Now that we're showing Third Level, I waffle between feeling rushed to get everything perfect, and relaxed knowing that I have all the time in the world. I mean, realistically, how much farther can we go? Sure, Fourth Level is looking like a distinct possibility, but after that? The FEI Level? I am not holding my breath.
So really, what's the rush? Over the weekend, I took some time to shore up some areas that I felt needed patching up, namely our flying changes and the overall quality of our canter work.
Earlier in the week, I broke our left to right flying change which put me in a complete panic since we have a USDF-rated show this weekend. A busted flying change is not what we need right now. I realized that Speedy needed more jump in his canter to get the change, so I played around with some canter to walk to canter transitions insisting that they be crisp and clear.
Wouldn't you know it, but suddenly, our canter had more jump and a much clearer rhythm. Our left lead canter was back on track, but the right lead was being hampered by the fact that Speedy's ribcage was pushing through my right leg. No bueno. So I schooled that a bit. Bend, half halt, MOVE OVER! A few dozen of those and magically our right lead canter got jumpier with a clearer rhythm.
And just like that, the flying changes were back. Who knew that getting your horse in front of your leg with a soft inside bend would fix faulty flying changes? Palm to face moment right there.
Fall is awards season, at least it is if you show dressage. The championship shows are winding down and scores are being tabulated. Here in California, both the CDS Championship and the USDF Region 7 Championship shows have ended. It's now time for awards.
On Saturday evening, my husband and I, along with Team Symphony and about 75 other people, attended the Tehachapi Mountain Chapter of CDS's annual awards banquet.
The banquet was held at the very beautiful Oak Tree Country Club. It was actually supposed to be held last weekend, but with the recent power outages across California, it had to be moved to this past weekend. The Country Club was able to pull it off though, and surprisingly, it looked like most everyone was able to make it.
The dinner was quite lavish with prime rib and parmesan crusted chicken, a wide array of side dishes, and a decadent apple crisp topped with freshly whipped creme. Tehachapi Mountain Chapter (TMC), is a small CDS Chapter with fewer than 40 members, but they work hard to put on a first class banquet and awards ceremony.
Although only a small chapter, TMC recognizes open riders, amateurs like me, and juniors. Awards are given for Champion and Reserve for each level, Introductory through Fourth Levels. TMC is a generous chapter whose goal is to promote the sport of dressage and to encourage rider participation.
Team Symphony was well represented with riders winning championships at Introductory, Second, Third, Fourth, and Western Dressage.
Speedy and I earned the Adult Amateur Championship for Third Level. While we didn't have much competition, we still had to earn an average of 60% or greater. Our year-end average was 63.379%. I am really proud of this award. Third Level isn't exactly easy.
This was Lois and Terry's last year as TMC board members. They decided to retire, much to the dismay of the rest of the chapter. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, along with myself and several other people, have stepped up to fill the Quinn's especially large shoes. Chemaine will serve as Chairperson with me as her Vice-Chair.
Let's hope we can put on as successful of a show season and awards banquet as the Quinns have these many years.
For the first time in at least a year, I asked Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, to hop up on Speedy. Not that she doesn't want to ride him, but for the most part, I am doing all the training rides with her coaching and teaching me.
I made sure that Speedy was warmed up before she pulled in for our lesson because while she didn't know it, my plan for the lesson was to finally have her ride his canter half pass to see where we're stuck. Basically, I wanted to know if it was me, the mostly likely explanation, or him. As it turns out, it was mostly him. His canter half passes are weak right now because he just hasn't quite developed the reach and strength for the WOW type of canter half pass that I am expecting.
It only took Chemaine a few minutes to figure out his issue. The main reason his half pass is a bit sticky, particularly to the right, is because I've let him lean on that right rein since the beginning of time. I am working on it, but it's proving much harder to fix than it would have been way back at Training Level. For now, Chemaine's advice is to get what bend I can and not be too hard on him. It'll come.
