I just wish he would have picked a day where I wasn't paying to ride. Sheesh!
I don't have bad lessons. I always learn something, even if it's what not to do. Sunday's lesson was terrible, and it was not my fault. It was not Chemaine Hurtado's fault - owner at trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. I am placing the entirety of the blame at Speedy's wild-child hooves. DUDE!
I rarely ride Speedy for more than hour, and if I do, it's during a lesson with plenty of walk breaks. On Sunday, I rode him for nearly an hour and a half with virtually no walk breaks. Granted, most of that time was spent regrouping from the latest round of bucks and kicks, so I am not sure how tired he ended up being. Not tired enough would be my vote.
The day before, Speedy was absolutely brilliant. We half passed and we did neat little flying changes. I was so excited to show Chemaine how we have incorporated her exercise for getting more suspension instead of more forward. Sunday was one of those days were all he had was FORWARD. He had plenty of go, but there was no steering and certainly no bending of any kind. It's kind of hard to school half passes when your horse won't bend.
Poor Chemaine. She tried every exercise she could think of. Speedy just was not in the mood. We did shoulder in to haunches in down the long side. We did shoulder in to haunches in on the circle. We galloped. I used the whip. I tossed the whip. I used the whip again and tossed the whip again. We walked. We jigged. We did walk pirouettes.
Honestly, Speedy. What a day ...
Speedy was just so full of himself that he could not do anything that even resembled dressage. He wasn't sick, he wasn't sore, he was just feeling GOOD. It was the first morning in a long while that felt cool. I almost regretted not wearing long sleeves. Of course it broke a hundred later in the day, but the morning felt fabulous. Or at least Speedy thought so.
The lesson wasn't a complete waste though, Chemaine showed me a good exercise to start the canter pirouette as well as a half pass to counter canter to flying lead change. Of course, the very next day he did each exercise quietly with his usual try hard demeanor. Speedy is such a saint that I totally forgave him for having a wild day. If he needs a day to let it all hang out, I think he's earned it.
I just wish he would have picked a day where I wasn't paying to ride. Sheesh!
Last week, I had a lesson on Speedy with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. Like I always do, I explained to Chemaine what was going well, and what wasn't - our half passes were much improved, but they lacked impulsion. Chemaine had several several exercises for me to try.
The first exercise she had me do was one from the past, but we used it differently. During the trot half pass, whenever I felt like Speedy was ignoring my outside leg, she had me turn the half pass into a leg yield by changing the bend. As soon as Speedy started moving off my now inside leg, I was to change the bend again all while ensuring that he still moved sideways off my leg. The exercise worked well, but I am going to need it for a while, especially to the right.
The next exercise that we did addressed the lack of impulsion. We did half pass to medium trot to half pass to medium trot. Because the half pass requires so much strength and collection, Speedy was thrilled to be allowed to really go for it in the extended trot. This in turn helped build in some natural impulsion for the half pass. It was a win-win.
Before we finished the lesson, Chemaine said that she had one more exercise she wanted me to try. We've worked really hard to get the impulsion and uphill carriage that Speedy needs for the medium and extended gaits. That's still a work in progress, for sure, but Chemaine wanted to add yet another dimension.
Down each long side, Chemaine wanted me to do big half halts with a lot of leg. As predicted, Speedy shot forward assuming that the half halt with leg meant medium trot. As soon as he went heavy in my hand, she had me half halt and again tap him with my whip. We repeated the exercise until Speedy connected the dots: I didn't want more forward, I wanted more up. You can see it in the photo above. He can't carry it for long, but as we schooled it, both of us got the idea a bit better.
When we moved to the canter work, both Speedy and I had an AHA moment. I realized that I could ask for the same thing in the canter. And sure enough, his canter got a lot more jump in it when I half halted with my outside rein and added leg. Canter half pass and flying changes both are much easier with canter that's got some jump to it.
Here's some video of getting the suspension in the trot.
I have learned more during this past year than in the last ten years combined. While it could get overwhelming to contemplate all that's still to be learned, I don't worry about it since what I am learning is turning out to be so much fun. Not to mention rewarding.
