At least that's the pep talk I keep giving myself.
In all the hubbub of finding a new truck, I completely forgot about my newest dressage score. I mean, I know I earned it, but waiting for USDF to see that I've earned it feels like an eternity. On Monday, after I rode Speedy, it suddenly popped into my head that USDF had probably updated their scores. I barely made it in the door before I was checking my scores. I told you I'm a score stalker.
In case you can't read the pinkish box, it says, "Two scores at Third Level, must be awarded by two different judges. Rider has one qualifying score at this level." Rider has one qualifying score; that means I only need ONE MORE score for a USDF Bronze Medal.
If you've checked my scores, no offense taken if you have, and frankly, I'd be disappointed if you haven't. How can you weigh the veracity or relevance of anything I say if I don't have the credentials to support what I write? My mediocre scores should prove to you that I am indeed what I say I am - a struggling adult amateur on a horse not bred for dressage but who is doing it anyway.
I am kind of surprised by the sheer number of USDF scores Speedy and I have earned, 81 at last count. And those scores don't include schooling shows or CDS only shows. We're at well over a hundred if you toss those in. What we may lack in quality, we've made up for in volume.
I know a lot of people will look at my scores and tsk, tsk them. Yes, I would like my averages to be higher, but showing is how I get better. I don't have access to weekly lessons. Shoot, sometimes I am lucky to squeeze in a monthly lesson. Over the years, most of my feedback has come from judges. I ride a test, I read what the judge thought, and then I try to improve on what we did before. If you go back to review all of my scores, you'll generally see a progression from low to at least higher within each level.
Once Speedy and I earn that last score for the Bronze Medal, we're going to hang out at Third until I feel that he has developed more lightness in his collected work. And that half pass has to improve before we even think about moving on to Fourth Level. Frankly, I need to get better, too. This level is requiring a lot more balance on my part as well.
I know I tend toward self-deprecation, but it's said in all earnestness. Seriously. If you have a goal, go for it. What I lack in talent and natural ability, I make up for in grit and determination. Most of the time, it ain't pretty, but it gets the job done. Dig deep, friend, and it will happen.
At least that's the pep talk I keep giving myself.
When we woke up on Sunday morning, the temperatures were MUCH cooler than they'd been the two days before. That went right along with my plan to get Speedy's hind end motoring. As much as I hate to annoy him by asking him to really engage, I was on a mission to do just that. The cooler weather did a lot of the work for me.
In order for Speedy to develop a better half pass, he simply has to have more energy which means reacting to my leg when I ask. Besides reminding him with a tap-tap of the whip, the other thing I learned was that if we plan to do two Third Level tests in a day, I have to shorten my warm up. I realized that I am using too much of his energy before we even ride the test.
Way back when we were doing Training and even First Level, 20 minutes to warm up was all he needed. Essentially, he just needed to stretch out and loosen up. For Second Level, we needed more like 35 minutes to not only lube everything up, but Speedy also needed reminding that yes, he does HAVE to do what I am asking.
For Third Level, 30-minute warm ups are just too long for us, especially if it's hot. That means I need to get in there and get him responsive to my leg in the first couple of minutes. Even with a plan of only doing a 15-minute warm up on Sunday, I still started a few minutes too soon, and then as luck would have it, things ran about 10 minutes behind. Add that up and you get another 30-minute warm up; just what I was trying to avoid.
Since the warm up ring was adjacent to the test ring, I took a short break to watch the open riders ride 3-1. I was the only adult amateur showing Third Level on Sunday. One rider in particular laid down an awesome 3-1 test. I realized that was how the test was supposed to be ridden. I think she scored a 67%. After watching how she rode it, I made it my mission to sit up, keep Speedy's energy up, and get my scores UP.
Just before we went in, I took a minute to do a hand gallop. I also reminded him that I had the whip in my hand and that my plan was to meet a quota of tap-taps whether he needed it or not. I am just kidding. Mostly.
We didn't score a 67%, but it was the best ridden Third Level test I've done so far. Not that that means anything because my Holy heck we did it! is still a far cry from where we need to be. Just the same, I was really proud of that 62.432%.
