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Success for Super ‘Stang!

We did it! Roo and I entered and completed our first USDF dressage show weekend ever as a partnership. There were many firsts – Roo’s first-ever off-property show, both of our first time showing third level, the first time that I’ve had a coach at a show, and the first time showing with this group of people, and more.

Preparation in the form of training started long before GDCTA awarded us the grant, but receiving that training grant seemed to condense time and intensify my focus.  At the time of application, I set the general goal to cross the challenging chasm between second and third levels and the ultimate goal of earning scores for my bronze medal. The bronze medal goal required entering a show, which we did this past weekend only a few short months from receiving the grant. Oh yeah, why wait for perfection when there’s money to be spent? Besides philosopher John Dewey said, “all genuine education comes about through experience.”

(Beginning – excitement builds, activity ensues) Friday early – Left the house for the barn, the barn for the venue where the horses got settled into stalls, all the gear came in, walked Roo around the grounds and rode in the covered then cleaned tack and fed for the night before heading from the venue (wait, did I really leave the Horse Park?) for food and finally got to the hotel where there was some time for sleep.

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Saturday, Sept 17

(Middle – showing happens) Saturday also early because we were the first ride in ring B at 8:00 AM – My butterflies had arrived on Friday. Instead of being more relaxed because all was going well, my butterflies were morphing into bats. The bats were asking, Why are we here? What if we embarrass ourselves? Among other unnerving things. But it was too late to turn back. We were there and my trainer was there so off we went to warm up where things went okay. Time flew and I was riding down center line. Halt at X. Salute. Okay, we were off. The whole ride went quickly and then it was over. Sometime during the test the bats disappeared and I began to enjoy the experience. Roo did a good job. We did a good job – the score was high enough to count toward our bronze, which was a confidence boost.

My second test was less than an hour away so I wasn’t really sure how to handle the between time. We got water and tried to cool off a bit before I had to get back on. It went quickly. We took a short warm up and headed into the covered arena. Roo quickly let me know he had not given approval for the tents in the vendor area at the end of the arena. Just as there are no great achievements without setbacks, there are no great horse shows without problems at times, right? We can hope to learn from mistakes and situations. Identifying and dealing with them is the key. Needless to say this test was not one that counted toward the bronze. Bright side: even though Roo was uncomfortable, he was still willing to cooperate. We moved from letter to letter in the pattern even if the movements didn’t look so much like graceful and elegant dressage.

(End – more showing but also a shift in energy as everyone hurried to get moving toward home)  Sunday dawned with beautiful pink light and sun beams reaching into the sky. Then it started to sprinkle. Then rain. With later ride times, there was a slower pace in the morning. Due to the schedule and having earned my one score toward the bronze, my second ride of the day couldn’t count toward the bronze so we had to make the first ride count. Of course, it was the highest test of the level (a bit of a stretch anyway!) and in the covered where the test the day before didn’t go so well… I had to shake all those thoughts off and focus on making it the best test I’ve ever ridden. Still confident from the first test, my coach and I took a fairly aggressive approach to warm up – lots of big, forward WTC before working through lateral movements and changes. Going in, we knew the changes would be an issue so I held no expectations there. We didn’t try to improve them or make any adjustments. We focused on forward and quick-like-lightning off the leg. And then it was time.

Roo went in easily enough but gave a slight hesitation as we trotted down the long side. The bell rang so we only had a few seconds to realize the vendor tents were gone. Yay! It didn’t really matter. Seconds later, we were in the ring and I was concentrating on the movements and keeping the flow going. There’s an electronic scoreboard in the outside of the arena. Riders and spectators can see it. I was so zeroed in on Roo and what was happening in the ring that I didn’t even see it – not even out of the corner of my eye! When we finished, my coach came over to congratulate and hug me – we had earned a score high enough to count toward our bronze! What a proud moment!

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When I picked up the test, I glanced at it (there’s time for postmortem and planning for improvements later) and was chuffed to see that all except three boxes held a 6.0, 6.5 or 7.0. The three “errant” boxes were double coefficient and low. It’s okay. I was expecting it. I’m still pleased with the horse and the whole test. Likely I would have been sad if we hadn’t gotten the score for the bronze but we got it so I won’t go there. When you consider that I can count on one hand how many off-property activities Roo has had and that this was his first show, you have to agree my sweet horse is Super ‘Stang!

Rain happened. Scores were earned. Lessons were learned. Goals were met.  So what exactly did I get from receiving the GDCTA Grant?

