No pressure or anything.
I know I already "debuted" at Second Level, but that was at a CDS-rated show. This time, it's the real deal, a USDF show. Not to disparage the CDS show; my GMO is huge, and the two qualifying scores I earned count toward a lot of great programs (Regional show, Ruby Award, Rosettes, Championships). My scores didn't count for the Second Level Rider Performance Award or a Bronze Medal though; both things I would like to earn someday.
Earlier in the week, I dragged out my clippers to tidy up Speedy's bridle path and fetlocks. When I opened my braiding box, where I store my clippers, I realized it was really gross inside. Some hair gel had spilled, braiding bands were in little dusty piles, and they whole thing was filled with dirt and loose hair.
I dumped everything out and and gave the inside of the box a quick wipe. Then I proceeded to throw out anything that was empty, cracked, broken, or otherwise useless.
Then I repacked everything. I don't think I have ever cleaned this box out. I bought it six years ago; it was time.
Of course, after that was done, I looked up and saw my bandaging box. That too got a "going through."
In for a penny, in for a pound. By that time, I was in full on organize everything mode. Next up was my med kit.
And since I couldn't have stopped even had I wanted to, I tackled my bottles and jars of OTC stuff.
Then I had a crack at my shampoos and conditioners. For someone who doesn't do a lot of grooming, I have way too many types of mane and tail products. By the time that was all done, my side of the tack room started to feel pretty clean and organized. When I stepped back to admire my work, I was disappointed to see that it didn't look any better. It's all still just crammed in there.
After I was done, I realized that I was just blowing off nervous energy. Instead of feeling worried and anxious about the show, I was actually really excited. I feel better prepared than I did last month, and we're going to a venue that Speedy knows well.
My Saturday times are really good - not too early, and not too late. I wish they were closer together though. I hate to make Speedy stand saddled for all that time. Keeping him tacked up lets him know he's not done for the day though. He can get resentful if I take him back out when he thinks he's finished.
My Sunday times are great - first thing in the morning. Since I camp on the grounds, I'll be there anyway. And since I ride so early, I'll be able to hit the road sooner (it's a two and a half hour drive) which means I'll get home in time to unpack the trailer and make it home with part of the day still intact.
One last thought: the show drew more riders than anticipated which means there are two rings and two judges. I get to ride for both judges which means I get more opportunities to earn scores for Championships and the Second Level Rider Performance Award - scores need to be from four different judges. This show could get me halfway there.
No pressure or anything.
I am adding to my let's work on this list. Number one on the list is the simple change. It is getting better, so I must be doing something right. In fact, when I rode Speedy on Tuesday, I did a line of pretty decent simple changes down centerline. We cantered three strides, walked several strides, and then picked up the new lead. Doing them out in the open seemed to help.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has a good tip for picking up the counter canter. She suggests cantering out of the arena. In other words, if you're on the rail, position yourself so that you could actually canter out of the arena if there were room. It's a great visual to get your seat and aids in the correct position for a change of lead.
The next thing we need to tackle is more counter canter. Speedy can do the 20-meter half circle. In fact, he can hold it for the whole circle as long as I don't change direction. I am having trouble with the 3 loop serpentine from Second Level Test 3 because you have to change direction.
When I asked for it on Tuesday, I couldn't get Speedy to change direction; he was committed to turning left. When I made the loop shallower, like in First Level Test 3, he started to figure out what I wanted. One problem I have is that my arena is short. That means my first and last loops have to be 15-meter circles so that my counter canter loop is 20-meters.
When we couldn't get it on Tuesday, I scrapped the serpentine and did lots of simple changes to work on his balance. When I ride today, I'll go back to the three loop serpentine, but I'll start them very shallow to see if that helps Speedy loosen up a bit.
Chemaine also gave me a couple of other tips: open my outside rein a bit to draw his shoulders around; bring the outside rein back a little to keep him sitting (like in a turn on the haunches; and finally, push his haunches around to sort of pivot his body in the direction I need him to go.
