If you'll remember, I was pondering our difficulties in the 10-meter canter circle. Speedy was pretty sure that a 10-meter canter circle meant that I wanted a canter/walk transition. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was here this weekend, so we were able to tackle that particular issue (only ten million to go).
Chemaine's visits are like therapy sessions; I always come prepared to talk about my issues. I explained the problem, confident that she'd have a way to help Speedy and I work it out. Lately though, she has had us start working on something that is not my problem. I've learned to just go with it.
After checking in to see that Speedy was indeed working with a longer, more reaching neck (our homework after our last session), Chemaine had me come back to a walk which was definitely not the 10-meter canter circle I was expecting.
She had me put my whip in my inside hand and then had me ask for the walk. When Speedy didn't step out smartly, she had me tap him behind my inside leg. An issue that Speedy and I struggle with is his tendency to curl. With a longer neck, he's no longer doing that as much. With that issue "fixed," he needs to better engage his hind end.
Once I was getting a more marching walk, we did walk to trot transitions, but only from a marching walk. If he started poking, I was to tap him with the whip to remind him to use his hind end. Almost immediately his trot transition was 100 times better. I'll be honest, I need to ride this exercise a few more times to really get it because somewhere in there, I also moved my hands forward to keep his neck long without giving away the connection. It was a real feely-feely exercise.
Just when I thought that Chemaine had forgotten about my 10-meter canter issue, she asked for the exercise at the canter. I should have known she had a plan. The reason Speedy was having so much trouble with the canter was because he wasn't engaging his hind end well enough. He was carrying too much weight on the forehand which is why my half halts had to be so strong which is what told him to walk.
And of course, that solved the problem. In order to get a more balanced walk to canter transition, the horse must work over his back and engage his hind end. Once Speedy's hind end was working, he was able to hold the 10-meter canter circle. To help him even further, Chemaine had me over bend him to the inside to get him firmly on my outside rein. Then I moved my hands forward and drove him forward to the bit with my seat. It was the first time I was able to drive forward into the 10-meter canter circle.
After he was marching into the canter, we put it all together for the simple change. Once I get the canter to walk transition, it takes way too many walk steps to rebalance and get the new bend for the new lead. Insisting on a marching walk straight out of the canter helped a ton. Chemaine really insisted that he keep thinking forward even as he came to the walk. He'll only think forward though if I insist on it.
We're not done with this issue yet, but we are chipping away at our obstacles, and they're getting smaller. We might not be confirmed at Second Level, but we're working at it!
Second Level has a ton of elements in it. Each day, I focus on just one or two of the movements. Some days, we do a lot of the trot work: shoulder in, haunches in, or the medium trot. Other days, we focus on the canter work: 10-meter circles, counter canter, or simple changes.
I am always analyzing how the movements ride so that I can articulate why they don't ride well. Lately, I have discovered that Speedy is a bit confused between the 10-meter canter circles and the simple change. You'd think those movements would be distinct enough that the aids would be clear, but I can see from where Speedy's confusion is coming.
Our canter work to the left is pretty good. Speedy's 10-meter circles are "easy" to ride and we can get a simple change without too much theatrics. To the right is another story. I have to use a strong half halt which he is hearing as the aid to walk. As he's thinking walk, I am thinking 10-meter canter circle. It's clunky to say the least.
During our last lesson, Chemaine had me working on this by over-flexing him to the inside, releasing the inside rein, and then using a strong outside rein to encourage him to sit. I am doing something wrong, and I suspect it's not getting enough inside bend. It could also be that I need more leg or Speedy needs to pay closer attention to my leg.
Chemaine is coming tomorrow, so you can bet poor Speedy will be doing a bunch of 10-meter canter circles.
I am really worrying away at our first show of the season, our debut at Second Level. After some rides, I feel that we might eke out a 60%. Most days though, I know we'll be lucky to get a 58%. Back when we were slogging through Training Level, I never felt ashamed or embarrassed by a sub 60%. I was on a journey, and I knew it was a long one. I felt as though the effort and dedication we were demonstrating counted for just as much as the score.
While most of our First Level scores were above 60%, we also had some scores in the 50s. I wasn't happy about them, but I certainly didn't feel embarrassed. They simply reflected where we were at that moment.
