It's okay to have hopes and dreams, but for me, I've found that it's better if I don't say them out loud. The Universe is easily offended and quick to remind me that I am not in charge. Making a list of what I "want" is a quick way to ensure that things will quickly go to hell in a hand basket.
This is the time of year that I always start planning next year's show schedule, next year's goals, next year's budget. Invariably though, October is the month where crap starts falling apart. It's usually Speedy who suffers some malady or other, and if not him, then me. And of course, the big brown horse isn't invincible either.
So do I plan and budget and enjoy our progress, or do I sit back patiently and let things unfold how they will? Too much sitting back though doesn't get things done. On the other hand, when I've tempted Fate, I find that I am sidelined which also means not get anything done.
As hard as it is to rein in my exuberance, I am keeping a lid on things for now. Yes, I've got big plans, but something is telling me to be patient this fall and let things sort themselves out.
It's hard to be patient though when you want something, even if all you want is a few good scores. Slow down, Sweaney. All in good time.
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!
Hey there! Long time no see! You have no idea how unbearable life can be without the internet. Seriously. Sometime over Monday night, our modem went kaput. A new one should arrive today, but you never know.
On top of no modem, my house is a fortress and gets really weak cellular service. I use wi-fi calling which means getting tech support was quite a challenge.
I am sitting in a junior high classroom right now, hijacking my district's wi-fi to get this post out. I have two days of classes to sit through as we launch the school year.
If all goes well, I'll be back tomorrow with a regular post. Tons has been happening, including a lesson, body work for me, and of course, Sunday's show. See you all tomorrow!
Back when I was endurance riding, it took completing my 1000th race mile before I felt enough confidence (that word again?!) to count myself as a member of the endurance ranks. Since the sport is about enduring, it didn't seem right to claim an ability to endure until I had. It wasn't until I had finished my first 100-mile race that I felt as though I really and truly belonged to that elite group of riders.
If I ever earn my USDF Gold Medal, I don't think even that would give me a sense of command or expertise in this thing we call dressage. No matter how many awards I win, no matter how many levels I complete, there will always, always be more to learn. Not that there wasn't in endurance, but after successfully completing so many 50-milers, multi-day rides, and hundreds, I felt that I had more or less mastered the sport. From that point on, it was about proving (to myself) that I could keep a horse fit and healthy enough to continue on year after year. That's what endurance meant to me.
I don't think dressage can ever be completely mastered. Do you think Robert Dover or Carl Hester feel as though they've learned it all? Are they still discovering elements of this sport that they hadn't grasped before? I hope so.
So where are you going with all this? I have a point, really I do. Well, not a point exactly. More like some things that I've learned over the past month or so. Just when I think I'm really getting somewhere, I'll have one of those moments where I'll feel something new that is really basic and think to myself, what the hell have I been doing over the past 10 years? How did I not know THAT? Insert whatever it is I've just learned.
This month, I am finally, finally starting to feel the hind legs. I've read so many books and articles that talk about giving the aid when the hind leg is in the right position for the rider to influence it. I've always just nodded my head and thought, my horse has a hind leg. If I keep squeezing, kicking, tapping, half halting, etc., he'll eventually move it to where it needs to go.
I am being honest here. I have never actually been able to tell when that right moment is. And not that I can tell today either, but I am definitely getting closer. Wednesday was one of those days.
Riding two horses every day is a luxury that I will never take for granted. So often I start an idea on one horse and then get to really explore it on the second horse. Influencing the hind leg is something that I've been working on as it pertains to the flying change. This year, I learned that the flying change has to come from behind first. If the horse changes his front legs first, it's called a late change.
The flying changes have really forced me to pay attention to what's happening with Speedy's hind legs. The canter half pass and half turn on the haunches have required a similar focus. Squeezing and kicking just isn't going to cut it at Third Level.
The big OHHHH ... that I am getting is coming from the walk to canter transition, something we did a lot of at Second Level. If you're at Second right now, (Katy!) pay attention to your simple changes because they're going to get really important at Third Level.