Chemaine did show me one exercise to help develop his reach and strength though. Just because it's hard for him doesn't mean I'm not going to work on it. Working on it is how it will get less hard. Essentially, the exercise involved half passing to the quarterline, moving his shoulders back toward the rail, and then riding forward in a haunches in. When the bend has been reestablished, move laterally into the half pass again.
The first time I tried it to the right, Speedy ran headlong into to my right rein. We had a little discussion about it, and then we tried it again. The feeling is of moving the shoulders out of the way toward the rail to allow the haunches to swing in. It's very difficult to do when you're falling in on your inside shoulder. Once we tried it a few times, he got much more supple, and the half pass did improve.
We now have several new exercises that we can do to free up his shoulders - counter canter 20-meter circles with 10-meter true canter circles at each "corner," pivoting out of the corner, and now this half pass to haunches in exercise.
We're Not-So-Speedy-Dressage for a reason.
This has been one heck of a week. Strike that. It's been a hell of a month. I've been teaching for 26 years. Never before have I had a first quarter kick my butt as much as this one has, and I am not alone. Every one of my colleagues is saying the same thing. What can you do though? Adulting is hard, even when you're approaching 50.
So when I got to the barn yesterday afternoon, I immediately felt the urge to sweep the feed/tackroom floor. There was no pressing need, and it's not like anyone is going to blame me for in tracking dirt. In fact, I'm the only one who does sweep. Even so, that dirt on the floor reminded me of the mental mess that I've been packing around this week. There is something very cathartic about sweeping. Scooping poop will give me the same sense of cleaning out the cobwebs.
And then I rode Speedy. It wasn't a great ride. I was pretty tired, and my heart really wasn't in it. Speedy knew it and took full advantage. He was behind my leg and heavy. I tried to get something productive going, but all I managed to do was break our flying lead changes. Out of "nowhere" the left to right change disappeared.
Eventually I realized how behind the leg he really was. As soon as I got some more jump to the canter, the change was there. I quit on that good note, and besides, we'd been working for a solid half an hour.
I untacked and let Speedy wander off to check out the lawn. As I was hanging up his bridle, I grimaced at the caked on dirt and gunk. It was just like the floor - it didn't have to be cleaned RIGHT THEN, but I couldn't stand it. I started off by wiping it clean with a damp cloth, but that didn't satisfy me. I then used a bit of leather creme but still wasn't free of the mental muddle I've been fighting. I finally dragged out the lederbalsam and finished it off.
With my fingers already feeling sticky, I looked down at my boots and figured a little more mental housekeeping wouldn't hurt. I wiped my boots free of dust and massaged in some of my boot conditioner. I find it's easier to clean them while I am wearing them. I looked around and realized that my mental state of mind had improved.
Today's going to be a busy day. I have an early morning Battle of the Books party to host for eleven 4/5/6th graders. We have a science assembly at 8:30, and then I'll be managing the lunch time detention program during my lunch. Add to that, it's Dress Up like Your Favorite Book Character day. Nothing like throwing in a bit more crazy to an already hectic day.
My husband has already agreed to pick up sushi for dinner. Bless him.
I can't say that I've ever reviewed a product before that I didn't first research and later buy. Until now. Some time ago, my friend Jen gave me a pair of Back on Track splint boots that had been left over after a show. They'd been hanging around the show office for several months with no one claiming them, so she passed them on to me.
They've definitely seen better days. They're no longer bright white, and they carry some stains that no amount of scrubbing will remove. The velcro is still super sticky though, and there are no major wear marks. Interestingly, it is because of these blemishes that they really impressed me.
For many years, I stuck with the DSB Dressage Boots from Riding Warehouse. They're well priced, they fit well, and they clean up pretty easily. But. It gets HOT here, and my horses' legs get really sweaty underneath the boots. That wet attracted a lot of sand from the arena which dirtied up the boots. That meant a lot of constant cleaning. In the winter, the same thing happened due to rain or puddles, but the boots took forever to dry when I washed them. Out of sheer laziness, I simply quit using them.