I'll keep you posted.
This must be the season for baring it all. A few weeks ago, I shared that post about my fear of being a hack, this week, another let it all hang out.
I've been doing this dressage thing for quite a while now. I did my first show back in the summer of 2010. Holy Moly, has it been that long? Since I'd never shown before, and since Speedy had only ever done endurance, we started at the very first step - Introductory Level A.
We had great fun, but I wanted to move up a level. You've heard this story a thousand times. Making it to Training Level was my all encompassing goal. Once we hit Training Level, I wanted to get to First Level. That's where I thought you became a legitimate Dressage Rider. Making it to Second Level wasn't even on my RADAR.
From my lowly perspective, Second Level riders had to be amazing. You could only get there if you had a fantastic horse and you yourself had an amazing seat. HAHAHAHAHA. Boy, was I ever stupid!
I guess what I am trying to say is that if I can make it to Second Level, YOU can make it to Second Level. I am living proof that the riders at Second Level don't have to have an amazing seat, although I am sure it would help, and an average, plucky horse can get the job done. He doesn't have to be a fancy warmblood.
All of this occurred to me on Saturday while I was riding Speedy bareback with just a halter. We were hacking out around the neighborhood after a week off. It had rained nearly all week, and I thought some time off after our debut at Second was warranted. Since I can just hop on him bareback with a halter after a week off, that means that he is amazing. Just saying.
So there we were tootling around with the lead rope draped loosely when my plucky and amazing Second Level horse launched forward. I said he was amazing, not perfect. I grabbed wildly for my rope and managed to bring him back to a walk, but I was unbalanced and knew I was coming off. Cringing, because I knew it was going to hurt, I dug deep and tried to stay on anyway.
Instead of hitting the dirt, I landed on my feet with Speedy's lead rope in hand. I had to laugh. There I was, proof yet again that Second Level riders are no better than that endurance rider giving Intro Level A a try.
Oh, Third Level, where are yoooou!
Moving up a level is always hard for me because of the new scores I'm likely to receive. It's not like I finish each level with amazing scores, but walking away with high 60s or low 70s makes you feel good. Knowing that the likelihood for a mid-50 score (at the new level) is pretty high can be a bit demoralizing. First thing learned.
I didn't get that mid-50 score at Second Level though, at least not yet. We're a little better than I give us credit for. Another thing learned.
You know that confessions post I wrote a while back, the one where I admitted that I was terrified to ride in front a home town crowd? When I halted and saluted at X at the end of test 1, I was shocked to hear a huge round of applause. I was stunned. It dawned on me that they don't see me as a hack (okay, maybe one or two do) but rather as one of the family. Knowing that so many people were truly rooting for my success gave me all kinds of warm fuzzies. Lesson learned.
The 20-meter half circle from S to R or V to P doesn't touch C or A. Just thought you'd like to know. Good thing Chemaine pointed that out before the test. A good thing to learn ...
Speaking of geometry, I also learned that when you make a 10-meter half circle at A and ride the counter canter back to E, you ride the shoulders toward E. That's another good thing I learned over the weekend.
Second Level is harder physically for Speedy than First Level was. He's going to need to do some canter sets to increase his fitness. I've already been hammering away at the treadmill, but I might need to do a few more sets myself. We showed on a cool spring day. What's going to happen when it's 90? Glad I learned that early in the season.
The biggest thing I learned is that I take this too seriously. I really need to lighten up a bit. I say that, but actually putting it into practice is hard to do. I'll work on it it though.
Enjoy your weekend!
When starting a new level, I don't generally hunt down my score from the first test before riding the second one. The score doesn't matter at that point because I am already riding to the best of my ability. Reading that I suck isn't going to help any, so I'd rather get all the news, good or bad, at once.
