I still can't believe we did it! Although what exactly "it" is, I am not sure since we didn't earn any kind of qualifying score. The four tests mean absolutely nothing. But still. Third Level!
Well, we really and truly did it; Speedy G and I competed at Third Level, and we did it at a two-day USDF/USEF-rated show. Did we hit a home run? Nope, it was more of a bunt really, but at least we got on base. Even with scores below 60% (yes, really!), I am still sort of giddy about the whole thing.
I still can't believe we did it! Although what exactly "it" is, I am not sure since we didn't earn any kind of qualifying score. The four tests mean absolutely nothing. But still. Third Level!
I was hoping for more, but at least it was better than I had feared. The number one thing the judge penalized me for on 3-1 was the geometry. In the half pass, we didn't start at centerline and our 10-meter circles weren't 10-meter circles. Those two things cost me a fair amount of points.
A lot of things went very right on Saturday. Our very first centerline (3-1) earned an 8.0 and our first pairs of turn on the haunches earned 6.5 each. We also earned a 7.0 for our medium walk.
And of course, a lot went pretty wrong. Since we didn't actually make it to centerline, our first trot half pass earned a 4.5, but who cares! We did a trot half pass! The second one earned a 5.0 with the comment, "still not from CL."
The worst part was of course the flying changes. For the first one, we scored a 4.0 with the comment, "late behind."
The other one was worse, MUCH worse. The judge's comment was spot on, "late behind many, many steps" which was a kind way of saying, I didn't think he was EVER going to change! We earned a 3.0.
In total, we earned a 57.703% which was 8.5 points (out of 370) short of my goal. We've done worse, especially when first starting a new level. It felt better than the video looks though.
I had had a lesson with Sean Cunningham of STC Dressage on Friday night and then had him coach me on Saturday since Chemaine Hurtado, my regular trainer, couldn't be there. His feedback was really helpful. That night, after finishing both of my tests, I watched the videos and read over the judge's comments. I was determined to do better the next day.
While I gave a few half points (and even a few full points) back, our flying changes were much better the next day. Both of them scored a 6.0 which definitely raised the score from Saturday's 3-1 test where we had earned a 4.0 and 3.0. Both changes have a double co-efficient which means the changes earned us 24 points on Sunday compared to only 14 points the day before.
For 3-1, we improved by a full 6.5 points, but it wasn't quite enough. The brilliant 8.0 we earned on Saturday's first centerline fell to a very sad 5.0 on Sunday. When I tallied up my points, we missed a 60.0% by just 2 points. We lost that 60% down our first centerline and didn't even know it. We earned my least favorite score, a 59.459%.
To say I might have been a wee bit crushed would be accurate. After 4 minutes of cursing under my breath though, I realized that Speedy and I have another USDF/USEF show next month. And if we don't get a 60% there, we'll go to another show in August. We'll get it eventually.
We also rode Third Level's test 2 which I'll try to get written for tomorrow. No 60.0% there either, but we had fun!
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 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!
I don't think Speedy and I are ever going to make it to a show this season. Between California's freakishly weird weather and Speedy's attempts to maim himself, we're still stuck at home. For the first time in its history, which is looooong, the Tehachapi Chapter of CDS has had to cancel a show.
I am super disappointed, but that's horses. If something can go awry, it will. There's no sense in boohooing about it. Instead, I've already printed the show premium for our next show which is a USDF/USEF/CDS affair.
My friend Jen is the show manager/secretary for all of the El Sueno shows, which are my favorite. The rings are lovely, stabling is swanky if you pay for the upgrade, and she lets me camp on the cross country course for free.
El Sueno also has a fun Loyalty Card program where after you pay for ten classes, you get a class free. I have eight stamps right now, so this show, a two-day event, will fill my card and get me started on another.
Given how expensive USDF/USEF shows are, El Sueno's got a good plan in attracting riders by giving them something back for their repeat business.
When Speedy and I made the move to Second Level last show season, I was annoyed to find that our hard work was going to cost me an extra 40 bucks since I ride two tests over two days. I had never paid attention to the costs of the higher level classes. I never thought we'd actually get that far.
Besides the two El Sueno shows, the only other USDF/USEF-rated show I did in 2018 was the Regional Adult Amateur Competition, and it already has added costs since it's run like an AA Championship (even though it isn't. They give lots of swag so the extra cost is worth it). Now that we're showing Third Level, the sticker shock has worn off, but I am curious to know if other shows charge more for the mid- and FEI Level tests.
