Monday, October 26, 2009

Remembering Why We Do This

Red Bridge Farm, SFD’s home, is surrounded by homes. Forty years ago, Ted Gorman, our landlord, bought a 400-acre dairy farm, converted the main barns for horses, and sold off house-sized parcels. He sold to some really nice folks. This Saturday, we invited them over. We introduced our neighbors to a few of our horses, showed them a little dressage, fed them cake and punch, and gave the kids (and some of the adults) pony rides.

This all started as a good public relations idea, you know, giving back to the community. But by 5:00 Saturday, I was beginning to wonder if maybe we got as much out of the experience as the neighbors did.

Training for dressage competition is pick-on-yourself-every-day kind of work. Even when it all flows and you win the day, there are still things that could be just-a-little-bit better. Training for the elusive “10” keeps us so detail-focused that sometimes we forget the point.

What is the point anyway? Simply put, riding horses is fun. Tweaking the horse-human communication until our aids are virtually invisible, while channeling all that power, is the most amazing rush. That is why we do dressage, not for the $2 piece of satin.

Championship season tends to steal the fun.

But seeing the kid’s huge grin during the pony rides—that was fun. Watching the wonder on our neighbors faces as they learned to safely give a horse a treat—that was fun.

The demo horses caught the mood. Clyde and Victoria, Laura and Oberon, and Cara and Ockie demonstrated first level, third level and PGS for our neighbors. I’ve seen these three combinations compete all season, performing for perfection-minded judges. This audience was different. These folks were here to enjoy the beauty of the horse’s movement. This was going to be a different kind of performance.

Boy did those horses perform. I haven’t seen that much bounce out of Clyde, suppleness out of Oberon, or pure joy out Ockie in any of their performances this season. Our audience, all non-horse people, commented about how much fun the horses were having.

Afterwards, as we all decompressed in the barn, the riders basked in the pure fun of their rides, without worrying about the scores.

What a great way to end the season.

Well, almost end, the Big Fall Show is next week. More about that next time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Show Season from the Owner's Perspective

Secret, the super little mare that has been cleaning up all year, belongs to Linda Butz. Linda is a first-time horse owner, and Secret a barely-handled 5-year-old in December of 2007, when Linda bought her. Watching their bond grow has been something right out of a made-for-tv Hallmark special. Here is her take on the show season. Riding a horse like Secret is a privelege, and having an owner like Linda is just icing on the cake.

2009 Show Lessons from a Dressage Novice

By Linda Butz

I came into my first dressage show season completely uninformed. I had only owned Secret for a year and I had no idea that she decided she wanted to be a dressage horse! Other than seeing the freestyle at Dressage at Devon once, a local schooling show (where Secret was a disaster, but at least she got on and off the trailer), and the Big Fall Show as a spectator, I had no experience with showing. I had a lot to learn!

Ange and Laura had the show season planning meeting in January for everyone at Red Bridge and I remember being amazed by Victoria F’s show folder. Of course, I promptly put one together and it was a life-saver during the year. Otherwise, I’d have forms and test booklets everywhere. I remember everyone talking about schooling shows, rated shows and the “holy” BLMs. I didn’t have a clue what a BLM was! Then there was the Morgan circuit, Arab circuit, etc. I read Ange’s show booklet until it fell apart.

In March, Ange and I had a discussion as to whether I was more interested in ribbons or scores. My answer was, “ribbons, of course!” I was determined that Secret wasn’t getting a snazzy brow band until she won a blue. Of course, she accomplished that the week before we were to leave for Mason Dixon and one of my friends hastily produced a green jeweled brow band made by one of the kids she knew. It was gorgeous but took some hot gluing during the show to hold it together. After Secret took the training level championship, the “real” snazzy brow band had to be green, which it is. It also matches Ange’s eye shadow, but that’s another story.

As the season went on and I learned more about our warmblood competition, I realized that scores are more important than ribbons. I learned that placing behind the warmbloods wasn’t a bad thing and sometimes we sneaked in front of them or at least gave them a scare. I learned to keep spreadsheets listing venues, scores, and judges, file forms with the two breed associations (it’s lovely to have a dual registered horse), write checks(!), chat up the show secretaries, volunteer whenever possible and always thank those who were volunteering at any show.

I got to experience the wild Arabian circuit. There’s always something to watch from horses pulling carts to the western disciplines to saddleseat to native costume. Catherine and I are pining for a native costume for Secret although it might take us all winter to get it on her since she’s afraid of her fleece-covered halter. Catherine will also have to ride her because in native costume classes one enters the ring at the canter. Arab shows have barn parties, crazy outfits (not that boring dressage black and white) and lots of bling. Dressage is shunted off to a side ring—the main ring has all the crazy classes that I can’t begin to understand.