A week or so ago, I saw the Back on Track splint boots laying around untried (again, laziness) and decided to give them a try. This pair is a small, and they fit Speedy's front legs perfectly. In fact, it was like they were custom made for him. Even old and previously worn, the fit was excellent.
Speedy didn't even notice he had them on. Since he hasn't worn boots in at least six months, I figured there would be some of that weird high stepping thing as he tried to shake them loose. Nope. He walked straight off, oblivious that he had on new old boots. It was when I took them off that I was truly impressed.
At 15 years old, Speedy is starting to show his age. He has bumps and lumps from previous injuries, scars, and a few things that I keep my eye on. He doesn't generally stock up since he lives outside, but his legs aren't as tight as they used to be either. After I took those boots off, there was not a single bit of excess fluid in his legs. They were cleaner and tighter than I've seen them in a long while.
Without the fluffy fleece, the Back on Track boots were easy to hose off and they dried fairly quickly, faster than fleece anyway. And while I haven't tried them on a hot day, it's been in the mid-80s here, warm enough to show me that they do seem to let the excess heat escape.
These boots are now going on my wish list. I need to buy Izzy a brow band first, but after that, I am going to be buying a pair here and there. Izzy will need a pair, and then Speedy will need a new pair in front, and after that I might need hind boots. At 70 bucks a pair though, it may take a while until both horses are booted all the way around.
Christmas is not too far away though ... and neither is my birthday!
I ordered two new girths last week, one for each horse. Like I mentioned in that blog post, girths are like underwear; you just don't know for sure that you'll like them until you wear 'em. Or in this case, until my horses wear them. I have to say, I am quite pleased with both of them.
I bought Izzy the Collegiate Shaped Memory Foam Dressage Girth, and I wasn't disappointed. It worked as well or better than I was hoping. I can't say that he noticed much of a difference, but I felt a lot better about using it. I like the construction. All of the stitching is neat and even, and the edges are smooth without any stray strings or roughness. I gave the memory foam a solid poke, and was pleased to see the hole fill in immediately.
As I was hoping, this girth is a bit wider than the Ovation that I had been using, but it isn't too wide. Some of the dressage girths simply look too wide for my tastes. Neither of my horses has a particularly wide heart girth, so I just wanted something slightly wider that would still give Izzy room at the elbow. I really like the shape of this girth as it is slightly contoured without getting too narrow. But like I said, Izzy wasn't complaining about his Ovation, I just thought I could find something that was a little more comfortable.
I've used the girth a number of times over the past week, and no weird sores or irritations have popped up. When I take the girth off, his sweat pattern is clean and even. I've hosed the girth off to see how quickly it will dry, and that is the one thing I wish I could change. The Ovation girth doesn't absorb any water, so it is dry immediately. With the memory foam on the Collegiate, it does absorb water like a sponge, so if I wash it in the winter time, it might not dry all the way before its next use. I can live with that though.
I bought Speedy the same girth he's been going in for several years, except it's a newer model. The Ovation Coolmax Shaped Dressage Equalizer Girth is perfect for him and checks off all the boxes. I knew I would like it as the old one was working just fine.
One of the things I most like about this girth is that the elastic at the buckles extends all the way from end to end. It is stitched down after the keepers, but this girth allows for some expansion when Speedy takes deep breaths.
When I went to buckle this girth for the first time, it took me a minute to figure out why it was tight on the fifth hole. Speedy goes on the sixth hole in his old girth. I realized that over time, the elastic on his old girth had slowly stretched out. I am good with that. If he needs more room, I love that the girth will give just that little bit.
