Monday, April 3, 2017

2nd Level Bronze Medal Scores + 1st Level Awesomeness = best show weekend EVER

This year has gotten away from me. I felt so organized back in January, filling out the calendar with all our travel and events and shows and jousts and family things.

And then there's that moment when you look at your calendar and feel completely overwhelmed, and realize that something's got to give. And for me, one of those somethings has been blogging.

I've been riding lots though, and this weekend was the first show of the year. I was supposed to already have 3 shows done and gone, but see above-mentioned crazy schedule. The venue is our favorite, in San Antonio, in part because everything is covered but mostly because there is a FABULOUS restaurant right next door with awesome margaritas. Important detail, right?

I'd signed up at the last minute because they had some slots left, and it had become apparent that another show I had planned on doing wasn't going to happen because of other scheduling conflicts (*&!@&^ calendar). So I felt kind of unprepared - we haven't set foot at a rated show since Championships early last October, and we were tackling second level for the first time ever.

I really should start believing more in myself and in my horse, because it was quite literally the type of show weekend I've only thought other people, with fancy imported horses, get to have.

First up Saturday morning was 2-1. I'd had a tense warmup Friday night (because OMG SHOW), but Taran's bodyworker, who also takes lessons from the same GP trainer as I do (and happens to be an FEI rider herself), kindly took some time to talk me down from the ledge and reminded me to breathe. She was actually on hand for the rest of the weekend with pointers, and I'm pretty sure she's why we did so well.

When I went down centerline the first time, I had a HUGE smile on my fact. I WAS RIDING SECOND LEVEL. For real. I knew we could do it, and I focused on riding a clean test. We had three mistakes (one blown canter lead and we broke after both medium canters because if I sit too hard in the canter, T thinks I mean walk), but we also had some really nice moments. We left points on the table when I didn't halt for 3 seconds before the rein back, but we also scored an 8 on the centerline and had a lot of 7s for the canter work (?!?!?!). Our final score was a 61.5 for second place (out of 3, .4% behind 1st). And it was good enough for a bronze medal score.


After that success, I was able to relax even more. Saturday afternoon had us doing 1-3 for the 12th time, but I had hubby read the test because a) I haven't done that test since October and b) I can NEVER remember that damn test. T was feeling a bit tired, but we held it together and only had one mistake (another break after lengthen canter). Overall though, it was a smooth, clean test, and I made the final halt knowing it was the best 1-3 we've ever done, regardless of what the judge thought of it.

Final halt and salute. This got an 8.

I was right - final score was a 69.295%! That got us our second qualifying score for 2017 regional Championships, and it also clinched us 1st place for 1-3 adult amateur. We even squeaked out a Reserve Champion AA First Level ribbon. I picked up my satin and glassware (not going to lie, I love glassware prizes), and thought I'd had just about the most perfect day ever. We topped off the awesome by visiting with horse show friends, and then hubby and I had an amazing seafood dinner. Horse shows are even nicer when you have The World's Best Horse Show Husband (TM).

Satin with bonus glassware

Sunday morning dawned dark and stormy, with a bonus Tornado Watch throughout most of central Texas. Fortunately, my first ride of the day was just after the leading edge of the front moved through. Other folks were not so lucky, and one of the arenas lost power so dressage tests were ridden in the dark. At least the entire facility was covered!

Not what you want to see an hour before your ride time

I was determined to ride a mistake-free test this time. I'd spent some time thinking about my medium-collected canter transitions, which are a big struggle for me, and what I could do differently. We practiced a few in warmup and I had a very clear sequence in my head - inside leg, sit TALL, and FLUFF THE REINS. I went down centerline again with a smile on my face, because I knew we were going to rock it. Our trot work wasn't as good as the day before, but the test was mistake-free and I was really pleased with how solid of a ride we put in. Sure, we are leaving points on the table, but we'll get better at it the more we do it.

This time, the judge was a bit more generous and gave us a whopping 65.6%!!! And damn, I am proud of this test. I can't even believe this is the same horse I was riding a year ago. 

Unfortunately, we had a 5 hour wait until my 1-3 test. I considered scratching because T and I were both tired and we didn't need the score for anything, but I also really to see if we could break 70. We put in a very short, conservative warmup, and then I went out and rode the test like I was riding a second level test - way more uphill and collected than I normally would. We had a couple of transitions that weren't where I wanted them to be (canter at C was early and it would be great if T would actually halt at X long enough for me to finish my salute) but otherwise I was very, very pleased with it. Even the medium to collected canter transitions felt good! 