I am starting to feel a connection between my outside rein and Speedy's outside leg. Yes, we could get a simple change at Second Level, but now we have to get a really good canter so that the hind leg is active enough to carry us through the corner into the canter half pass and later, across the diagonal with enough jump to get a flying change. The hind leg's quality of activity has become really important.
I am not schooling the flying change on Izzy, but I have. No, the hind leg connection that I am feeling right now is the inside leg to the outside rein. OH MY GOD, HOW OLD OF A CONCEPT IS THAT? And yes, I am shouting because that is the mother of all ideas, and I am rolling my eyes that I am still struggling with it.
Over the past month or so, Izzy has really learned how to stretch over his topline AND push with his hind end. Or, could it be that I've learned how to ask him to stretch and push? Either way, I am finally able to put him on the outside rein and feel him bend around my inside leg. It doesn't happen every time, but now that I know what it feels like, it's getting easier and easier to recreate the feeling.
If you're still struggling with the same idea, it's a feeling of riding the inside leg. I can really feel it in the leg yield. It's as though I am pushing that inside leg to M or H. I can actually feel his inside leg step under and over.
The good thing about feeling something new, especially when I've created it on purpose, is that once I feel or learn something, I can't unfeel or unlearn it. If you like to finish a task, dressage is probably not your best choice. You'll never be finished. If you like torture and humble pie, then this is your lucky day.
I'll have two slices, please.
Last week, I wrote a post about what confidence means to me. Essentially, to me, confidence is an appreciation of one's own strengths. Perceived confidence is a funny thing though. One can have boatloads of it that the rest of the world simply can't see. What one person feels is mettle, grit, or conviction, the rest of us see as over-confidence which is nearly always viewed as a bad thing. To the person letting it all hang out (so to speak), I say, run with it, girlfriend. Is that how I want to live my life? Well no, but more power to those that do.
While I got a lot of positive feedback on that post - some of you expressed an appreciation of my honesty, others took me to task. I was criticized for the example of "over-confidence" that I chose to share - the rider who claimed to be at a higher level than she had previously demonstrated. Several people pointed out that it was petty to include that example.
If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you'll know that I make a point of not writing negative things about other riders. I definitely write critical things about myself though, always in an effort to show my learning curve. I generally avoid too much negative self-talk - unless it's funny, then game on. But I don't bash on people, ever.
So why did I mention that other rider? I think if we revisit what I said, it might be more clear. What I said was this: "she was claiming to be a Fourth Level rider and had her Training Level horse decked out in a double bridle in an attempt to make it so. My thoughts? Wow. That's confidence."
Do I think she overstated her abilities? Yes, but that's how she perceived her abilities. I wasn't exaggerating or lying. She confidently stated what she believed she could do. The rest of the world just couldn't see it so we label it as being over-confident. My actual comment was "Wow. That's confidence." But hey, you run with it, girlfriend.
I am sure that I have been over-confident more than once in my life. And no doubt, I either kicked butt or more likely, learned a valuable lesson. Isn't that how we gain confidence? We think we can and then we do it, or we think we can and then find out we can't, so we work even harder the next time. Success breeds confidence, failure motivates us to try again.
The truth is, I am very careful about claiming what I can do. I think most perfectionists are. I frequently call myself an under-achieving over-achiever (That's going to be the title of the book I someday write.). Meaning, I expect far more from myself than I can deliver. I am never happy with a dressage test because I know that it can always be done better. And that's me in a nutshell, trying to do everything better.
In response to that same bog post, I was accused of ignoring a judge's comments in favor of just trying to earn more points. Anyone who has been reading about my journey for more than the past five minutes knows that I dissect every. single. judge's. comment. Yes, I try to earn more points because more points means progress. Progress comes by taking what the judge says and then working hard to apply it.
I guess it all comes down to this: competing in a sport that deliberately invites criticism is tough. Writing about that criticism and then sharing it with the rest of the world means you had better have a thick enough skin to withstand the negative feedback. On top of that, I ask readers to share their opinions here, whether I agree with them or not.