With Speedy's wooly winter coat already growing in combined with the fluffy edges of the girth, it's hard to see that he has enough elbow room. This girth is slightly less contoured than Izzy's, but Speedy has plenty of clearance. While Izzy doesn't seem to care about most things, Speedy is quick to let me know that he doesn't like something. He's the epitome of a snowflake. I tightened this girth up just like I did the older version, and he worked in it over the course of a week with zero complaints.
Not long ago I purchased new reins. Last week, it was two new girths. My next purchase is that brow band I've been hankering for. I have some extra cash coming my way. Once it's here ...
I am going to be totally honest here. Up until a few weeks ago, I wondered at how a horse could lose the rhythm. Most of the time when that word is used, I suspect most people (like me) mean tempo. Until just recently, I had never felt a loss of rhythm on Speedy. On Izzy, yes. When he gets tense in the canter he feels as though he loses the lead behind which is a major loss of rhythm. That should actually be termed scrambling for footing.
At Third Level, the horse is asked for more collection than ever before. There's a 10-meter canter circle and canter half pass. We're also schooling some of the canter work at Fourth Level, especially the 5-6 strides of very collected canter between quarterlines (test 1) and the partial pirouette at canter (test 2). All of a sudden, I felt what was meant by a loss of rhythm.
When we canter right lead, and I ask for a very collected canter, Speedy feels almost lame. It feels as though he is stuttering in the canter and about to drop to trot. At our last lesson, I asked Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, what we could do about it.
She explained that Speedy has less range of motion in his right hind leg. Over the years, he has successfully cheated by carrying that hind leg, his weaker one, slightly to the inside. As a result, that leg doesn't step as far underneath him. In the collected canter, the horse has to sit more deeply with that hind leg reaching even farther underneath his belly. Since Speedy doesn't use that inside right hind as well, the rhythm of the collected canter feels off.
Chemaine gave me several exercises to help him begin to increase his range of motion. First, we're doing a lot more stretchy trot to the right wherein I ask him to leg yield out on the circle. I am doing the same thing at the canter. Another exercise is to canter a square with canter to walk transitions in the corners to insist that Speedy step over BIG with his inside right hind. Now that I am aware of the problem, I am constantly insisting that he step deeper through corners and that he carry his haunches correctly and not to the inside.
With a show coming in less than two weeks though, I am being careful about not making him sore. Just because I want him to bend over and "touch his toes," it doesn't mean he can do it in one day.
There is always something to fix, isn't there?
Sorry for Friday's radio silence. We were one of the many victims of the recent power outages. I am not sure how wide spread the news was, but it was all Californians were talking about last week. PG&E, Pacific Gas and Electric, and SCE, Southern California Edison, provide all of our state's electricity. You don't get to choose which one you'd prefer. They each have their service areas, and you get what you get.
A year or so ago, some of PG&E's electrical hardware was struck by heavy winds which caused a massive wildfire that completely leveled the town of Paradise. In a state that lives in perpetual drought, we don't need any help starting wildfires. So this year, in an effort to prevent another catastrophe, PG&E and SCE both cut power to more than a million homes last week because of high winds. Our house was just one of more than 800,000 homes affected.
I am not going to say we were grateful to PG&E, it was kind of a pain in the butt (we were forced to toss quite a bit from our refrigerator), but we get it. A friend of mine who lives in southern California had to evacuate her family over the weekend when a wildfire threatened their home. They had a reason to complain. We didn't
We coped with the inconvenience for a day and a half, and we cheered when the lights came back on. Oh, and my favorite topic of discussion, the apocalypse, got discussed a lot. Sometimes, I think life would be a lot simpler if all we had to worry about was finding food and fending off whatever apocalyptical disease/creature that mankind has let loose. Jobs, credit cards, and health insurance be damned.
With Californians making up a full 12% of the USA's population, we have just a shade under 40 million people, the rest of the world either sees the state as a crown jewel or a perpetual hot mess. For those that are undecided, I thought I'd share a few facts with you to show you that California is a state like ... well, like none other.