Like I've said before: Second Level sucked really rotten tomatoes. Third Level is the cat's meow!
I've been stirring the pot a lot around here lately. How about a little more?
A comment was made a few weeks back that sort of took a pot shot at my trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. The person commenting stated that her students were all earning scores in the high 60s and low 70s at Third Level, which I clearly am not. She also went on to say that her students wouldn't use her name and website (these are my words ...) while being a sucky rider and sharing that fact with the world. She didn't put it exactly like that, but that's what she meant.
Virtually all of the criticism I get on social media rolls off me like water off a duck's back. Most of you understand that I am an adult amateur doing the best that I can; just like you are. I can't afford to have a horse in full training, and even if I could, there's not a trainer here in town anyway. Instead, I make do with a few lessons a month.
When I read the comment I'm referring to, my hackles went straight up. Number one, the woman commenting left only a first name, so it is very hard to confirm the veracity of her comment. Number two, it struck me as arrogant to state that her students are earning high 60s and low 70s. Is that every student every time? You mean they never get a 58% ever? If so, she must have a clientele loaded with very talented women who are clearly destined for bigger and better things.
There was more to the comment of course, but I took issue with the insinuation that my trainer isn't doing her job. Let me tell you a little bit about Chemaine's credentials. According to USDF records, there are currently 253 riders who have earned their Bronze Freestyle bars, 302 riders with their Silver Freestyle bars, and only 180 riders who have achieved their Gold Freestyle bars. Chemaine has earned all three of them. She has also earned all three of her medals, Gold, Silver, and Bronze. As an interesting note, there are only 1,556 riders who have a Gold Medal. That's an elite crowd for sure.
I share these statistics to substantiate my claim that Chemaine is a very talented rider. A quick glance at her scores on USDFScores.com confirms that she's not a one hit wonder. She knows what she's doing which is one of the reasons that I've chosen her to be my trainer. That's not the only reason though.
I hope that Chemaine is not unique as a trainer because first and foremost, she cares about your horse's well-being. She wants him to be happy and comfortable in his work. That means she's willing to try a lot of things, even some things that might seem "unorthodox." In my case, we put a lower level horse in the double bridle. Shocking I know, but she was looking for a way to help me communicate with him so that he could understand what was being asked of him. When it didn't work, she made a different suggestion. It turned out that Izzy actually really likes a ported bit and not a snaffle. I now switch between the ported bit and a legal dressage bit that doesn't break like a snaffle. The experiment with the double bridle gave us that information.
The second reason that I adore Chemaine as my trainer is that she also really, really cares about all of her students. While she would love for all of us to be earning scores in the high 60s and low 70s, she's proud of us even when we don't. Her mission is to help us achieve our goals, not hers. Sometimes those goals simply mean entering at A. Sometimes the goal is just not to get eliminated. Or in my case, earning a 60% on a horse that I am basically training myself. Of course I want to score higher, and of course I want to earn a Bronze Medal, but Chemaine recognizes that I need to be supported in the smaller stuff in order to get there.
I am always very concerned about embarrassing Chemaine. I can't stand to let her down, and I worry that other people will judge her based on my riding. (Gee, a little like what just happened). When we don't get an obedient change or Speedy gets behind the vertical, I fret that they'll think she doesn't know how to teach. Believe me, she does. But rather than tell me I can't show until ______________, she encourages me to get out there and try and see what happens. She knows that I enjoy showing and that I need the challenge of the show ring to really help me step up my game.
I don't want a trainer who is more concerned with how I am going to make her look than she is about helping me achieve my goals. Chemaine could probably have a retinue of high scoring ladies if she were less concerned about having fun and appreciating the process. But I don't think that's her. Enjoying the journey, laughing about the mistakes, and continuing to strive for the best that we can be is more her style.
I bet most of you have trainers like Chemaine. Trainers that know that your 59.8% was the best you could do at that given moment. They aren't worried that you're making them look bad. They care about you and your horse more than they care about how you're making them look.
To those hard working, compassionate trainers, we salute you!
