Third Level is taking more out of Speedy than First or Second ever did. I remember when he could do a Friday warm up ride and then two tests a day without any issues. Now? Not so much. Based on the results of this show, I am going to have to change the way I am doing things if I want to ride three tests over a two-day show.
We weren't brilliant. We weren't even decent. We finished the test with a sad little 58% and change. It was deserved though. We gave away our 60% in three movements - the walk pirouette to the left (4.0), the canter at C (4.0), and that pesky left to right flying change (3.0). In the walk pirouette, Speedy started to poop just as I asked for the turn. In the video (3:45), you can see him step wide which cost us several points. The canter depart at C has plagued us since the beginning. If I am not super correct in my aids, Speedy picks up the left lead. It's now a "thing." The change of lead was just him saying, NO. He basically flipped me the bird. We all know he can do a lovely left to right change. He just didn't really want to.
Were it not for those three errors, we would have had a score in the low 60s as we had a smattering of 7.0s to help the 5.0s. What this test showed me was that Speedy gets tired which makes him grumpy. We'll attend another two-day show in mid-July. My plan will be to do a short ride on Friday afternoon, no longer than 30 minutes total. My warm up on Saturday will be no longer than 20 minutes. On Sunday, my warm up can't be more than about 12 minutes, and it can only consist of a stretchy walk, trot, and canter. I am finding that Speedy is giving me his best work in the warm up.
If I ask for a movement too many times, he starts to feel like he's getting picked on and pretty much throws in the towel. That definitely happened with the flying changes on Sunday. I did a few in the warm up to "sharpen him up," but when I asked for them during the test, he felt like he had already shown me his best effort so he said nope. Lesson learned, Dude.
It wasn't all bad though. Our entry was still good with a 6.5, our rein back was solid with another 6.5, our second walk pirouette was spot on with a 7.5, and our medium canter showed some improvement with a 7.0. My friend Jen, the show manager, had shot a slow-motion video of parts of the ride that revealed I needed more outside rein in my 10-meter circles. I added that in and bumped those scores up to a 6.5 and a 7.0. And as usual, our last centerline was a 7.0
Shooting video for me for this test was my trainer's daughter. She had a young friend with her who is just getting into dressage, so on the video you can hear Morgan coaching her young student. After I listened to it, I felt sorry for the friend because some of the movements weren't performed well enough to be able to identify them. I am looking at you extended gaits! Here's the video with the score sheet following.
More tomorrow ...
While this is probably the best Third Level test we've done, at a USDF show anyway, I can still see we have so much work to do. We earned a 61.750%. It was "enough," but like I mentioned yesterday, I want us to get better. My goal is to ride tests that earn scores in the mid-sixties.
While we have plenty of room for improvement, I didn't make any obvious errors, and there were some parts that were pretty good. We scored an 8.0 for our first centerline, and our walk pirouettes, always a strong movement for us, scored a 7.0 and an 8.0. In the video you'll hear hear Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, tease us a bit right before the first walk pirouette when Speedy spooked. He actually spooked because the scribe made a sudden and loud noise, and while you won't hear it on the video, she gasped out an audible oops in apology. Given the dramatic spook (look for at it the three minute mark), I thought his recovery was pretty spectacular.
While the flying changes weren't brilliant, they were on my aids, and they happened at the centerline. While a 6.0 just means sufficient, it's a much better score than the 1.0 we got twice last year.
The left to right flying change also went pretty well. Again, not spectacular, but it was when and where I asked for it. The screenshots make his changes look so dramatic, but on the video you can barely see him make the jump.
What I love about these two changes is how rhythmic they were. We've worked really hard to be able to do the changes without a change in the tempo. It was only a few weeks ago that I was able to figure out why he was rushing through them. For so long I had to really put on the gas to get some jump in the canter. I realized that I was still asking for that rev up even though he doesn't need it any more. Once I quieted my seat down, his changes started to happen within the canter rhythm.