Over the weekend, I finally shrugged my shoulders and accepted the fact that we're starting at the bottom once again. We're very likely going to earn a 56% and oh well. I can always choose to simply school at home for the next year until we're more confirmed at the level, but I know that won't work for us. Showing helps me get better. It confirms what we can do and reveals what we can't.
While I really hope we can earn enough 6s to at least get close to a 60%, I feel a bit of relief that I don't have to knock it out of the park. No one cares more than me, and I am okay with just doing the best we can.
But really, you know I want that 60%!
I don't know if flexion is Chemaine Hurtado's word of the month, or if Speedy and I are finally at a place where we need more of it. Either way, both of my horse's did a ton of flexing this weekend with instructions to do it about a million more times.
I am pretty sure I haven't shared this yet, but Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, recently moved to Kern County which is where Bakersfield is located. Don't get too excited. Kern County is the same size as New Jersey, but at least she's closer. That means I've had lessons twice this month with two more on the horizon. It's been amazing.
Over the weekend, she helped me see why Speedy and I have been struggling with some of the work at Second Level. The super short version is that he's lost some of the suppleness in his back that we had before he was laid up. Since he's not stretching over his top line, the canter work, particularly the simple change, has been hard for him.
That means I am going to be spending the next several weeks getting him to stretch over his top line. Basically, that means a ton of over-flexing. What Chemaine had me do in the trot work was over-flex him to the inside, always too much, and lift the outside side shoulder. When he softens, I need to push my hands forward and push him forward into that open space. In this way, he takes a longer stride and lengthens his neck.
We did a lot of the same work at the canter, particularly in the 10-meter canter circles. Speedy has been having trouble with sort of stalling out. To help that, she had me over-flex as we went into the turn but then release the inside rein while sponging the outside rein. This created a softer neck while putting him on the outside rein.
By the time we finished up the lesson, Speedy was stretching his neck forward while also taking a much longer stride. He felt better than he ever has! Hopefully, I can get the same level of suppleness on my own.
Either way, the good news is that Chemaine should be back in two weeks to continue helping me turn Speedy into a Second Level horse.
Speedy and I finally had some success while schooling the movements from Second Level. Since he and I got back to work in December, every ride has been a struggle. Not with his behavior, he's always a saint, but rather with his lack of motivation. It has felt like he just wasn't going to do it. Collection with impulsion is hard, and Speedy's not known for being high energy.
For the past several weeks, we've been schooling the quality of the simple change, but we haven't really put it all together. Same thing with the rein back, turn on the haunches, and the shoulder in. I've been asking Speedy to do each movement, but they've all been done in isolation.
At the same time, I've kept my Second Level Whinny Widgets book handy. I study it while I am brushing my teeth, cooking dinner, or having a glass of wine. My focus has been on how to correctly ride from one movement to the next. Memorizing the tests is also part of my plan.
On Saturday, I finally felt as though we were ready to string all of the movements together. I didn't have test 1 completely memorized, but I had enough of it down that I was able to string together a test. And in fact, I threw in some of test 3's counter canter to really see where Speedy is; he nailed it! Well, maybe not completely, but we actually did each movement without needing a do-over. Some of the movements are undoubtedly going to earn us 5s, but others are actually in the 6/7 score range.
Our walk and trot work is good, and for us, that's a good thing because the shoulder-in has a double co-efficient as does the rein back and walk. We're going to lose points on the simple change for now because they aren't as crisp as they need to be. My sitting trot continues to need improvement, so I'll probably lose points for rider position in the medium trot.
We have two months until our first show of the season. I am feeling really encouraged!
When I shared with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, my Second Level blues, she quickly reassured me that my troubles were everyone else's troubles, too. Getting the horse forward while still getting him to sit is what every Second Level horse and rider team struggles with.
That made me feel better. I think.
Like she did with my ride on Izzy, Chemaine introduced two exercises. The first was a version of the race horse game, and the second was more of the over-bending exercise.
Before we started any of that though, we ran through a bit of shoulder in, haunches in, turn on the haunches, and rein back. As I'd suspected, our rein back and turn on the haunches are good. Chemaine helped me clean up a bit of stickiness on the haunches in, but she felt I could continue that work on my own.
The "move it" exercise is exactly what it sounds like. You had better move off my leg, or you're getting a stronger aid. In order to get a simple change, Speedy needs to get sharper off my leg. In the collected canter, he wants to stall out and drop down to trot. He needs to be convinced that I mean forward when I say forward.