  • Renewed purpose
  • A deadline
  • Incredible encouragement and support from the whole dressage community
  • Goals accomplished

All of that because of one gift. I encourage everyone to apply! Receiving it is a huge motivator.

Hold the music. I still have to give my Emmy … err… Bronze Medal acceptance and appreciation speech!

I would like to thank:

  • GDCTA and the Grant committee for awarding me the 2016 AA Training Grant
  • Mark Brewer for tolerating my intense passion for the crazy world of dressage and horses
  • Chris Erbskorn for his infinite patience, skills, and friendship
  • GHF show management – Ann Genovese, Mary Lou Freil, Mark Fornwalt – for making the show easy for this neophyte
  • Equinety Horse XL for improving both Roo’s and my ability to stay focused
  • My faithful and supportive friends from all sources – personal, farm, Facebook – especially this weekend’s crew – Lauren, Evie, Madison, Janice, Suzanna, Caitlyn & Chris
  • Last but not least, my mom for her unconditional love and support

We could not have done this without you! THANK YOU!

Facebook photo album: HERE

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Precision

Labor Day may mark the unofficial end of summer, but Mother Nature has been slow to start the change of seasons this year. My mid-September dressage show is looming and it is still sweltering so long rides are out of the question which means preparation has to be very precise.

Funny how limits can fine-tune your focus and awareness, isn’t it?!

I’ve been counting down the days until this show and have been attempting to improve our training as much as possible before we go. Now that the show is less than a week away, it is time to let go of the idea of advancing the training and instead focus on smoothing the edges to make the tests flow with ease and accuracy.

The number of rides left before the show is very small so I have added visualizing riding the tests well to increase the number of rides from very few to as many as I can imagine (the subconscious mind cannot differentiate between a real and imagined experience).  The secret to the “mental representations” is being able to clearly and specifically visualize the right way to do something in your head, including seeing the horse with correct muscle patterns in your mind’s eye. Since I have not always experienced every nuance of riding perfectly for myself, I am studying videos of good riders/horses to help my imagination see it going well.

Warm Up

Rather than having a set series of exercises, I’ve started going through a check list of basics to make sure both of our bodies are working thoroughly.

Me

[ ] Am I sitting squarely on my outer thighs in the center of the saddle?

[ ] Am I relaxed through the hip with a draped leg?

[ ] Dem Bones! Am I “lifting my bones in my skin” (coccyx & sternum)?

[ ] Am I breathing – long, slow relaxed breaths?

[ ] Am I holding tension anywhere? Let it go!

Roo

[ ] Is he quick off my leg?

[ ] Is his inside leg moving to my outside hand?

[ ] Is he reaching down and forward into the outside rein?

[ ] Is the base of his neck soft and flexible?

[ ] Is he lifting through the base of the neck?

If all the boxes on both check lists are checked, the result should be Roo moving forward, uphill and swinging through his back. Yay!

Throughout the ride, I must remember:

  • Keep Roo straight through the body with a slight inside flexion and a soft base of the neck
  • Stay relaxed through my hips with draped femurs
  • Make sure my lower leg is under me (shoulder-hip-heal) especially for turn on the haunches and lateral movements (i.e., do not block the shoulder)
  • When preparing for shoulder in, place Roo’s outside front leg on the inside edge of the line of travel as we turn the corner
  • Change flexion at the quarter line when changing direction
  • Allow the movements to happen (see “stay relaxed through my hips…”)
  • “Deeper” bend for the lateral movements
  • Know the tests!
  • Correct geometry
  • Transition at the correct letters
  • Preparation – transition – follow up
  • The judge would prefer to see a good test – she’s rooting for us!

 

Every ride brings new opportunities and challenges. There is never a dull moment!

See you at the barn!

June

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Mature & Sophisticated

Today was a big day! Roo and I tackled the double bridle. We’re very sophisticated now. In it, he looks like a “mature” dressage horse to me. My baby is all grown up!

It took forever for me to figure out the fit and make the proper adjustments to it yesterday so I didn’t ride then. Also, I wanted him to get used to it before we rode in it. I have found if I have patience and allow him the time he needs to process new things he’s really able to handle just about anything. If I rush, I have to pay a price – both breaking a bit of our growing bond and dealing with his flight instinct kicking in, which is never fun.

