I didn't get that mid-50 score at Second Level though, at least not yet. We're a little better than I give us credit for. Another thing learned.
Enjoy your weekend!
Moving up a level is always hard for me because of the new scores I'm likely to receive. It's not like I finish each level with amazing scores, but walking away with high 60s or low 70s makes you feel good. Knowing that the likelihood for a mid-50 score (at the new level) is pretty high can be a bit demoralizing. First thing learned.
I didn't get that mid-50 score at Second Level though, at least not yet. We're a little better than I give us credit for. Another thing learned.
You know that confessions post I wrote a while back, the one where I admitted that I was terrified to ride in front a home town crowd? When I halted and saluted at X at the end of test 1, I was shocked to hear a huge round of applause. I was stunned. It dawned on me that they don't see me as a hack (okay, maybe one or two do) but rather as one of the family. Knowing that so many people were truly rooting for my success gave me all kinds of warm fuzzies. Lesson learned.
The 20-meter half circle from S to R or V to P doesn't touch C or A. Just thought you'd like to know. Good thing Chemaine pointed that out before the test. A good thing to learn ...
Speaking of geometry, I also learned that when you make a 10-meter half circle at A and ride the counter canter back to E, you ride the shoulders toward E. That's another good thing I learned over the weekend.
Second Level is harder physically for Speedy than First Level was. He's going to need to do some canter sets to increase his fitness. I've already been hammering away at the treadmill, but I might need to do a few more sets myself. We showed on a cool spring day. What's going to happen when it's 90? Glad I learned that early in the season.
The biggest thing I learned is that I take this too seriously. I really need to lighten up a bit. I say that, but actually putting it into practice is hard to do. I'll work on it it though.
Enjoy your weekend!
When starting a new level, I don't generally hunt down my score from the first test before riding the second one. The score doesn't matter at that point because I am already riding to the best of my ability. Reading that I suck isn't going to help any, so I'd rather get all the news, good or bad, at once.
After finishing my first ride, I knew it was pretty well done. I didn't have much time between tests though, so I didn't bother to check the score. It was what it was. Never did I imagine that I had earned a full 5% higher than I was hoping for. I am serious. I was hoping to score as high as a 57%. Breaking 60% was my pie in the sky goal. We obliterated that goal with our 63%.
There were two rides between our two tests, so I didn't even bother going back to the warm up. There was nothing I needed to fix, and I was worried about wearing Speedy out.
As we trotted up center line for the second time, I knew we were in a bit of trouble. He was a lot less enthusiastic the second time around. By the time we got to the canter work, I was working really hard to keep him cantering. He was pretty sure he'd had enough. He's such a rock star though that as we turned down center line for the final time, I felt him push off and give me all he had. He went from a string of 6s at the end to a 6.5 for his last score.
I have to say, those half turns on the haunches were legit. I haven't see video of us doing those since last summer when we first learned how to ride them. I can see that movement being one of our strong suits, and since they have a double coefficient, all the better!
We definitely have a lot of room for improvement (ahem, simple change at B), but the test looked a lot better than I ever imagined it would. We earned a 61.282% for our effort. While not as high as the first test, the score still exceeded my expectations. We only had two 7s, but again, no 4s and only one 5. I'd say our Second Level debut was a success!
Speedy's Arabian Horse Association registered name is G Ima Starr FA. He has lived up to his name time after time. I really don't think there is anything this horse can't do. I love him to pieces!
You read about our warm up yesterday. Here's what happened the next day.
With all of my eggs riding in Speedy G's basket, I gave him a modified bath (legs and belly only), braided (they looked AMAZING, but I forgot to take photos!), and headed over to the Gardiner Ranch.
Oh, but before that, while I was cleaning my everyday boots because my nicer boots are really hard to zip up, I had a zipper blow out. Crap. I threw them in the trailer anyway hoping they would make it through the day. They didn't. I zipped them up and down a couple of times to assess the damage, and they seemed okay until I walked a few steps in them. Fortunately, with the help of a friend (thank you, KM!), we were able to get the other pair zipped up.
Even feeling super confident in my partner's ability to carry the day (I Got This!), I was still feeling anxious. I did my best to shrug it off though and made it a point to visit with friends and check out what the Golden Empire Arabian Horse Society (GEAHS) had put together for the day.
Not only was there a free barbecue lunch, but the club had a silent auction and buckets filled with goodies for awards. At the lunch break, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables rode a Freestyle to entertain the crowd. I didn't get to watch it as I was doing my warm up, but I heard the music and applause.