I was putting away stuff in the trailer when the results showed up online, but I heard this screech from Taran's stall area and hubby yelled across the parking lot "SEVENTY THREE POINT SIX!!!!" I wasn't even sure I'd heard him right, so I checked my phone... yup, a 73.676%. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR. That's a lifetime high for me, y'all. I've never even done that well at a schooling show!

Since I'd scored so well but both my divisions were the last of the day, I decided to stick around for the finals, and I'm sure glad I did. We ended up getting first place for both 1-3 and 2-1 in the AA division, AND we got High Point AA for both first level and second level. 

Satin like I've never had before

And then I read my 1-3 test, and I saw this:

I actually grabbed the poor stranger next to me, hugged her, and shoved my test in her face exclaiming "I GOT A TEN!" Sorry, whoever you were, and thanks for understanding my excitement.

So that sums up my fairy tale show weekend. Normally, when you watch the 70+ rides, they're on very fancy horses. I honestly never though we'd be able to score that well, no matter how good of a test we put in. I guess I was wrong. Apparently my little (borrowed) homebred pony, who's spent most of his life being a lawnmower, is more awesome than anyone ever knew. 

Heck, apparently he's a perfect 10!


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2016 year end awards

Our local USDF GMO held its annual awards banquet this weekend, and for the first time, hubby and I attended. It was a fun little dinner, although it's so weird to see people without their helmets on! I swear I'm better at recognizing horses than people, which made for a few awkward moments while I figured out who everyone was.

Taran had a pretty amazing year last year, especially considering where we started. He ended up 103 in the nation at First level, with an average score of 65.687. He was also Champion at First level for our GMO, and Reserve at Training. We snagged a couple of saddle pads, because who doesn't need more saddle pads?

The only problem with having a saddle pad with "Champion" on it is I feel like if we used it for a lesson, he'd be a complete jerk just because. These will probably be used for rides at home... no point in tempting fate, you know?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Shoulder in! Renvers! Leg yield! Travers!

Our last session with Alfredo focused on getting Taran to be more mobile with his shoulders and haunches, and hotter off my leg. As Alfredo pointed out after I'd switched my whip for the 20975th time, Taran doesn't respect my leg unless I have a whip to back it up. That's all fine and good until you ride a test where you don't get to carry a whip, and then you're screwed (ahemGAIGchampionshipsahem).

We worked on the new, slower warmup, which seems to do good things for Taran:

Hellooooo, gorgeous stretchy trot. Where have you been all my life?

And then we transitioned to doing shoulder in to renvers on a circle. The difference is bending, which sounds easy, but it's challenging for me to rearrange all my body parts quickly so that Taran can make the transition from one to the other smoothly and without losing the trot. We've done this exercise with Alfredo before, but I admit that I don't practice it much at home. When I do, I'm not asking for the level of bend and obedience that he expects... because this kind of smooth, obedient movement is a whole new thing for us:

I really liked the feel that I could put Taran's body anywhere I wanted and I would get an immediate and BIG response - that goes with being more demanding of both myself and him. Plus, it's much harder to do shoulder in/haunches in on a circle than it is on a straight line (which is what's required in all the 2nd level tests), so if we can can do these movements well on a circle, we shouldn't have any problem when we have to do it down the rail. Plus it's easy to see in the video how a half pass could come out of these movements, if I just placed it slightly different, so that's exciting. Who knew Taran had so much crossover in those short little legs of his?

Finally, we did an exercise down the long side where we stared in shoulder in, switched bend to renders, then flipped to face the rail in leg yield, then changed bend to travers. Sound confusing? Try riding it! I messed it up the first few times, but eventually we kinda got it right:

Whew, I felt like I needed a translator! These movements (except SI) aren't really automatic in my head yet, so it takes me a moment to figure out what each one needs and then ask Taran for it.

We've definitely got our work cut out for us, but I got a lot out of the clinic. My biggest takeaway is that I really have to be more demanding of us both... Taran can do the movements, and do them big, and I need to push for that. We don't have fancy gaits to help us out with our scores, so it's important to ride every step for 110%. I'm excited with all that we accomplished in just a few short days, and am really looking forward to working on everything at home. After all, our first show of the year is just 2 months away!

Monday, January 9, 2017

A more effective warm-up & riding for better scores

The second day of the Alfredo clinic, we worked primarily on more shoulder in and renvers. But what stuck most in my mind about this lesson was what Alfredo had to say about warm-up.

At home, we usually take a short trail ride to the field where we do most of our work, so we have a 10+ minute walk warm-up. Then I do some trot and canter on a long rein, take a bit of a breather, and then consider us ready to get down to business.

