We need those points and why not start and end with an 8 on your score sheet?  Would love to get another 9.5 on a final halt…that is one test that I will save since that score might not ever be seen again.  Overall Ms. C was pleased with our tests.  I still need to keep my upper body back in the canter (shhh, don’t tell anyone, but it feels like I’m sitting tall when I’m astride, but unfortunately pictures give that secret away).  Ike canter work was a mixed bag.  His right lead today was a bit strong.  To counteract what was happening, I would ask for canter, but then ask for a halt just after we started our circle, then at another place on the circle, and then right after we returned to the long side of the arena.  Ike handled the exercise quite well and without ending up on his face during the canter-to-halt transition.  Yes, Ike, you must listen to Mom and wait for her to tell you what to do.  Hard lesson for big boy to swallow, but the peppermints when we were done did help.

Tomorrow Ike gets the day off to rest.  I will pack the trailer and give Ike his show makeover.  It will unfortunately be a VERY EARLY day Sunday since I have an 8:30 a.m. ride time and we are 1.5 hours away from the show grounds.  At least we won’t be riding at 7:15 a.m. in the dark like we did last fall.  When you roll over on Sunday morning and see that it says 5:00 a.m. on the clock. and then close your eyes for another few hours, think of us…we will be rolling out of the barnyard at that time and keeping all fingers crossed that we have a successful day.

It Has Been How Long Already?

003Two years, that’s right, two years have flown by.  It was August 8, 2011 that Ike officially joined the family.  He started his journey to Virginia that day and arrived two days later.  My baby-faced three-year-old with 30 days of training is now a handsome, strapping young boy.  He continues to amaze me and I count my blessings every day that I have the privilege to ride him.

He is sporting a new bridle in the photo in this post.  Sadly, he has outgrown the one I purchased for him when I was in Wellington (well, duh, you can’t go horse shopping in Wellington and not hit the tack stores!)  The pretty bling browband that I had specially made for him sadly no longer fits either.  And, in case you weren’t aware, he also outgrew my old horse trailer; we had to buy the supersized two-horse bumper pull with a side ramp so there was plenty of room  to accommodate the giraffe neck.  Guess I should feel lucky that my saddle still fits him…

I still can’t believe how quickly he has progressed in his training.  Now some would say that with a more educated rider he would probably be further along, and I would not disagree with that statement.  Let me explain my reference point:  My dearest Cigar began his dressage education in 2005.  He was not the ideal horse on which to learn dressage.  “No!” was his go-to place.  “No, I do not wish to yield to your half halt.”  “No, I do not wish to canter with my nose near vertical.”  The talent was there, but the willingness was not.  That coupled with his propensity to injure himself made for a very slow journey out of Intro and Training Levels.  By fall of 2010, we’d barely clawed our way into First Level when his fractured knee ended his riding career.

Now Ike, on the other hand, is a very willing partner.  Cigar would call him a suck up.  We are discovering more and more gears as he grows stronger.  The lengthened trot I rode yesterday felt like it only took 8 strides to ride the long side of the arena.  Two years ago we were lucky to canter without me losing a knee on the fence while Ike’s legs were flailing around like propellers.  Just yesterday during our lesson, we started schooling counter canter.  While schooling counter canter, Ike actually performed an effortless flying change.  A bit of an overachiever like his mother.  Two years ago, Ike would drift left and right since he lacked the balance and strength to keep his body traveling in a straight line.  Yesterday, we attempted half pass at the trot with gorgeous results to the right and a decent effort to the left.  Wow.  So this is what it is like to see forward progress.  It is a giddy feeling.  Makes me wonder where we will be this time next year!

Happy Anniversary Ike!  We are so glad you are part of our family!

The Sweatpants Did It

Oh, thanks for finding my shoe.  I don't know how I parted ways with it.

Oh, thanks for finding my shoe. I don’t know how I parted ways with it.

Are you asking yourself, “What the heck does that blog title have to do with anything remotely equine?”  Grin.  Today’s adventure is a good time to share a funny story about my brother.  When he was about Ike’s age (5-6 years old), my parents purchased a brand new pair of sneakers for him.  We aren’t talking Air Jordan’s or anything remotely that pricey.  It was the late 1970’s so our clothes and shoes weren’t remotely cool at all.  Flammable, yes.  Cool, not in the least.  They were functional and supposed to last at least through Christmas.