Since I'm not showing on Sunday, I've messaged my endurance friend Marci to see if she wants to hit the trail again on Saturday. If I can't show, I might as well give Izzy some more out and about experience.
To those of you showing this weekend, good luck!
I am sure that California is the butt of everyone's jokes this week. While the rest of the country has been languishing in the winter of 2019, Californians have been donning tank tops and sunscreen. Turns out, the joke's on us. Winter must have heard us smugly snarking about our 90 degree weather and flipped a u-turn. She then slammed into us broadside and dumped rain and snow all over the state. Not once, not twice, but for more than a week. And she's not done.
This month, Bakersfield has already had 1.4 inches of rain, excluding what's predicted for today. And while that number might look puny to you all, we only get a bit over 6 inches for the entire year! An inch in May is far, far out of the normal range.
I looked back at data spanning 24 years, and I could only find one year, ONE YEAR, that showed more than a trace of rain in Bakersfield for the entire month of May (2005 with .75" of precipitation). It simply does not rain in California during the summer months. In fact, it rarely rains until November or December. And even then it's only a few days out of the month. It has already rained 6 times this month in Bakersfield, and we still have 10 days to go!
Big deal, right? It's just rain. It happens. Normally I would agree, but our first show is on Sunday in Bear Valley where it's supposed to rain every single day this week, including both weekend days. I sent a pitiful email to the show manager and asked whether the show was still on. It's a yes for now, but it will all depend on how well the footing holds up.
I am trying to be hopeful, but I will be so disappointed if Speedy and I don't get to give Third Level a try on Sunday. My plan is/was to show at this CDS show before going to a USDF show two weeks later. I'd really like a practice run before we go "live." You know what I mean?
Ah, well ... it will be what it will be. But still. Quit raining, dammit!
Mid-May seems awfully late to be starting the show season, but Speedy's winter of maiming himself put us a little behind schedule. Our first show will be at the Bear Valley Equestrian Center in Tehachapi over Labor Day weekend. We'll do Third Level tests 1 and 2. While the show is "only" CDS-rated, the scores count for a lot of different awards.
Any scores of 60% or better (ever hopeful!) count as qualifying scores for the Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC), the adult ammie's version of a championship show. While I love RAAC, getting there is not my primary goal for the season, but if we qualify, I'll undoubtedly go.
With a 60% or better, I will be able to check off one of the two score I'll need at Third Level to earn the CDS Sapphire award. I'll also need two qualifying scores at Fourth Level, so this is not a pressing goal.
Speedy needs 6 scores of 60% or better to earn his CDS Third Level Horse Performance Award. Earning 1 or 2 of them at this show would be exciting. So while it's "just" a CDS-rated show, the scores matter.
A week or so ago I wrote about US Equestrian and how much the organization bugs me. A few of you agreed with me while others didn't. I thought I'd clarify my comment about professional riders not needing to join USEF to maintain their pro status.
In order to compete as an adult amateur here in California, I HAVE to join US Equestrian. If I simply want to compete in my GMO's shows that are not USDF/USEF rated, I still have to join US Equestrian to get my my AA card. Professional riders who do not want to earn national titles do not have to join US Equestrian to be considered professional riders. Yes, they'll have to pay USEF non-member fees, but they don't HAVE to join. They are still permitted to show as professional riders. In my opinion, the adult amateur card should be free while professional riders should have to pay to play. But hey, I am only one person.
My Adult Amateur card is paid for, my SafeSport training is complete, and that first show entry of the year has been mailed. While I am working hard for good scores, I know that we're not quite performing in the 60% range yet. This show will give me an idea of what we have down and on what areas I most need to focus.
All that's left is to trim up Speedy's bridle path and drag out my show shampoos. Well, I should probably memorize those tests as well!
I was recently chatting with my friend Jen about show entries. She is the queen of show managers which is why we were discussing entries. She puts on at least a dozen or more USDF-rated shows each year plus another dozen or so schooling shows. She's also the chair of the Ventura County Chapter of CDS which means she does All. The. Work. If you have show entry questions, she's who you should talk to.
