Reflections and a Thanks to Teddy Roosevelt

Ike August 2017

So, I must be frank, after the last licensed dressage show, I was feeling a bit dejected about our Third Level progress.  There were some reality-check scores that made me question myself and my work.  One judge told me that my collection was abysmal (I came to this conclusion from her 53% score of my ride), and yet another told me that my horse was lame (it was the last ride of the weekend and none of the other judges noted any lameness).  It is amazing how those numbers and comments can strip any and all confidence you have in yourself and your horse.  I even noted in my blog post that it was “death by comparison” with one of my better rides of the weekend.

 We came home from that show and have been working hard on all pieces and parts of our work.  We’ve been trying to engage Ike’s hind end more which is no small feat given the length of his body.  “Sit, Ike, sit” does not work as well as it does with the dogs.  I am working diligently on not restricting the flow of his half pass.  I even believe that we are starting to see improvement on the dreaded turn on the haunches.  Just as we were getting our confidence back, it was time for vacation.  I always panic that a week off in the middle of the season is going to set us back months.  A week off turned into almost two weeks since my week after vacation was crazy busy.  I ended up with one lesson and one 20 minute schooling session before it was time for our next schooling show. 

 So as I am beating myself up about signing up for the schooling show, I come across a quote by Teddy Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  And it resonated with me.  Stop worrying about the professionals and their uber-talented horses.  Stop worrying about fellow amateurs with more experience.  Stop worrying about not riding (you are the only one who cares…your horse does not care).  Stop fretting that everything is not perfect.  Just ride your horse as best you can and enjoy the ride….and that is what I did.  I just rode.  I stayed relaxed, smiled at my fellow competitors, and did not over react when Ike panicked when the horses were doing their jump rounds.

 Did we make mistakes?  Yep. Our turn on the haunch to the right was a bit sticky and we earned a 5.5 for it, but it is better than the 4 that we are known to see on a regular basis. Ike misfired on his right to left lead change and got disunited.  I then could not decide if I should stop and fix it, go to trot and fix it, or keep tapping with my outside leg and mentally will him to change the hind legs.  I went with telepathy and the outside leg and he finally corrected himself – that earned us a 4 for the change and a 4 for the extended canter.  Luckily the rest of our work was decent and we earned a 61.27% for Test 1. 

Our second test was Third Level Test 3.  I’ve only ridden it once in competition, earning a 59.1%, so our goal was to crack the 60th percentile.  I took a deep breath, exhaled and headed down centerline.  The test flowed well through our trot work which was rewarded with scores from 6 to 7.5.  An unforced rider error cost us when I completely forgot the halt rein back.  Whoops!  The highlight for me was earning 7’s for both of our turn on the haunches.  Squeee!!!  Our left lead canter work was better than our right lead.  A jumping horse on the cross country course caused Ike a bit of worry, so the tenseness was noted in our scores.  I think my biggest thrill was having the judge comment about how nice it was to see us moving on up and doing well.  She provided some helpful pointers that we will use in our future schooling.  And, drum roll please, we got a 63.85%!  Yes!  We made it into the 60th percentile.

So maybe Teddy R. was onto something.  Let go of the comparison.  Enjoy the ride everyone!




Six Years And Counting 

Today Mom and I celebrate 6 years together.  I am really not certain why she likes to make a big deal out of the day I arrived in Virginia. But every year she shows up at the barn on August 10th and screams, “Happy Gotcha Day Ike!”  She babbles on about how it is nice to reminisce about how far we have come with our training and what we have accomplished.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.  Sometimes I think she sounds like a Charlie Brown school teacher.   

 So let’s talk about what I think is really important – how HARD my life is compared to what my friends and brother have to do.  Over the six years that I have lived in Virginia, I think I have done more work that all the other horses at the barn combined.  What gives?  Mom says that my brother has worked hard and is now enjoying retirement.  I like mints, so I’m not sure why I don’t get to enjoy retirement.  I wonder if it is a different flavor and if it tastes better.  I ask Cigar to share his retirement, but he just ignores me or tries to bite me.  Such a selfish older brother.  And speaking of mints, I do not recommend eating them with the crinkly coating.  It really does dull the flavor.

