Yes you are, Dude! A star, that is. Have I mentioned lately how incredibly lucky I am to have such a super cool pony? I know I occasionally refer to him in a less than positive way, but today, I am taking back every single negative thing I've said about him. He was AWESOME at Sunday's show. Just spectacular.
While our tests went well, that's not really what I mean. That boy was a complete Steady Eddy when he had every right to be a bit fussy. Here's a photo from halfway to the truck and trailer from the show arena. And these rings were not part of the warm up.
Can't see him? Center of the picture. Here's a closer shot.
Still can't see him? Here's an even closer shot.
Getting closer ...
Oh! There he is!
Yep. Speedy G had to stand by the trailer completely alone with no other horses even remotely close by. I had to leave him by himself so that I could check in and get my number. He never whinnied or hollered, and he never paced or fretted. He just watched the trail that was off in the distance and then nibbled on his breakfast. After our rides were finished, I left him again to retrieve my score sheets and ribbons. Again, he was a perfect angel. In the warm-up, he was quiet and did his job without a single woohoo moment.
Right now, I wouldn't trade his fabulous mind for anything. It makes showing a whole lot easier when your horse is well behaved!
Speaking of showing, how'd it go? It went smashing, thank you very much! If you live anywhere near the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center, you should think about hitting one of their schooling shows. Show Managers Claudia Roberts and Michele Purpora-Tardi are the most gracious of hostesses. When I checked in at 8:00 a.m., Claudia welcomed me with a big hug and thanked me for making the long trip. She asked how the drive went and asked if I needed anything. She and her volunteers were eager to help in any way possible.
Everything about this venue is fabulous. The volunteers were all friendly and helpful. The spectators were good natured and applauded everyone's rides. The other competitors were sociable and very upbeat. the warm-up was filled with smiling, courteous riders who all watched where they were going in a polite and amiable fashion. The footing was lovely, and the judge even took time at the end of my second test to offer some verbal feedback that was very much appreciated.
As I was gathering my score sheets to leave, I was again thanked for coming. Wow. No DQs in that bunch, and I will certainly be back for the rest of the series!
Unfortunately, the third event has been moved to June 24th which is the same day as the first Tehachapi show. Since the Tehachapi series is CDS-rated, I'll probably have to miss the third Hansen Dam show. Bummer ...
More on the show tomorrow.
Yep. We're headed to the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center this morning for a schooling show in southern California. I washed the truck yesterday afternoon and filled the tank. Speedy had some relaxing turnout followed by a pleasant trail ride which included a lovely canter stretch, and then he too got washed. I scrubbed my tack, loaded the trailer, and readied my clothes for the morning departure.
My first ride, Training Level Test 1, is at 9:57 a.m. and my second ride, Training Level Test 2, is at 10:34 a.m. Wish us a safe ride and success at the stretchy trot circles!
The trip is about 96 miles, I hour and 45 minutes
I had a great lesson with JL on Speedy G Wednesday night. We’ve been a bit hit and miss over the last two months due to time off and bad weather so it felt good to be back on track. I had originally planned to take Sydney since I rode Speedy G in this past Saturday’s clinic, but I just didn’t feel as though the clinic pulled us together. We did too many things that were different from JL’s instruction so I felt like we were at loose ends. JL “re-grouped us,” and my confidence returned.
I needed "re-grouping" since we’re going to a schooling show at Hansen Dam on Sunday. I like this venue as it is quite pretty and feels very much like a rated show. I take each show seriously whether it is a three-star event or not, so that discombobulated feeling I was packing around wasn’t sitting well with me.
JL and I spent some time talking about the clinic. We discussed what she’s been working on with me and how that meshed with the clinician’s ideas. I can’t imagine working with a trainer who I couldn’t be honest with. When I read or see dressage type “stuff” that seems contrary to what JL is showing me, I feel perfectly comfortable asking her to explain where she’s coming from. Without fail, her explanations always make perfect sense, and I find that her methods do indeed fit perfectly within the dressage pyramid.
Once we talked about where we’re going, we got work. JL knows which tests I am working on and agrees that we’re where we need to be. Wednesday night’s lesson focused on getting that elusive inside bend that we’ve been missing. See, at the beginning, I didn’t know how to use my outside aids, leg or hand. Everything I did came from the inside hand and leg. It has taken many months to learn how to be effective with my outside hand and especially with that outside leg. JL agreed that now we can start getting some inside bend.