After finishing my first ride, I knew it was pretty well done. I didn't have much time between tests though, so I didn't bother to check the score. It was what it was. Never did I imagine that I had earned a full 5% higher than I was hoping for. I am serious. I was hoping to score as high as a 57%. Breaking 60% was my pie in the sky goal. We obliterated that goal with our 63%.
There were two rides between our two tests, so I didn't even bother going back to the warm up. There was nothing I needed to fix, and I was worried about wearing Speedy out.
As we trotted up center line for the second time, I knew we were in a bit of trouble. He was a lot less enthusiastic the second time around. By the time we got to the canter work, I was working really hard to keep him cantering. He was pretty sure he'd had enough. He's such a rock star though that as we turned down center line for the final time, I felt him push off and give me all he had. He went from a string of 6s at the end to a 6.5 for his last score.
I have to say, those half turns on the haunches were legit. I haven't see video of us doing those since last summer when we first learned how to ride them. I can see that movement being one of our strong suits, and since they have a double coefficient, all the better!
We definitely have a lot of room for improvement (ahem, simple change at B), but the test looked a lot better than I ever imagined it would. We earned a 61.282% for our effort. While not as high as the first test, the score still exceeded my expectations. We only had two 7s, but again, no 4s and only one 5. I'd say our Second Level debut was a success!
Speedy's Arabian Horse Association registered name is G Ima Starr FA. He has lived up to his name time after time. I really don't think there is anything this horse can't do. I love him to pieces!
You read about our warm up yesterday. Here's what happened the next day.
With all of my eggs riding in Speedy G's basket, I gave him a modified bath (legs and belly only), braided (they looked AMAZING, but I forgot to take photos!), and headed over to the Gardiner Ranch.
Oh, but before that, while I was cleaning my everyday boots because my nicer boots are really hard to zip up, I had a zipper blow out. Crap. I threw them in the trailer anyway hoping they would make it through the day. They didn't. I zipped them up and down a couple of times to assess the damage, and they seemed okay until I walked a few steps in them. Fortunately, with the help of a friend (thank you, KM!), we were able to get the other pair zipped up.
Even feeling super confident in my partner's ability to carry the day (I Got This!), I was still feeling anxious. I did my best to shrug it off though and made it a point to visit with friends and check out what the Golden Empire Arabian Horse Society (GEAHS) had put together for the day.
Not only was there a free barbecue lunch, but the club had a silent auction and buckets filled with goodies for awards. At the lunch break, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables rode a Freestyle to entertain the crowd. I didn't get to watch it as I was doing my warm up, but I heard the music and applause.
When she was finished, Chemaine zipped over to give me a few last tips before my test. She reminded me to get Speedy moving without throwing away the contact. Check and check.
Here's our Second Level Debut, Test 1.
We earned a 63.485%, good enough for first place. It was hard though. No big surprise, but my sitting trot definitely still needs work. Last May, when I rode with Hilda Gurney, I couldn't sit at all, so I am pretty happy that I was able to sit as much as I did.
When I watched the video on Monday morning, I was shocked at how easy Speedy made it look. He looks like he's been doing this his whole life. What the heck? He is an amazing partner.
I don't know how well these scores will hold up with the next judge, but there is no way I am going to complain about eight 7s my first time out the gate and no 4s. Was it just beginners luck?
We have a lot to improve on for sure, but I am so relieved to have that monkey off my back. Now that we've actually shown at Second Level, I don't care how long it takes us to get it right. Just knowing that we're in the right neighborhood takes a lot of pressure away.
Test 2 up next ...
But first, a little bit of a backstory ...
I've had migraines since I was a little kid. As I got older, they got worse like they sometimes do. For the most part, they had been manageable with the right prescription ... until last summer. My insurance plan took my prescription off the "approved list" and substituted it for a less effective generic.
Over the summer, the headaches got worse, so I did some investigating. I got my eyes checked - new glasses were ordered, and I tried a bunch of different migraine medications. None of them worked. About 2 weeks ago, I got a migraine that lasted for 10 days. I missed a number of riding days and lived in excruciating pain. On Wednesday, I saw a neurologist, and on Thursday I had an MRI.
