I sent Chemaine yet another text.
Third Level is definitely kicking our butts.
I love Speedy, I really do. That horse has helped me accomplish so many goals. He's even more special considering that he wasn't bred specifically for dressage, but he does it anyway. Despite being amazing, there are still days when he makes me so mad. After Saturday's disaster of a ride, I shot off a text to Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables.
On Sunday morning, after yet another ride with nothing but bolty, head-in-the-air-canters, I simply stopped him, it couldn't even be called a halt, and slid off. His level of try had dropped to zero, and he was nothing but pissed. It would have been hard to say who was more frustrated, him or me.
I sent Chemaine yet another text.
It would seem that being a year-end winner and recipient of tons of awards doesn't mean squat when you move up a level. Have a slice of humble pie, Sweaney, your head was getting too big for your helmet.
Third Level is definitely kicking our butts.
I know that this past weekend's lessons won't be the only ones I get this fall, but they were a great start. I told Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, that there were three things I needed to work on with Speedy.
The first was simply getting him sharper off my aids. We finished our show season winning the CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition at Second Level. Since then, I've gone back to work, and I now have to ride in the late afternoon heat. Neither Speedy nor I really wanted to work hard at anything. We've been kind of coasting along. Now that the weather is cooling off, we need to get back into race trim.
The second thing I wanted to work on was the half pass at trot, but as it turned out, Chemaine had us working on half pass at both the trot and canter, something we had yet to start. Apparently, I've been practicing the trot half pass mostly correctly. All I really needed to do was look at a point before the corner so that my half pass went at more of an angle. They're still very rudimentary, but we have the idea down.
The canter half passes were barely even half passes. The main trouble was Speedy was convinced I was going to ask for a flying change. It took a while for him to figure out what I was doing; me, too for that matter. In the end, we got a few strides where he and I started to get it. My big take away from that part of the lesson was that I need a whole lot of bend before I can even think about asking for his hind end to step over. We'll get there.
The final thing I wanted to work on was the flying change - of course. Right to left we have down. I can get it the first time pretty much every time. The only thing I really need to work on is asking for it sooner and sooner with less drama. Here's video of the first time I asked. His change is so quiet that you'll barely see it, if at all.
Left to right is a different story. As I worked on them by myself over the past few weeks, I figured out that I needed to ride it differently than when asking for a change from right to left. The main problem is that he's falling in on the right shoulder which means he can't change. It kind of looks like this ...
Chemaine helped me fix a slue of little issues before I asked for the change. The first was that he kept trying to bolt as I changed the bend. To fix that, Chemaine had me keep on cantering as though all I really wanted was a counter canter.
When he refused to soften to the inside rein, I just kept cantering without asking for the change. Eventually, I got a change in front, and later a change in back. To get it all to work, I needed Speedy to get soft on the inside rein, AND I needed a strong half halt to get the change behind. Here's where the pieces finally came together, albeit a bit disjointed.
In the end, I was able to put it all together and get the change, even if it wasn't as prompt as I would have liked. As soon as I came out of the corner, I changed the bend and started half halting, reminding him to be soft on the inside. The outside rein said no bolting, the inside rein said stay soft, and my seat said change. It took a big outside rein, but he finally got it.
That magical moment ...
I am not sure I can call myself a Third Level rider quite yet, but we are schooling the movements. Nor do I know everything, or even most things, or anything, really. But holy cow, schooling the movements in the level above where you've been working brings a whole new level of insight.
I hopped up on Izzy on Friday afternoon with a bit of a mission. It's been three months since I made the switch to the dressage legal bit, and it's time for the big brown horse to start toeing the line every ride every time. My chiropractor puts it this way: he's too old to have opinions. I always add, and if he has them, he can keep them to himself.
My plan was to get on, get it done, and get off. You know horses though; nothing is ever that simple. Right off the bat he started thinking his own thoughts and then decided to tell me about them. Really loudly. How many times can you jerk the right rein as you yell, let (jerk) go (jerk) of (jerk) the (jerk) freaking (except I said it the other way) rein (jerk, jerk jerk, jerk!). The answer to that question is about 972, or until you're panting and out of breath. It took a minute for all that jerking to settle in, but he finally realized his butt was in a boatload of trouble at which time he thought it prudent to keep his opinions to himself.
And then we got some great work done!
Somewhere doing the ride I decided to work on canter transitions which slowly morphed into canter transitions with changes of direction. And suddenly I found myself riding the serpentine from Second Level Test 1 where you do a simple change over the center line and canter on the new lead. Instead of a simple change through walk, we did a change of lead through trot.
They started out a bit abrupt, but suddenly, I heard, first, change the bend to get him on your new outside rein which sets him up for the change of lead. All those months and years of riding Training Level and First Level I could NEVER remember to do that before the change from canter to trot to canter at X. Now I know why those movements are where they are. And more importantly, I now understand what to do to get a better transition. Thank you, Second Level.
Once I was fixing the bend - oh, and by the way, I've determined that Second Level's goal is to teach slow witted riders like myself how to bend their horses; he immediately figured out what I was going to ask for and started offering a baby walk to canter.
This whole dressage thing would be so much easier if we all got to ride a Grand Prix horse at the GP level. Then we'd go down from there. By the time we got to Training Level, we'd KNOW why we we're doing what we're doing.
It's really all so very simple (said no one ever). I can't wait until Fourth Level because then I'll totally understand what I was supposed to be doing at Third!
And they're correct! When we get one that is. After schooling them for less than a week, we get the change about 50% of the time. I am actually quite pleased with them as I haven't even had a lesson yet. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, talked me through the aids over the phone, so I've been working on it on my own in preparation for tonight's lesson.
The interesting thing is that all of a sudden, his canter has gotten much more uphill, and the simple changes are getting crisper. I guess that's what happens when you raise your expectations. Getting my saddle adjusted has also helped.
