Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ride Your Horse, Not The Test

I've been studying really hard for the Final Exam of the "L" Program, which I take next weekend, November 5th & 6th. One of the concepts the instructors really wanted us to understand is how important the General Impressions are. It is easy to sit and give a "play by play" of what is happening. But, can we actually assess and communicate to the rider what is missing from the picture, as it relates to the Training Scale, and the General Impressions? While accuracy is very important-it increases the difficulty and shows careful preparation-it is like the pennies in your pocket as compared to the dollars and fifty cent pieces...those being the Gaits and the training of the horse. At Training Level, there's not much to it, and riding with accuracy, both in your figures and the placement of your transitions, will earn you very respectable scores even with an average horse. But as you go up the levels, the expectations increase exponentially: the Gaits must not only be preserved, but enhanced; the degree of balance and self-carriage expected increases; the need for absolute acceptance of the aids and connection is imperative to proper development of the horse's musculature; and thus, the rider must quickly shift roles from being a benevolent leader at Training level, to becoming very effective with her aids in such a way to improve all of the aspects laid out in the General Impressions. Have you actually read the General Impressions on your test sheet? Have you read the directives of the movements? Have you read the purpose on the top of the test sheet? Have you read the Dressage rule book? Do you know what the purpose and essence is of each movement that you ride? If you read this information, really read it and try to understand it, you will quickly realize that how you influence your horse, how you train him, how you present the aids and the contact, are the most important part of this sport. Sheri Dumonceaux always told me "It isn't about the movements". I always tell my riders "Pretty is as pretty does".
The point I'm trying to make is this...the next time you are schooling, don't just go through the motions and ride your test movements. Know why certain things are required at certain levels. Take the shoulder-in for example. Once it is introduced at Second level, this movement becomes an integral part of the rest of your dressage career. Do you even know why you have to show this movement? Do you know what its purpose is? What is the essence, it's most important reason for being?? And more importantly, do you realize that you don't just wake up one day and decide your horse will now be required to demonstrate shoulder in? Have you been preparing your horse, day after day, ride after ride, circle after circle, to lower and engage his inside hind leg? If you have, well, shoulder in will "be there" when your horse's balance and the coordination of your aids reaches that level of sophistication. If instead, you've been allowing his hind legs to swing out as you round corners or make turns, if you've not developed control over his shoulders in the leg yields, if you've failed to pay attention to whether or not he truly stretches into your outside rein and yields his body to your inside leg, then shoulder in will bedevil you. Your horse will wonder why, suddenly, he has to show balance, bend, honest connection to the outside rein, and load his inside hind leg, and you will encounter much resistance. You may find yourself contorting your legs and body in a vain attempt to get the angle, bend, and uphill balance inherent in the movement. Think of the shoulder in in terms of the General Impressions. Does the horse maintain the regularity in his trot? Does he show freedom and elasticity with his shoulder? Does he lower the inside hip, thereby engaging the hind legs and improving the uphill balance? Does he accept the inside leg and go confidently into your outside rein? If so, the picture you will present is a horse that is working with a soft inside rein, has a slight bend-just enough to allow the inside hip to lower and step toward the center of gravity(underneath your inside seatbone), has the impression of growing taller at the wither and more compact in his body, and shows a marked increase in freedom of the forward reach of the front legs as well as a deepening of the flexion of the hind legs as they take more weight during the stance phase. Because you have developed his understanding of the connection from inside leg to outside rein over the years, your position will remain subtle and correct with no crossed or restricting reins or exaggerated leg positioning, because your horse has gradually built up the strength needed to do this well, and is confident and obedient, offering himself lightly to your aids, letting them through. All this comes together to produce cadence and balance, and over time will develop a very straight, collected horse moving in an uphill balance with a great deal of confidence in the connection to his rider. Here is an excellent photo of just such a shoulder in, with all credits due to Heather Mason, Flying Change Farm, and the photographer:
So the next time you ride...ask yourself, can I get "there", whatever you perceive "there" to be, from "here"? Are you setting your horse, and yourself, up for success, by always riding him, and not just the test?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Las Vegas Schooling Show

Brenda and I took Cookie down to Las Vegas for their schooling show this past weekend. We showed in the same classes as at the CCEC schooling show last weekend. I think we did very well, in heavy competition. Brenda earned a 66+% in Training level test 1, winning a very large class. She earned a 65% on Training level test 4, placing second, again in a very large class and with some much more mature horses as competition. I rode First level test 1, with the goal of riding her a bit more forward than at last weekend's show. Our early trot work was a little less bold than I would have liked, but this time I think the nerves were all mine. As I settled in and realized she was really going to need to be pushed this time, I rode more boldly, and all the work improved. We had a couple bobbles in the canter work, she was getting tired, but all in all turned in a nice performance. We earned a 64.6%, and second place, in a good-sized class against much older, more mature horses. I was happy with her trot lengthenings-they need more power, scope and steadiness but the quality is there, and I was also very happy with her straightness, something that is not always a given when riding a young horse, and her throughness is really starting to come along. This was an excellent dress rehearsal for the Fall Fling in November. We will only show her in two tests each day, now that she is getting the hang of this show thing and settling in faster. Brenda will ride Training level test 4 with an eye toward qualifying for the Regional Championships and the CDS Adult Amateur championships. I will ride First level test 1, with an eye toward preparing Cookie for the USEF and FEI 4 Yr Old tests by May. Dressage...selling hope!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