Here's the video.
My Third Level Test 3 ride was just two rides after my first. I didn't need to actually do anything in the warm up, but even just walking around I could tell that the test probably wasn't going to go well; Speedy was getting cranky and tired. Multiple taps with the whip will do that.
We earned a frustratingly low 57.625%. After looking over the test though, I was pleasantly surprised to see a long list of 6.0s and 6.5s. We even had a 7.0 for our entry which was back to our normal. You know what got us? The flying changes. We had a 6.5 and a 7.0 on the test just minutes before, but Speedy knows how to get his digs in. He. Just. Would. Not. Change. It was deliberate. Booger.
For the first change, he gave me an emphatic NO. See above. I kept asking though which prompted a late change, a swap back in the front, more lateness, and then he finally got it at about A. It was supposed to be near centerline. Our score for that debacle was a 4.0 that was crossed out and renumbered as a 3.0.
The second change doesn't look too bad on the video, but it was a tad late behind. I think the judge was a bit sick of me by that point because she gave us a 4.0. Even a 4.5 would have been better.
Our combined score for the two flying changes on Test 1 was 26 points; they have a double coefficient. The next two changes? An embarrassing 14 points. Those two flying changes cost us a 60%. It was particularly frustrating because our changes are actually pretty good, maybe even our best Third Level movement. What can you do though? Try, try, try again. That's what.
Here's the video with no editing out of the naughty moments. If you need to feel better about your own riding, this will do it.
For me, showing is worth while if on the drive home I mull over what I learned. I learned a lot at this show which means it was a success. My warm ups need to be shorter and quicker. I need to get Speedy bouncing and energetic. And finally, I learned that we can't do two tests a day for two days.
For our next show, my plan is to show 3-1 and 3-3 on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we'll do 3-1 again just to give me an "easier" shot at getting that last 60% for a Bronze Medal in case we miss it on Saturday. After that, our Sunday's will be reserved for 3-3.
It was a good show.
Just to relieve you of any tension, we finally got a score above 60% at a Third Level test at a USDF-rated show. Not a huge amount over 60%, mind you. In fact, we earned a 60.405%, just 1.5 points over the necessary 222 needed for a 60% at Third Level Test 1. Do I care? Nope. We earned it fair and square.
As in everything Speedy and I do, Saturday's two tests, Test 1 and Test 3, were a mixed bag with both good and bad moments. Test 1 was filled with a very long list of mediocre 6.0s and 6.5s. We had a few 5.5s and a lone 5.0. Add that all up and you get 60%.
For test 1, we didn't make any real errors other than one. I hate to show everyone in the warm up ring our "ugly." It's the ugly that Speedy needs though to put on a better performance. He needs to know that I am going to smack him once or twice if he doesn't get his butt moving. I didn't smack him like I should have, so we had a lackluster performance.
Don't get me wrong; I am not dismissing a 60% score as "lackluster." I have worked both our butts off to cross that magical line in the sand. In fact, when I got word that I had finally earned my first qualifying Third Level score, I burst into tears. Did I raise the roof, high five everyone in the barn, or do a happy dance. Negative, Buck Rogers. I bawled like a little kid.
Weirdo. I know, right? I am just so damn driven that getting my bronze medal is all I can think about. And it's not like earning it means I am done with Third Level and moving on to bigger and better things. All it means is that I can cross that goal off my list so that I can really focus on owning the directives at Third Level and getting better. Here's the video.
Our second test of the day, Test 3, is just hard. While I didn't make any real mistakes, I just don't know the test well enough to ride it with confidence. Not like that's the only reason we didn't earn a 60%. Did I mention that it's hard? My goal between now and our next show in December is to know that test backwards and forwards. The better I know a test, the more effective I can be in riding it.
Our score for 3-1 was 58.375%, just 6.5 points shy of a 60%. Our entry and halt, one of the places we can easily score a 7.0, was not up to par. We earned a 5.5 for which I have no explanation. That was at least a 1.5 loss. Our trot half pass left was weird - we earned a 4.0. That score carries a double coefficient so we lost another 4 points. That's 5.5 of the the 6.5 points we needed for a 60%.
