- more bend in the corner to PREPARE for the shoulder-in
- shoulder-in to PREPARE for the trot half pass
- get him SOFT before the canter half pass
- get him SOFT before the release of the reins in the canter
- THINK shoulder-in for the extended canter
- HALF HALT before the extended trot and ride it UPHILL
- LEG ON at the end of the medium trot
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.
I had a lesson on Tuesday which renewed my faith in Speedy's ability to do Third Level. I need to quit being such a doubter. But you know how it goes, sometimes you do great in a lesson under your trainer's watchful eye only to crash and burn the next day.
I am thrilled to report that when I rode Speedy yesterday afternoon sans trainer, I got an easy flying change at the end of the canter half pass! Not that our half pass is recognizable as such. It looks more like a beginner's attempt at a leg yield - more diagonal than straight, but who cares about that?
The thrilling part was that we got it on the first try with minimal effort on my part. Truth be told, I think he offered it before I had completely finished asking! Which leads me to hope that he might be ready to start offering changes at random moments during the canter as I lose my balance or shift my weight. Wouldn't that be awesome?
This video was during Tuesday's lesson, but it shows how well he can do a flying change.
As I rode yesterday afternoon, I reminded myself that if I am going to cram him into "the box," I need to at least occasionally "let him go" to see if he can stay there. We were both a lot happier. Self-carriage is a thing afterall; I need to let him do it.
My whole complaint this past of couple of weeks was that he wasn't sitting enough and softening. I think the photo above is proof that he can sit. If I can just get out of his way just a little bit and trust him to do his job, I think we might actually make it to Third Level.
Well that answers the can he or can't he question from the other day. If you don't have a trainer, and if you go through periods of huge self doubt, you really need to get one. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, really knows how to bring out the best in a horse and rider team without giving the rider false expectations.
She never came right out and said Speedy will be brilliant at Third Level, so quit worrying because in all likelihood he won't be. Instead, she helped me tackle the lateral work problem. The first issue was that Speedy was stuck on my inside rein and leg. As I started the trot half pass, Chemaine instructed me to ride a 10-meter circle while pushing him away from my leg. Then I went back to half pass, but every time I felt him heavy on my inside rein and leg, I repeated the 10-meter circle. We did a lot of 10-meter circles, but the exercise worked.
The next thing Chemaine helped me address was lightness. Speedy has been so heavy primarily because I am driving him to the bit. She laughed when she said that I've crammed him so far into the box that he can't get anymore into the box. She said I now need to let him go and see if he'll hold himself where he needs to be.
The exercise went a little like this: half pass, let him go, collect him, let him go. Repeat, repeat, repeat. And of course, the exercise worked. While the half pass didn't look brilliant, Speedy was finally soft in the bridle and moving laterally. I am sure he felt as relieved as I did.
Since my arena is short and wide, riding the half pass can be tricky as I run out of room. Chemaine gave me yet another new exercise that helps with the geometry while continuing the lateral work. It goes more or less like this:
The last thing we worked on was the flying change. Surprisingly, the change wasn't the thing I felt we needed to work on; I've had those more or less under control. In fact, we got them without too much fuss. Chemaine, never one to leave me without something new to work on, suggested we put the canter half pass and flying changes together.
Guess what happened? Yup. Speedy and I got the flying change out of canter half pass the first time. I am not sure who was more surprised, me, or Chemaine!
Speedy wasn't a bit surprised. He knew exactly what he was doing.