Friday, December 31, 2010

Ockie's Three Days at Hassler Dressage

By Cara Klothe

Ockie’s trip to Riveredge was an unexpected success.  Two weeks prior, I had totally given up and given her to Ange for four rides (I think it only lasted four rides).  This happens to Ockie and I sometimes—we just need a time out from one another.  The pressure of having your own horse hit a training plateau can cloud the ability to train correctly, which is when having a second trainer around comes in handy.  Plus, for some reason, it seems harder to acknowledge how much progress YOUR horse has made. Other people’s horses, no problem, but seeing your horse’s own progress seems to be harder.

But enough with that, on to Scott’s.

The last time I was down, a few months back, we were working on Ockie’s one tempis, or flying changes every stride.  (sidenote: for anyone who saw Ockie’s changes a year ago, yes, it’s a miracle that we are even working on the ones.)  At that time I could get two one-tempis, and he sent me home with lots of homework on how to improve those two one-time changes.

I had done my homework, and even I could admit our two one-tempis had definitely improved.  With great confidence I can go down the quarter line and make multiple sets of two one-tempis….so now add a third, that can’t be too hard, she had the two one-tempis down so well.  Well let me tell you, it was hard.  Ockie is not naturally confident in her changes.  I’ve worked hard to make good, high quality single changes (down to two tepis), but she still gets nervous when she thinks she’s messing up the changes.  Teaching her the one-tempis we have to address her brain more than body.

So the first day down at Hassler’s we focused the one-tempis.  More specifically, we looked at the half halt that leads up to the changes.  Because one-tempis come so fast, the half-halt to has to be fast.  Additionally, the half-halt before the tempis has the extra purpose of making the horse quicker in the canter, not slower.  We worked on getting the three parts of that half halt really good—the in, the during, and, most importantly, the out.  Once we got that we moved to the two one-tempis, which were even better.  Then we tried three in a row…no dice.  At that point we had tortured the poor mare enough and called it a day.

Day two we again started with the one-tempis after her warm up.  When working on something hard for Ockie, it is important to do that work when she is fresh, not tired.  We used the same plan as the day before, working the details of the half halt and single changes to make the ones better.  We then looked at her tricky right shoulder.  Her favorite evasion is to carry her right shoulder too far to the right right, which takes all of the contact out of the left rein, resulting in no half halt on the left rein.  I need a left rein to half-halt to get the final change back to the left lead.

We addressed this by leg yielding her off my right leg to quarter line. I got a better feeling in my left hand for the changes, but still no luck when it came to three in a row.  However, she felt much more connected over her back than she had the day before, so that was positive and hopeful for more one-tempis in the near future.
At the end of day two we worked on half steps, the short trot steps that prepare a horse for piaffe.  We worked on these a bit at home, so Ockie was pretty good.  Scott used an in-hand whip to activate her hind legs from behind, while I kept Ockie relatively in place and elaxed in her topline.  We were able to get some pretty good half steps out of her before we called it a day.

Day three poor Ockie really worked.  Again we went right to the ones, while the pieces were all good, but still no luck with three in a row, so Scott gave me lots of homework for getting them at home, and we moved on. 

The in -hand work on day three was awesome!  Ockie got some actual piaffe steps and by reinforcing the half-halt with the in-hand work, the trot was amazing, the best I have ever felt. We then really tested her by going on to pirouette work.  I was really happy with her work, considering I haven’t done much with pirouette’s since BLM Finals in October.  We ended with some more one-tempis, ones down the quarter line just to test her willingness to work when tired, and she was great!

All in all it was a great weekend, not only did we get a lot of work accomplished, but, probably more importantly, I was so impressed by how much Ockie has matured.  She did not get emotional about much at all: maybe a little in the one-teempis, but that is to be expected.  I have to admit, she has come a long way from the horse I bought two years ago, no matter what I thought two weeks before our trip to Riveredge.

Just in case anyone was wondering, two rides latter we got three ones in a row J

Friday, December 24, 2010

Secret’s Three Days at Hassler Dressage

December 15-18 Cara, Linda and I loaded up Secret, Venus, and Ockie for a 3-day winter-training jump start.  I know I’m a bit late in getting this blog written, but frankly, I have been processing all of the info.  To keep this from getting miles and miles long, I divided it into 3 blogs, one per horse.
Check her out in the 'big girl' bridle!

First, Secret.  Secret was awesome, as always. She and I have been on our own with her since October, and I was eager to get some feedback.  She has felt great lately, but sometimes it looks different than it feels, which is why eyes-on-the-ground are so important in this sport.  I was ripe for Scott’s eyes.

