Basically, the whole show was pretty amazing. I've watched the videos, and I don't look amazing, but Speedy sure does. It finally looks as though he is excelling in spite of me. Go for it, Speedy. It's about time you started pulling your weight!
We were riding against some pretty nice horse and rider teams, so I am more than happy to score in the same ball field as they did. Yeah, it's a last place score, but it's better than we did a month ago. And frankly, the third test at First Level is HARD. It does not flow in an organized, or logical way.
It's Frankenhacked together if you ask me. After the halt, you track left into a lengthened stride at trot, followed by a leg yield to X and a leg yield back to the rail. That's fairly reasonable, but then immediately after, there's a stretchy trot circle followed by a ten-meter circle at R, a halt at X, and then another ten-meter circle at V.
After those two trot circles (with a free walk to separate the trot and canter), the canter work begins which flows somewhat better. It's a 15-meter canter circle into a canter lengthening followed by a single canter loop from K-X-H (that's from one corner to the middle back to the other corner for you non-dressage types).
As you finish that first loop, you have to reorganize quickly for the change of lead through trot at X. We messed that up big time. Speedy just couldn't/wouldn't pick up the left lead (4.0). Once you change leads, you do another 15-meter canter circle, a canter lengthening, and then the same loop - but on the other side.
The canter work makes sense to me, but it's a lot of cantering all in a row. The part of this test that I really hate is that the last movement is a trot lengthening across the whole diagonal. By the time we get to this part of the test, Speedy is starting to lose his oomph, and I am definitely breathing hard.
While it might not have been as impressive somewhere else, on this day, the judge liked our trot lengthening and rewarded our effort with an 8.0! I'll take it! For what it's worth, ignore what I am doing up there and focus on the gray pony. He's the only one who seems to know what he's doing out there.
I am not Charlotte Dujardin, and Speedy's no Valegro, but hey, we're getting around the court in a respectable manner. My goals for this summer are small, but we are meeting them. And you never know, we might even exceed them!
It might be a totally nerdy thing to do, but finally having the chance to write about a "win" makes me all kinds of giddy. I mean, check this out!
Pretty, right? We still have oodles to work on, but at least for one afternoon, Speedy and I were able to put it all together for a grand total of four minutes and fifty-three seconds, the length of time it takes to ride First Level Test 2.
It's not a perfectly ridden test, and I think a few of the judge's scores were a bit generous, but it was a pretty solid little test. And I can't help it, he's just so darn cute!
Like I said, I think the scores were a tad bit generous, but I've ridden just as many tests where the judging felt more punitive than encouraging. Based on the rest of the day's scores, it seemed as though the judge was rewarding nice moments rather than looking for ways to ding the rider. I like that.
For this test, we scored nothing lower than a 6.0 (and there were only 2 of those), and we actually had a slew of 7s and 7.5s, 18 of them to be exact. Oh, and did I mention we earned an 8 for our final halt? Our final score was 68.75% which was 4 points shy of a 70%.
There were only two or three places that I can see where we might possibly have made up a point or three, but not four. Our entry was quite unsteady (6.0) which usually earns a 7.0; we got the 7.0 on the next test. My leg yield right earned a 6.0, but that's still typical for a us. My stretchy trot earned our usual 6.0, but that's another movement that I need to work on. Other than that, I would have needed two more 7.5s instead of the 7.0s we did get. That's just being greedy.
Whether the score was generous or not, it came at a time when I really needed a little boost to my moral. No one's feelings are ever hurt by an atta girl. I am glad I rode for this judge this weekend. I needed to hear something good about my riding.
Oh, and even better - that score earned us Adult Amateur High Point!
I am not going to lie. It felt really good to walk away a "winner." Not sucking is amazing!
While neither of my boys is an easy ride, Izzy is the one who makes my life the most challenging. At least twice a year, I start writing his For Sale ad, and I'll even start choosing photos to use in the ad. Last month was one of those times. I am happy to report that the ad has been torn up and tossed in the trash.
The truth is that I want to show. It's that simple. I don't need to win, but I need to get out there and show off what we've learned. It's frustrating to be stuck at home, perpetually schooling the same basics over and over. Even though I showed him last summer, it was simply for experience and not to show off anything. Our scores ranged from a low of 49% to a high of 58%. We weren't ready.