Really. What do you think?
As my abilities develop, my confidence both waxes and wanes. One minute I am the world's greatest rider, and the next leaves me feeling as though I should sell everybody and move on to something else. We've all felt that way, I know.
Earlier in the year, a rider contacted me wanting to know about Bakersfield's dressage scene. She had just moved here and was getting ready to show at Third Level. I was excited because that was right where we were, and everyone knows misery loves company.
Fair warning. I am a score stalker. When you say you're showing Third Level or Second Level or PSG, I'm going to look you up and see if your stats support your claim - especially if we're going to be building a relationship. I quickly discovered that this particular rider had shown a few times at Training Level in 2018. That was the extent of her showing experience.
The next time I heard anything about her, she was claiming to be a Fourth Level rider and had her Training Level horse decked out in a double bridle in an attempt to make it so. My thoughts? Wow. That's confidence.
Writing about my journey so publicly, I know it is impossible to fool anyone. I use my real name. I use Speedy's real name. I make it incredibly easy for anyone to check my "credentials." I post more blooper photos than I do of the carefully selected screen shots even though they paint a lovelier picture. For that matter, I post videos of our rides with the score sheets attached. There is no way I can claim to be anything other than what we are.
So why do I write this blog? Why do I show everyone the ugly moments? The truth is that when I jumped into this dressage thing, I couldn't find any resources for a low level beginner like myself. Of course, that was before Twitter and Instagram and the explosion of social media. I decided that I'd be that resource for someone else. I knew that if I was struggling, others had to be as well.
I've always referred to myself as a low level rider, but I think I need to adjust that moniker. While it feels arrogant and over-stepping, I think I should now consider myself a member of the mid-level ranks. That's going to take some confidence to pull off though. It's not that I don't think I belong there because I do. It's just that I don't want people thinking that I think I am better than I really am.
All of which brings me to the lyrics of a song by Devin Dawson that have really resonated with me lately. The line comes from his song, "Dark Horse." In it he sings, "No, it ain't that I'm self-conscious, I'm just conscious of myself. And I don't know how to be nobody else." To me, that's confidence - an honest awareness of yourself and your abilities.
Confidence is defined as a feeling of self-assurance arising from one's appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities. While I certainly struggle, I am also quick to recognize my strengths. Because of that awareness, I think I'd rather identify myself as a struggling rider and surprise myself rather than label myself accomplished and prove myself to be very, very wrong.
What do you think?
Before I get to this weekend's show recap, I wanted to share some things I learned. (Spoiler alert!) I didn't get a single score of 60% or higher. While that was certainly disappointing, I had a ridiculously good time even so. Best of all though was that I gained some new insights about myself as a rider.
Guess what? Speedy and I are NOT Charlotte and Valegro. But no one else is either! I don't know why this hasn't occurred to me before, but the idea smacked me in the forehead as I sat watching a Second Level class after my own rides were finished. This is HUGE. I have spent NINE years certain of the fact that I pretty much suck at this sport. Over the weekend, I realized that EVERYONE else sucks, too!
When I first started as an Introductory Level rider in the summer of 2010, I thought everyone else rode beautifully, especially those riders a few levels above me. I would watch their warmups, particularly at Second and above, and think there was NO WAY I could ever ride as well as that.
I am not a rail bird, but what comes out of my mouth next is going to sound railbird-esque. As I watched the Second Level (and lower) riders, I could see and appreciate their effort and their try, but they pretty much sucked JUST LIKE ME! It is not my intent to disparage anyone. Instead, what I saw was a bunch of women and kids on a journey really similar to my own. None of us are fabulous, and we're all struggling equally.
That was one of the biggest insights I had: I am no better than anyone else, but I am not WORSE than everyone else either! Realizing that I am not a terrible rider or that conversely we all are, did a ton for my confidence. While we aren't Charlotte, that doesn't mean that we can't be good.