Could I have picked up another point along the way? Absolutely. Like I said, knowing the test a little better and not riding it while second guessing myself would really help improve my score.
It wasn't a great test, but it wasn't a disaster either. We just have to keep working at it. Here's the video for Saturday's Third Level Test 3 ride.
While earning 4 scores of 60% or better at a show is always my ultimate goal, Saturday's 60.405% meant that I earned my goal for the show. With it, I now have the first of the two scores that I need for a Bronze Medal. That score is also a qualifying score for next year's Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC). It also means Speedy has the fourth score of 6 towards his CDS Horse Performance Award.
At the end of a show day, I always like to formulate a new plan for Sunday. What can I do better? What needs to change? What went well? As hard as it is to let everyone watch me "school" my horse, I knew I needed to get Speedy in front of my leg and sharper to my aids. That meant I was going to have to annoy the heck out him and expect him to "show up."
Sunday's rides tomorrow ...
I am going to be totally honest here. Up until a few weeks ago, I wondered at how a horse could lose the rhythm. Most of the time when that word is used, I suspect most people (like me) mean tempo. Until just recently, I had never felt a loss of rhythm on Speedy. On Izzy, yes. When he gets tense in the canter he feels as though he loses the lead behind which is a major loss of rhythm. That should actually be termed scrambling for footing.
At Third Level, the horse is asked for more collection than ever before. There's a 10-meter canter circle and canter half pass. We're also schooling some of the canter work at Fourth Level, especially the 5-6 strides of very collected canter between quarterlines (test 1) and the partial pirouette at canter (test 2). All of a sudden, I felt what was meant by a loss of rhythm.
When we canter right lead, and I ask for a very collected canter, Speedy feels almost lame. It feels as though he is stuttering in the canter and about to drop to trot. At our last lesson, I asked Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, what we could do about it.
She explained that Speedy has less range of motion in his right hind leg. Over the years, he has successfully cheated by carrying that hind leg, his weaker one, slightly to the inside. As a result, that leg doesn't step as far underneath him. In the collected canter, the horse has to sit more deeply with that hind leg reaching even farther underneath his belly. Since Speedy doesn't use that inside right hind as well, the rhythm of the collected canter feels off.
Chemaine gave me several exercises to help him begin to increase his range of motion. First, we're doing a lot more stretchy trot to the right wherein I ask him to leg yield out on the circle. I am doing the same thing at the canter. Another exercise is to canter a square with canter to walk transitions in the corners to insist that Speedy step over BIG with his inside right hind. Now that I am aware of the problem, I am constantly insisting that he step deeper through corners and that he carry his haunches correctly and not to the inside.
With a show coming in less than two weeks though, I am being careful about not making him sore. Just because I want him to bend over and "touch his toes," it doesn't mean he can do it in one day.
There is always something to fix, isn't there?
No matter how many years pass in writing this blog, I am still astounded by the many AHA! and D'oh! moments that I still experience. Dressage is far from boring, that's for sure.
Most of you know where Speedy and I started. He was my back up endurance horse who became my only endurance horse. And then, after more than 16 years of endurance racing, I started looking for an "easier" sport. I landed in a dressage court; Speedy made the move with me. Here we are 9 years later showing at Third Level and schooling a bit of Fourth.
Just about the moment that I start to feel like I have a handle on where we are, whether that was at Training Level or Second, a ginormous AHA if I'm lucky, but more likely a D'oh, will come flying out of left field and gobsmack me in the back of the head.
Not that I am complaining. I don't mind looking foolish if the result is that I walk away with a clearer understanding of a concept. That's what this sport is about - developing an understanding about what it takes to get a horse from here to there.
So what was it that dazzled me this time? The shoulders. How to move them and what happens to the hind end when the shoulders get out of the way. Lateral movements are not Speedy's jam. He's much happier powering forward like in a medium trot. He loves those things and is happy to do them all day long. Also centerline. He loves motoring up centerline. He practically swaggers as he does it. Move laterally? Thanks, no thanks. It's a weak area for sure.