My half passes still need a lot of work, and the shoulder-ins weren't as nice as in Test 1. But again, nothing was catastrophic. Last year we struggled with some 3.0s and 4.0s (and even some 1.0s and 2.0s), but this year, I've turned them into 5.0s and 6.0s. With a little work, I know I can turn those into 6.0s and 7.0s, and that's how I'll get scores in the mid-sixties.
Here's the video, again with Chemaine offering some feedback. The score sheet follows.
Tomorrow - day two.
I've only been home from this weekend's Southern California Equestrian Center show for a day or two. Like I said yesterday, I should be more excited about having earned my Bronze Medal scores. If winning ribbons, trophies, and medals were my ultimate goal, I would be thrilled. I've come to realize though that is not what motivates me. What keeps me going is knowing that I can always make things better. That I need to make things better, cleaner, sharper, more confirmed. So when I watched the 3-1 test yesterday, I cringed at my mistakes, noting what needs improvement and thinking about how to make that happen.
Before I rip apart where we're making our biggest mistakes, I was really pleased by some of the movements, and I can definitely see how much we've improved since last fall. Our walk pirouettes are getting quite nice and have turned into an opportunity for easy points. On test one we earned a 6.0 and a 7.0. On test three we bumped those up to a 7.0 and an 8.0. They're easily a strength. Our centerlines have always been good - we earned a 6.5 and a 7.0 on this test, and our shoulder-ins are coming along nicely - 6.0 and 6.5.
Our medium and extended trots weren't as good as they can be, but I had tweaked my back earlier in the week, and it was killing me over the weekend. That tightness in my back came through on the test and showed in our scores, 6.0 and 5.5. The first real mistake that I made on this test was in the 10-meter half circles after the shoulder-ins. My geometry was way off, and I am not sure why. That should have lowered my half pass scores, but fortunately, the judge either couldn't see it or it didn't influence her scoring.
Our biggest mistake though, and I am blaming Speedy a bit for this one, is our left to right flying change. I can get those nice and neat at home, but that is the one that gets sticky at a show. On Sunday he flipped me the bird when I asked. On Saturday, he tried to fake me out with a little jump in his canter, but he didn't actually change. In the video you can see me lean over to check (about 5:20 in the video). By the time I got it sorted out, we were on the rail when I got the change which left us with a 5.0 and the comment "not on aids."
Even though we "only" scored a 60.676%, I am not disappointed. The two tests on Saturday were definitely improved overall when compared to last year, and that's all I can really ask for. Here's the video with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, offering some quiet, and sometimes funny, feedback as she recorded the test.
Third Level Test 3 tomorrow ...
On Friday morning, I had a really interesting lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. With a two-day USDF show coming soon, I needed a lesson that would address my sudden onset of confidence eroding inferiority.
When I go to "big" shows, I suffer from feelings of not belonging. I feel like Speedy and I are just completely outclassed. True or not, relevant or not, it feels like everyone has more money which so often means better tack, better clothes, better training, better everything. So each season, I am forced to put on my big girl panties and suck-it-the-heck-up. Life is not fair. Do what you can with what you have. The end.
When Chemaine rolled up, I told her how I was feeling even though we've been busting our butts to improve our Third Level work all winter. I asked if we could just do a lesson that focused on test preparation. What could I improve on in just a few days, and where could I stop "leaking" points? Since Speedy was already warmed up, Chemaine told me to ride 3-1, and we would take it from there.
Overall, Chemaine was pretty pleased, but she had lots of great tips for me.
For the canter work, Chemaine also had some suggestions for ways to either raise our score a bit, or keep us from losing points.
We worked on each component of the test, with me trying to implement Chemaine's tips. She was right about each one. Every movement was improved just by turning my shoulders or looking where I wanted Speedy's shoulders to be. I've ridden several times since that lesson, always working on keeping my shoulders turned or looking at a particular letter to keep Speedy in a better position.
We last showed in October, so it's been a while for both of us. We were supposed to go to a show this weekend, but it got cancelled on Monday. The property owner was afraid the county would levy fines for a COVID-19 violation. Things are pretty confusing here as professional sports have been allowed - with no spectators, but some some Ventura County officials are calling horse shows a "festival."
