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.
Actually, the exercise does a lot more than collect the horse. It also teaches him to want to move forward and to like it. But first ...
Earlier this week I had a lesson with Chemaine Hurtado owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. I imagine that if it were feasible for me to be in full training, which it's not, Chemaine would probably have a more structured system for my lessons. As it is, she sort of leaves it up to me to let her know how this or that exercise went, what we're suddenly doing well, and where we're stuck. And when I say we, I mean Speedy because he's the other half of this team.
Before we started THE EXERCISE, we did have to sharpen Speedy up to my leg and get him supple. There was a lot of half halt and a SURPRISE! tap with the whip. It didn't take him long to realize that a half halt was going to be followed with a suggestion that he engage his badonkadonk. You can see the result in the medium trot above.
Since Speedy will always take the path of least resistance, we had to do the same sharpening up on the shoulder in. When he got lazy, I surprised him with a sudden tap with the whip to remind him that he is now required to have energy all. the. time.
A favorite suppling exercise of Chemaine's is the shoulder in to haunches in. She loves this for warming the horse up for the half pass. Speedy is not the biggest fan of the work because it's work, but it definitely gets him more supple. It goes like this: through the corner get a deep bend. Ride out of the corner in shoulder in. When you like the quality of the shoulder in - ours always needs more work, but whatever; reverse it to a haunches in. Again, when you like the quality of that, move back into the shoulder in. Ideally you should be able to get several of each down a single long side.
By this point in the lesson, we needed something else to keep Speedy thinking forward and being supple. He can give me one or the other, but he hates doing both at the same time. Chemaine called the exercise passad. I googled the heck out of the term, but I couldn't find any reference to it. If I'm spelling it incorrectly, let me know.
Here's how the exercise goes: pick up a collected canter. On the short side get the horse's stride as short as you can. As you come through the corner get maximum bend, and half halt with an open and back outside rein to really get the haunches under your horse. Then almost pivot through the corner. The point is to get the horse thinking about deep collection like in a canter pirouette. Come out of the corner with the horse deeply bent around your leg and looking at H.
Now you can begin the half pass to centerline. Since the horse has been collected as short as he can, now is the opportunity to open up that canter for a more forward stride in the half pass, something Speedy hates to do. After a few of those super collected canter corners, he started to think that canter half pass was looking a lot easier.
After you half pass to center line, stay on the same lead shortening the stride on a 10-meter half circle back into the opposite corner. Repeat. Here's video of Chemaine explaining the exercise and then coaching me through it several times.
After going through it both directions, we repeated the exercise at the trot. Speedy's trot half passes suddenly developed a bit more impulsion. Funny how something you thought was hard isn't so hard when you replace it with something that is definitely hard!
And then, just to shake off all that "hard," we finished up with some medium trot. Looking pretty good, Speedy G!
Our next show, USDF-rated, is in late October. We were so close to getting that 60% in mid-summer. I think we're definitely better than we were even a month ago. I think we really can do it this next time around.
But if not, there's always a next show!
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon. By the time that you read it, Sunday's show will be over, and only then will I know how much of my Friday night cram session made it to the test. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came down to help me do some last minute "studying" for Sunday's second attempt at Third Level.
Just like studying for a real pencil and paper test, we did the lesson in a sort of flashcard style. On the first card, I wrote Turn on the Haunches on the front, and then flipped it over for the bullet points.
On the next card, I wrote Renvers (I hate you!), and flipped it over.
The Half Pass (trot or canter) card could really be Renvers part II; they're really similar.
The Flying Changes card is so filled with scribbled notes that some of them may have crept over onto the front of the card.
Did all of this work? I'll let you know tomorrow!
Well, we really and truly did it; Speedy G and I competed at Third Level, and we did it at a two-day USDF/USEF-rated show. Did we hit a home run? Nope, it was more of a bunt really, but at least we got on base. Even with scores below 60% (yes, really!), I am still sort of giddy about the whole thing.
I still can't believe we did it! Although what exactly "it" is, I am not sure since we didn't earn any kind of qualifying score. The four tests mean absolutely nothing. But still. Third Level!
I was hoping for more, but at least it was better than I had feared. The number one thing the judge penalized me for on 3-1 was the geometry. In the half pass, we didn't start at centerline and our 10-meter circles weren't 10-meter circles. Those two things cost me a fair amount of points.
A lot of things went very right on Saturday. Our very first centerline (3-1) earned an 8.0 and our first pairs of turn on the haunches earned 6.5 each. We also earned a 7.0 for our medium walk.
And of course, a lot went pretty wrong. Since we didn't actually make it to centerline, our first trot half pass earned a 4.5, but who cares! We did a trot half pass! The second one earned a 5.0 with the comment, "still not from CL."