Alfredo's suggestion was much different. Instead of doing long stretches at any one gait, he had us do perhaps a circle or a half circle of one thing, then a circle of walk, then pick the reins back up, do something else, walk, etc. Essentially it was a lot of very sort bits of bending and flexing, working lower and then asking for a few steps of collection, working lower, back to walk - just lots of gentle transitions, gentle flexing, and gentle laterals. I posted the trot the whole time to let his back warm up (I normally do a lot of posting so that wasn't new).

Longer rein at the beginning of the ride

Asking for him to come a bit more together

As the session went on, we asked for more sustained stretches of collection, more angle in the laterals, more bend, and a faster response off the leg. Again, Alfredo's method is very short stretches of good work, followed immediately by a walk/reward break when the horse does the exercise well the rider does the exercise correctly.

Flexion left with a bit more collection

Really asking that hind leg to come through

The trot near the end of the ride

I can certainly see the benefits of shorter chunks of work, especially with an older horse, but I do worry a little about building more fitness and also the horse expecting that he only has to work for short periods of time (ahem).

We did have one fantastically excellent spook when a pitchfork that was leaning against the side of the arena slid down the wall and onto the ground...

Thank goodness for saddles with ginormous thigh blocks! 

Another super interesting thing Alfredo said was about getting better scores on a movement. If your movement starts well, then the judge is likely to have in their heads a 6.5 or a 7. If you ride half of it well and then it falls apart, you might end up with a 6.5 or a 6, depending on where you started. BUT, if your movement starts off really badly, the judge might have in their heads a 5, and even if the second half of the movement is great, you're unlikely to score more than a 5.5 or a 6. So it's really important to set up the movement well and make that good first impression, even if it falls apart later. Easier said than done, of course!



THAT's what you want to come out of the gate with!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

"You need to be more demanding"

Hubby and I are attending another clinic with Alfredo this week. As usual, Alfredo insists on good work, and in our first session, about halfway through he said something that really stuck with me.

"You need to be more demanding."

He's right. At second, judges want to see a sharp, workman like test. The halt needs to be trot-halt-trot, not trot... walk a step... halt... stutter back to a trot, like was acceptable at first. When I work on my own, I try to make my movements correct and precise, but there's a whole 'nother level of accuracy when someone is yelling at your in a lesson. Everything needs more bend, more expression, more obedience, more precision.

Take our walk-canter transitions, for instance. I thought they were decent (I mean, we didn't have one like 3 months ago), but decent - with a step of trot - is not enough. THIS is what he wants:

Ignore the part where I push his haunches to the inside the step before the depart and look at how awesome my horse is.

We also worked on improving his gaits, especially the trot. We did a lot of renvers on the circle (ok, I tried to do renvers on a circle, but it's hard and I'm struggling with timing and body position).

I really need to step in the direction I'm going and get my hands right. But Taran is trying hard and the sky is so pretty!

But when we go straight after a few steps of renvers, this magic happens:

All the time like this please.

But riding that uphill, balanced, expressive wave is hard, and it's all too easy to get a little quick and on the forehand:

Half-halt needed. 

So, I gotta be more demanding, of both myself and my horse. Maybe that's my mantra for 2017?

What about you? What's your biggest struggle right now?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

What I hope will happen in 2017

Goals with horses are a tough thing. They get hurt, they don't stick to timelines... sometimes they progress by leaps and bounds and sometimes they plateau for months. Those things are really out of my control, so that makes it hard to set goals. Plus there's me... sometimes I get new concepts quickly and sometimes it takes me forever to retrain my body to do it right. Combine those things and it makes me wary of setting goals.

Having said that, I'm kind of a goal oriented person. If I have shows on the calendar, I'll be damn sure to get in all the lessons and ride 5-6 days a week and have A Plan. But at the same time, I don't want to expect too much, you know? So this year I'm breaking my goals down.

Absolute must:
  1. Keep Taran sound, healthy, and happy!
Hopefully Pretty Doable:
  1. Qualify for Regionals at first level again (need 1 more score)
  2. Qualify for Regionals with a first level freestyle (need a freestyle)
  3. Get my bronze medal scores at second 
  1. Qualify for Regionals at 2nd level (2-3 looks impossible right now, ack!)
  2. Qualify for Nationals with the first level freestyle (last year I think 4 of the 5 first level freestyle riders in Region 9 scored over a 68%, so maybe there's hope?)
Oh but hell, while I'm at it...

Really crazy:
  1. Figure out how to do flying changes
  2. Ride a 3rd level test 
  1. Get bronze scores at 3rd level

Oh and if you're wondering about how I did with last year's goals? My one big goal was to memorize my damn tests. I only went off course once in 2016, so I'll consider that a success!