I sent in an entry for a show next weekend, also in Ventura County, but that property owner is confident that her facility meets all of the county's requirements. We're about as ready as we can be for our first show, whenever it happens.
Over the weekend, Speedy and I worked with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. As always, I laid out our current struggle: he's in front of my leg, but I can't shift his balance back as much as I need to for the half pass. It's always the half pass. Chemaine's solution was to focus on weighting the outside hind leg and then reposition the new outside leg. Sound confusing? Yeah, for me too.
There is video of this first pirouette, but it's too embarrassing to show. Speedy understood Chemaine's directions, but I didn't. The exercise goes like this: use the outside rein to weight and control the outside hind leg as the horse's shoulders come around the circle. That part I undersood. But as we were finishing the turn, Chemaine instructed me to ride a shoulder in to the new direction. I could not figure out how to do it.
To perform one walk pirouette to another, or half pass to canter pirouette to lead change - something in our future, the rider needs to be able to control the outside hind leg and then the new outside hind leg. In the photo above, the red arrow shows the new outside hind, but because I've "lost" the shoulder - see how it's bulging out?, the new outside leg isn't in position to carry Speedy's weight in the new pirouette.
You'll understand the exercise much better if you watch Chemaine coaching me through it.
Then we took that exercise and applied it to the half pass. Chemaine had me "ride a square" - an exercise that fixes so many things. In the corner, we walked and did a quarter pirouette, striking off into the trot and again walking in the corners. In each corner, the walk pirouette told him to sit down, bend, and soften. After going around the square a few times, we then did a trot half pass out of the corner after nearly walking. This really asked him to sit down in preparation for the half pass.
One of the pieces of homework that Chemaine has given me over the past month has been to keep Speedy at the same tempo before, during, and after the flying change. In the beginning, we were just excited to get a change, so we didn't focus on the quality of the canter after. Then Speedy started to anticipate the change, rushing into it. It was a challenge to teach him to wait for my aid, and sometimes, it's still a challenge. As I got the anticipation under control, his next evasion was to bolt through the change which left him unbalanced. Just this past week I have been able to get flying changes that are smooth without any change to the tempo.
The changes are now definitely confirmed and much more quiet, but they're still pretty expressive.
Of course, we still struggle with it because Speedy is not always as light in my hand as he needs to be. To fine tune the changes, Chemaine is now having me focus much more on the preparation before I even think about the change. As we come through the corner, Speedy needs to start getting softer and softer so that I can achieve the new bend more quickly. This will help us in Fourth Level where we'll need to do three changes across the diagonal - a movement we can do about 50% of the time.
In this video, I got him softer, but then he missed the aid for the change. When we tried it again, you can see him start to rush, but with a bit WAIT, he came back to me, and then we got a nice, clean change.
Chemaine rarely rides Speedy, but during this lesson, she asked if she could get on him. I was struggling with the left bend, and she couldn't see why. It wasn't until she got on him that she felt how heavy he actually was. We joked about the fact that I was hiding it quite well. She worked him left and right, pushing him back and forth off both reins and legs. He was happy to be heavy on either rein/leg, until Chemaine convinced him that yes, he could work between the aids.
When she handed him back over to me, she gave us both a lot of praise. "He feels like a dressage horse," she exclaimed. Since she's only ridden him once or twice in the past year, that was great to hear. This will never be "easy" for Speedy, but it's nice to hear that we're on the right track.
If everything goes to plan, we'll have one more lesson before out first show of the year. We're still showing Third Level of course, so maybe this will be the year we get that score ...
Speedy and I are still slogging away at Third Level. Everything is improving, and we're even schooling movements from Fourth Level, but it's still a struggle. Even so, once we get to show again, I am feeling pretty confident that we'll get the last score we need for the Bronze Medal. Until then, we just keep working away at helping Speedy be more supple so that the half passes get more fluid. I had a lesson last week with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, where we worked on just that.