The worst part was of course the flying changes. For the first one, we scored a 4.0 with the comment, "late behind."
The other one was worse, MUCH worse. The judge's comment was spot on, "late behind many, many steps" which was a kind way of saying, I didn't think he was EVER going to change! We earned a 3.0.
In total, we earned a 57.703% which was 8.5 points (out of 370) short of my goal. We've done worse, especially when first starting a new level. It felt better than the video looks though.
I had had a lesson with Sean Cunningham of STC Dressage on Friday night and then had him coach me on Saturday since Chemaine Hurtado, my regular trainer, couldn't be there. His feedback was really helpful. That night, after finishing both of my tests, I watched the videos and read over the judge's comments. I was determined to do better the next day.
While I gave a few half points (and even a few full points) back, our flying changes were much better the next day. Both of them scored a 6.0 which definitely raised the score from Saturday's 3-1 test where we had earned a 4.0 and 3.0. Both changes have a double co-efficient which means the changes earned us 24 points on Sunday compared to only 14 points the day before.
For 3-1, we improved by a full 6.5 points, but it wasn't quite enough. The brilliant 8.0 we earned on Saturday's first centerline fell to a very sad 5.0 on Sunday. When I tallied up my points, we missed a 60.0% by just 2 points. We lost that 60% down our first centerline and didn't even know it. We earned my least favorite score, a 59.459%.
To say I might have been a wee bit crushed would be accurate. After 4 minutes of cursing under my breath though, I realized that Speedy and I have another USDF/USEF show next month. And if we don't get a 60% there, we'll go to another show in August. We'll get it eventually.
We also rode Third Level's test 2 which I'll try to get written for tomorrow. No 60.0% there either, but we had fun!
If you would have told me back in the beginning that Speedy and I would make it to Third Level, I would have known that you were lying to me. How in the world could a rangy endurance horse and his grimy rider become a sleek and polished dressage team? That just doesn't happen.
I never had a formal lesson until I was an adult. I could post, but I didn't know how to change my posting diagonal. I could ride fearlessly over the toughest terrain, stick almost any buck or rear, but I had no idea how to put the finishing touches on a horse, the stuff that makes a horse truly beautiful.
And yet, here we are. Tomorrow morning we'll be showing Third Level at a two-day USDF-rated show. I should be more nervous, and maybe I will be tomorrow, but for now, I feel pretty confident. I don't expect to wow the judge, but I am still excited to get out there to find out just where we stand. What's good, what's great, and what needs more work? I am looking at this show as an opportunity to get an honest critique of our work so far.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came out for a last, pre-show lesson on Saturday. This time, the lesson was all about tightening up everything in order to give us some kind of chance at getting a qualifying score.
At every moment she was shouting some kind of reminder:
Of course getting Speedy listening and willing to move his bootie can be a real challenge. These next pictures show a behind the scenes view of what has to happen before we look show ready. You have to admit that the dude is super athletic. It's just a matter of channeling it in the direction I want us to go.
Even with all of his No No Nos, I am still feeling confident. Speedy loves to show and always brings his "A" game. And like Chemaine pointed out on Saturday, If they're not being opinionated, you're not asking for anything new or hard. And the only way to get better is to ask for new and hard.
If you've got a few minutes, wish us luck. We could definitely use some. Have a great weekend!
Half pass at canter is hard. Really hard. Super hard if you're on a horse who just doesn't really like lateral work. You know, horses like the gray speedy pony. Speedy doesn't much care for the half pass at trot or canter. He's not particularly fond of leg yielding either.
After getting some good lateral work after that hard-to-name canter exercise, I thought I'd try a canter half pass with the correct bend. Since the canter half pass is still a relatively new movement for me, I don't always know how to best set it up. The flailing fail we had was probably a lot my fault since I decided to half pass from the center of my very wide arena to no place in particular.
As we came around the corner, I set Speedy up as we came down the middle of the arena. I asked for sideways and he shot forward as though he had never stepped sideways a day in his life. When I say shot forward, I mean he kind of bolted. Jerk. I immediately changed the bend, and smacked his hip with the whip and said move it, mister! in a pretty stern voice.
As soon as I changed the bend and threatened his butt with another good whack, he was all about the sideways. Unfortunately, a canter half pass with the wrong bend is not going to score very well.
Not wanting him to think that a canter half pass has a wrong bend, I tried it again, but the next effort was out of the corner and back to the rail. That he can do. I am fairly certain his "success" had a lot to do with the fact that I was aiming at tree (I don't have letters) and riding it like renvers along a diagonal line.
If the canter half pass is broken, it's totally my fault. That's what you get when you play around with something without using it correctly. Stuff gets broken. Good thing I have a good trainer and a lesson (hopefully) this weekend.
Enjoy your weekend!