While schooling the half pass recently, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, reminded me to open the outside rein so that the haunches could step over. I nodded like I knew what she meant. I didn't. How could opening the outside rein influence the haunches?
But I kept those words in mind, and I started opening the outside rein. And that's when I got gobsmacked. It wasn't really about moving the haunches, it was more about moving the shoulders. Oy veh!
Once I figured that out, I started to play around with the idea. Shoulder in left happens with a firm half halting outside rein because you're bringing the shoulder in off the rail. To achieve haunches in, bring both reins back to the rail, opening the outside rein, but bring the inside rein with it. Seriously. It's like riding a bike. It's just about steering. Our shoulder in has improved a thousand fold with this idea. So has our haunches in. And so has our half pass.
Gobsmacking. AHA. D'oh. Whatever it takes, deal me in. We have a show in three weeks. I need all of the epiphanies I can get!
Speedy and I got a late start to the 2019 show season. He was recovering from a long list of ailments - double leg sutures, a lost tooth, multiple abscesses due to his Cushing's diagnosis, and then the first two shows that were on our list got cancelled. Just when we hitting our stride, he abscessed right before our big Regional Adult Amateur Competition in August. It was a short show season to say the least.
We started the season at Third Level, missing 60% scores by mere points. Over the past two months however, our hard work has really started to show some results. Our canter has a lot more jump to it and our flying changes are confirmed. They're still a bit exuberant at times, but we can now get three changes across a very short diagonal.
Normally, my show clothes would now be in storage and we would be looking ahead to next year. Since we're only now starting to be a solid Third Level team, I can't hang up my show coat just yet. Instead, we're doing a two-day USDF-rated show in late October. Please, Universe, let this one work out.
With Speedy's winter vet bill finally paid for, I once again have some "extra" money that I don't feel guilty about spending on a show entry. Although half a grand plus another buck and a quarter for gas is still a lot of money to spend, especially since memberships will be due shortly.
While entries don't close until the 12th, stabling is limited and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Fortunately, I know the show manager quite well, but I try not to abuse our friendship with slow pokey entries.
My fingers are crossed that Speedy stays sound and healthy for this show and the one after that.
Actually, the exercise does a lot more than collect the horse. It also teaches him to want to move forward and to like it. But first ...
Earlier this week I had a lesson with Chemaine Hurtado owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. I imagine that if it were feasible for me to be in full training, which it's not, Chemaine would probably have a more structured system for my lessons. As it is, she sort of leaves it up to me to let her know how this or that exercise went, what we're suddenly doing well, and where we're stuck. And when I say we, I mean Speedy because he's the other half of this team.
Before we started THE EXERCISE, we did have to sharpen Speedy up to my leg and get him supple. There was a lot of half halt and a SURPRISE! tap with the whip. It didn't take him long to realize that a half halt was going to be followed with a suggestion that he engage his badonkadonk. You can see the result in the medium trot above.
Since Speedy will always take the path of least resistance, we had to do the same sharpening up on the shoulder in. When he got lazy, I surprised him with a sudden tap with the whip to remind him that he is now required to have energy all. the. time.
A favorite suppling exercise of Chemaine's is the shoulder in to haunches in. She loves this for warming the horse up for the half pass. Speedy is not the biggest fan of the work because it's work, but it definitely gets him more supple. It goes like this: through the corner get a deep bend. Ride out of the corner in shoulder in. When you like the quality of the shoulder in - ours always needs more work, but whatever; reverse it to a haunches in. Again, when you like the quality of that, move back into the shoulder in. Ideally you should be able to get several of each down a single long side.
By this point in the lesson, we needed something else to keep Speedy thinking forward and being supple. He can give me one or the other, but he hates doing both at the same time. Chemaine called the exercise passad. I googled the heck out of the term, but I couldn't find any reference to it. If I'm spelling it incorrectly, let me know.
Here's how the exercise goes: pick up a collected canter. On the short side get the horse's stride as short as you can. As you come through the corner get maximum bend, and half halt with an open and back outside rein to really get the haunches under your horse. Then almost pivot through the corner. The point is to get the horse thinking about deep collection like in a canter pirouette. Come out of the corner with the horse deeply bent around your leg and looking at H.