CCEC October Schooling Show at Lava Bluffs, and CCEC Year End Results

Thanks to all the hard work everyone put in, our last show of the season went off without a hitch. It was a small entry but that made for lovely gifts for every single rider, and very nice championship prizes. Each rider was given a gift bag from GEMTack , containing samples of Effol leather care products, clear braiding elastics, and BeetTreats from Emerald Valley, along with a set of polo wraps embroidered with the logo of Lava Bluffs Equestrian Center All this just for showing up! Champions received a 50 lb. bag of Omega Grand Complete from OmegaFields or a set of three pairs of pearl earrings from Morgan Jewelers Champions of the show were: Intro Level-Sarah Glidden and Beau Dazzler with a score of 67.5; Training Level-Brenda Whitely and Poetic Justice with a score of 70.87; First Level-Linda Thompson and Master with a score of 66.579; and Second Level-Linda Thompson and Master with a score of 63.784. Show High Point was Brenda Whitely and Poetic Justice with a score of 70.87, and Reserve High Point was Stacy Williams and Bergdalen Marit with a score of 68.696. Many thanks to our judge, Trisha Kerwin, our scribe, Beth Hart, the Gardner family for all the hard work getting everything ship-shape, Cindy and Mary Ellen for video-taping the rides, and Jenny Campos for running the show-day operation for me so I could concentrate on the horses and riders. Thanks to Linda for helping Jenny with the scoring, and for managing the year end tabulations. Thanks to all my girls for all your help, to me, as well as to each other. We have a very cohesive, supportive group and I am both prideful of, and humbled , by this.
As we close out the show season, the results are in for the year end awards with Color Country Equestrian Club in the Dressage category.
Intro Level Champion: Brenda Whitely and Poetic Justice
Intro Level Reserve Champion: Sarah Glidden and Beau Dazzler
Training Level Champion-Vintage: Brenda Whitely and Poetic Justice
Training Level Reserve Champion-Vintage: Karen Martz and Tanner
Training Level Champion-Open: Stacy Williams and Anvil's Rethel
Training Level Reserve Champion-Open: Stacy Williams and Bergdalen Marit
Training Level Champion-Cowboy: Karen Dixon and Easy Hollywood Buck
First Level Champion-Amateur: Jenny Campos and Brendijs
First Level Reserve Champion-Amateur: Linda Thompson and Master
First Level Champion-Open: Stacy Williams and Beau Dazzler
Second Level Champion: Linda Thompson and Master

Congratulations to all! Linda, Brenda and I will head into the beginning of the 2011 USDF show season now. Linda's goal is to show Second level at the recognized shows. Brenda and I will start Cookie's official show career, Brenda with an eye toward qualifying for the Regional and CDS Adult Amateur Championships at Training level. I will ride Cookie at First level, to test the waters to see if we can begin the spring of 2011 campaigning Cookie in the USEF 4 Yr Old Young Horse test. It is a big challenge, one I don't take lightly. I am very excited for this talented young mare's future.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

We Do Not Own Tomorrow

We also cannot live in yesterday. All we have is now. This isn't to say that we should not plan and prepare for the future, of course I would never suggest that. All I want to say to myself, and to my audience, is, BE HERE NOW. Live, right now. Enjoy, right now. Cherish, right now. Pursue your passion, right now. You cannot know what tomorrow brings.

As I stood in the Indian Summer sun Tuesday afternoon dragging back the edges of the arena, a hot, laborious, but necessary job, I had to come to grips with the fact that I am about to ride in the first dressage show of my riding career without my mare. I remembered all our trials, and all our successes, both as friends and as a riding partnership.

My sadness is not only for the loss of my best friend for 12 years, but also, the loss of what I had hoped would be our future. It may sound crazy, with all we'd been through, for me to have even dreamed of a future show career. I did cherish every moment, but every dressage rider is a pursuer of hope. Dressage is all about selling hope, the future. We just cannot forget about today in pursuit of our tomorrows. Charisma is the first horse I've brought through the levels of dressage. We made our way to Third level on three separate occasions, knocked back once by the joy of a foal, a second time by colic surgery, and the third try at Third level was the charm. The 2010 show season was our best ever. This summer, we were nailing our four and three tempis, and schooling the pirouette canter. On my last ride before she died, it clicked, she got it, the rhythm of the tempis, and we even managed a one tempi. I dared to hope for Fourth level in the fall, I dared to dream of Prix St. Georges in the spring, I was already picturing myself in tails. Those dreams were gone in an instant. I am now "relegated" to showing at the basic levels again, with a variety of client horses. Should I hide under a rock and refuse to come out again until I can perform at the same level or higher? No, because you know what I've come to understand? I don't own tomorrow. I just don't. I can hope, dream and plan. But I must be humble. I'd better live today. I can go ride my clients' wonderful horses this weekend, these horses who have each come together to heal my broken heart , and I can cherish the gifts they each have to give me. I will ride my heart out, give each horse my every breath and thought, and try to perform the most compelling Training and First Level tests we can muster. We will ride for today, and let tomorrow come as it may. We will ride in Charisma's honor. I miss you so much Charisma. I will never forget you.