This morning I tacked him up and put on the double. At first, I only picked up the snaffle rein but quickly picked up the curb reins. He didn’t blink. I tested his feelings about the curb bit by dropping the snaffle rein completely and riding with a light contact on the curb. Nothing changed. He continued what I was asking as if I was riding with only a snaffle. I’m confident he’s worn a curb bit before although I do not believe anyone told me that specifically. I may be assuming that because he has been ridden western. Not that it matters if he has or he hasn’t worn a curb bit before yesterday. What matters is that he went perfectly well in the double bridle. “Refinement” here we come!

The ride itself went about like our rides have been going (so-so, but with improvement) except for a brief but definite instance of brilliance. Yes, I said it, we were brilliant! There was a moment when all planets and horse gods aligned just for us. Roo’s back came up under my seat in that “suction seat” way that people say of the best riders’ seats when describing how they bring the horse’s back up. He lifted himself and did a little half step so when I asked him to move off, he was up and light and forward. Wow! So what was I doing during that special moment? Good question! I believe, but cannot say for certain, that I collected the reins, lifted my sternum and inhaled. I might have dropped my shoulder blades into my pockets as well. Whatever I did, I could only come close to repeating it but couldn’t duplicate it exactly during this ride. I’m still chuffed about it because I whole heartedly believe if I can do something once, I can do it again. That bodes well for future rides!

I’m holding onto today’s moment of brilliance and allowing myself to believe we will be ready enough for the show in mid-September. The entry deadline is tomorrow. I’ll be signing us up.

See you at the barn!

June

 

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Can’t stop sweating!

The overcast morning made me think about fall so I went for a run around the outside of the neighborhood. The temperature was mild but the humidity was high – it’s most definitely still summer!

Recently, I’ve decided to improve my fitness prior to attempting to show again and also to get out of the house and away from the computer. The inspiration to return to running came from an article about meditative walking, i.e., meditation in action. Meditation seems like something I should do more of too so I am combining efforts. My outings are now “meditative running.” I prefer that term to “exercise” and this reframed version has the benefit of getting me to practice gently setting aside all my busy thoughts to allow a deeper awareness of my body and my immediate surroundings. Place one foot in front of the other. Keep going…

Many random thoughts raced through my head this morning but I will only share this one memory because it made me smile. What a long time ago that was!

My route takes me past North Cobb High School. Bunches of people were in the parking lot. Kids were waving flags and tossing guns during what must have been try outs. The scene flashed me back to my experience when trying out for guns. I had terrible performance anxiety back then. I went through all the practices but almost didn’t try out at all because it made me so anxious to stand in front of the judges. I did do it but practically cried through my routine. I don’t remember exactly how many judges there were but the drum major whom I can picture but not name and my best friend Amy who was captain of the unit are front and center of my memory. They were sitting in black folding chairs watching me so intently! Needless to say I didn’t make the squad.

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I have to admit that rather than being disappointed, I was hugely relieved!

See you at the barn.

June

 

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Is It Too Early To Prep?

Since my horse show countdown has begun in my mind, I am riding with even more purpose and I have started cleaning Roo more thoroughly after each ride. It’s not as if I believe he’ll stay clean, but I am hoping that after 30+ days of mane and tail attention, I will actually get his mane and tail hair clean all the way to the skin! This horse proudly wears his hair and he has lots of hair – all over, but mostly mane and tail. If anyone has tips or can suggest products that work well for a long-haired horse, I’m listening.

Roo seems to like parts of this “show horse” thing. He is happy getting attention and to be ridden although he seems to prefer a bit more fun, ie, more field and trail than ring work.

 

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If we are working in the ring, Roo would prefer the feline peanut gallery stay out!

 

He’s very tolerant during baths – probably because he can immediately roll to return to his preferred scent. He seems to really enjoy a deep massage with the flower shedder.

Life is good, right at this minute.

See you at the barn!

June

Schooling Show 2015

The Count Down

Today was Roo’s day off. Most Wednesdays are. Today was no different except that perhaps, in hindsight, I should have ridden today and not ridden in the rain yesterday. Neither of us melted and I was able to give my tack some good care before putting it away so no harm done, really.

Having the day for things other than riding allowed me to watch the first day of Olympic dressage competition. The early riders are not the strongest team members but they are world class none the less. I feel it’s part of my riding education to watch good riders ride good horses so technically I didn’t take today off from riding. What fun it is to watch international riders – they ride so well and look so elegant! It reminded me that I will need to wear white breeches in a very short time, though. Who in the world thought white breeches were appropriate for riding?!