When she was finished, Chemaine zipped over to give me a few last tips before my test. She reminded me to get Speedy moving without throwing away the contact. Check and check.
Here's our Second Level Debut, Test 1.
We earned a 63.485%, good enough for first place. It was hard though. No big surprise, but my sitting trot definitely still needs work. Last May, when I rode with Hilda Gurney, I couldn't sit at all, so I am pretty happy that I was able to sit as much as I did.
When I watched the video on Monday morning, I was shocked at how easy Speedy made it look. He looks like he's been doing this his whole life. What the heck? He is an amazing partner.
I don't know how well these scores will hold up with the next judge, but there is no way I am going to complain about eight 7s my first time out the gate and no 4s. Was it just beginners luck?
We have a lot to improve on for sure, but I am so relieved to have that monkey off my back. Now that we've actually shown at Second Level, I don't care how long it takes us to get it right. Just knowing that we're in the right neighborhood takes a lot of pressure away.
Test 2 up next ...
But first, a little bit of a backstory ...
I've had migraines since I was a little kid. As I got older, they got worse like they sometimes do. For the most part, they had been manageable with the right prescription ... until last summer. My insurance plan took my prescription off the "approved list" and substituted it for a less effective generic.
Over the summer, the headaches got worse, so I did some investigating. I got my eyes checked - new glasses were ordered, and I tried a bunch of different migraine medications. None of them worked. About 2 weeks ago, I got a migraine that lasted for 10 days. I missed a number of riding days and lived in excruciating pain. On Wednesday, I saw a neurologist, and on Thursday I had an MRI.
Even in pain that was so severe that I contemplated a lobotomy, all I could wonder was if I'd feel well enough for Sunday's show. The whole yeah my arm is broken, what does that have to with riding? thing. No, I can't see past the ring of fire that is searing my eyeballs, but my horse knows where C is. You get the idea. Once an entry is paid for, I am showing.
Fortunately for me, the neurologist got the pain under control, and by Friday I was feeling closer to normal. On Saturday, a group of us met at the show venue for a Ride-A-Test type clinic with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables.
If you'll remember, I shared this post about being the local hack. It was written tongue in cheek, of course, but there was definitely an element of truth to it as well. So there I was already feeling way out of my depth, and then on top of that, my brain was so fuzzy that I could barely tell you my name.
Chemaine finished up with her first student and called me in. It had been more than six months since I'd schooled in an actual dressage court, so I really wanted to work on some of the trickier movements from Second Level: the three loop serpentine with simple changes at the center line and the 20-meter counter canter half circles.
I am not going to lie. I cried. I was just so overwhelmed by all that I needed to fix that I felt defeated before I had even heard the judge's bell. My brain just couldn't get the whole left lead, track right thing. I don't know how Chemaine keeps so positive when she's faced with such a pathetic mess.
But. I am not a quitter. I learned that while riding hundred mile endurance rides. You suck it up, you grit your teeth, you get it done. Chemaine finally got me to use my outside rein to balance Speedy, and suddenly, our counter canter was balanced, and our canter to walk to canter transitions were a bit clearer.
The next morning, as I was driving to the show venue, a song by Jarrod Niemann came on the radio. I have an awesome horse in Speedy G, so when I heard the chorus, I knew it was going to be okay.
Girl I got this
Don't got to think too hard
It's a can't miss
I know right where to start
Yeah the only thing I'm needin' is a girl to play the lead
In this cool movie that I'm dreaming up right now
And if you're down with that
I got this
Yeah, I got this
And Speedy? He's definitely got it!
I don't clip my horses over the winter. Nor do I blanket them. That means they get pretty wooly over the winter. There are many great things about living in California, but the one thing I really like is that winter in the Central Valley is quite mild. We have so many warm and sunny days that I can hose my horses off at least once a month without worrying about hypothermia. That keeps the funk from getting really gross. But still ... they get gross.
Over the past few weeks, I've been helping Speedy shed his polar bear coat. Every day I scraped off piles of hair, determined to get him at least somewhat slicked out for Sunday's show. About ten days ago, I decided to tackle his feathers. Those things were longer and thicker than most girls' pony tails.
For a horse that's not draft at all, I have no idea why he grows so much foot hair. I had to use scissors to cut away the first layer. It took an hour to slowly clip away the rest. They're not beautifully smooth, but no one will see the clipper lines. Last weekend, I tackled his tail and head. I don't mind a bushy tail through the winter; it actually serves to keep their butts warmer. For show season though, I like it trimmed up.