Now you can begin the half pass to centerline. Since the horse has been collected as short as he can, now is the opportunity to open up that canter for a more forward stride in the half pass, something Speedy hates to do. After a few of those super collected canter corners, he started to think that canter half pass was looking a lot easier.
After you half pass to center line, stay on the same lead shortening the stride on a 10-meter half circle back into the opposite corner. Repeat. Here's video of Chemaine explaining the exercise and then coaching me through it several times.
After going through it both directions, we repeated the exercise at the trot. Speedy's trot half passes suddenly developed a bit more impulsion. Funny how something you thought was hard isn't so hard when you replace it with something that is definitely hard!
And then, just to shake off all that "hard," we finished up with some medium trot. Looking pretty good, Speedy G!
Our next show, USDF-rated, is in late October. We were so close to getting that 60% in mid-summer. I think we're definitely better than we were even a month ago. I think we really can do it this next time around.
But if not, there's always a next show!
Last week, I had a lesson on Speedy with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. Like I always do, I explained to Chemaine what was going well, and what wasn't - our half passes were much improved, but they lacked impulsion. Chemaine had several several exercises for me to try.
The first exercise she had me do was one from the past, but we used it differently. During the trot half pass, whenever I felt like Speedy was ignoring my outside leg, she had me turn the half pass into a leg yield by changing the bend. As soon as Speedy started moving off my now inside leg, I was to change the bend again all while ensuring that he still moved sideways off my leg. The exercise worked well, but I am going to need it for a while, especially to the right.
The next exercise that we did addressed the lack of impulsion. We did half pass to medium trot to half pass to medium trot. Because the half pass requires so much strength and collection, Speedy was thrilled to be allowed to really go for it in the extended trot. This in turn helped build in some natural impulsion for the half pass. It was a win-win.
Before we finished the lesson, Chemaine said that she had one more exercise she wanted me to try. We've worked really hard to get the impulsion and uphill carriage that Speedy needs for the medium and extended gaits. That's still a work in progress, for sure, but Chemaine wanted to add yet another dimension.
Down each long side, Chemaine wanted me to do big half halts with a lot of leg. As predicted, Speedy shot forward assuming that the half halt with leg meant medium trot. As soon as he went heavy in my hand, she had me half halt and again tap him with my whip. We repeated the exercise until Speedy connected the dots: I didn't want more forward, I wanted more up. You can see it in the photo above. He can't carry it for long, but as we schooled it, both of us got the idea a bit better.
When we moved to the canter work, both Speedy and I had an AHA moment. I realized that I could ask for the same thing in the canter. And sure enough, his canter got a lot more jump in it when I half halted with my outside rein and added leg. Canter half pass and flying changes both are much easier with canter that's got some jump to it.
Here's some video of getting the suspension in the trot.
I have learned more during this past year than in the last ten years combined. While it could get overwhelming to contemplate all that's still to be learned, I don't worry about it since what I am learning is turning out to be so much fun. Not to mention rewarding.
Like I've said before: Second Level sucked really rotten tomatoes. Third Level is the cat's meow!
Those two things are what I now think about during my rides on both Speedy and Izzy. They seem like such simple ideas, but I am suddney feeling them at a whole different level. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has said each of those things to me (A LOT) - consistency of frame and self-carriage, over the past two months. In this sport, you only realize how much you don't know once you learn, or in my case, feel something new.
Revisiting the purpose of a level is something I like to do occasionally, especially when we get stuck or find ourselves plateauing. For Third Level, the purpose is:
Before I go any further, I have to explain that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. quote. We were watching Sunday's NASCAR race at Watkins Glen when we heard Dale Earnhardt, Jr. poke fun at Kyle Petty. Before the race started, Kyle Petty, a retired driver, took Olympic diver, David Boudia, on a "joy ride" around the 2.5 mile track. At the corners are these really bumpy sections called rumble strips. They can wreak havoc on a car's suspension if the drivers hit them wrong. Dale Jr. had suggested that Kyle Petty hit them pretty hard to give Boudia a taste of what a real lap at Watkins Glen feels like. When Junior saw the "joy ride," he quipped to Petty, "I am not too proud of your commitment," referring to Petty's soft approach to the rumble strips.