The scary thought of white covering my thighs made me realize departure for my goal show is only 5 weeks from Friday! Roo and I still have so much to polish before we present ourselves but more important that’s only 38 days  until I have to put on those fancy breeches I got from HKM. They are so pretty but drat! I’ve let my exercise routine become less than a routine and more of a once-in-a-while. I need to find a rhythm and restart my engines. I really do like to move… And probably I should eat better and give wine a pass, too. Oh, man, showing is hard!

Salad for dinner!

See you at the barn,

June

PS The photo is from last summer – not terrible. The images from the most recent schooling show in June were not so kind. I’m not sharing those!

 

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Ahhh, This Seat is Just Right

All week, I’ve been ruminating about the “thing” from my last lesson because this particular thing is very tricky for me. I always try to grab one or two tidbits from each lesson to laser focus on so I am not overwhelmed with how much I have yet to master. This lesson had one main theme – lightening my seat for better impulsion in trot. This concept has been percolating for a while, i.e., finding my right-for-Roo (and me) seat.  For a long time, I’ve been working on sitting deeper without being a sack of potatoes; now I need to sit lighter, but not tilt forward. At some point, I’ll consistently get to “just right,” won’t I?

For years Chris has told me to stop driving with my seat. I’ve done my best to comply but I have not exactly captured the feeling of “driving seat” versus not driving, so I don’t control it well. While I think I’ve made progress in that area, I’m still not totally aware of what triggers my seat to “drive”. I know I need to be more body aware and am working on that – constantly – through working out and yoga. Also I play with snugging into my saddle seat and the feel of my seat bones -What feels right? What feels heavy or tight? How do I feel the connection with Roo and keep my seat light?

Sometimes Roo tells me that I’m “squishing” him – it’s clear from the way he moves. I think, though, that some of the issue lies with lack of forward from the onset. I’m not establishing the correct amount of “go” and therefore it piddles out rather quickly. Alternatively, I may be squishing it out of my horse before he can even get it started!  Whatever the origin, the result is a disharmonious picture – we look like he’s trotting underwater and I’m working and working and working! Not pretty.

In this lesson, we addressed the lack of harmony by creating a unity of motion – both of us traveling at the same rate so to speak. Roo had to move much more forward and I had to do less. What a relief – it was just too hot to carry a 1000lb horse for 45 minutes! I’ve been, incorrectly it seems, attempting to create a better trot through canter – don’t laugh – I thought the slower, “moving underwater” trot was due to not enough conditioning. It turns out the horse is fit (well, he should be with the amount of cantering we do!) but sadly I’ve been the block to his movement.

Once the situation was assessed, the plan was to do half steps to help engagement but we took a little gallop instead. Both brains sizzled a bit but the big muscles got loose and we returned to our work with more power and impulsion. We started with shoulder in to 10m circles – and that darned seat of mine started driving when shifting from SI to circle so turning is one of the triggers. With repetitions and verbal reminders nearly every step of the way, I was able to let go of the tension while relaxing and lightening my seat which allowed Roo’s trot to flow with ease through the movements. Phew! Once my seat was corrected and the trot was easy, we ran through shoulder in, traver, 10m circles, half pass and medium trot. It’s much easier when horse and rider are in the same space-time continuum!

The take away for me is that it is important to start each ride focused on the quality of my riding – my seat – as well as Roo’s movement quality, asking myself the questions and really listening/feeling for the answers: Is he moving freely or is he blocked and where? Is it in my body or is it in his body? Only after we are both truly loosened and forward should we move on to do more, whatever that may be for that day.

See you at the barn,

June

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P.S. Thank you once again to Hannah Kadum for taking these lovely photos. I appreciate having them more than I can express!

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Puzzle Pieces

Do you like making puzzles? I do. I always have. I’ve come to the realization that dressage is simply a puzzle. It has an infinite number of pieces in its 20×60 frame. I’ve been working for years on completing the boarder (that’s how you do puzzles – border first – right?). I think I can confidently say the border is complete (i.e., I am pretty good at keeping the horse between me and the ground and often with both of us in decent balance) but now I must fill in the middle. So, I’ve been finding pieces that sort of look similar and gathering them then testing to see if they fit with one another. Sometimes they do; lots of times they do not.