Much to the consternation of California's conservative Central Valley, our state is overwhelmingly Democratic. Kevin McCarthy (R), our US Representative to Congress, has served as House Majority leader but is currently the House Minority Leader. He's from Bakersfield.
California is the third largest state after Alaska and Texas. With a length of 770 miles and a width of 250 miles, crossing the state means climbing over one mountain range, zipping across the central valley only to cross a second mountain range. It's at least a 6 hour drive. Top to bottom is going to take you a very long day. The most I've done at one time is Chico to San Diego, 596 miles.
California has the highest point in the contiguous US and the lowest point in all of North America. And surprisingly, those two points are less than 85 miles from each other.
While California is only the third largest state by area, by population we have the rest of you beat. At 39,747,267 people we have 10,000,000 more people than Texas - the second highest populated state, and a whopping 18,000,000 more than Florida - the third highest populated state. By density, we're only ranked 11th which means more people will fit, but we're good for now, thank you.
I recently wrote a post about needing to reevaluate my horses' feed. I wrote that each horse gets 2-3 flakes of grass or alfalfa daily. There was some shock that I fed my horses so "little." As it turns out, a flake in California is not the same as a flake in other parts of the country. There was also some real concern about how horses live in California.
The truth is, we have every single type of living arrangement you can picture: box stalls, dry paddocks, sandy pastures, and grass pasture - irrigated or dry. In more densely populated areas like Los Angeles, you'll see a combination of box stalls and dry paddocks. In more rural areas, of which we have plenty, you'll see grass pastures, both green and brown. My boys live in large, sandy paddocks. They're big enough to run and play in, but not big enough to flat out gallop.
One advantage to having our horses in generally dry living arrangements is that hooves in California tend to look neat and tidy. You rarely see a horse with crumbly feet. Wet pastures, which much of the rest of the country has, provide lots of grass, but they can also be hard on feet. Another thing we don't see a lot of are weird, creepy bugs and flies. Sure we have fly season, but they don't torment the horses to the point that they have to live indoors.
To help you all visualize a California hay bale, here are what our bales look like. Both the grass and alfalfa bales weigh well over a hundred pounds each. I cannot pick up an alfalfa bale. To load one in my trailer for a show, I've been known to slide one onto a large piece of cardboard so that I could drag it to my trailer. Then I use every ounce of strength to stand it up on one end and shove it into the horse compartment where it travels against the inside wall of the trailer.
So there you have it. California. In many ways, she truly is a hot mess, but on the other hand, it's one of the most beautiful places you'll ever see. Food's not bad either.
If you ever want to come for a visit, just send me a message. We'll make you feel right at home.
Some things are fun to buy. They give you a lot of satisfaction. They look great. They add to "the look." Girths are not one of those things. At least not in my book. Girths are like underwear; you have to have them, but they're pretty utilitarian and for the most part, go unseen.
Unlike say, a new pair of boots. I have a pair of river boots that I LOVE, but I am hankering for a new pair. Something like this pair of Dublin's in a size 7.5 would do nicely, thanks. These are definitely not like underwear. You know what else is not anything like underwear? The Haas Diva with Lambswool. I drool over this brush every time I am on Riding Warehouse's site. It will be mine before next season's summer shows start. Speedy really needs this.
But alas, we do need underwear and girths. Both of my boys' girths have seen better days. They're looking a little rough around the edges and the keepers on Speedy's girth are falling apart.
I've tried Speedy in a few different girths, and he has made it quite clear that he prefers fleece. Fortunately, he's not too much of a diva so synthetic fleece works just as well as real wool. His current girth is actually holding up quite well. It's just the keepers that are giving out.
When I started looking for a replacement, nothing jumped out at me as a must have, especially when I looked at price. Speedy's must haves are pretty basic. He needs a 20" length in fleece. We both like elastic at both ends, and roller buckles are a must. He doesn't care about ergonomics; his saddle sits just fine with a squishy fleece girth. I sort of liked the LeMieux, but it doesn't come in a 20", and it was a bit pricey.