I was stabled near a big name trainer and a few of her clients. They had F-A-N-C-Y horses and (what seemed liked) plenty of money. I'll admit I felt a bit outclassed for a minute. One was riding First Level and the other Training. Both ladies felt compelled to offer explanations for why they were riding such low levels - both horses were Nervous Nellies who needed low pressure rides to build confidence. Okay, I thought. And? No need to justify to me why you're not riding PSG.
One of the ladies then added, in a very embarrassed tone, that she couldn't even remember the last time she rode at First Level. I bet Hilda Gurney does. It was probably fairly recently, too. Oh, wait; I just looked it up. She rode Training Level in May and again in April and again in March.
If that rider only knew how long it had taken me to get through First Level! I didn't take her comment personally. I just shrugged my shoulders, knowing that they were simply expressing their own feelings of inadequacy. I've got plenty of my own. But then I realized that we're all there for our own personal goals. No one's goal is better or worse than anyone else's. And suddenly, I didn't feel so outclassed after all.
Another realization that hit me was that losing so much weight, 42 pounds at the last check, has made showing a heck of a lot easier. Last summer, I could barely make it through my Second Level tests without collapsing in exhaustion. While I was still huffing and puffing at the end of each of my Third Level tests, I wasn't begging for them to be over, red-faced and wobbly. Doing Third with that extra weight would have been hard, really hard. If you're thinking of losing a few pounds, do it. It does make riding easier.
We all know that showing with our friends turns what could easily be a solitary pity-party into a group laugh-a-thon. I always enjoy hanging out with my friends at shows, but this time, something was different. Somehow the whole event seemed to be about enjoying the moment and the people in it rather than having a laser beam focus on THE SHOW.
One reason I go to this particular venue is because the show is managed by my dear friend Jen. She's an amazing show manager and puts up with some unbelievable weirdness. Dressage riders are a curious bunch. I spent my non-riding time as her beck and call girl. I ran tests from the judge to the show office for tabulating, I did some printer troubleshooting, and then I even helped the guys dismantle the dressage court so it could be moved to a different ring for Sunday's rides.
When I wasn't riding or helping out Jen, I spent some time laughing with my friend Sarah who helped me both unload and load crap. She just finished saving her gelding Enzo's eye. He has spent months battling an eye infection that started with a very small ulcer. She hopes to be showing in July. I'm certainly rooting for her.
I also hung out with my friend Valerie, owner of the Dressage Pony Store. If you ride a smaller statured horse, check out her online store. Her own pony Clooney, seen above, always looks brilliant in the stuff she carries in her store. Speedy's pad in the above photos came from the Pony Store.
Valerie is just one of the most down to earth people you'd ever want to meet. We spent hours giggling over our score sheets - she rode 3-3 and 4-1. We both laughed at comments we'd never seen before: vague, modest, not to CL followed by still not from CL, and my favorite, 11-meters (in reference to my 10-meter canter circle). We practically snorted over the 11-meter comment. It was just such a precise comment while my circle clearly was not.
This show definitely showed me what I am not. I am not Charlotte, but no one else is either. I am not a terrible rider and neither are the rest of you. I am not out there doing this alone. I have a lot of friends who want us to do well because that's what friends and fellow competitors should want.
And finally, while I didn't get a single qualifying score, I am not disappointed. Go figure!
If you're a regular reader, you'll have already noticed that I'm a bit late in posting this morning. Today marks the first day of summer break. It's the day/week/month that every teacher lives for. I slept in a few minutes before catching up on everything that's been waiting for me since last summer's break.
While it might appear that teacher's get a three-month paid holiday, don't be fooled; I get paid for 183 days. In years past, teachers in my district had to save enough money from their monthly paycheck to live on over the summer. Not long ago, my district decided to do it for us. Each month a portion of my check is withheld and then doled out to me in July and August. So no, teachers don't actually get "paid" in the summer.
Every teacher I know works far more hours than we get paid for. Myself, I arrive at school an hour early every single day, and quite often I work late. I also work through lunch. That means I "donate" at least 2 hours a day for 180 school days. After some quick math, that comes out to 45 days of unpaid work. So much for a "paid summer vacation."