I don't think we're ready right now either, but we are definitely making progress. The tension is till there, but I have had a few AHA moment this month about how to work through his mental tension.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, teaches a warm up exercise that really works for Izzy. I've written about it before, but it's basically 1) firm up the outside rein, 2) sit on the inside seat bone, 3) flex to the inside, and 4) release the inside rein. I've had to modify it a bit though. I start with number 2 only. Down the long side, I sit on the outside seat bone, but as I approach the corner, I weight both seat bones a moment and then I sit on the inside seat bone. I do the same thing through the next corner until I am again on the outside seat bone.
As we're walking, I think about massaging his back as we walk the rail and cross the diagonal. Ever so slowly, I pick up the outside rein and go from number 2 to number 3. He can look straight ahead, but he can't look to the outside unless I choose to counter flex him.
As I rock from one seat bone to the other, taking a moment to weight both seat bones evenly, I urge him into a larger walking stride. As his back starts to relax, I follow the exercise in the actual 1-2-3-4 order. By using this warm up, I keep his attention on me completely, and the jackassery simply never starts.
That was the biggest AHA of the month. Izzy is a hot horse who is looking for reasons to be scared. If I keep his attention on me, he focuses on the task at hand and forgets to think about the monsters lurking outside of the ring.
I know many riders would have given up on him long ago, but for me right now, this horse is teaching me a whole lot. He's not scary or dangerous, just a slow learner. I forgot to mention this, but my mom and her husband were down a week ago. She wanted to come out to the barn and watch me ride.
I had a typical ride on Izzy, but my mom thought he looked fantastic. She even commented that he looked like he was trying very hard to please me. That really took me by surprise since I always feel as though he's working on his exit strategy. It was encouraging to hear that kind of comment from someone who doesn't ride or spend time with horses. If she could read that expression on his face, it must be true.
More up than down is progress.
Speedy and I are making the trek up to Tehachapi on Sunday for the second of four, CDS-rated shows put on by the Tehachapi Mountain Chapter of CDS. It's a well run series with great cash prizes, it's super well organized, and it's less than an hour and a half away - a huge bonus!
With my limited funds this year, this series is pretty much the entirety of my show season. I did do our one and only local show, and I still plan on going to the CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition in August, but this small, four show series is my main hurrah for the year. As such, scoring well has become my goal.
I am probably not going to win either of my classes on Sunday, I have some pretty stiff competition, but I am striving to bump up my scores. Speedy and I have shown that we have the ability to earn a high 60 or even a score in the 70s (we have two of those at a USDF show). Those scores are certainly not gimmes, but at least we're capable of them.
To that end, I've really been focusing on the areas where we tend to score the lowest. At last month's show, the judge really dinged us for Speedy being too curled. This happens when he's not pushing from behind. In order to "fix" it, I've been getting his hind end much more active while focusing on the sit.
I love the photo above, not because it's particularly correct, but because it might be the first photo I have of him with his poll at the highest point and his croup lower than his withers. The dude is learning to engage his hind end and sit down. The very next photo in the series is even less attractive, but his poll is still up (no curling!) and his hind leg is way underneath him.
So yesterday, I focused on lengthening the right lead canter and coming back to a working (or even collected) canter without needing a million strides to get there. When we rode at Expo, Chemaine helped me get a truly lengthened canter stride that was actually reaching and not just running faster.
I realized that to get that feeling, Speedy has to be sitting down in order to push up and forward. When his hind end is engaged, he can return to a working or collected canter without me having to jerk his face off. He gave me some excellent transitions to working canter yesterday which gave me confidence to ask for a bigger and more powerful canter.
If I can get it at the show, we'll definitely bump our sixes closer to sevens.
In May, I wrote about Speedy's weight loss and my plan for packing on some pounds. While he's not exactly round, he does have a bit more flesh on his bones.
These aren't great photos, and the difference is really hard to see, but I can feel it with my hands. In real life, his croup and hip bones are less pointed. The fleshy layer over his ribs now extends farther back towards his flank. His belly is a bit rounder, and I am no longer flirting with the eighth hole on my saddle's billets.
His current diet includes as much alfalfa as he will eat, which is not as much as I'd like. He gets a modest flake twice a day, but there's always a small pile left. He simply won't eat any more.
In the mornings, he gets three pounds of LMF Senior, about two and a half pounds of soaked beet pulp, and two scoops of Platinum Performance. In the evenings, he gets another three pounds of LMF Senior. In all, that's nearly nearly pounds of concentrated feed combined with what is essentially free choice alfalfa.