To be completely honest, I was thrilled beyond belief that we even got any changes the first time I schooled them. I was certain it was going to take all fall before we even got one flying change. It took about three asks before he gave me one. When we changed direction, he got it on the second try. I've never asked for flying changes before, so I was over the moon happy that we were able to get any on our first try.
For Third Level, I'll need a flying change across the diagonal. For now, Chemaine suggested I ask for them in the corner. To set him up, I counter canter across the diagonal, half halting to get him as light in the bridle as I can. I change the bend to get him on the new outside rein, and then I switch my seat to the new lead.
He's not changing with my seat aid (yet). I have to do a strong half halt on the new outside rein and scoop with my seat. Chemaine explained it like this: It's being methodical with your aids, so the horse recognizes a canter transition when he hears one. Even if he's already cantering!
That way of thinking about it has helped a lot. The other thing she suggested was to keep cantering even if he doesn't change and just circle around and try it again. When he gives me one, we walk, and I give him a loud and enthusiastic good boy! He knows when he's done something right.
I am super excited to be schooling Third. Who would have thought?
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, stopped by last week for a lesson. I am itching to start (correctly) schooling the half pass and flying lead changes at Third Level but haven't wanted to confuse Speedy before the season's last show (that write-up is coming soon, I promise).
I wanted to work on things that are needed at Third Level that would also help my scores at Second. I asked to work on a "loftier" trot. Chemaine was all over that plan and put me to work right away. Now that Speedy knows how to sit better without ducking behind the bit, Chemaine felt he was ready for a bigger compression. By revving him up and asking his hind end to be better engaged, he'll lift his back and connect his hind end to his front end.
The first time I got it right, I got this.
Now I've got all fall and winter to develop this new, more powerful trot. And funnily enough, it's an easier trot to sit than the less dynamic, downhill trot. Go figure!
My husband seemed pretty impressed by our win at RAAC. I was more surprised than impressed. My trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, was probably relieved. I imagine there is some worry when your student sports your logo on everything and then brings home a score in the mid-50s. It just doesn't look good.
I am always thrilled to do well, but it's really hard for me to take any credit for it. When we finish near the bottom of a class, I always say it's because everyone was better than me. The horses were better, and the riders were better. I don't resent them, and I don't feel as though it's unfair; it's just life.
When we do well though, I always feel as though everyone else must have had a bad day. It's certainly not because I have a better horse or am a better rider; Lord knows that can't be true. I am usually a glass half full kind of girl, but when it comes to showing, I always assume the worst.
Chemaine and I have decided to spend the fall and winter tackling Third Level. She's assured me that it's a lot more fun than Second, and since Speedy can already do clean flying changes (when I don't ask for them), it might even be easy.
When I asked her how we got through Second Level so quickly while we languished at Training and First Levels, she explained that it was because we built a very solid foundation at those lower levels.
I guess that means we're not just lucky. Maybe we're even good sometimes.
I am a score stalker. If I know your real name, I've looked up your scores. It helps me to see what's "normal." While your scores are interesting, I particularly like to track my own scores. Are they trending up? Not right now. Are they following their usual pattern? For the love of all that's holy I hope so! You see, my scores tend to follow a predictable pattern. At the beginning of each new level, they start in the 50s, but they eventually creep over sixty percent and settle comfortably in the mid-60s. I can live with that.
Sometimes I even do searches of famous riders like Charlotte Dujardin (who has exactly two USDF scores) or Steffen Peters. Laura Graves actually has a 54% at Third Level if that makes anyone feel better. She also has an 85% at Grand Prix with 51 rides at that level. So yeah, who cares about a sucky score at Third.
I love looking at my data on USDF's site (or Centerline Scores) because it shows a journey. While I was poking around the other day, I realized that I've done 62 USDF shows with Speedy G. How is that even possible? I feel like we're still beginners.
Most of the time I visit the site to double check that my scores have been recorded correctly. While I was here most recently, I noticed something that I've never seen before. There is now a spot where your awards are highlighted! I am a sucker for any kind of sticker or atta girl, so this totally floats my boat.
When I clicked on the Second Level Rider Performance Award, a pop up window appeared showing my progress toward that award. How cool is that? I have two scores and need two more from two different judges. It sounded so much easier at the beginning of the year.
Another new-to-me feature was the USDF Rider Award Check. If you use Centerline Scores, you know that if you've earned any scores towards a medal, they shade in portions of the medal showing your progress. USDF doesn't do that. Instead, you can now click on the medal you're working toward, and a new window pops open detailing your progress just like it did for the Rider Performance Award. Here's what mine looks like.
I'm pretty excited. I am two-thirds of the way towards a bronze medal. That sounds so achievable to a regular person, but anyone with any dressage experience knows that getting out of Second and scoring those two coveted scores at Third Level is enough to drive you to the edge of insanity and maybe even push you right on over.
There is nothing new on the Tests page, but I like to study this page, too. I like to see how long it takes me to figure out a level. Speedy and I spent FOREVER at Training Level. It was mostly because of injuries, but I also hate to move on unless we're truly ready. I am not sure yet how long we'll be at Second Level. I suspect that if we stay here another year it will be because of my sitting trot.
I definitely won't feel comfortable about moving onto Third Level until this bar graph evens out a little. Those scores at Second are lower than I am happy with. The next USDF show we will do is the CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition in mid-August. There is a CDS only show right after that, but that's as far as my show season has been planned.
It seems a bit strange to plan a show season based on some charts and data from a web site, but if my Rider Performance Award gets colored in this summer and my bar graph gets a little longer, I may call the season a wrap! We'll see how things go in August.
Check out your data (and mine while you're there), and let me know what you think.
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!