Show recap tomorrow. In the meantime ...
Man, that sucker is intense. It's not hard in the way that Second was - Second Level, YOU SUCK!, but it's not easy either. The trot work is well within our wheel house; I even find it fun. The canter work is where it gets tricky.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, talked me into ditching 3-2 in favor of 3-3. There's not a whole lot of difference between the two until you get to the canter half pass. It's longer, wider, and you have to straighten it out before making a 10-meter half circle followed by the flying change at X (or near X).
Lateral work is Speedy's nemesis; he hates it. He's willing to offer softness OR a lateral movement, but not both at the same time. He's willing to half pass OR canter, again not at the same time. With a show only days away (I wrote this last week :0), I was feeling pretty frustrated. I might have even cried a little bit. Thankfully, Chemaine was able to come down for a lesson on Wednesday morning.
One of the things I most respect about Chemaine as a trainer is that she always asks me how things are going, knowing that I am going to rattle off a list of what needs fixing. I so appreciate that she trusts my feelings about where we are. She doesn't just consult her agenda and insist we stick to that plan. And then, even though it's on the spot, she is able to instantly devise an exercise to address whatever struggle I am having. It's one of her super powers for sure.
After I had finished with my little melt down, she had me work first on softness at the canter. That meant picking it up from the walk softly. If he braced, we came back to walk and did it again. If he hung on my inside rein AT ALL, we walked and did it again. It was amazing how quickly Speedy realized that why yes, he is able to canter and be soft at the same time.
Then we moved on to the canter half pass. The idea was the same. As soon as he made a mistake, and Chemaine was very clear that it wasn't me making the mistake this time, we walked, BUT WE KEPT HALF PASSING. That was the crucial part. Speedy has figured out that if he braces, I'll either whack him forward, or circle. In either case he gets out of the half pass.
With Chemaine's exercise, he had to half pass even if it was at the walk. And there was lots of half pass at the walk because as soon as he quit moving off my leg, I insisted he walk AND CONTINUE HALF PASSING. It never got perfect, but at least we were finally going in a somewhat recognizable sideways direction at the canter.
Then Chemaine had me ride the second half of the test: 1) canter half pass left, half circle, flying change; 2) canter half pass right, half circle, flying change; 3) extended canter, collected canter, trot and centerline.
It is clear that we are still a "developing" Third Level pair, but at least the movements are there and worth scoring. Ww had follow-up lesson on Friday afternoon at the show. I'll let you know how we did.
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!
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!
When I had my last lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, she showed me an exercise that I haven't yet shared. It came as we ended the lesson, kind of in response to a question I had about getting Speedy to MOVE his hind end over, particularly in the half pass. Be prepared for your brain to melt just a little bit.
Speedy is built to go forward in a pretty level frame. Moving sideways is hard for him. Sitting is equally difficult. Third Level is all about lateral movements with collection though, so we're always looking for ways to show him how to move his body over and stay balanced.
The exercise Chemaine showed us doesn't really have a name. On Facebook, someone called it a "counter canter leg yield." If that helps you visualize it, then the name suits. Essentially, it's a canter half pass with the wrong bend. How do you even ... and why would you? I know, smoke came out of my ears, too.
Here's how it goes: pick up a canter. For us, the more difficult half pass and flying change is the right to left canter, so we started with a right lead canter. As you come through the corner, cross the diagonal. Change the bend, BUT HOLD THE LEAD. Push the haunches to the right with the intention of getting them parallel to the shoulders. Once you arrive at the rail or corner, do the flying change.
The difficulty with this exercise, of the many actually, was keeping my inside leg forward to say hold the lead while at the same time pushing my outside hip into him to tell tell him to move his hips OVER.
We only did the exercise with Chemaine once or twice in each direction, enough so that I understood what I would be asking for. When I rode Speedy a day or two later, I tried it again near the beginning of the ride while he was still fresh. A battle of near epic proportions ensued.