Some time ago, I bought one of those mane thinning combs - mine came from Germany. I love that thing. It makes thinning manes and tails so easy. I did his tail in less than five minutes.
After a quick shampoo of Speedy's belly and legs in the morning morning, he looked pretty smart for Sunday's show. I haven't had time to sort through all the media, but a friend shared a couple of photos.
More to come!
While it might be hard to believe, we actually do have winter here in California. Admittedly, it's not much of a winter where I live, but it's at least a winter-like period. That means that I don't trailer as frequently, nor as far, as I would in the months that are hotter than holy hell. We call those months summer.
Other than a few trips to the vet, I haven't trailered either horse anywhere since our last show in August of 2017. Now that Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, is coming here once or twice a month, I don't even need to haul out for lessons.
Over the winter, my truck battery went dead. Fortunately, the ranch owner has a big truck with good jumper cables and knows how to use them. We got my truck started, but I've had to be pretty vigilant about remembering to drive it once a week or so. The battery is relatively new, but no battery can sit for months on end and be expected to just fire right up.
The last time I drove to the vet, I noticed that my trailer's tires were looking a little low. I decided everything needed a wee bit of attention before Sunday's show, so I brought the truck home where we have an air compressor. I can air up my tires, and I have done it plenty of times at the gas station, but I have to admit, I call girl as often as I can.
I can do it, but I don't want to do it. I don't like doing it, and I'd rather it just be taken care of for me. I do plenty of other non-girl things. I haul a three-horse trailer with living quarters. I can, as BFF describes it, back that thing up a gnat's ass. I can drive it through LA without batting an eye. I can hook it up alone in the dark. However, I don't like lifting the hood, and I don't want to mess around with the tires.
So, I hooked up the trailer, pulled it around to the barn, found an extension cord, and let my husband have at it. In all honesty, he really doesn't want me messing around with his air compressor anyway. It's a Jack Sprat kind of relationship; it works out well for us both!
You all know how much I adore Speedy G. The dude is awesome. In case you don't know our story, here it is in three sentences. I took my six-year-old endurance horse to a dressage show to see if we liked the sport (we did). I've trained himself with the help of lots of lessons. We're now showing Second Level on Sunday.
We did an endurance ride on June 5, 2010. Three weeks later, we went to our first dressage show where we earned 63.5% at both introductory A and B. It was the first show either of us had ever done.
Speedy doesn't always do it with a smile, but when he's cranky, it's never dirty or without cause. He really does try to figure out what is expected of him. Right now, he knows I want a simple change which means he keep trying to give it to me ALL THE TIME. This is great except that I only need a simple change twice in Second Level Test 1.
The other problem we're having is in the counter canter to walk. He figured out really fast that changing the bend at the counter canter means that a walk transition is coming next. So, to save me a whole of trouble, he decided to start giving me the walk as soon as I changed the bend. Doh!
Even though I don't practice the test from start to finish, he's figured it out and is anticipating all of my requests before I can even get the words out. To say the test is going to be interesting is an understatement.
The good thing is that I won't get the comment late.
I haven't written much about the big brown horse lately, but that's because things have been sailing along quite smoothly. I put in a lot of rides over the summer that must have finally done the job. Over the fall, things clicked into place for him. This spring, our rides have been about improving the connection and working toward getting a longer stride.
I am tackling the stride thing two ways. First, before I even start grooming, I do some "body work" with Izzy. I flex his neck towards his rib cage, stretching only as far as he wants to go. As he loosens up, he usually starts reaching further and further so that I have to back up. His incentive, no, it's not a carrot, is getting to grab some part of my clothing. He'll stretch a mile if he thinks he can nip my t-shirt.
I follow that stretch with a jaw/poll wiggle with his head hanging straight down. I nearly always get a variety of pops and cracks from his poll when we do that. He seems to enjoy it. I also cross a hind leg in front of the other to get a hamstring stretch. He'll hold the stretch by himself, but not for long. That stretch is boring without any opportunity for playing with me.
The second thing I am doing to increase stride length is actively riding with a long and low frame in mind. Everything we do now MUST be done with a longer neck. When we leg yield, I am focusing on doing it with a long neck and then a big step from behind. If his neck isn't long, I half halt until he'll stretch down.
And that's where the half halt to the hind leg comes in. Since Izzy wants to keep his neck so short, my half halts weren't doing anything. With a short neck, his stride just gets shorter and quicker. To remedy that, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, had me think about half halting all the way through to his hind leg.