So my brother had only worn his new sneakers for about a month when they ended up with a huge tear in them that made them unusable.  When my mother saw them, let’s just say that she was less than happy.  “Jeff, how did this happen?  Were you playing with Dad’s pocket knife again?!”  “No, Mom, my sweatpants did it,”  my brother stated matter-of-factly.  Um, huh?  Sweatpants?  They must be killer sweatpants.  Needless to say that not even my father with professional investigative skills could drag the truth out of my brother.  To this day he will proclaim that his sweatpants ripped his sneaker….which is the segue to Ike’s latest adventure.

I head out to the barn today to ride.  It was cloudy and cool and you really could not ask for a better day to ride in August.  When I arrive at the barn, I noticed that Ike was in his stall, yet all the other horses were outside.  Hmm, this is a bit odd.  As I approach the barn, Ms. C emerges and shares the news – Ike has pulled his front shoe.  Oh, you mean that shoe with the Equi-thane that was just put on not 7 days ago?!  Yes, that shoe.  Great.  Thanks Ike.  Ike stared at me with his innocent, big brown eyes like he didn’t know why I was so upset.  I quizzed him on how this could have happened.  I got a blank stare.  I asked him if the sweatpants did it.  Still, no answer.

Luckily, to Ike’s dismay, unlike my brother and his sneaker, there was a witness to this crime.  Ms. C filled in the rest of the story.  The cooler weather invigorated Cigar who decided that it was a good day to cavort with his younger brother.  Havoc and mayhem ensued and during the melee, Ike left his gel pad and shoe in the middle of the paddock.  Awesome.  Oh look there it is , a $100 laying in the dirt.  Too bad that the gel pad is not reusable.  Thankfully, the shoe is.  Thankfully, there is hoof left.  Thankfully, our show is  not this weekend.

Now I know how my mother felt…and why her wine glass was so big!

Back to the barn tomorrow to meet the farrier and hopefully the weather will cooperate for a ride.  Our next centerline is 12 days away!

Adult Supervison Necessary

022As you know, I took a week off from my normal routine and went on vacation.  Time away is supposed to help you cleanse the mind and recharge the batteries.  Time away from the saddle on the other hand is not good for my riding skills.  Now you would think that a week should have absolutely no effect on our progress or my ability to ride my horse.  After all, Ike was worked by Ms. C, and I did manage to walk on the beach and boogie board which should both count as exercise.  That is all good and wonderful, but a week without proper riding instruction left me feeling out of sorts and I realized during my lesson today that I require regular adult supervision in order to stay fine tuned with my riding.

I know many people who ride and train their horses on their own with only occasional lessons or clinics when they hit a rough spot.  Some attend a monthly clinic.  Still others rarely if ever solicit input from anyone and never seem to suffer any dire consequences from the lack of assistance.  Ike and I would still be running into fences if we did not have our weekly lessons supplemented with clinics, extra lessons, and impromptu assistance when things go horribly awry.  I am the toddler who cannot be left alone for fear of ruining my horse’s natural talent.

My first three rides after my vacation were not my best effort.  We will blame one on Ike since he was a pill for most of the session.  The other two poor rides fall squarely on my shoulders.  No blaming the weather, the gunshots, nor the neighbor’s dog.  I could not seem to establish a steady connection, find any thoroughness at the trot, and cantered as if there was a fire in Ike’s tail.  Not good.  The entry fees have been mailed for my last 3 chances to qualify for the regionals in October.  We need to find our A-game quickly and get back on track.  I might have to resort to two lessons a week until I find my riding legs again.

In order to advance during yesterday’s lesson, we first had to back track.  Stand at the halt and flex your horse to the left and then to the right.  Sounds easy enough until you are told your horse is tilting his head rather than flexing….try again.  We ended up needing some ground assistance in order to unlock Ike’s massive head.  Finally, success.  Now you may walk.

Trotting was also challenging for me yesterday.  And we aren’t talking anything fancy – just trot on the rail and maintain a steady connection.  Don’t forget to half halt when necessary to rebalance your horse.  I finally brought Ike back to a walk and declared that I felt like a “$&**# idiot.”  Ms. C just matter-of-factly kept the lesson moving forward and did not let me wallow in self disgust.  Good thing.  With her coaching and guidance, I was finally able to find my mojo and ride my horse.  With only two weeks until our next show, there is no time to waste.  There are no “atta girl” points given in dressage tests.

Headed back to the barn today to attempt to replicate what we had by the end of our lesson.  Wish me luck.  This toddler is going to need it!