Instead of moving his haunches and body, he barreled through my right rein with his shoulder, and gave me a huge middle finger. I jerked him to halt and then picked up the right lead canter again. And again he blew through my rein and again I halted him. We ran through the exercise until he finally started to respect my right rein, and suddenly, he could move laterally. He gave a very good flying change, and that was it.
The next time I rode him, there was no fight in the exercise, and he did it correctly in both directions. The flying changes were smooth and easy. This exercise is now my go-to for fixing a dragging hind end. Here's a quick video of riding it with Chemaine explaining.
If you've used this, share what it fixed, and if you try it, share how it helped. I am still trying to get the hang of it.
On Tuesday, I had one of those lessons where your brain gets buzzy, and you almost feel like you had too much to drink. But in a good way. With Sunday's show likely to be cancelled, I told Chemaine, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, that I just wanted a regular lesson. There wasn't any need to try and polish anything up for the show. I am glad that's the direction we went because we tackled some of our fundamental weaknesses.
The first was our consistency. Chemaine used that word over and over throughout the lesson: consistency of frame. consistency of rhythm, consistency of bend, and so on. Now that we're showing Third Level, we have to kick it up a notch, tighten things up, and smooth out the rough edges.
Keeping Speedy consistent in his frame is my job. Too often he plays around trying to avoid the frame that I've established. As soon as Chemaine encouraged me to "get him consistent in the frame," something just clicked. She probably didn't see the light bulb come on over my head, but I sure felt it. By maintaining that consistency in his frame, he'll be more balanced in his collection and of course steadier in the bridle.
For the rest of the lesson, consistency became the theme. For the shoulder-in, Chemaine reminded me to keep a steadier tempo. Move the shoulders over, half halt to keep him on the rail, but then release the halt halt to allow him to move. So often my half halt is too long, preventing Speedy from moving forward. Chemaine encouraged a half halt, half halt, let go. Half halt, half halt, let go rhythm to encourage more fluidity in the shoulder-in.
She employed the same strategy for the renvers and the half pass. Half halt to move the haunches, keep a consistent bend, and allow him to move forward. Repeat, repeat, repeat. When we moved to the trot half pass, she changed the aids slightly by directing me to do shoulder-in slightly to haunches in to shoulder-in to haunches in. By putting all of this together, I was able to keep better flexion while keeping his haunches to the inside of the bend all while still maintaining a consistent tempo.
One weakness that's no longer is our medium trot. A year and a half ago, I could barely sit a working trot. I made it my mission to be able to a) sit the trot so that I could show at Second Level, and b) sit the trot so that I could someday get out of Second Level. I worked on it over last winter and by our first show in March of 2018, I could sit the collected trot, but I bounced all over the place for the medium.
I continued to work at it last summer until I could more or less sit the medium trot without too much air beneath my butt. Chemaine promised me that as Speedy's medium trot got more balanced, more powerful, and more uphill, the medium and extended trot would be easier to sit. She was right. I still don't sit it as effortlessly as I would like, but I am sitting it, and more importantly, I am actually creating the medium trot with my seat.
This series of screen shots is from one medium/extended trot across the long diagonal. Our extended trot looks suspiciously like our medium trot. Maybe the judge won't notice.
We couldn't finish the lesson without schooling the flying changes. They are so much improved, but there's still work to be done. The left to right change is almost reliable if I set him up correctly and remember to look in the direction of the new lead. The right to left change is still a bit hit or miss. It happens, but they're often dramatic or not clean or he simply changes before I ask. Here's a left to right change done relatively correctly (after about five attempts).
At the end of the lesson, I asked Chemaine to be straight with me. Compared to other adult amateurs on horses that they're bringing up from ground zero - in other words, riders not on school masters or $80,000 imports whose extended trot has to be tempered rather than developed, how do I stack up? I don't need to be awesome. I don't need a 70%. I just don't want to embarrass myself or her at a show. I don't want to be that rider that causes the judge and everyone around her to cringe.
While Chemaine's response didn't make me shout out hell yeah!, I was relieved. She replied, Let me put it this way: everything is recognizable. You know what? I'll take that. Recognizable is at least a 5, and maybe even a 6. We're ready.
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!