I've said this about a billion times: Speedy loves to go forward. He really gets into it, lifting his back and pushing off. His extended trot just gets better and better. It's the lateral work that he's not so fond of. And at Third Level, that means half pass. Every time Chemaine comes, it's the same sob story, help me fix the half pass.
We've been working hard at getting Speedy to engage his hind end so that he can sit and carry more weight. He's still not actively using his hind all of the time, so Chemaine did some tapping with the whip while I kept him at a walk. We're looking for a feeling of piaffe, and he's definitely getting it. I can really feel it in the walk pirouette.
Once his hind end was really engaged, we moved on to the shoulder in. Everything we're working on right now is to increase his overall suppleness. As I ride, I over-flex him laterally and tell him we're doing it just because he can. I don't hold him in the flexion, I just over-flex, and let go. Every time I do, it shows him that he can hold the bend himself without being so heavy in my hand. It's definitely a work in progress.
We're really tackling two big issues, keeping his hind end active and engaged while also being able to bend and stay light in my hand. When we get those moments, they make all of the slogging worth it.
During this lesson, Chemaine had me work on two exercises: using a leg yield or shoulder in the trot half pass, and using walk pirouettes in the canter half pass. Neither one was easy, but they both helped me see why we struggle in the half pass. The main issue we're having is that Speedy wants to lean and fall in on the inside shoulder, particularly the right shoulder.
It's really hard to wrap my head around how switching to a leg yield or a shoulder in during the half pass will help fix it, but it did. Chemaine had me do a half pass right, and the instant I felt like he was heavy on my inside rein, she had me switch to a leg yield left with an emphasis on pushing his inside hind over. With his hind end over, it repositioned his front end for a straighter half pass.
Another thing that helped was as we came through the corner, she had me open my outside rein to draw his shoulders to the rail so that he could pick up his inside shoulder rather than pivoting on it which is why he falls in on that shoulder in the half pass. Here's a quick video of her explaining.
The last exercise we did was using the walk pirouette to help Speedy maintain the bend in the canter half pass. We started with walk pirouette circles. Once he was on my outside rein, I asked for the canter. Anywhere in the half pass that I felt like I was losing the bend, I brought him to a walk and immediately did a walk pirouette. That exercise really helped Speedy understand where his haunches need to be in the canter half pass.
Back when I was just starting out at Intro A, I just knew that once we got to Training Level, everything would fall into place, and things would get easy from there on out. I felt the same way as I was staring down First Level, and then Second Level. The reality is, for me anyway, we're never going to just get it and grab our Gold Medal as we piaffe our way down centerline. No level is going to come easy for us.
While it's highly unlikely that we'll ever earn a USDF Gold Medal, and we might not even get that Bronze Medal, I can say that we're enjoying the journey. While Speedy has never said so himself, I feel safe speaking for him.
Every once in a while I stop and look at all the miles we've traveled. I would have never guessed that here is where that road would lead. I guess my point is this: keep on keeping on as long as you're enjoying what you do, and take time to appreciate your accomplishments.
And if you can find someone with whom to laugh along the way, all the better.
What with all that's happening in the world right now, I am having trouble remembering what day it is. So when I say I had a lesson a week or so ago, it might have been two weeks or three days ago. I am not sure. A few weeks before that, I had a lesson, and in that one, we worked on getting Speedy's hind end very active. When we started this most recent lesson, my first question was how to use that new hind end energy.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, nearly clapped her hands in excitement. I think she'd thought I'd never ask. Right away, she had me get Speedy going. When I had trouble knowing how much to get him going or what get him going even looked like, she use the word excited. Get him excited. Oh, okay.
It sounded easy, but it wasn't. I just wasn't really feeling what she was asking me to do. Basically, she wanted me to build up the energy in his hind legs without letting it leak out through his front end. Then, we took that energy and used it in the shoulder in and half pass. When he felt too quick or heavy in the front end, she wanted me to use the half halt to tell his front end to slow down so that his hind end could catch up. When I kept him "short" front to back, he could carry and push more effectively from behind.