I just about died laughing. It was hilarious and struck me as something that trainers, especially mine, would say to a half-hearted attempt at anything. I can just picture Chemaine's face as we come through the corner hitting those "rumble strips" softly instead of half halting and revving up Speedy's engine.
So what was I saying? Oh, yeah - self-carriage. I know what that means of course, but now, Speedy has to actually DO IT, and I need to show some commitment by insisting he DO IT. For us to bump up our scores to the 60s, Speedy needs better engagement. He cannot rest on my hands. Instead, he has to start carrying even more of his own weight, especially since I now feel what that means.
For so long, Speedy has felt that a half halt was me saying you've done something wrong. Chemaine pointed out that means I need to be doing a lot more of them so he figures out it simply means he needs to rebalance himself.
When the half halt goes through correctly and he actually sits down a bit, the canter is a totally different thing. And now that I've felt that more collected canter, I want it all. the. time. When he shows more engagement in the canter, his shoulders lift which makes the canter half pass much easier.
We haven't fixed everything this week, but simply riding with the need for self-carriage in my mind is definitely improving everything. I am already looking forward to next year's show season. We'll have all winter to get really confirmed at Third Level.
Especially if we show some commitment.
That means that Third Level Test 3 should be right up my alley. It might not be our strongest test yet, but it will be. I can feel it.
Our first test of the show went really well. We had a bunch of 7.0s and only one small blooper, a late change behind in the flying lead change. I was feeling pretty good about test 3.
Unfortunately, the show manger had scheduled a pretty long break between our two tests, just over an hour and a half. On a normal summer day, that probably wouldn't have affected us, but on that particular day, California's Central Valley experienced its hottest day of the summer. It was officially 110* in Bakersfield and in the low 90s in the Tehachapi Mountains (which feels hotter than it is). Our first test was at 12:16 and the second one was at 1:51.
I kept Speedy tacked up, but pulled his bridle and covered him with a fly sheet to shade him from the worst of the sun. For this show, I tie to the side of the trailer where there is usually a little shade. Speedy was cool to the touch and not sweating at all. in fact, he stood there dozing with his lip hanging, certain that we'd be going home at any moment.
I kept my second warm up super short, focusing on just perking him up. When we entered at A, I felt like things were going to be okay. In fact the first half of the test rode pretty decently. We earned a long list of 6.0s and 6.5s. Our trouble started with the first trot half pass (5.0). From that point on, the test gets a lot harder, and it showed in our scores.
At home, we can do a very balanced walk to canter transition. This season though, that movement is completely broken when we show. I know it's me because we have trouble with both the right and left lead. For test 3, we blew the left lead walk to canter at K needing several tries to get the correct lead - 4.0. This really stinks because it leads directly into the canter half pass left - 4.0.
While our canter half passes definitely need a ton of work, the flying changes are getting better. We earned a 7.0 for the first one but a 5.0 for the second one when it was very late. So late, in fact, that it took me until the rail to get Speedy to change behind. Booger. From there, we pulled in a couple of 6.0s for our medium and collected canter and a solid 6.5 for our collected trot at H.
Our final score for this Third Level Test 3 was a frustrating 59.250%, just 3 points shy of a 60%. With so many of this test's scores counting as double coefficients, it's easy to both lower or raise your score. If we can just get a slightly better canter half pass and ride both flying changes cleanly, we'll "easily" earn a 60+% for this test.
I can't swear being hot and tired was the cause, but I think it was. Even my husband thought the test looked labored. Speedy just wasn't really feeling it, and for us to earn a score in the 60s, he has to really want to. He didn't really want to. I can't blame him too much. This horse does an awful lot for me.
Here's the video.
Much to my complete surprise, our show season is not over! We have one more chance this weekend to earn those Bronze Medal scores. I'll share that story on Friday.