After dragging myself home from a couple of shows I learned the importance of food. We can never have too much water as it’s easy to get dehydrated. Cold cuts for sandwich fixing works out well as the food at the show grounds is never spectacular, if it exists at all, and we’re always grabbing something between classes. We wouldn’t get through without popcorn, M&Ms, and trail mix. I’ve learned to take a bucket back to the hotel to raid the ice machine in the morning and to leave the cooler at the showgrounds. I still come home exhausted and hungry, but happy I got to spend multiple days with my horse and my horse friends.

At first it seemed that one-day shows were much easier. For a multiple day show, there’s the packing (grain and hay are heavy), unpacking, setting up stalls, feeding, picking stalls, filling water buckets, walking the horses, bed check, and then getting up and doing it all over again. However, after a few one day shows, I learned that having a horse that doesn’t like to stand on the trailer by herself means that I cover miles of ground while she grazes so forget eating, bathroom breaks, or anything like that! Now I’ve come to love a show where she has a stall in which to relax and a chair on which I can sit! One day or multi-day, I love having that intense time with my horse and I think she enjoys it as well. It almost makes walking into the barn at 5:30 a.m. when it’s 40 degrees and we got lost trying to find a Dunkin’ Donuts open at that time so we could at least get coffee worthwhile. I always am greeted with nickering. Of course, it usually means, “I’m out of hay and I want my breakfast and some fresh water while you’re at it,” but it warms my heart nonetheless.

It’s been an interesting season. We did a ton of shows to get Secret the experience she needed and she responded beyond our wildest dreams. I’ve become expert at tack cleaning, horse bathing, staying out of Ange’s way on show day, and holding the show coat and test book. I learned how supportive everyone is at Red Bridge. The fun comes in cheering each other on through good days and bad. Showing has given me the opportunity to get to know everyone at the barn. We’ve rejoiced in wins, commiserated when it didn’t go well, and mourned when one of the horses gets hurt or goes lame and needs to stay home (after the entry fees are paid, of course). It’s been a wild ride. Only the Big Fall Show remains. I can’t wait for the break but I know I’ll be excited to see the 2010 season begin.

Do we have a date for the 2010 show season planning meeting???

Monday, October 12, 2009

BLM Results

The BLMs is always a big deal. Lots of horses, lots of tension, plus it's the first show with cool nights, which usually brings out the frisky in the ponies. Boy, did it come out.

But first the good stuff. Secret, Dream, Ockie, Flika (for the most part), were all the good girls we expected them to be. They and their human counter-parts turned in solid rides, letting the judges see their training.

Ockie and Cara stood 6th in the PGS championship class. Flicka and Laura were 5th and Secret and I were 8th in the training level championship class. Dream and Anita had two solid championship rides that put them just out of the ribbons both times. Secret ribboned in each of her training level rides, incuding a blue for training 2 on Friday with a 70 and change. We are waiting to hear if she was high-scoring Arab for the show. Oberon ribboned in all of his third level rides, and allwed Laura to actually RIDE, and not just steer and hope. He wins most improved, as we expected him to be overwhelmed, but even with all the pressure, he stayed obedient for the most part, a nice show of maturity on his part.

Silly and Merrick, the ones we were concerned would have trouble with the high-excitement of this show, did. Merrick, in usual Merrick atheltic form, got himself so excited he ended up with a sore back. Carol has impressive sticking power, I must say. Silly was also pretty excited, but her tension comes out as running with an occasional spin, giving us a really fast championship ride on Friday. Don't want to tie up that ring any longer than necessary. . .

Then there's the stage-fright boys. Eclipse, the perfect boy, managed a stone bruise last weekend, and had to stay home. Dosysky, Anita's GP horse, had a minor colic on Monday and began treatment for ulcers, so she decided to keep him home also.

That's the facts folks. Stories to come later, once I get the laundry under control.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Four Training Days Left....

This is it, down to the wire. BLMs are next weekend, and we have four training days left. That's it. A whole year's plotting and planning, and it is almost over.

The good news is two of the four are ready. Secret has been schooling like her usual, perfect, try-my-heart-out-every-stride self. Eclipse is the rock-solid good-boy he always is. They will show the judge what they can do, and then it's all up to the judge's opinion.

Then there's Silly and Merrick. Silly is my horse, which means when it comes to showing, she usually gets the short end of the stick. At home I know what I'm getting, but she just does not have the road miles of the other two. So her inexperience will come out either as additional gaits or tension. We'll find out on Friday.

Merrick has been working better and better every day, and lately it has carried over to the show ring. Then yesterday his dramatic nature overcame, and he limped just a little (What do you mean you are off??? My sanity needs those FOUR TRAINING RIDES!!! ). He has a suspicious crusty spot at his right hind coronet band, and when I touched it, he fired a warning shot at my knee. Hopefully it is an abscess, and will burst completely and go back to work in time.

In the mean time, I'm forcing myself to give the horses this Sunday off. I'm keeping busy looking for my desktop. I hastily buried it when I compressed everything into two four-day work weeks. Then used my stolen time to run home to my high-school reunion (Has it really been 20 years???? No way. All these people have kids and grown-up jobs. I couldn't have gone to high school with them...). I'm sure my desk is under here somewhere. It is brown, I think.