And it seems that the longer I’m in Virginia, the harder my work gets.  How can this be something to celebrate?  I used to get to motor around the arena making big circles and straight lines.  Mom made a big deal about me maintaining straightness in my work.  Now, the crazy lady talks about bending my body around one of her legs and going sideways.  And she and Ms. C talk about making me sit on my hind end.  If I sit, how am I supposed to move?  And they are all about making me move.  Mom has a whip, Ms. C has a whip, Mom has things strapped to her feet that she uses to jab me.  Go, go, go, but sit.  I just don’t get it.  I try to get Mr. D to rescue me from the two of them, but I think he has either been bribed or is in cahoots with them.  Dad is my best hope for a savior.  I’m pretty sure he is the sanest of them all, but since I don’t see him as much as mom, it is hard to get messages to him.  Dad if you are reading this, save me from these loony toons. 

The rumor around the barn is that all my hard work has paid off and Mom got some sort of medal.  The horses overheard her telling Ms. C that it is a rider award from USDF.  Umm, how can it just be for her??  Seriously, I was with her for all the shows.  I had to carry her around the tests; I had to huff and puff in the abominable heat, freezing cold, and pouring rain. (If you didn’t think she was crazy before, knowing this should push you in that direction.)  What do I get out of all this nonsense?  Personally, I think I should receive extra green hay and a whole apple a day.  Reality is that they keep giving me timothy and other hay.  I have to share an apple with my brother.  Can you believe that?  Sharing? 

But, besides the work, I really don’t mind living in Virginia.  I get fed every day and have my own paddock so I don’t have to share with my brother.  My brother is pretty cool except when he won’t share his retirement. Mom might be a bit loony, but she means well. She makes sure I get regular pedicures so my feet look better than hers. I even get chiropractic adjustments and massages.

So cheers to another year together. 




An Open Letter to the Virginia Snake Population

Snake early warning detector.jpg

Early Warning Snake Detector

Dear Snakes,

We need to have a candid discussion about personal space, i.e., my space versus your space and “forbidden zones.”  I have tried to be patient, but it is now time for our peace talks.  Well, it is more that I will do the talking and you will heed my advice.

Now, it is no secret that we have never been BFFs.  You can thank my mother and the python population of the Philippines for my complete lack of trust and compassion for your kind.  “Don’t worry, Mrs. T, it is only a baby python in the tree right next to your front door,” said the 21 year old military police officer.  “Yes, but babies grow up…” my mother countered to the base MPs…it was all they could do not to smirk as they walked away.  There was also a timber rattlesnake at the National Zoo who also closed the door on any future relationship we may have had.

Now, I do not wish harm to you and your families.  I completely understand that you have a role to play in our ecosystem.  In fact, let me say thank you for all you do in controlling the rodent population around the barn and in our shed and yard.  That being said, if you do cross into the Forbidden Zone or the No Trespassing areas, and there is no one else to safely remove you, don’t be surprised if I go full Lizzy Borden on your scaly ass.

So let’s talk about acceptable places for you to live, exist, love and hang out.  The barn yard is acceptable as long as you respect a ring of at least 10 feet around me and the boys.  We will call it the No Trespassing Zone.  I cannot be held responsible if they step on you when you are inside the 10 foot safety zone.  I will deny any wrongdoing if I must pummel you with a shovel or pitchfork if you come within 10 feet of me.  The shavings pile is not a snake make out room.  Please find other suitable areas for those activities.  The barn will also be deemed an acceptable snake hangout place only when Ms. C, Mr. D, Ms. M, and I are not in the barn.  Poking your head out of the drawer in my tack box and coiling around the broom hanging right next to the trash can in the tack room is not cool.  It is akin to popping out of the bushes and yelling, “Boo!”  I am not amused.  How about we just make the tack room a Forbidden Zone? You can have the space under the tack room floor, the hay stall and the hay loft on alternate weeks.

Now let’s really get a little more serious.  I understand that the front yard and backyard of our home appears to be a hospitable environment.  There are birds, bugs, and (unfortunately) rodents. There are numerous places that you might find to be suitable shelter: shrubs, flagstones, the shed, and brush piles.  I bet the space under the deck is a bit of a snake singles bar.  But, I must insist that the same 10-foot ring of personal space be respected.  It is unnerving to be working in the flower bed only to find one of your buddies coiled up less than a foot away from my hand.  I then must suffer the unbridled mirth of my husband when he laughs at my girly screams about a snake in the yard.