When I get to this stage of a puzzle, I know I need to study the image on the box so I have a clearer idea of what I’m looking at in all those pieces I’ve gathered. This is where I’ll leave the metaphor behind and get to “real” dressage. The “box” is the training scale and my instructor (Chris Erbskorn) is clarifying what it is that I’m seeing on the various puzzle pieces and why they seem similar, but often are not.

Today’s lesson hit strongly on mindfulness, alignment, and letting go of judgement. It sounds a bit metaphysical and it is, but isn’t. I’m often concerned with getting my aids “right” and “wrong” and blaming myself when I didn’t get the results I sought. Rather than judging myself harshly, Chris suggested I remember that horses don’t judge whether what the rider asks is right or wrong, they just give you what you ask for. With that in mind, I need to be more attentive to what my desired result is and then what actually happens when I ask. Was the result the result I wanted? If so, move on. If not, assess what did happen. How did I ask that I got that undesired result? What can I do differently to achieve the desired outcome? Be more mindful of the details in aids, timing and desired outcome.

Last but most definitely not least, we substituted the word straightness on the training scale with alignment but also added to it. Straightness can be misinterpreted as a straight line and we know bodies just are not straight in that way so Chris used alignment to mean correctly positioned through the body and on the line of travel. In addition, he spoke of alignment of the energy. The horse’s energy (presumably the rider’s as well) must be aligned with the line of travel in order to create flow through the body. When these two pieces are in place (they fit!), the look and feel is very harmonious – easy and fluid. I love when I achieve it and I will focus on that as my “desired result” much more often.

The GDCTA grant has me looking at my riding in a new way – with a timeline. I’ve always just gone about learning what I learn when I learn it and not really setting many deadlines because this is, after all, a recreational passion. Now that I’ve been given the grant and can spend more time on training, I feel a renewed sense of excitement in my riding. I am writing about the journey in an attempt to retain more of the information I’ve been given and with the horse that maybe you, too, will get some tidbit or other from it.

Homework (as opposed to riding focus): watch Steffan Peters freestyle videos. I think I can manage that!

See you at the barn!

June

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And so it begins . . .

viewontopSummer is here and so is this hot, hot news – Roo and I received one of four Georgia Dressage and Combined Training Association Training Grants! Wow! It’s an honor to be chosen to receive this assistance to help us sharpen our skills. I find we are needing just a little extra push moving from second to third level so this is very welcome. We tested the waters by showing third/3 at a schooling show in June. While the score was high enough to count toward the USDF Bronze Medal, the video showed me we have a lot to work on.

Part of receiving the grant is giving back, both volunteering and offering verbal and written accounts of the education as a result of having the grant. In addition to the required newsletter article, I’m committing to myself to not only have laser focus on the learning during this journey but also to blog along the way. Join me as I expect it will be an interesting adventure!

There are some goals for this training period.

1)      Earn the last two third level scores this year. I have two-thirds of my scores toward my USDF Bronze Medal so far, but need the third level scores to complete the Medal requirements

2)      Confirming the single flying lead change in the most correct way – training and timing

3)      Laying another layer of the foundation for moving up the levels

The plan is flexible but we will attempt to continue training with Chris Erbskorn as normal with additional lessons when possible, followed by a boot-camp style week before a designated show, culminating with coaching at the show. I’ve never had a coach at a show (haven’t really shown much) so this will be new and may be part of the answer as to why I haven’t really been able to replicate my good home rides when away from home.

July 1st we learned about winning the grant; July 2nd was our first lesson with renewed focus. Check out the photos taken during that lesson. It’s our starting point, our baseline: https://youtu.be/8OXMPUJyRlY. Occasionally (okay, often), photos are the humiliating, soul-crushing reality to my riding, but I liked this series and I am happily expecting to have more that I’m pleased with than not in the future.

Since I’m now thinking about advancing my skills with a renewed focus, I am reminded of what Chris said last year that has stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing. Dressage is all about controlling the feet and the brain; straightness and balance. Give yourself a solid foundation to work from by managing evasions, energy, and expectations. This sounds like it’s about riding the horse but I think it’s really about the rider, or at least in this case it is! Often times, I think riding is more about mastering myself than it is about keeping the horse between me and the ground.

At this stage, I expect we can master solid changes, maintain the collection for the level, and the create the suppleness for flowing lateral work. Next, I must stop procrastinating and apply the energy to it.

This dressage journey is truly mine, whether it’s awesome or shit, and nobody can take it away from me. While this whole experience is still a work in progress — what in life isn’t a work in progress, really — it’s definitely getting better and better.

See you at the barn!

June

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