The videos have excellent sound, so you can hear Chemaine explaining it better than I can. And because I am nothing if not honest, you can see my struggle for yourself. We have some really pretty moments here, but some of them are not so pretty.
At the end of the second video, we got some really nice medium trot. Speedy loves that movement and tries his heart out. This is probably some of the longest reach he's ever given me. I have never been able to capture a photo of him with so much extension. When I first looked at the image below, I thought his hind end was not nearly engaged enough, so I did a little drawing.
The two yellow lines are exact matches. I drew a yellow line on his front leg first. Then I copied it and pasted it to the hind leg without making any changes in the length or angle of the line. I did the same thing with the purple lines. The lines show that his legs are moving nearly parallel with one another. The outside hind (yellow) could use a little more angle in his hocks, but otherwise, he's pretty even.
Here's another shot a stride or two later.
This year's show season may be not what we all had hoped for, but I just figure that I am using this time to get better and better. By the time we can show again, we'll have no problem getting the scores we need.
There's always a silver lining.
When Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came out for a lesson on Sunday, I was just expecting to keep chipping away at the movements we struggle with at Third Level, namely the half passes. Along with that though, Chemaine challenged us in the canter with a new exercise to soften our flying lead changes.
Speedy struggles with the right lead canter more than with the left. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that he wants to fall in on his right shoulder and swing his haunches out. When he does that, he doesn't have to cary so much weight behind. Chemaine has really hammered it home that he has to be in self-carriage all of the time. And now that I know that, I am insisting on it.
While we struggle with the trot half pass, we also struggle with the canter half pass, particularly to the right. Until Speedy is fully willing to carry himself, the work done in the canter - the half passes and the flying changes, will be harder for both of us. Fortunately for me, Chemaine always has a new exercise up her sleeve.
To help Speedy sit down in the canter so that I can prepare for the half passes and flying changes, she had us do a brand new exercise. Be prepared for your brain to hurt a bit.
This exercise could probably be used for a lot of different things, but what Chemaine was helping me do was get control after the flying change. Speedy loves to bolt forward after the change in a big yeehaw moment. After using some big half halts in those corners to really rock him back on his end, he quit pulling some much after the changes. I am surprised you can't really see it on the video, but I was using what felt like big, powerful half halts to get him rocked back off my hands.
So instead of a keep working on it post lesson chat, we were suddenly talking about a USDF show next weekend. in some ways, going way sooner than I had planned makes it easier because I have a lot less time to worry about it.
And really, it's not like we're starting a new level, we showed Third last year, it's just that I am desperate to get that one last score ...
The first time here.
Our Third Level Test 3s were pretty similar to the Test 1s, if maybe slightly better. Still no 60%s, but again, if it weren't for that one movement ...
Seriously, doesn't this look familiar?
It should, because it looked exactly like the nonexistent left to right flying change during 3-1 (below) which earned a 1.0. Guess what the nonexistent change above scored? Bingo, another 1.0. And if we didn't get our 60% during test 1 with a non-flying change, we sure as heck weren't going to get it at test 3 with another non-flying change.
Aside from some disastrous changes, the Test 3s weren't too shabby. The walk and trot work was mostly where it needed to be. Our turns on the haunches scored 7.0, 6.5, 6.5, and 5.5 (not sure what happened on the last one, but it was wonky.) Our half circles earned 6.0s and 6.5s. Our last extended trot even earned a 7.0.
The trot half passes are still developing, but we did earn a 6.0 on one of them. The last section of the test - an extended canter to a collected canter to a collected trot and finished off with two left turns to the halt, is really fun to ride. We had a lone 5.5 for a transition from collected canter to trot, but outside of that, we earned a handful of 6.5s and even a 7.0 during those last four movements, both times. Too bad none of them carry a double coefficient.