Even in pain that was so severe that I contemplated a lobotomy, all I could wonder was if I'd feel well enough for Sunday's show. The whole yeah my arm is broken, what does that have to with riding? thing. No, I can't see past the ring of fire that is searing my eyeballs, but my horse knows where C is. You get the idea. Once an entry is paid for, I am showing.
Fortunately for me, the neurologist got the pain under control, and by Friday I was feeling closer to normal. On Saturday, a group of us met at the show venue for a Ride-A-Test type clinic with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables.
If you'll remember, I shared this post about being the local hack. It was written tongue in cheek, of course, but there was definitely an element of truth to it as well. So there I was already feeling way out of my depth, and then on top of that, my brain was so fuzzy that I could barely tell you my name.
Chemaine finished up with her first student and called me in. It had been more than six months since I'd schooled in an actual dressage court, so I really wanted to work on some of the trickier movements from Second Level: the three loop serpentine with simple changes at the center line and the 20-meter counter canter half circles.
I am not going to lie. I cried. I was just so overwhelmed by all that I needed to fix that I felt defeated before I had even heard the judge's bell. My brain just couldn't get the whole left lead, track right thing. I don't know how Chemaine keeps so positive when she's faced with such a pathetic mess.
But. I am not a quitter. I learned that while riding hundred mile endurance rides. You suck it up, you grit your teeth, you get it done. Chemaine finally got me to use my outside rein to balance Speedy, and suddenly, our counter canter was balanced, and our canter to walk to canter transitions were a bit clearer.
The next morning, as I was driving to the show venue, a song by Jarrod Niemann came on the radio. I have an awesome horse in Speedy G, so when I heard the chorus, I knew it was going to be okay.
Girl I got this
Don't got to think too hard
It's a can't miss
I know right where to start
Yeah the only thing I'm needin' is a girl to play the lead
In this cool movie that I'm dreaming up right now
And if you're down with that
I got this
Yeah, I got this
And Speedy? He's definitely got it!
I wrote a post the other day about giving my track students a jumping lesson. You can read it here. Our track meet finished up this past week, and to my total surprise and delight, my class won the trophy for fifth grade. We were all pretty excited. Okay, me more. I might have actually squealed and done a happy dance.
We had a great meet. I had lots of kids win blue ribbons, red ribbons, and even some white ribbons. I was probably the most excited about those white ones as I know how hard it is to not be the best at what you do.
I was really proud of all of my kids, ribbons or not. To even enter an event at the track meet, you have to first go through tryouts in your own classroom. The kids just can't sign up; we'd have 400 kids wanting to do the 100 meter dash. This means we hold tryouts, selecting the top three for each event. As it happens though, a kid can only participate in three events which means most everyone can participate if they're willing to do an event that might not be their favorite.
I was the judge/coordinator at the high jump. Talk about an event that is not anyone's favorite. Holy cow that thing is hard. I was so surprised to see tears of frustration on the faces of those kids who missed their third jump. In case you don't know how it works, you get three chances to clear a height, and if you can't, you're eliminated.
Each time someone was eliminated, I called them over for a chat. Teary-eyed or just disappointed, I let them know how awesome it was that they even had the guts to come out and give it a try. High jump is HARD. Those kids were brave and simply amazing.
Palm to face. Uh ... just like dressage is HARD. After two days of coaching kids through disappointment (and sometimes winning!), I had a moment of mine own. Sheesh! Why am I being so hard on myself about Second Level? It's just as hard as the high jump! I should be telling Speedy that he is awesome for even being willing to get out there and give it a try.
And I did. This weekend as I rode, I laughed at our awkward moments (uh ... sitting the medium trot) and cheered when we nailed it (simple change). We have worked as hard as we possibly can. We're doing something difficult. I am totally okay with whatever score we get on Sunday.
