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!

alison

 

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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.

alison

 

How to Earn Your Bronze Medal…The Hard Way

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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.

Panic.

Poultice.

Sleep 2 hours.

On day 2096, see swelling along cannon bone. 

Panic.

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? 

Alison

Third Level Debut

ike-in-double-bridle-1

Well, it finally happened.  We went out in public and completed our first Third Level test in front someone other than Ms. C and the local wildlife population.  The best part is that we survived without any humiliation except for a runny nose from the cold air.

Our debut came at one of our favorite schooling show venues at a Fix-a-Test clinic.  For those who don’t talk “horse,” that means you ride your chosen dressage test, the judge discusses what she saw, you have a quick schooling session with the judge, and then you ride your test again trying to implement the judge’s feedback.

Sounds easy enough, but as I write this, my muscles are aching from the effort and stamina it took to ride two Third Level tests in a 20-minute span.  It is a good ache since I came home with great feedback on what we need to work on to up our scores and with the confidence that we are where we need to be in competition.  As one of my wise friends told me, “Sure you can continue to get 70% doing 20-meter circles, but where is the fun and challenge in that.  Go for it! Try the harder levels, take your hits, learn and move on.”  Of course, I want 70% at every level…but that is just me being a little greedy.

Our goals for today were 1) Finish the test. 2) Hit the 60th percentile.  Well, we finished, but we just barely missed that second goal in our first attempt with a 59.871%.  The high points of that first ride were surprisingly our flying changes (what?! No way!), our transitions in and out of the extended trot, and our extended canter with the comeback to collected canter.  The not so good – well, our turn on the haunches continue to vex us.  We start off strong and then someone plants his hind legs and pivots.  Ike also struggled with the correct bend in his half pass work, but we know who takes the blame for that and it isn’t his majesty.

The judge noted that I looked like I was perched on Ike rather than really sitting deep in the saddle.  Grr, it is one of my rider issues that continues to plague the journey.  So we worked on that in the schooling session as well as improving the bend in our half pass work.  Right now, I must be very clear with my aids and remind Ike almost every other stride.  Lack of focus for me means a straighter horse under me.  So trying to stay focused, we took a deep breath and headed up centerline for the second try.

Our second test was much better and thanks to the best horse show husband ever, here is the ride if you care to watch:

Maybe some of my nerves had stopped firing on overdrive since I realized we could do this.  Maybe I really did stay more focused and tried to ride every stride deliberately.  Maybe I did keep my ass planted deeper in the saddle.  Whatever the reason, we managed a respectable 63.589%! Go Ike.  Big man improved his trot half pass scores to 7’s.  Our shoulder in and renvers scores all improved.  Our canter half pass right was a 7, but the change was a quarter stride late.  The left lead half pass was not as strong (rider error) but the change was solid.  And again showed the judge how much he likes the extended canter (7.5) with the comment “Bold.”

So there it is, we can now claim to be a Third Level team…that bronze tinted dream is starting to come into focus. Squeeee!

alison

Equestrian #AlternativeFacts

Ike in double bridle 2

No matter what you call them, equestrians are masters at telling themselves alternativefacts/lies/falsehoods.  We can pretty much rationalize anything if it is related to our precious equines.

  1. “My dearest pony NEEDS this new brush.”  No, your pony does not care that this brush is handmade in England by master brush makers.  Your pony just wants for you to be done with your latest grooming session so he can roll in the new mud hole created after last night’s rainstorm.
  2. “This new saddle pad will make the saddle slip less and improve my score.” Umm, sure.  Just like the 15 others that you have squirreled away in your spare bedroom closet.  You like it because you don’t have that color in your stack.  You like the braided trim that none of your other pads has.  It is okay, admitting the problem is the first step to recovery.
  3. “Ooooh, this mane and tail product smells divine so that must mean it works better than the one (or ten others) that I already have in my tack box.”  Every once in a while, I dive into the depths of my tack box to see what is lurking in the back besides some mouse poop.  I have bottles of shampoo that I bought 10 years ago (bathing the boys is not a priority).  I have conditioner that we got as a prize.  I have about 40 sample sized bottles from competitor bags.  There are $100’s of dollars worth of products…it won’t stop me from buying more.
  4. “Going to the clinic with X will surely mean that we will improve.”  You see it all the time.  A rider will go to any and every clinic with a big name rider.  They love to tell you all the big names that they have ridden with over the years, yet they are still struggling with the basics.  What they lack is a clear system to help them master the basics and see steady progress forward.  Regular training with the one competent person is what they need.
  5. “I will only be at the barn for 30 minutes.”  Bahahahahahahahaaa!  Ask any significant other how long a typical visit to the barn takes.  They will tell you the truth.  They will get a good laugh about this lie.
  6. “I can get my horse tacked and ready for our class in 30 minutes.”  Many years of showing has taught me that when I try to cut preparations that close, something can and will go wrong.  Your horse decides today is the day he won’t stand still for braiding.  Your gloves decide they no longer want to be a pair.  Your horse does his best giraffe impression so getting the bridle on is impossible.  The zipper on your boot breaks.  Mysterious stains appear on your jacket and breeches and they stubbornly resist your attempts to rub them off.
  7. “It won’t be that hot/cold this weekend at the show.”  The sun is searing hot or the frigid winds make you debate the merits of fur-lined boots.  You then begin to question the whole showing concept.  A weekend sipping margaritas by the pool sounds divine.  Why didn’t you just curl up under the covers with a good book instead of braving 20 degree wind chills?
  8. “If I am careful, I can clean the stall without getting anything on my white breeches.”  Perhaps someone else has this expert skill level.  I do not.
  9. “I am going to stop at the tack store and just pick up my horse’s supplement.”  And then somehow a pair of socks, a belt, some treats, a new show shirt (it was on sale!), and a deliciously scented tail detangler appear in your shopping basket.
  10. “The vet bill will only be $100.”  Never have I ever had a vet bill that small except for a supplemental medication that was shipped to me after the visit that cost $300-400.”
  11. “I don’t need to wear a helmet.”  YES YOU DO.  End of discussion.
  12. “That is a great price for that pair of boots/saddle/bridle/bit.”  It is amazing once you are indoctrinated into the equine world how $500 no longer seems like a lot of money.  $800 boots?  What a bargain!  I’m pretty sure that there is a change in your brain chemistry when exposed to the scent of a horse that rewires normal monetary logic.

Bonus “My horse is the best horse/most handsome/most talented.”  This is one alternate fact that I think is okay.  We all certainly cannot have the number 1 horse, but there is certainly nothing wrong with believing that you do.  It shows true affection and love and there is nothing wrong with that.

alison