Right away she was pleased with my work as Speedy G never drifted outside or spun out with his hindquarters. I was able to keep both his outside shoulder and butt where they needed to be. Now if I can only get Sydney there, too!
The exercise we worked on was trotting an oval. There’s always a bend in an oval, but there’s also a straighter side which allows for half-halt opportunities. When Speedy comes out of the tighter end of the oval, he likes to pick up steam. I know it’s coming, so the trick is to prepare for it and catch him before it happens. This shape is similar to using a dressage court's corner to balance.
Once I had him going in a relaxed and balanced frame using my outside leg and rein, JL had me start working on getting some flexion at Speedy’s poll and jaw. To the right required much more work. Of course. He likes to cock his head with his nose pointed out. To correct this, I bent his head and neck into the circle so that JL could see both eyes, and then I added inside leg. I held this bend for a few strides and then put him back on a correct bend. Oh, wow! That worked wonderfully. Any time his head came up or he twisted his neck to the outside, I just bent his neck back to the inside, added the inside leg, and then brought him back to the correct bend. If he dropped his head too low, I added inside leg and raised the inside hand. When I felt him move off my inside leg, I returned my hand to a lower position and used less leg.
The best part of this whole exercise for me was that I maintained a very steady contact throughout the flexing. Speedy never got bumped in the mouth and none of the “flexes” grabbed him in any way. I think he actually liked the exercise. He certainly got softer and “bendier” on the inside rein.
I also liked how JL helped explain when I needed to flex him. In the beginning of the exercise, she would tell me inside leg, bend him into the circle. When she asked if he felt softer, I replied that yes, he did, but I wasn’t sure when to add the inside leg and flex the neck. JL took the time to explain what I would feel when his neck was stiff and when he lacked “bend” in his ribcage. A little explanation followed by actually doing it, and I understood perfectly what we were doing.
Will this all go effortlessly at Sunday’s show? Probably not, but I am okay with that. We are definitely taking lots of steps forward right now, and I am definitely happy about that. Go, Speedy go!
Yesterday I wrote about the number of trainers and clinicians that I’ve used during my limited time as a dressage rider. That post was kind of prelude to this one which is the one I really wanted to talk about.
The March issue of USDF Connection, the official publication of the United States Dressage Federation, had an interesting article entitled, “The Carrot or the Stick.” The piece was written by Kelly Sanchez, “a moderately rejection-sensitive writer based outside Los Angeles. She contributes regularly to The Chronicle of the Horse and to Dressage Today.”
The article’s point was to help the reader understand what type of teaching works best for them. The author gives examples such as needing to be yelled at, needing to watch it being done, needing time alone to practice for your-self, and so on.
This article really intrigued me for several reasons. The first is that I am a teacher myself and know that students come with many different learning styles. Some need gentle guidance, some need tough love, and some need a combination of the two. Others just need quick directions and then prefer to practice on their own. Other students need to be watched over every second or they drift off task and can’t remember what their job was.
I think that being a student myself has helped me to become a better teacher. I enjoy the role of student and find opportunities to put myself in that role. I’ve taken many continuing education courses and frequently participate in workshops and trainings. My favorite “classroom” experience of course is in the arena. I know what kind of student I am, and I know what kind of instructors I prefer.
First of all, I don’t need to be friends with my instructor, but I do need friendly interaction. I want to feel as though my instructor has a vested interest in my success and as such cares how I feel. I don’t need, or want, my hand held, but I do need to feel comfortable asking questions. If an instructor is going to trivialize my questions, we’re not a good fit.
In elementary or high school, there are academic standards mandated by the state. Students don’t have a choice in what they’re taught. As an adult, I understand that I need to have a firm grasp of the riding fundamentals, and I hope that my instructor insists on teaching what is required in order to have a solid foundation. But. My instructor needs to understand my goals. Aside from safety first, having fun is an important aspect of my riding education. Don’t get me wrong. I am not there to goof off, but riding is not my career choice. Riding is a hobby. I want to learn in a way that allows for some fun at the same time. A little levity after something difficult or challenging goes a long way toward making the day fun.