The exercise went like this. From the halt, I asked Speedy to trot forward. If he didn't, or if it wasn't sharp enough, Chemaine snapped the whip. After a few strides, I brought him back to halt and tried again. It took him no more than three times for him to jump forward when I thought trot. And really, Speedy is so respectful that just having Chemaine standing there with the whip did most of the work.
Chemaine stressed that bringing the horse back to walk in this exercise is critical as it allows the rider to re-establish roundness and balance. Once we had convinced Speedy that he needed to move when I asked for it, we repeated the exercise but from walk to canter.
To finish off the exercises and reinforce in Speedy's mind that the second ask was going to come from me, we repeated the exercise but with the dressage whip in my hand. When he didn't jump forward from my seat and legs, I popped him with the whip. It took one tap, and he was nicely forward.
From there we put together the bending exercise with the go forward and worked on the medium trot and my ability to sit it. I am not there yet, but in early October, I couldn't sit the medium at all. So yeah for me.
Over-Flex to Have Something Left Over
The last thing we worked on was the simple change. Left to right, he's pretty good. Our collected canter on the left lead is easier for me because he wants to carry his haunches left. The trouble comes in picking up the right lead because he wants to take the bend away from me immediately.
To remedy that, Chemaine had me go back to the over-bending exercises. If I over-bend him, he'll take some of the bend back in the transition, but I'll have enough built in to maintain some of it which puts him on the outside rein. If I have him on the outside rein, my half halt will go through for the canter to walk.
We didn't get it perfectly, but we had some really good moments, like this transition.
If the judge gave points for trying, we'd win for sure. In the meantime, we're going to capitalize on our strengths, and keep chipping away at our weaknesses. I love this last shot. This is Speedy pushing off from the walk into a left lead canter.
I am staring you down, Second Level!
If you stop by with any regularity, you already know that Speedy and I are slogging through the hell that has been named Second Level. I am kidding about the hell part - mostly. For so long I've heard about the difficulty of the level and that many folks kind of end up stuck here for the rest of their riding careers. I couldn't figure out why. Now I know.
The jump from First Level to Second seems to be a pretty big one. Training and First Level felt more like the place where you get a horse broke. Second is where the "tricks" start to happen.
Over the past month, quite a few of you have commiserated with me. You've agreed that Second is tough, and in some cases, several have mentioned that Third is easier. Don't worry, I am not skipping Second. After skimming through the requirements of Third and Fourth and even beyond, I realized something: getting an awesome simple change is just the beginning.
After the simple change, I'll have to deal with flying changes, and then the twos and the threes and so on. And it doesn't end there. After we confirm our turn on the haunches, pirouettes will be waiting. Half pass is coming, so is passage and piaffe.
The point to all of this is that I realized that finishing Second doesn't get me anything other than more work. Somehow, that took a ton of pressure off my shoulders. Right now, I am definitely having second thoughts about Second Level. Maybe it's not so bad after all!
As great as Izzy has been over the past few weeks, Speedy has not. Is there some kind of cosmic law that says a rider only gets one good horse at a time. What the heck, Universe?
I totally get that the bump up in work at Second level is tough. And it's probably made harder for Speedy since he's coming back from 3 months off. But dude, it's not that hard.
There was one day over the weekend where Speedy and I actually duked it out for over 20 minutes. I could not get him on the bit. I couldn't even get his head out of the air. All he would do was buck, kick out at my leg, or try to bolt. For twenty minutes. I almost just got off him. But then, as I knew he would, he finally gave up. By then of course, he was too tired for any real collected work, but I insisted on a few minutes. He gave me a few decent simple changes, and I called it quits.
Speedy doesn't want to carry more weight on his hindquarters, and he definitely doesn't want to move with an uphill tendency. And clearly, some days he isn't reliably on the bit (although that's not usually our problem). We need a lesson. That's all there is to it. I need eyes on the ground and some new tools for this level.
You suck, Second Level!
Some of you have mastered Second Level already. Some of you know it's up there but have no idea what it entails exactly. And some of you are just where I am - wondering if we'll survive this. While it might feel that Second Level is a well designed litmus test for the incompetent, the purpose is actually :
To confirm that the horse demonstrates correct basics, and having achieved the thrust required in First Level, now accepts more weight on the hindquarters (collection); moves with an uphill tendency, especially in the medium gaits; and is reliably on the bit. A greater degree of straightness, bending, suppleness, throughness, balance and self-carriage is required than at First Level.