I think the conversation centered around the new USEF rule regarding the use of Pergolide. She was the first one to tell me that Pergolide is now allowed with a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) - Speedy had just been diagnosed with Cushing's Disease. I assured Jen that I would be submitting the paperwork for that as soon as possible. I did, and the TUE came back within a week or so.
So what does that have to do with show binders? As Jen and I continued our conversation, things drifted toward what else should a rider include in her show entry. Apparently, I am in the minority of riders who actually complete their entries. I was stunned to hear just how many riders submit incomplete show entries. When I asked what could possibly be missing (In my world, directions get followed, but that's just the teacher in me.), she replied "Everything!" Quite often there are no copies of membership cards, no payment, no list of which classes a riders plans to do, no horse name and on and on.
Online entries would of course eliminate all of that nonsense, but here in my neck of California, not a lot of riders use them as it costs more to enter online than to use a paper entry. That means Jen, and other show secretaries, wade through mountains of paperwork. And when that paperwork is incomplete, it makes her job so much more difficult.
I know other riders have much fancier versions than mine, and you might want to check out what The Printable Pony has in her Etsy store, but here's what my show binder looks like.
For my purposes, I've found five areas that suit my needs, although the contacts section has been empty for a long time as things now go straight into my phone. I have placed things like flyers or adverts there though.
My first tab is for show premiums, directions, stall assignments, and anything else related to a show including Speedy's stall sign. I got mine for FREE at The Printable Pony; ask her if it's still available.
Horse ID Numbers
Stored in sheet protectors for maximum safety - horse shows are dusty and often times wet places, I keep both boys' "master" copies of our membership cards. After those, I keep copies of their USDF Certificates of Lifetime Horse Registration.
This section is jam packed, and frankly, it should either come at the beginning of my binder or at the back as it's the area that I use most often. Here is where I store their vaccinations records for USEF, Speedy's TUE, both horses' Health and Vaccination Record cards, and finally, Izzy's RPSI passport.
Weird, and no doubt useless, but each year I spring for USEF's Equine Liability Insurance. I don't know if it would help, but if Speedy, or more likely Izzy, kills someone at a show, I am hoping this will help pay at least a small part of my bills. As I was cleaning out my binder, I realized I had a copy from 2017. I don't know why I didn't print out last season's evidence of coverage, but I have fixed that.
Nothing to see here. I used to keep things like business cards and names of other equine professionals like chiropractors and farriers, but like I said, it's much easier to store all of that in my phone.
In the front cover of my binder, I store extra copies of the USEF vaccination records. I've only twice been asked to submit a copy with my entry, but it's so much more convenient to have extra copies on hand than to be scrambling at a show to produce a copy. I also store all of my membership cards in an envelope in that pocket as well.
In the back cover, I store ready-to-send copies of mine and each horse's memberships cards. This year, I was seriously optimistic as I made 10 copies of each. Even if I had 20 weekends free, I could never afford to enter 20 shows, but you never know!
I am sure there is other stuff I could include, but for me, this works. I don't need packing lists or a calendar, and frankly, I hate updating stuff, so keeping my binder as simple as possible makes it user-friendly for me.
Any good ideas out there? Do you keep a folder/binder? Do you you store anything in it that I might find useful? I know I am curious, so others must be as well.
After I saw all of the scores for Sunday's show, I realized my test 3 score, 61.829%, wasn't too shabby. For Training Level through Intermediate (only one of those) there were fifteen scores lower than 60% and only twelve scores above 60%. The high score was 69% by an open rider. The three Introductory Level tests earned 66%, 64%, and 67%.
I either rode this test better, or the judge felt sorry for me. We had no 4.0s. There was still a smattering of 5.0s though - one for our travers left and another for the rein back. Speedy only gave me two and a half steps before he rocked forward. I knew trying to fix it would create more problems, so I let it go and took the 5.0. We also earned a 5.0 for our final halt. Since I am now getting more energy, he quit wanting to actually halt.
The rest of the test was filled with a solid string of 6.0s (twelve of them), some 6.5s (seven of them), and even four 7.0s (for our walk work and a downward transition to collected trot). It's amazing how a few 5.0s can do more damage than the 7.0s with a double coefficient can help. How is that?!
I am not disappointed with our overall score. We definitely have some issues that we need to address before next year, but all in all, I think Speedy and I are certainly headed in the right direction.
Here's the video. You be the judge.