I also want to be successful, but not at the expense of enjoying the process. If that means I never make it to Grand Prix, oh well. That also means that I want to be as successful as possible with the horses that I have. Again, that probably means that we’ll never make it to the Grand Prix level, but I am okay with that. I’ve spent a great deal of time forging relationships with my guys so their feelings about the journey are also important. Our success as a team might come more slowly because I don’t get it, or because they don’t. Either way it’s okay with me, but I need my instructor to understand our limitations and do the best with the materials on hand, me and my horses, imperfect as we may be.
And finally, I need an instructor who will let me make mistakes. Let me try. If I fail, okay. If we always wait until we’re “100% ready,” we’ll never be ready. That’s one reason I love to show. I KNOW I am not going to get 10s on my score sheet, but let me see what I can get so that I know what I am doing right and where we need to improve.
I had a lesson with JL on Wednesday, and before we even started, I let her know how much I think of her and appreciate her teaching style. Riding with other trainers has helped me see what kind of instruction I need in order to achieve the greatest amount of success. So, thanks, JL! You're an excellent teacher.
My experience with trainers and coaches is steadily growing. I’ve now worked with Clinician #1 - whose name I can’t remember, Trainer #1 - local, Coach #1 - local, Trainer #2 – kind of local, Trainer #3 - Leslie Webb (2 lessons only), Trainer #4 - JL, Clinician #2 - Peggy Klump, and Clinician #3 - Betsy Shelton. Eight teachers in three and a half years. Too many? Not enough? Just right?
It’s hard to actually count the first Clinician as a trainer because the circumstances for that lesson were not of the regular sign-up-for-a-spot
variety. You see, the local Arabian club, of which I was a part, wanted to bring in a dressage clinician. Although to this day I’m not really sure why as only three or four of the members even participate in dressage. Anyhow, I am a good sport and knew that spots needed filling so I offered to bring my endurance horses for lessons. I paid for two spots even though I didn’t know the first thing about dressage. I figured a lesson would be fun and who knew, I might even learn something. So, I saddled Speedy G in my full endurance tack and entered at I don’t know where
as I’d never been in a dressage court before. We may have actually stepped over the rail
to enter, good trail practice and all that. What must the clinician have thought?
That was actually my first formal lesson outside of the handful that I received from my grandma when I was a little girl. She had a small farm where she boarded horses and gave jumping lessons. Those lessons didn’t last long although I have a few memories of learned skills. That’s where I learned to pick hooves although it was a scary lesson as I watched someone cut out too much frog and to my young eyes at least, it looked as though the horse had been hurt. I also learned to open a horse’s mouth in order to ease in the bit. That was also scary as I was quite leery of the many teeth I saw. No one showed me that there were no teeth on the horse’s bars. You can read more about my experiences with my grandma here
Anyway, my first “real” lesson came from that LA Trainer who had to school a woman on a young Arabian decked out in endurance gear. That was in September of 2008. The thing about that lesson though was that it opened my eyes to a whole different way of using my horse. I was genuinely intrigued with the concepts of dressage and knew that real lessons could help me become a better rider. I called Trainer #1, and while I didn’t yet aspire to become a dressage rider per se, I did commit to lessons once a month. Six months after the clinic, I bought a Wintec dressage saddle, and a year later, a better Wintec dressage saddle. Twenty-one months after the clinic, I rode my last endurance ride, and then I bought an even better
dressage saddle. I was all in!
Somehow, through a spur-of-the-moment offer to fill up a dressage clinic, I left one discipline where I was competing successfully to begin a new one that I knew nothing about. Life sure does take us funny places, doesn’t it? And who knows? Someday I may write about taking my thoroughbred to a barrel racing clinic to help fill up a spot!Click photos for captions and larger view.
I wish this were not such a loaded question. I wish there was an easy answer. I wish I knew the answer already. So what is the question? Well, it's one we've all asked before, and one we all struggle with I am sure. Essentially, when do I move up a level? Or rather, when do I move completely out of a level, and by that what I really mean is are we ready to go all in at training level?
I started showing at Introductory A & B before there was an Introductory C. We showed those two tests through the last half of 2010. In 2011, the new tests were introduced so I showed Introductory B & C which felt like I had moved up a level because the C test was somewhat similar to the old T1 test. The C test is where the canter is introduced.