On Monday afternoon, Speedy and I had a lesson. There is only one to go before we make our Third Level debut.
I know which movements are required at Third:
With Speedy tacked up and ready go, I dragged him over to a shady spot and quickly pulled up test 2 on my phone. My eyes raced through the movements but jerked to a halt when I read numbers 7 and 8, "K-E shoulder-in right" immediately followed by "E-H renvers left." Huh? I gave an audible uh-oh realizing that I needed to start hooking the movements together PDQ if I had any chance at earning that first 60%.
When Chemaine pulled in, I quickly filled her in on the reason for my sudden panic. I didn't know test 2 and needed some quick help. As I finished my warm up, Chemaine was quick to point out that our trot work had improved over the week and that our shoulder-in had a better angle. As I ride it, I hear her in my head shouting MORE ANGLE! I think it has helped.
While we have a better angle, and we can "do" a renvers (haunches out), I needed help riding them one after the other. Chemaine's advice was this: first, ride the shoulder-in. To develop the renvers, open the inside rein (which becomes the outside rein) to draw the shoulders into the arena. Change the bend, and then keep the haunches on the rail. And all of this happens in just a few strides.
The rest of the lesson was spent schooling the half pass, both at trot and canter, followed by the flying change. Speedy still wants to get charge-y after the change, so Chemaine showed me a new exercise that both gets him to sit and helps him wait for the flying change.
In test 1, there is a medium canter down the entire long side followed by a 10 meter circle at V. The flying change comes between X and R. To keep Speedy balanced, Chemaine had me do a walk-canter-walk transition anyplace I would do a half halt, so between the medium canter and the start of the 10-meter circle, I asked for a simple change but stayed on the same lead. Instead of a flying change, I asked for a simple change. We ran through this pattern a few times in hopes that Speedy would start to memorize the pattern of half halts.
Here's how the exercise went:
Our left to right change is getting pretty reliable. The other way is to still kind of wild and wooly.
We have just over a week to polish everything as much as we can.
But honestly, this horse is so much fun to ride that we'll have fun no matter how many movements I botch. It's a good thing that I have a trainer who embraces the idea that dressage is a long process where horses and riders develop over time.
Right now, Speedy and I are schooling both the half pass and flying change as diligently as possible. Our first show, only CDS-rated, is in less than three weeks. The judging at this show is pretty tough however, and always proves to be a good barometer for how we'll do at a USDF-rated show.
While we're working hard, I am super careful not to over-school the movements. Speedy tries so hard that if I keep asking, he assumes he's making a mistake, and that makes him very grouchy and resentful. The flying changes are now there, but they can still be a bit dramatic. Not this one though, it's a pretty quiet one.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was here on Sunday for a lesson. Right from the start I told her that we need to continue cleaning up the lateral movements, namely the half pass, and getting those flying changes a little less ... exuberant.
I have to laugh at myself really. Last year at this time, I was dreading the show season. The move to Second Level simply terrified me. While I would stack my horsemanship skills up against anyone else's without feeling a moment of doubt, my dressage skills are still in the development stage. I can ride a horse a hundred miles, but 40-meters of medium trot in front of a judge turns my legs to jelly.
We made it through Second Level with decent scores though, even winning some honors along the way, but all season long I felt certain that someone was going to get wise to my subterfuge and point it out to the rest of the world. Even after working hard on it, I still feel like a bit of a hack.
This year? I can't wait to get in the show ring. We're probably going to lay down some questionable tests that will likely earn us some scores in the 50% range, but I am totally fine with that. I know that if I continue to work hard, Speedy and I will get those two scores we need to earn our bronze. With such a simple goal, the season seems more than manageable.
Instead of focusing on THIRD LEVEL - insert ominous tone, I've been breaking the three tests down into manageable chunks. For test 1, all we need to add is a more energetic shoulder in, a short half pass in trot, the flying changes, and a bigger medium trot. Right now, it's all there. It might not be fabulous, but it doesn't have to be. We only need to be satisfactory. Can I get an amen for mediocrity?
For test 2, we need to maintain everything from test 1 while making it better. We also need to add in a bit of renvers and show a clear release of both reins for 4-5 strides over centerline. That may or may not happen for our first show. By late in the season, it'll be automatic.
Since not getting overwhelmed is my strategy for the year, I haven't paid much attention to test 3 (yet). On Sunday, we did school the canter half pass to centerline to the half circle. For a horse that anticipates the flying change - looking at YOU, Speedy!, this series of movements is likely to be a bugger. I am honestly not worried though. Speedy and I haven't taken any shortcuts through the levels, so the foundation is there. And every week, we get better and better.
My homework for the week is to work on Speedy's lateral suppleness by doing extreme leg yields across the entire diagonal. I am to follow those with half passes that also cross the diagonal. Making them as steep as I can get them will serve us well when we have to do them from the centerline to the rail. They'll seem practically "easy" then.