The kids get 10 weeks of break, but I'll start back after 9 weeks in order to get my room set up and make lesson plans. Over the summer I am also taking a 45-hour class in June (that cost $343) and another two days of classes offered by my district in August, all for "professional development."
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks." I do tend to get a little defensive at this time of year. Teachers have become the public's favorite punching bag. Everyone knows a teacher, and everyone can share a horror story of how their child was tragically mistreated by said teacher. All I can say is that it's a tough job and kids aren't always truthful.
Moving on though. I plan to spend the next few weeks catching my breath, riding my horses, and eventually gearing up for the 2019/2020 school year. If you have kids, enjoy your summer!
Today, April 15th, marks Speedy G's 15th birthday. He was given the name G Ima Starr FA at birth, but since joining my little family as a wee three-year old, he's been just Speedy.
This horse has given me so many opportunities that I surely wouldn't have had without him, and he's done it all with very few complaints. Horse camping far from home? Okay. Riding on the beach? Okay to that, too.
We went to his first endurance ride in March 2004, just before his fifth birthday. Except for horses coming straight at him, he handled it like a real pro. You want me to do what? Well, all right.
We went fox-hunting in 2013. Since there aren't really foxes here in California - at least not those kind, the hounds hunted coyotes. I threw a newish rider up on Speedy, and I rode Sydney, the New Zealand Thoroughbred I owned before Izzy. Speedy thought it was all quite hilarious. Not sure what we're doing this time, but it's fun!
In between endurance rides, I asked him to take a few dressage lessons. And then I asked him to try out a few shows with me. We looked like the total beginners we were, but he did it with the most willing attitude a girl could ask for. Just do some circles and straight lines for 5 minutes? Are you sure that's all you need? You had me at hello!
Since he was willing to do a few shows, I asked him if he could do a few more, and then I asked him to win. Why not? I look good in blue!
And then I asked him to do it again ...
We found out he looks just as stunning in red ...
And I've kept on asking him to do more and more for me. Sometimes it takes us awhile, but he continues to try. No matter how we do, he's always game to come back and try again. Not because he wants to, but because I do.
Now that he's 15, he's definitely what we would call middle-aged. That means, like me, there's a pill for this and a pill for that. It's harder to get up in the morning, and it takes longer for things to heal. As we get older, we have to think about whether we want to keep working and whether we should keep working. While I am looking forward to retirement, Speedy is most definitely not.
Speedy has already shown me that he gets pretty grouchy if I stop asking him to do things for me, so I am going to continue on to Third Level as long as he's willing. And so far, he's still digging it. You want more ribbons and medals? Sure, let's go!
Wishing you a very happy birthday, Speedy!
I rarely click "share" when I see my Facebook memories. I enjoy that feature of Facebook, but most of the time I simply smile or elbow my husband as I say, "remember this?" But yesterday, I must have been feeling a bit nostalgic as I shared this memory.
I totally dug endurance riding; every race was an adventure. Endurance races weren't just about the miles though. It was setting up camp, the group conversation while vetting in, the Friday night rider meeting, the mass of horses at the start, and of course rehashing ever step of the trail during the awards dinner. We were immersed in the race from Friday morning all the way until we unloaded our horses at home on Sunday evening.
It wasn't all great though which is why I segued into something else, dressage as it so happens. I thought I would be a lifer, someone who never leaves the sport, but I wasn't. A great friend of mine has been competing for decades and has no plans on quitting. She's got my respect for sure.
While I have fond memories of trotting down the trail, I don't miss it. Dressage shows have filled the gap nicely. I still get to camp with my horse, and while it's not basecamp, the little niche we set up in front of our stalls - supplied with a cooler, chairs, and tables, creates an intimate space for visiting with friends. We still have great conversations, but instead of rehashing every mile of the trail, we dissect every movement and score earned.
I traded one detail-oriented sport for another. While dressage will leave you cleaner at the end of the day, it still takes a deep commitment, planning, and good old-fashioned grit. It was a good trade.