At the end of 2011, I ditched the B test and moved on to Intro C and Training Level 1. My scores at Intro C have been steadily climbing and are firmly in the mid to high 60% range. In fact I've already qualified for the CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition at Intro C. My scores at T1 have also begun their rise and are resting pretty solidly at over 60%. The T2 test appears "easy," or rather it seems very much like what I am already riding: changes of rein, canter circles, and a left bend stretchy trot.
Are we ready to go all in at Training Level? I don't think anyone was intended to show Introductory Level indefinitely. Right? I have a schooling show this weekend which is an excellent chance to give T2 a try. I've entered T1 and T2. What do you all think? How did you know when it was time to move up?
I haven't met very many dressage riders who are showing for the first time as adults. Most of the riders I meet showed in another discipline before dressage, and most of them as kids or teens. I think I am a bit of an anomaly in that I never "showed" as a kid or as an adult before striking out into the world of dressage.
That doesn't mean I don't have any competition experience.
In fact, not to toot my own horn (doesn't that mean I am about to?), but my fifteen seasons (82 races) of endurance riding taught me a lot about navigating the world of competition and how to do it with patience, perseverance, honesty, and tactfulness. Even though endurance races might not look like serious events, they are.
Here's a quick rundown of how a race works: you show up on Friday and present your horse to the vet. You receive a vet card that will travel with you throughout the next day, usually in a Zip-loc baggie. (How's that for serious?!) The vet notes your horse's current condition on the card. You start the ride the next day. Depending on the length of the race, you will see the vet three to six times, or more, during the course of the day. He or she will continue noting the condition of your horse. If at any point during the day your horse does not meet the established criteria for pulse and respiration, hydration, and way of going, you and your horse are eliminated. At the finish, you must present your horse for a final check where he is evaluated one more time. If your horse doesn't meet all of the established criteria, you are eliminated even though you have finished the entire course.
During my first decade of riding, a pull, non-completion, was viewed by your competition as something of which to be embarrassed. Finishing was the ultimate goal. Not finishing meant that you made an error. You weren't fit enough, or your horse wasn't. And even though AERC's motto has always been To Finish is to Win, it means something different today. Not finishing no longer carries such a palpable stigma of failure. I think this is in large part to the change in the vet/rider relationship. In the old days, there was more of an adversarial relationship between riders and vets. It often felt that the vets were out to get us as opposed to helping us. During my last few years of endurance, that atmosphere changed. The climate of the vet check changed considerably to one where the vets became part of your team.
The vet is very similar to a judge. The vet fills out your card with scores and comments. In the old days, the ride manager would occasionally mail your vet card to you once the race was over so you could keep the vet's comments and scores for your records. (I've posted one below.) It is the vet who determines whether you get to keep going, or whether you're done. When a horse appears questionable, the relationship that you've fostered with the vet can be utilized to get a better understanding of where your horse truly is which can prevent an unnecessary pull. As with judges, a pleasant attitude with the vet will go a long way toward making your day a better one.
Why the heck am I even comparing vets to judges? What does this have to do with showing?
I was on the fringe of a conversation recently where dressage judges were being discussed. Oh, all right it was at Saturday's clinic! The conversation went something like this. "Pick your shows based on the caliber of judge. "R" judges aren't as good as "S" judges and should be avoided. Furthermore, pick your shows based on which particular judge is presiding as there are mean and unpleasant judges out there who should be given a wide berth."
My response to this was a simple, hmm. I added the comment that I choose my shows based on which ones will give me the experience that I am searching for at that moment (three-star experience, new venue, repeated venue, a chance for a CDS score, schooling shows for trying new tests, etc). Remember that this is my view of my equine experience - my opinion wasn't taken very seriously.
Here's yet another endurance story which might illustrate my point: Not all endurance vets are friendly. Some are downright cranky, although those old and cranky dudes seem to be fewer and fewer. There was one particular vet a number of years ago that was a complete ass. He was so nasty to me that I swore to never attend a race where he was vetting. And I didn't. I also didn't drag his name in the dirt, nor did I publicly discourage other people from attending races where he was vetting. He was a jerk, and not just to me, but it's up to each rider to accumulate her own experiences so that she can make informed decisions about her own competitive journey.