Chemaine also showed me an exercise to help with the canter half pass. In it, I am to ride a circle where the shoulders transcribes a smaller circle than the haunches, and then the haunches will transcribe an even smaller circle than the shoulders. She called it a waterfall: first the shoulders, then the haunches all the while "falling" in on the circle to make it ever smaller.
I am constantly amazed at how hard Speedy will work for me. He wasn't bred for dressage. He doesn't have a naturally uphill balance. He's just a nicely put together Arabian gelding who was bred to be able to do whatever his rider asks, and if she says please, he usually gives it to her.
That doesn't mean he'll do it opinion free though. I've learned to ask and then hold on!
Like I said yesterday, I had a great lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. For the first part of the lesson, we used the leg yield to position Speedy's haunches for the half pass. For the second part of the lesson, we used the half pass to set Speedy's haunches in position for a flying change. If you had told me two months ago that I would be writing those two sentences at the beginning of 2019, I would have laughed. Hard. Go us, I guess.
I am not sure how I got so lucky - good breeding?, but Speedy's changes have been clean from the very beginning. We've only been working on them since September. They're still a bit hard to control, and he has already reached the point of tossing them in any time he's not sure what I am asking for. I think this is a good problem to have though.
The main trouble I am having with the flying change is that he thinks that when we're cantering and I touch the outside rein, it means CHANGE. Sorry to disappoint, dude, but it doesn't. This is where Chemaine used the haunches in exercise to help him out.
As we cantered down the long side, Chemaine wanted me to put him in a haunches in position so that when we made the ten-meter half circle at the end of the long side, his haunches would be in place for the half pass. Speedy felt me pick up that outside rein and then leaped into the air ready to change. When I kept my outside leg back AND maintained the bend, he hit the ground with a disappointed thud. He might have also called me a bad name.
To combat this, Chemaine showed me yet another new exercise. As we cantered down the long side, she instructed me to ask for a ten-meter circle if he even thought about changing when I touched the outside rein. We did a lot of ten-meter circles.
While we still have a lot to work on, we were able to get the flying change after a version of a canter half pass.
I just love this horse. there is no end to his try. He might express his opinions occasionally, and he can get sassy about things, but he always tries.
Today is the last day of my Christmas break. On Monday it's back to the grind, but I feel as though I got a lot done with the boys over the holiday. Enjoy your weekend. I know I will.
Now that the holidays are past us, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has been able to come out weekly again. After analyzing what we need at the bare minimum for Third Level, Chemaine agreed that tackling the lateral work was the game plan for the foreseeable future.
Speedy has never been a fan of moving his haunches to the side AND stepping forward. I get it; it's hard. Even so, he has to learn. To present it in a way that he could understand and that I could enforce, Chemaine had us start the half pass in a leg yield. She also had me move the whip to the outside hand every time we changed direction. See the part about enforcing.
Chemaine had us begin at the walk. We started in the corner From A to K where we prepared for a leg yield right. The purpose was to get the haunches leading which is not how you'd typically ride a leg yield. This does two things. First, it gets your horse moving off your outside leg, and it allows you to set up the haunches for the half pass. By getting the haunches to lead, they will ultimately be in the correct position as you change the bend for the half pass.
Once Speedy's haunches were leading, I changed the bend. I had to keep my outside leg on and ask for forward with the inside leg. Chemaine had to remind me numerous times to keep the inside leg on. I always want to pull it off thinking I am giving him space into which to move. This is wrong. Don't do that. It's important to keep the inside leg on and use both legs to ask for forward. Anytime I lost the haunches or when Speedy got too heavy on the outside rein, I changed the bend and turned it back into a leg yield.
After we crossed the diagonal (I was always short as my arena is really wide), we then turned left and did the same thing through the corner at C and H. I had to remember to change the whip, and then we did a leg yield H to F, changing to half pass once I had Speedy's haunches leading.
Once Speedy and I had it mostly figured out, we moved to the trot and started the half pass without doing the leg yield first. To help me set it up correctly - after I had started it as a hot mess, Chemaine reminded me to ride into the corner thinking shoulder in. This put Speedy on the outside rein so that I could then use the rein to send his haunches over. I'll let Chemaine explain it better:
We definitely made a ton of improvement with her nuts and bolts explanation, but we clearly need more practice. That's okay as I have plenty of time for that. Here's one more go at the trot half pass:
Chemaine is definitely able to get Speedy and me to places that I never thought possible. We're no Grand Prix pair (yet), but this horse has really developed into a fancy little mover. Check out this medium trot. He actually has a moment of suspension!
After I felt like I had my homework for the trot half pass figured out, we worked on canter half pass to the flying change. I'll try to get to that tomorrow.