Just like I told my kids, they get to come back next year and try it again. We don't have to wait until next year. We can try again next month and the month after that.
We'll get over that bar eventually!
Last week I shared this post. I really want to say how touched I was by ALL of your many supportive and friendly comments. Jeez, but you people are nice. Confessing to the world that I am not brilliant at this whole dressage thing turned my day around. Thanks!
As I was reading all of your comments, both here and on Facebook, I was reminded that many of you are not dressage riders. You are reiners, endurance riders, jumpers, or trail riders. Some of you don't even ride which means you might not always know what the heck I am talking about.
When I start a new level, I nearly always have to look up at least one movement. For Second Level, it was The Simple Change. If I had to look it up, it makes sense that others might not know what it is either.
As defined by USDF, "This is a change of lead where the horse is brought back immediately into walk and, after 3 to 5 clearly defined walk steps, is restarted immediately into a canter on the opposite lead with no steps at the trot."
Basically, it's a canter to walk transition with three to five walk steps before cantering on the opposite lead.
What makes this movement so challenging, for us anyway, is that the canter has to be very collected so that the horse is carrying more weight on his hind. Carrying more weight on the hind end is hard for the horse. Think about doing squats. Now imagine holding an armload of something heavy and then squat. Not so easy. Not so easy for the horse either.
When the horse is "sitting" though, he can transition to the walk more easily. With more weight being carried behind, his shoulders are free to move so he can change the bend to prepare for the change of lead.
A tip Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, shared with me was while on counter counter, prepare for the walk by straightening the bend. As the horse transitions to walk, do a shoulder in in the new direction to aid your horse in picking up the new lead.
We can do a very nice simple change right now, but it's not every time. It's not even every other time. Sometimes his haunches swing wide or he flings his head up to keep his balance. I wish I could just practice, practice, practice until we got it right, but if I did that, I'd have a horse with a pretty sore badonkadonk. You try doing squats over and over. No thanks!
So there you have it - the simple change, a misnomer if there ever was one!
With our debut at Second Level fast approaching, there are a ton of movements that are still not show worthy. Forget getting a 7, right now, I am trying not to get any 4s! The one movement that we've been more stuck on than anything else is the counter canter to walk.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came to my rescue on Saturday. When I saw that she had brought the Comtek with her, I threw Speedy's reins her direction and asked her to warm him up while I went back to the car for my earbuds.
Like I said the other day, having your trainer warm your horse up is a luxury I could really get used to. Speedy has been a bit of a stinker lately. He's really feeling the pressure of Second Level, and he's letting me know that it's hard. I get it, pony, but toughen up!
Chemaine worked him through a small tantrum, and by the time I got on him, he was much softer and more forward. Right away I suggested we tackle the simple changes and the counter canter work.
Chemaine gave me so many excellent pointers that I can't even begin to share them all. The most important one though was this: quit accepting good enough. Good enough is no longer good enough. Speedy has to give me what I am asking for, and he has to do it well. Right now, that's the walk to canter.
When he gives me a soft and unresisting canter departure from the walk, his canter is immediately improved which means the canter to walk is much easier.
The second tip she shared was how to better ride the counter canter. The first thing is to use renvers so that my half halts go through. The second was to slightly change the bend to straight I as prepare for the canter counter to walk transition.
The tips kept coming. As I straightened him and asked for the walk, Chemaine had me finish changing the bend into a shoulder in for the simple change of lead. It's a lot of aids to coordinate - renvers to shoulder in, but it set Speedy up perfectly for the counter canter to walk to simple change of lead.
To really help put it all together, we spent a good amount of time picking up the counter canter from the walk even though that's not a movement in Second Level. Having this "button" on Speedy helps with the walk to canter and with the simple change.
I am feeling a little better about how we'll do at our first show of the year, but I am still not expecting anything great. If we can at least perform each movement, I'll be happy. We can work on improving it all as we head into summer.