I am not ready to choose shows based on the judge. I want to show for as many judges as possible so that I can (once again) fill my own Bag of Experience. It is only with first-hand experiences that we gather enough information to make informed choices. Making decisions based solely on someone else's experience, no matter how generously offered, serves only to cheat yourself out of a potential learning opportunity. And as a life-long learner, I'll give it a try myself, thank you very much.
Click photos for captions and larger view.
Speedy G's been getting all of the attention lately, but Sydney is still being worked daily and is moving along well. We're not cantering yet (again), but I have gained a great deal of control over that outside shoulder. At our last lesson, JL was very pleased with how well he moving off my outside leg to the left. That used to be his really stiff side. Now, he moves off my leg to the left better than he does to the right!
At our lesson last Wednesday, there were some tense moments. He did a couple of spectacular leaps into the air. The kind where you think, oh, crap! I am definitely coming off this time. But I didn't. I am not saying I am the world's best rider, but I am saying my instinct for staying on is pretty damn strong. He also reared ... once. This time, I was ready. I didn't pull back, I didn't panic, and I had him under control in no time. I simply bent his neck, got him back on the ground, and pat his neck as though it were no big deal.
We continued with the sideways movement, but once we started tracking right which has been his easier side, he decided to hang on the outside rein. JL had me tip his nose to the outside. This pissed him off big time, and he bolted. With JL's voice guiding me, I held that rein firmly as he tried very hard to escape. I repeatedly stopped him, hard, with the outside rein until he finally softened and let it go. It was scary, but he finally gave in, and I stayed in the saddle.
I'll admit that I was a bit nervous to get back on him the next day, but I knew he still had to work. Instead of riding, I dug out my trusty rope halter and did some serious yielding of the hindquarters and turns on the forehand from the ground. It was fun and Sydney actually enjoyed it! I also did more games at liberty with him. We've been playing the ground work games since Thursday and he's getting quite good at them. He's also being ridden, but the ground work is definitely helping.
Speedy G will go to Wednesday's lesson since we have a schooling show coming this weekend, but I am eager to show JL how far Sydney and I have come in yielding the forehand. I think she'll be impressed.
And again, several steps forward, a step back, but forward again. We'll get there!
CT riding her husband's trail horse ... future dressage pony?
Saturday's clinic was a success largely in part to CT and her dad. Many thanks go to the both of them for allowing us to use their wonderful arena, and for all their hard work in grooming and watering it. They were even kind enough to do it all with no haul in fees!
The morning started hot and humid which was only the appetizer for the day's main entrèe, REALLY HOT AND HUMID. We have had wet, cool weather for weeks so mid-90s was a bit hard on our un-acclimated bodies.
Interestingly, the heat didn't slow any of the horses down. Most were fresh and ready to rock and roll. Speedy started out relaxed and groovin' until the neighbor started shuffling cows through the pasture. And then like dominoes falling, each horse got on his or her tip-toes and started the Dance of Terror. Speedy spent some time in the round pen which helped him jumpstart his brain. After that he got to work.
Betsy Shelton, the clinician, had us do lots of walking work to encourage more throughness at the walk. She also had me work on leg yielding in order to get Speedy off my inside leg. We then did some whip work where I opened my inside rein to tip his nose in and then used the whip to tap, tap, tap behind my inside leg. The end result was less over-reaction to the whip and more sideways movement away from my leg. It's an exercise I'd like to try at home since by tipping his nose inside, and using the whip on the inside, Speedy couldn't kick out at the whip like he sometimes does.
I thought I'd take more photos, but it was just so danged hot that I kind of forgot about it. I never even took a photo of Speedy and I forgot to ask anyone to take a few of us. Sheesh! Here are a couple that I did manage to take.
The day's schedule.
The "Hospitality" Tent. Hey! There's Speedy G in the mini pasture behind the tent! CT gave him the pasture for the day.
Donna Fraser riding Barbara Comstock's mare, Cola.
Betsy Shelton instructing Jeanine St. Louis on Mary Meyer's gelding, Dugan.
Throughout the entire winter we had no rain. It was cold, but dry. So I rode. Daily. Spring rolls around and we've had rain, lots of rain. Last weekend the hills just above us were covered in snow. Today's weather prediction: 68℉ at 5:30 a.m., 86℉ at noon, and a toasty 89℉ by 4:00 p.m. I know Speedy G still has some winter hair left. I bet he lets it go today!
Here's the schedule for today's clinic. Pictures and more tomorrow!