As I mentioned earlier this week, Speedy and I had one more show to bring the season to a close. I don't know how he felt about it, but I was pretty much over it before it started. That doesn't mean I didn't ride to the best of my ability; I am no quitter after all, but I had to really suck it up hard to get myself motivated.
But before I tell that part of the story, I have to share this cuteness overload. Two of my colleagues brought their little girls to the show, and Speedy proved his worth yet again. After some initial shyness paired with a bit of fear, the girls relaxed and had a ball. I don't know how I got so lucky with this horse. He is an absolute saint and worthy of a forever home.
I kept a close eye at first, but after being sure that Speedy was okay with it all (this was after our tests, so he was all about relaxation and pampering), I let the girls have at it. They dragged those buckets and step stool around, brushing every inch of his coat, and then they did it again.
They took out his braids, combed his tail, and then started braiding everything that could be braided - more than once. They rubbed conditioner into his mane and tail and even picked out his (already cleaned) feet.
Eventually, the long day started to get to me, so they helped me pack everything up and watched as Speedy hopped into the trailer - they had already been in and out of the trailer several times themselves. I am pretty sure both moms are going to be asked if they can go see Speedy again!
As for the "important" part of Sunday - really though, the part with the girls was way more fun; even Speedy thought so, I felt like we put out a solid test 1. The judge disagreed. We earned a rather puny 58.636%, much lower than we've been earning. Initially, I felt like the judge was extremely harsh. After watching the video, I can certainly see a few weakness - those halts definitely need some work. Even taking those into account, I still feel as though the judge was a bit punitive.
Most of the scores for the First, Second, and Third Level horses were in the low 50s and 60s. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what my scores should be after riding at least 25 tests this year alone. In my experience, there are two types of judges. The first assumes you're earning a 6.0 and unless you do something obviously bad, you're getting that 6.0 (or maybe even something higher). The second type of judge starts you off at a zero and expects you to earn every point. That kind of judge really likes 5.0s. Sunday's judge seemed more like the latter sort.
The test wasn't all low scores though. We earned four 7.0s - one for a shoulder-in and one for the rein back. Both of those movements have double coefficients. The other two were for the quality of our serpentine and Speedy's gaits. We also earned three 6.5s and twelve 6.0s.
What killed us were the three 4.0s (one was totally earned when we got an incorrect lead) and the five 5.0s. That's eight sub-par scores. No one's bringing home a decent score with those marks. And really, the 5.0 that he gave me for Effective Use of the Aids seemed just mean.
The Judge is an "S" judge which means he's licensed to judge all tests at national level shows. Some judges are just tougher than others. I am sure that some of the spectators and volunteers will say he was more than fair, but until you go to a lot of shows and see the scores that other judges give, it's really hard to get a sense of what is "fair." But you know, it is what it is. That's just how it goes.
Here's the video with super helpful commentary by my trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon, but by the time you read it, Speedy and I will have finished our last show of the season. And frankly, I'll be glad when it's over.
I started the season with little hope of accomplishing anything. We were staring down a very formidable Second Level, and all I was hoping for was at least one score above 60% so that we would get a plate to add to our perpetual plaque.
If you would have told me that we would eventually go to nine shows for twenty-five rides, I would have thought you were crazy. As hard as it is to believe, we made it through Second Level a lot more successfully than I ever thought we would.
Don't read more into a "win" than there is. We didn't kick Second Level's butt or anything, but we definitely showed major improvement through the year, and I am pretty happy about that.
Here we are in August though, and I am tired. I saddled Speedy on Saturday morning, but I had to keep sitting down in order to get it done. It wasn't the riding that had me sighing deeply, it was what I had to do after riding: cleaning tack, loading tack, bathing, and finally braiding.
This is the first season that has worn me out. I think it was the most mentally challenging season than I've had. Plus, I dealt with the whole migraine issue for the first half of it, not to mention learning the ins and outs of Second Level.
I was really torn about not going to the CDS Championships to compete in the Horse of the Year classes, but I am over it. We qualified, which was a goal I never thought we'd achieve, so that's good enough. I am grateful that I decided not to go. Given how apathetic I feel towards Sunday's show, it's a good thing we're not going. I don't need to spend a thousand bucks and feel meh while doing it.
I've had a great season, but I am ready for a break. I'm going to need it if we're going to tackle Third Level this fall.