Finally, we must discuss the most recent incident.  Your buddy Mr. Black Snake violated the boundary of the Forbidden Zone known as our house.  That’s right.  He barged right in without knocking.  Thank goodness that our dog Brownie alerted us to his unwanted presence in the upstairs guest bathroom.  Brownie howled and went bat crap crazy.  I made it halfway up the stairs and saw his eyes glowing.  I screamed.  My husband calmly extricated your friend and relocated him to a more suitable area.  Seriously, what was he thinking dropping in unannounced????  Did he think it would be a welcome surprise?  Reminder:  Please do not forget my Lizzy Borden threat.





Death By Comparison

Ike Culpeper June 2017

Last weekend was our second licensed show of the year.  I was feeling fairly confident with where we were going into the weekend, since we’d pulled off earning our Bronze Medal in our first two tests and we’d some decent scores at a subsequent schooling show.  Even our half pass work at home had been steadily improving…though after watching the video of Laura on Diddy, I might have to retract that comment and say that we have no clue how to ride a proper half pass.

In any case, we arrived at the HITS facility in Culpeper on Friday in plenty of time to get a schooling session in with Ms. C before the afternoon storms were to arrive.  This facility has always been challenging for Ike.  It is a busy venue with a lot for a horse to take in:  trains, traffic, tractor noises from the other side of the woods, static filled speakers, flags, and a light pole that gave me more concern than it did Ike…

Culpeper light poleIn case you are wondering, it appeared to be tethered to the adjacent tree…safety first, right?

We schooled in our double bridle on Friday.  It becomes our enemy when Ike is tense; he gets even more behind the bit due to his grabby-handed rider.  But we persevered and we both finally relaxed enough to do some decent work.  Note to self:  When you trainer notes that the half pass work of the horse schooling with you would earn a score of a 9, you should correctly guess that your half pass work would not earn a 9.

Saturday dawned a warm and sunny day.  Ms. C was able to help school us for both our Saturday rides.  Due to our ride on Friday, I opted to work in our snaffle for fear that the double would just cause issues.  Warm up was busy and for some reason, Ike did not like any of the horses in the warm up ring.  He would ball up every time we would ride by anyone.  Superb.  After the less than ideal warm up, Ike settled in our test – Third Level Test 2.  Just as we were getting ready to ask for the change from left to right, there was a loud “CRACK,” and Ike bolted.  I lost both stirrups and almost had an unplanned dismount.  I managed to stop and noticed that the horse in the adjacent ring was no longer in their ring and had broken one of the rails in two pieces.  Superb.

We finished the test and shall we just say that the 53% we received was not what I expected.  It was clear that the judge did not like us from Enter At A.  You can’t please everyone.  I called my husband to share the news, and his response..”It is nice that you can laugh it off.  Good luck on the next one.”  And yes, the next one was the one I wanted to get the magical 60% – Third Level Test 3.  Not for qualification purposes, but to prove to myself that we do have what it takes to succeed.

Warm up was better than the morning.  We could at least canter without fear of unintended consequences.  I have to say that Test 3 is a pretty intimidating test for a newbie Third Level rider.  It is all about control of your horse’s pieces and parts, and if you have followed our journey, you know that we are not always skilled at controlling all pieces all the time.  But at some point, you just have to go for it.  Of course, having to have your debut come following a 4* event rider on her dressage horse, and 2 Grand Prix professional dressage riders is a bit intimidating.  As my friend’s husband noted, “It is death by comparison.”  Our best will pale next to their every day work.  But we went in and gave it our all.

And while we fell just short of our goal, I am pleased with our 59.1% for our first attempt.  We had plenty of 6’s, and even a few 7’s sprinkled in the mix.  The 5’s on our half pass work killed us as did the 4 when Ike cross cantered for the simple change.  Ike is capable of better half pass scores, but his rider must learn the correct alignment.  In trying to get the correct bend, I end up restricting the movement.  First I have got to stop pulling back with my outside rein.  Second, I must remember the Kung Fu master reminding the young man, “Patience Grasshopper, patience.”  Not always a word that one associates with me, but it is my life long goal.  Be patient and good things will come.  Be patient, it is okay to make mistakes as you are learning…says the person who wants to master it in the first attempt.

So we will now regroup and stay home for a few months.  Ike will continue to strengthen in his collected work.  I will work on providing the correct aids to set Ike up for success.  One step at a time, one day at a time, we will keep our eyes looking ahead and keep reaching for success.