The movements include medium and collected trot and canter, 10-meter canter circles, simple changes, shoulder in, rein back, travers, and half turn on the haunches. Speedy has a really good handle on the rein back and the turn on the haunches. The medium and collected gaits are also mostly under control.
The movements that we're really struggling with are the simple changes and shoulder in. It's not that he can't do them or that he doesn't understand them, he just doesn't really want to do them.
Now that he's back to full work, I've been picking sets of movements to school each day. One day we might work on the shoulder in, and the next the simple change. I've found that he can do the shoulder in from test 2 more easily than the one from test 1. In test 2, the shoulder in goes directly into a 10-meter half circle to X with a change of direction into a new half circle that is followed by travers (haunches in).
In the simpler version (test 1), you ride a shoulder in, turn right across X, and then turn left at B for a shoulder in left. Speedy gets really hung up on that left rein. It's a work in progress.
The simple change is another area we're working on. He has a simple change, but I have to really make sure he is in front of my leg (and in a good mood). The other day, we were really struggling. I either couldn't get him forward, or I couldn't get the walk. I finally just threw down my gloves and booted the heck out of him.
Every time he started to stutter in the canter, I whacked him with my inside leg. We'll never get the simple change if I have to keep my leg on him all the time. I finally told him that he will hold the collected canter by himself until I tell him otherwise. After a few sharp reminders with my inside leg, he finally started carrying himself. Well hallelujah!
Once I was able to take my leg off, I was able to better prepare him for the canter to walk by pushing his haunches in a bit to let him know that I wanted him to sit. He has it down pat to the left, but the right is still a bit rough around the edges. As he gets better at holding the right lead canter himself, that downward will just get better.
We've got more than two months to work out the kinks. We'll get there!
Speedy and I are firmly committed to showing Second Level this March. We were going to make the leap in October, but he sliced open his hoof a month before the show. So here we are, three months later, now looking at a spring debut.
One of the last times Speedy was laid up - it happens at least once a year, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer of Symphony Dressage Stables, recommended taking one week per level as a comeback strategy. So, if we want to be schooling Second level like we were in September, Speedy would need three to four weeks to fully leg up.
I don't think Speedy got that particular memo. The first day I rode him, we mostly walked. I was still not fully recovered from my month-long bout of bronchitis, and he hadn't had a rider on his back for three months. It seemed a good way to start.
The next ride involved more trotting. By the third ride, we were doing all three gaits. I kept it in my mind that he wasn't as fit as he was three months ago, but he didn't seem to remember that.
While Speedy's hoof was growing out, he remained on his regular turnout schedule which means that he was out all night. Fortunately for me, Speedy is a busy boy which means he kept himself relatively fit over the fall. He wasn't working the collected canter of course, but he moved around enough to maintain at least a degree of fitness.
Even though I know he needs time to increase his strength and fitness, we're already schooling the movements from Second Level, Test 1. I know I say this all the time, but this horse is amazing. He has picked up exactly where he left off.
Over the weekend, I reminded Speedy about the rein back - he thinks those are pretty easy, and we reviewed the turn on the haunches. I think they're scorable, but we need a judge's opinion for sure. We also started re-schooling the walk to canter - definitely better than it ever has been, and the canter to walk. I have to give Speedy props; even after three months off he has been willing to dig deep and go for the downward transition.
On Christmas morning, he actually gave me a really crisp canter to walk followed almost immediately by a walk to canter on the new lead! We were struggling with it three months ago, so I don't know where that came from.
The things we really need to work on over the next two months include the movement where you do a shoulder in right to a right turn followed by a left turn into shoulder in left. He wants to hang on that left rein, so I can't get the new bend in preparation for the left turn and the shoulder in left.
The other issue, and this one really plagued us last summer during those hot show days, is that it is really hard to keep Speedy going at the collected canter. If I take my leg off for an instant, he either comes down to a trot or he anticipates a canter to walk transition. He definitely needs a lesson in keep going until I say otherwise. Also known as USE THE WHIP!
We don't have a lesson scheduled as of right now, but Chemaine's schedule is about to change in a big way, so I think we might soon be getting as many as two or three lessons a month.
Believe me, we need it!