I had planned on seeing the vet at the end of June if I didn't see progress, but I think I can hold off on that for at least another month. I am hoping that by mid July, he'll be rounder still. I don't want him fat by any means, but I sure hate to see all of his bones so close to the skin.
Keep eating, Speedy G!
At the western States Horse Expo a week or so ago, Chemaine showed an exercise for helping to know if your horse is truly lengthening the stride or simply getting quicker. I've been doing the exercise at home and have seen some excellent results with Speedy G.
I put two cones down the long side of the arena and a matching pair on the other side. I start out in a working trot or canter and count how many strides it takes to get from one cone to the other. Initially, I try to match the number of strides on both sides to ensure that my tempo is even.
Later, I do trot lengthenings and count to see if Speedy's stride is definitely longer. I can tell he's truly lengthening when we get fewer strides than we did before. It's the canter work that is really showing the most improvement though. And it's not just because I threw out a couple of cones, but that has helped.
Yesterday, I focused on the 15-meter circle into a canter lengthening from First Level. The lengthening has been tough for us because I have a hard time getting him back to a working canter. With the recent work I did with Chemaine, Speedy is now pushing off from behind (instead of dragging himself on his forehand) which helps him sit when we come back to a collected canter. At least that's how I am riding it.
Chemaine informed me that I need to ride the First Level tests as though they're Second Level. Thinking about it this way has forced me to really insist he pick up his poll, accept the contact, and sit.
We have a CDS-rated show on Sunday. I am really hoping to see our scores improve if I actually ride him more forward like I do at home.
Izzy must have read yesterday's blog post because when I went out to ride, he decided right away to behave himself.
It's been exactly two years now that he's been in "full work." In case you're late to the party, or maybe you just need a recap, here's how his under saddle work has gone.
At three, he had 60 days put on him by a trainer. His owner then rode for another two months or so until she became pregnant. He then spent the next two years growing up in a large pasture.
I bought him in November of 2014 as a six year old and immediately shipped him to a trainer for a "tune-up." Within a few weeks, he suffered a pretty ugly laceration to his hind leg which took a year to heal. I started "riding" him in the spring of 2015, but it was mostly lunging, sacking out, and being careful of the leg. By June of 2015, we started working on go, stop, turn right, turn left.
The first summer I had him was about getting off the property without anybody dying. We loaded up twice a week for a trail ride or a lesson. We hit all of the local trails, sometimes even bushwacking when things were overgrown.
The next summer, 2016, I introduced Izzy to the show ring doing Intro at four schooling shows and one CDS show. We never broke 60%, but we didn't die either.
Here we are, starting a third summer. While I constantly feel like we're running in place, never actually getting anywhere, I know that's not true. I can't say that he's that much farther along, but he has grown up some. He gets in the trailer willingly and rides quite calmly. I know I can get on him wherever we are, and I won't die. He can walk, trot, and and canter pretty much wherever I point him. And when he's paying attention to me, he looks amazing.
I feel like we should be tearing it up in the show ring by now though, and we're not. We're still just slogging away, trying to get a rounded topline with some (heaven forbid) relaxation. When I rode on Sunday, it took an hour to get anything close to obedience, and I wasn't expecting a lot. An ear flicked in my direction would have been enough.
Yesterday? I rode him for 12 minutes. His back was supple, and he was almost too elevated and sproingy for me to ride well. It wasn't a perfect ride, but his body was accessible. We did some walk and trot work, and then he picked up the correct canter lead each direction without an F-You.
Other than to continue the not dying part, I don't have a plan for this summer. If I could just convince him that he's not going to die, we could clean up at a show. I just need to figure out how to convince him that this is worth his time. I guess I do have a plan for the summer.
There aren't many places on the planet right now that are hotter than California's Central Valley. I even Googled Bagdad's temperature, and it was only 109℉. This morning, at 5:00 a.m., it's already 82℉ with 44% humidity. It will be 100℉ before 11:00 a.m.
A few days ago, the predictions were even higher at 112℉. Both the highs and lows are supposed to break records set way back in 1938. While I love our local meteorologist (go, Miles!), he's not always right. I hope this is one of those times.