How to Earn Your Bronze Medal…The Hard Way


Purchase a green 3 year old horse.

Spend 2,093 days of blood, sweat, and some tears training your horse.

On day 2094, have a solid lesson with Ms. C to fine tune your Third Level work before your first attempt for your scores.

On day 2095, see horse walk funny.



Sleep 2 hours.

On day 2096, see swelling along cannon bone. 


Lunge horse. Scratch head. 

Unload tack from trailer and tack up horse.

Mount and walk horse, think all is well.

Take one trot step and know things are not well.

Call your vet. Panic when she says it could be a tendon strain.

Pretend to be cool when she says she is tied up and can’t make it.

Have trainer call her vet. Have her vet assess situation.

Have shoe pulled.

Trim hoof and hear all present say, “oooh” at the same time as puss oozes from the abscess.

Breathe a momentary sigh of relief that it is not a tendon injury.

Soak hoof, poultice, and run home to eat something.

Return to barn and repeat soaking and poultice.

Pray horse will be sound for Saturday, and sleep another 2 hours.

Arrive at barn on day 2097 with fingers crossed your horse is sound.

Watch horse perform extracurricular activities in his paddock and hear trainer yell, “he looks sound!”

Be very thankful your horse lives with his farrier. 

Have two new front shoes installed.

Load horse in the rain and head to show.

Arrive less than 3 hours before your first ride time.

Try to remain calm when it is time to get ready.

Have dear friend ask you where your hoof oil, hair tie, sponge, and tail brush are.

Shrug and blame the abscess for their absence. 

Have horse ask you to carry his head since he is tired.  Change from the double bridle to the snaffle and tell him to carry it himself. 

Run through game plan with Ms. C.

Have solid warm up and successful first ride with Third Level Test 2.

Husband calls the score as 63.5%. Actually get 62.564%.

Wander off and forget that your ass needs to be in the saddle for second ride.

Have another good warm up but questionable ride. 

Refresh phone 500 times while waiting for the score.

Husband calls the score as 60.2%. Actually get 60.455%. (Have husband briefly consider a career as dressage judge.)

Scream loud enough to have the show’s barn manager check on you. 

HOLY MOLY! Realize that you earned your USDF Bronze Medal!!!!!

Be thankful for all the love, support and guidance provided by your husband, Ms. C, Mr. D, your family, and your friends. 

Start dreaming of your Silver Medal…



The Excitement is Building 

We are just a little over a week away from heading down centerline in our attempt to claim a Bronze Medal from USDF.  If you had asked me six years ago if I thought this might even be possible,  I would have snorted with a hint of derision and skipped on my merry way.
It was spring six years ago when I was faced with retiring Cigar and my future in dressage was uncertain.  I was riding Ms. C’s Hanoverian mare who let me know in no uncertain terms that she had no desire to leave the farm.  Lots of uncertainty and I would not meet Ike until late July. Showing at a schooling show was not in the cards since Miss Willow would not load. A Magic 8 Ball would have said “Definitely No” for a Bronze Medal.  

There has been a lot of learning the past six years.  It sometimes feels like I really didn’t start to understand the nuances of the sport until last year. Cigar taught me many things, but sitting trot, half pass, and collection were not among the lessons.    
But now here we are teetering at the finish line for that elusive medal.  It might not happen next weekend,  but the possibility for success this year is real.  

We had a solid lesson today with Ms. C.  Ike is back working in his snaffle. For many things, we are better without the double bridle. I am still learning to be a little more subtle in my use of the curb.  I tend to keep just a wee bit too much contact with the curb which impacts Ike’s ability to bend his neck and his ability to maintain good jump and throughness in his canter…and as you can guess, the lack of bend is bad for our half pass and the lack of jump ruins our flying changes.  Oh the struggle is real. Thankfully we don’t need the “braking power” of the curb we needed over the winter.

This weekend we will head to a clinic with Michael Bragdell from Hilltop Farm.  The game plan is to ask for some help and suggestions with our half pass work.  Ike has a really good half pass in him; we just need to figure out how to get me out of his way.  There will probably be no miracle cures, but it should be a nice outing at my friend’s farm.

Hoping for some sunshine and moderate temperatures next weekend. Anyone have an in with Mother Nature?