Then I saw the Ovation Coolmax Shaped Dressage Equalizer Girth, the updated version of what I already have. It's slightly contoured and has roller buckles. I've always liked the elastic from buckle to buckle because it allows the girth to expand and move as Speedy works. It's fleece, it comes in the smaller 20" size, and it's under 50 bucks. Basically, it's perfect.
The Ovation arrived and was exactly what I was expecting. I haven't used it yet, but I may do a follow up review if anything in particular stands out.
As I looked at girths for Izzy, I found the exact girth that I am currently using, also an Ovation. At $37.95, the Ovation Airform is a bit of a steal, but I've always wondered if it feels a bit like wearing a narrow belt. Izzy has never protested the girth, and he's not at all girthy, but I've wondered if something wider might be more comfortable. Something like the Collegiate Shaped Memory Foam Dressage Girth.
This girth checks off all the boxes that I need in a girth for Izzy: roller buckles, elastic at both ends, and it's made from a material that I can hose off each day. It was slightly more expensive than the Ovation, but I am hoping the width will prove to be more comfortable. In person, it looks great, and the memory foam feels super comfortable, but since I am not the one wearing it, who knows?
When I ride this afternoon, weather permitting - in case you haven't heard, California is having some issues with wind and power, I'll try it out on him to see what he thinks.
I hate it when I buy new underwear and don't like the fit because you can't exactly return it. Girths are the same way. You never know if one is going to really work until you ride in it, and if your horse says it's not comfortable, you're left shoving it in a drawer as you find a better fit.
The USDF Region 7 Championships were held recently at LA Equestrian Center. The CDS Championship show is held in conjunction with that show. We didn't go this year, but I followed along a bit on social media. I am never really one to be "in the know," but I do like to check in now and then.
I did catch one bit that I found interesting, and the reason it was so interesting was because it was "a thing."
I am not opposed to double bridles at all. You all know that I put Izzy in a double for a few days to see if it would help me get control. I got control all right, but he wasn't ready for that much communication, so I searched for a bit that gave me some brakes without so much hardware. No, it's not the use of the double bridle, it's the widespread use of the double that I find interesting.
Speedy and I made it to four shows this summer showing Third Level. I paid close attention to what bridle riders were using at Third Level and above. Third Level is when riders are permitted to use a double bridle. I don't recall seeing a single other rider using a snaffle. I was the only one.
When we were preparing to make the move to Third Level, I asked my trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, if I needed to move to a double bridle. I figured since everyone else uses one, I would probably need one as well. Her answer was a solid no. She didn't think we needed one ... yet.
As we moved through the season at Third Level, I've given the idea of the double bridle a lot of thought. Third Level is not that much harder than Second Level, so why the instantaneous need for a second bit? My reason to switching to a double would be to get control of a hot, forward horse. Or maybe one that is getting overly strong in the bridle at the medium and extended gaits. If that were true, you would expect to see a healthy mix of snaffles and doubles at Third and above. That doesn't seem to be true though.
I think that the main reason riders make the switch is that the double serves as a rite of passage. Third Level is no longer part of the lower levels. It's a big step towards the upper levels, the FEI, the Big Dogs, the Big Time. It's a Big Deal to move out of Second Level, and riders want to celebrate that success.
At least, that's how it looks from here.
If you made the switch to a double bridle at Third, why did you feel it was necessary? I would really like to know.
We may need to move to a double bridle eventually, but I am going to hope not. Instead, I am going to work towards riding a Grand Prix test in a snaffle. Speedy's a hard worker, and he likes his job. He enjoys the challenges I present to him, and he tries his heart out for me. So far, the snaffle is working well.
Besides, snaffle bridles are a lot cheaper than a double. If nothing else, staying in a snaffle is a cost saver.