She's been saying that for however long, but I finally got it. Simply tugging with the outside rein isn't enough. When he actually transfers more weight to the hind, he can slow his front end which allows him to stretch down without falling on his face. If I don't feel a difference in how he's going, we didn't achieve a half halt. Another palm to face moment.
Over the weekend I got a really good feel for it at the canter. I half halted until I felt his hind leg through the rein. It was as though that outside rein was actually connected to his leg. I don't think I've ever had that sensation before.
The work we're doing now is fun; it's not about just trying to stay on. We're actually working together as a team to build something exciting. We may actually make it to Training Level someday!
I wrote a post the other day about giving my track students a jumping lesson. You can read it here. Our track meet finished up this past week, and to my total surprise and delight, my class won the trophy for fifth grade. We were all pretty excited. Okay, me more. I might have actually squealed and done a happy dance.
We had a great meet. I had lots of kids win blue ribbons, red ribbons, and even some white ribbons. I was probably the most excited about those white ones as I know how hard it is to not be the best at what you do.
I was really proud of all of my kids, ribbons or not. To even enter an event at the track meet, you have to first go through tryouts in your own classroom. The kids just can't sign up; we'd have 400 kids wanting to do the 100 meter dash. This means we hold tryouts, selecting the top three for each event. As it happens though, a kid can only participate in three events which means most everyone can participate if they're willing to do an event that might not be their favorite.
I was the judge/coordinator at the high jump. Talk about an event that is not anyone's favorite. Holy cow that thing is hard. I was so surprised to see tears of frustration on the faces of those kids who missed their third jump. In case you don't know how it works, you get three chances to clear a height, and if you can't, you're eliminated.
Each time someone was eliminated, I called them over for a chat. Teary-eyed or just disappointed, I let them know how awesome it was that they even had the guts to come out and give it a try. High jump is HARD. Those kids were brave and simply amazing.
Palm to face. Uh ... just like dressage is HARD. After two days of coaching kids through disappointment (and sometimes winning!), I had a moment of mine own. Sheesh! Why am I being so hard on myself about Second Level? It's just as hard as the high jump! I should be telling Speedy that he is awesome for even being willing to get out there and give it a try.
And I did. This weekend as I rode, I laughed at our awkward moments (uh ... sitting the medium trot) and cheered when we nailed it (simple change). We have worked as hard as we possibly can. We're doing something difficult. I am totally okay with whatever score we get on Sunday.
Just like I told my kids, they get to come back next year and try it again. We don't have to wait until next year. We can try again next month and the month after that.
We'll get over that bar eventually!
Last week I shared this post. I really want to say how touched I was by ALL of your many supportive and friendly comments. Jeez, but you people are nice. Confessing to the world that I am not brilliant at this whole dressage thing turned my day around. Thanks!
As I was reading all of your comments, both here and on Facebook, I was reminded that many of you are not dressage riders. You are reiners, endurance riders, jumpers, or trail riders. Some of you don't even ride which means you might not always know what the heck I am talking about.
When I start a new level, I nearly always have to look up at least one movement. For Second Level, it was The Simple Change. If I had to look it up, it makes sense that others might not know what it is either.
As defined by USDF, "This is a change of lead where the horse is brought back immediately into walk and, after 3 to 5 clearly defined walk steps, is restarted immediately into a canter on the opposite lead with no steps at the trot."
Basically, it's a canter to walk transition with three to five walk steps before cantering on the opposite lead.
What makes this movement so challenging, for us anyway, is that the canter has to be very collected so that the horse is carrying more weight on his hind. Carrying more weight on the hind end is hard for the horse. Think about doing squats. Now imagine holding an armload of something heavy and then squat. Not so easy. Not so easy for the horse either.
When the horse is "sitting" though, he can transition to the walk more easily. With more weight being carried behind, his shoulders are free to move so he can change the bend to prepare for the change of lead.
A tip Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, shared with me was while on counter counter, prepare for the walk by straightening the bend. As the horse transitions to walk, do a shoulder in in the new direction to aid your horse in picking up the new lead.
We can do a very nice simple change right now, but it's not every time. It's not even every other time. Sometimes his haunches swing wide or he flings his head up to keep his balance. I wish I could just practice, practice, practice until we got it right, but if I did that, I'd have a horse with a pretty sore badonkadonk. You try doing squats over and over. No thanks!
So there you have it - the simple change, a misnomer if there ever was one!