To my relief, we finally got both of the flying changes on Sunday's Test 3. We were rewarded with a 6.5 for the first one and a 6.0 for the second one. During one of the judge's breaks, she walked past me and congratulated me on getting the changes. The missed changes must have been pretty memorable for the judge to recognize me even in my shorts and Symphony Dressage sun shirt! I thanked her for her feedback and joked that changes are even harder when the canter is broken. She laughed good-naturedly and encouraged me to keep at it.
No matter what kind of scores I get at a show, I always learn something. Being at a show causes my mental neurons to fire like crazy. I absorb everything like a gigantic sponge. In turn, I ride with this scary intensity as I struggle to put it all together. Struggle being the operative word.
At one point, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, yelled something like think haunches in as you blah, blah, blah. I rolled my eyes at her as I cantered past telling her that I had no room for that last piece of advice as I was already trying to remember to do the other hundred things she had already told me to do. She laughed.
Despite the teary moments, or maybe even because of them, I had a great time. And really, having fun has to be the number one goal at a show. If it's not fun, it's not really worth spending so much time and money doing it. I learned a lot that I've already used this week while riding both Speedy and Izzy, and I am eagerly looking forward to our next show in just over a week. While it is only CDS-rated, my feelings won't be hurt to earn a 60% there.
Below are the score sheets if you're interested - Saturday's on the left and Sunday's on the right. Below those are the videos of each day's Third Level Test 3 rides.
Saturday's Test 3 here.
Sunday's Test 3 here.
I do have one final thought: I am actually showing Third Level, and that fact on its own makes me giddy with happiness. If Second level sucks, Third Level is awesome!
Show recap tomorrow. In the meantime ...
Man, that sucker is intense. It's not hard in the way that Second was - Second Level, YOU SUCK!, but it's not easy either. The trot work is well within our wheel house; I even find it fun. The canter work is where it gets tricky.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, talked me into ditching 3-2 in favor of 3-3. There's not a whole lot of difference between the two until you get to the canter half pass. It's longer, wider, and you have to straighten it out before making a 10-meter half circle followed by the flying change at X (or near X).
Lateral work is Speedy's nemesis; he hates it. He's willing to offer softness OR a lateral movement, but not both at the same time. He's willing to half pass OR canter, again not at the same time. With a show only days away (I wrote this last week :0), I was feeling pretty frustrated. I might have even cried a little bit. Thankfully, Chemaine was able to come down for a lesson on Wednesday morning.
One of the things I most respect about Chemaine as a trainer is that she always asks me how things are going, knowing that I am going to rattle off a list of what needs fixing. I so appreciate that she trusts my feelings about where we are. She doesn't just consult her agenda and insist we stick to that plan. And then, even though it's on the spot, she is able to instantly devise an exercise to address whatever struggle I am having. It's one of her super powers for sure.
After I had finished with my little melt down, she had me work first on softness at the canter. That meant picking it up from the walk softly. If he braced, we came back to walk and did it again. If he hung on my inside rein AT ALL, we walked and did it again. It was amazing how quickly Speedy realized that why yes, he is able to canter and be soft at the same time.
Then we moved on to the canter half pass. The idea was the same. As soon as he made a mistake, and Chemaine was very clear that it wasn't me making the mistake this time, we walked, BUT WE KEPT HALF PASSING. That was the crucial part. Speedy has figured out that if he braces, I'll either whack him forward, or circle. In either case he gets out of the half pass.
With Chemaine's exercise, he had to half pass even if it was at the walk. And there was lots of half pass at the walk because as soon as he quit moving off my leg, I insisted he walk AND CONTINUE HALF PASSING. It never got perfect, but at least we were finally going in a somewhat recognizable sideways direction at the canter.
Then Chemaine had me ride the second half of the test: 1) canter half pass left, half circle, flying change; 2) canter half pass right, half circle, flying change; 3) extended canter, collected canter, trot and centerline.
It is clear that we are still a "developing" Third Level pair, but at least the movements are there and worth scoring. Ww had follow-up lesson on Friday afternoon at the show. I'll let you know how we did.