Secret has the most unique learning style I’ve ever ran into on a horse – I swear she learns by a series of light bulb moments.  Combine that with her I-will-do-my-best-every-single-step personality, and I have a unique problem as a trainer.  If I have explained it in a way she understands, then her try-too-hard nature works for me, and all is good. If I haven’t, then it works against me, and she’s frustrated. For Secret, frustration means speed, which makes everything harder. I went to Scott hoping he’d help Secret find her light bulb (and a resulting reasonable tempo) in the left canter half pass and the flying changes. 

So on to the lessons.

This was Secret’s first outing in the ‘big girl’ bridle, her double bridle.  She’s been schooling in it 2-3 times a week for about 6 weeks. Scott was as impressed as I have been at how well she accepts the double. Where double bridles are concerned, the light bulb is glowing brightly. 

First, we addressed the canter half pass.  Scott and I had worked on the half pass back in October at the BLMs, and my homework had yielded a much more adjustable canter with a more even contact, but hadn’t really worked into a better half pass.

So he changed gears. Instead, he had me show her how her feet should go, by first half passing left in the walk, then straightening a bit, then cueing half pass in canter.  He warned me that the risk is she would fall left in the canter, but since she wasn’t going left at all – just speeding up from my leg – it’s a risk he was willing to take. 

The first time we did this, Secret was all discombobulated. She couldn’t figure out how to canter, much less half pass. The second time it was a little better, and the third time, if you used a lot of imagination, you could sort of see a half pass.  The light bulb was starting to flicker on.  So we left that for the day.

Next, the changes. Secret was having the same trouble with the changes—she just hasn’t figured out how to sort out her legs.  In general, dressage has come so easily to Secret that she gets frustrated when she can’t sort it out.  Since frustration creates speed in Secret, several attempted flying changes had resulted in warp-speed laps around the arena.  I had tried several methods at home, and trying the changes over a ground pole had given us the best results.

Because Secret got a little tense working the half pass, Scott broke the ground pole work into several slow steps. We walked over it, we trotted over it, we trotted up and walked over it, we walked up and cantered away, etc, until the ground pole was no big deal. Then we tried a change over it, and when she got it, we praised her like mad, and called it a day. 
This photo is a bit fuzzy, but you can see her absolute concentration.  She is determined to figure this out.

On day 2, once Secret was warmed up, we went right to the half pass, and she was ready. The half pass was fluid, with clear crossing and sideways.  Apparently, her light bulb moment had happened sometime overnight.  She must have spent the night working out the footfalls in her stall.  It’s freaky sometimes how this horse learns.  

The flying changes were also better. They were pretty consistent over the ground pole, but she didn’t really have it sorted out enough without the pole.  So there’s a light bulb about the ground pole, but she hasn’t quite seen the light without the pole yet.  That’s ok.  We got one without the pole, and then went back to the pole, mixing it up to keep her relaxed.  He recommended that, if she starts anticipating the pole at home, I lay out several poles, or raise one pole up a bit.  We are all confident that the changes are going to be fine. We’ve got all winter.

On day three, again we started with a left half pass, and Secret was like guys, I’ve got this now.  Since I had a homework plan for the changes, we skipped them for the day, and instead went to work on quality of her basic gaits.  In shoulder in, he had me ride the outside shoulder movement bigger. When we returned to the collected trot, the shoulder movement stayed bigger, and the trot itself felt more rolling. She’s starting to show lovely suspension and cadence in her trot.

In the canter, he asked me to make the canter more ‘lofty,’ particularly in the downward transition from medium canter to collected canter.  Thinking this way maintained her suspension and kept the canter from getting too up-and-down (she is half Friesian…). Her neck stayed nice and long, and her back swung like a hammock. What a super feeling.   

We also looked at the trot half passes, and to sum up the corrections Scott gave me,  she’s ready for more bend to go with the leg crossing.  In other words, go find the big girl half passes.  We can do that.  

So we have plenty of homework to keep us busy this winter.  Secret’s so much fun to work with, light bulbs and all.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pikasso's Amazing Progress

Below are 3 videos of Pikasso, an 18-year-old Hanoverian, that I have had in sales training for the last 6 months. I have known him for years. Katie, his original owner, started as a student and quickly became a friend. When she needed to sell Pikasso, Abby, another student, bought him. Abby had some lifestyle changes, and Pikasso contracted Lymes--between the two, Abby wasn't having fun anymore, so decided to sell him. After 6 months of me riding him and trying to sell him (why does everyone want a baby instead of a schoolmaster??? Horses don't become wise teachers until they have a few years on them....but that's another soapbox...), Abby has remembered why she fell in love with Pikasso in the first place, and decided to keep him.  

So that's the back story.  As a trainer, this horse amazes me.  Below are 4 videos - two in May, one in July, and the third one last weekend.  He has changed so much in 6 months.  Yes, he has the body to do dressage, but that's not why he has came back to 100%.  He has made his amazing comeback because of his terrific character.  Pikasso is always trying his best, and because of that, even when the work was really, really hard, he persevered.  