I was on by 7:00 a.m. yesterday morning, and Izzy was hotter than the weather. It took a full hour to get his brain connected to his body. When I realized that he was going to explode, I untacked him (after 15 minutes of walking), and threw him in the round pen where he worked off some of the excess energy.
I tacked him back up and was pleased at how politely he stood without even a halter. I worked him another 30 minutes simply asking for some obedience and submission. I got a smidgeon of both, but it wasn't enough to make me smile.
Today, I am braced for more jackassery, but for both our sakes, I hope he'll settle the heck down. I think wet saddle blankets are an excellent way to quiet down a horse (see above), but not when it means I have to worry about myself getting heat stroke.
Hello, summer, you suck.
Sunday's demo was my favorite of the weekend. On Friday, Chemaine helped us get the horses rounder and softer. On Saturday, she put them to work. By Sunday, I could feel that Speedy was almost as tuned up as if she had ridden him herself. There's also something to be said for riding with an instructor three days in a row. Talk about getting a lot of bang for your buck!
Chemaine started us out with the same 1-2-3-4, walk to trot, and trot into a half halt exercises that we'd done the first two days.
Then, she had us work on collecting and lengthening the stride at both the trot and canter. This is an exercise that would be pretty easy to do at home. She put two cones on each long side in about the same place as K-H and F-M if we'd have had a short court. If you have a dressage court, you would just use the letters.
She had us do a nice, working trot as she counted the strides between the two cones. When we came to the next long side, she wanted us to get the same number of strides. This is one way to check that you have a steady tempo. It's harder than it sounds!
Once we had established a steady tempo and rhythm, she asked us to lengthen the stride to see how few we needed to get from one cone to the next. As you would expect, Speedy broke into a canter the first time or two because I was hoping for a big stride right away. I got greedy.
Then she reminded me about asking for big, bigger, biggest. And of course with her coaching, we got a nice lengthening with fewer strides than at the working trot. This exercise will show whether your horse is just going faster, or truly lengthening the stride.
Then we did it at the canter. As Chemaine counted strides, she challenged me to get as few as possible and then as many as possible.
As we yo-yoed between a lengthened stride and a collected stride, we were able to go from 5 long strides to 10 short strides! This exercise is definitely one that I am going to be using at home.
Traveling to Sacramento and riding all three days was really tiring - I am still recovering actually, but it was so worth the effort. I really learned a lot from Chemaine and am now looking forward to next weekend's show in Tehachapi. Chemaine reminded me a few times during the demos that I need to ride Speedy with a Second Level trot. When I do, I know our scores will only improve, and we'll get closer and closer to actually showing a Second Level Test.
And now, we're back to our normal routine!
Friday was about the warm up. Saturday was dedicated to exercises the rider can do to fix problems. Chemaine had three exercises lined up: 10-meter circles within the 20-meter circle, shoulder in across the diagonal, and haunches in for half pass.
Chemaine started with the big percheron. The exercise she had them doing can be done at all three gaits or a combination. Start out on a 20-meter circle at any gait. At each quarter of the circle do a 10-meter circle inside of the 20-meter circle. This exercise establishes bend and can help get the horse on the outside rein. If done at the canter, it really helps the horse to sit and collect.
The second exercise that Chemaine showed was shoulder in across the diagonal. I'll admit I wasn't necessarily listening as well as I should have been, but I am pretty sure the purpose was to help get a better outside rein connection. At the corner, Chemaine had Stella get a really good bend with a release on the short side, and then get a really good bend at the next corner in preparation for the shoulder in across the diagonal. I may have some of that wrong, but she can chime in to correct me.
I already shared the haunches in exercise, but here's a bit more. For this exercise, Chemaine had me pick up a canter down the long side where I gradually collected the canter for the turn down centerline. As I got Speedy more and more collected, Chemaine then had me turn up the quarter line and then again down the long side.
When Chemaine thought we were ready, she had me turn at the quarter line, look to E (or whatever letter is there - we had two borrowed letters only) and then half pass to the rail. To ensure the correct bend, she had me point speedy directly at the letter while I looked through his ears. As we approached the letters, my shoulders were to become parallel with the short side.
I would never have attempted a canter half pass on my own, but with this technique, it sets you up for success. And really it's only a few strides because you're starting from the quarterline. I am not sure how ready we are to use this exercise regularly, but it certainly helped Speedy get on his hind end which is something we desperately need as we make the move to Second Level.
Tomorrow - day 3 of Western State Horse Expo!