If you want to see this blog as shameless self-promotion, go ahead, but I see it as a tribute to a horse who wanted to do the work, and the work made him sounder and more beautiful.

I'm going to start at the beginning - here's a link to two videos of Pikasso at the end of May.

In these videos, you can see how weak his back and left hind leg are. He wants to carry his hind legs under his tail instead of under his tummy, and because of his weakness, breaks in the middle in the half halts. You can also see his character, he's going to try to get the job done, because I'm asking him to. That's Pikasso.

By July, he had made such good progress, we shot some more video.  His back and hindquarters are much stronger, and he is starting to show some suspension. His left hind is still weaker, but not nearly as significant as in May.  His canter has really changed - much more cadenced and uphill.

Then there's Saturday's video.  The thing that struck me most in this video is how he looks so solid, like one horse. He's back to being the awesome dressage horse he was before Lyme's. Plus Doug got a new video editing program, so this video has a nifty, new intro. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How was the move? Well....

I write this blog for two reasons – to answer the question of “how did the move go?” and to apologize to everyone who put up with me during the first week of our lives at Journey’s End. 

On the eve of our move, I knew it was my last free time for a while, so Doug and I had dinner at home and watched Fight Club.  Little did I know how prophetic it would be.  If you haven’t seen this move, quit reading now, as I am about to spoil the ending.  Or continue to read, it’s your call, but see the movie anyway, it’s a good flick.

So here’s the spoil –this 1999 movie, starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter, chronicles the narrator, mild-mannered office worker, as he slips into schizophrenia and back. Tyler, his alter ego, in true Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fashion, couldn’t be more different than he is.  Tyler is brash and pushy, and people flock to him.  He instigates Fight Club, an all-male, down-and-dirty brawl club, and goes on to build a global organization to spread anarchy. But what makes the movie so great is this—until the end, the audience and the narrator (he never gets a name, by the way, which I find a really fun literary trick) think Tyler and he are two different people. The movie foreshadows Tyler’s emergence with one-frame blips of Tyler reclining in various scenes, until he emerges as a fully-fleshed out character, who rescues the narrator from stressful situations with aggressive ease, and is finally vanquished at the end of the movie.

With this move, I think I may have found my personal Tyler. Let’s call her Tylene.

Flash one – Wednesday, day one of the move, as we are loading horses, I need to make a last-minute change in trailering order.  The trailer owner was unhappy with my choice. Tylene emerged, and did a not-so-tactful “that’s the way it’s going to be.” By the time we  arrived at Journey’s End, I was back in charge, and apologized. 

Flash two –Thursday, day two of the move. The gal I hired to do stalls doesn’t show up.  I cancel my morning lesson and Amy, my amazing groom and faithful sidekick, hump out the stalls, then make another run to Red Bridge for stall mats (I hate stall mats, on many levels).  Someone calls to ask how the move is going, and Tylene grabs my vocal cords and announces, “I’m not leaving this f*&^  farm until I sit on a horse, and it may be midnight before that happens.”  Not exactly the reply they were expecting….

I did manage to hop on two training horses, Miss Perfect Secret and Turbo-Flash, who both worked well, despite the new digs and the multiple-personality rider.

Friday I called Apryl, a student who has been looking for work, and she jumps in as stall help.  I teach a bunch of lessons, and actually managed to ride everyone.  My horses (the ones only I ride) did an Ange/Tylene also – Venus and Sling, the hot potatoes, who I expected to be loony, were good as gold. Silhouette and Eclipse, my steady horses, were very full of themselves. Schizophrenia is apparently contagious.

Flash three – Saturday the weekend stall help had schedule problems, so again I’m mucking, and the time is ticking on getting out of Red Bridge. I had hoped to finish moving by the weekend, but after doing barn chores  and teaching my lessons, I made one trip to Red Bridge, not the 3 I had planned.  Linda and Catharine jumped in to help, not only with the chores and moving, but formed a human shield between me and my clients. Without them, random Tylene flashes may have run everyone off by the end of the weekend. My business thanks them.

Sunday morning, I had two goals—integrate Silhouette into turnout, and get the rest of the stuff out of Red Bridge.  When my mucking help texted again that she had schedule problems, Tylene took over.  Linda and I had planned a 10:30 start to finish getting stuff out of Red Bridge. After chores were finished, it happened at 1. 

We pulled back in to Journey’s End, and I see two students finishing their rides, and instantly, my emotions churn. I’m like an addict surrounded by users, and I burn with jealousy. They are happily enjoying their horses, and I’m covered with dirt and schlepping SFD’s stuff, stuff they enjoy utilizing (cavaletti, mounting block, first aid supplies, extra blankets, the list goes on and on), and I haven’t had my horse fix yet.  I was not in a good mental place.

A student comes up to tell me how much she loves the place, and thank me for bringing her trunk over, and can I help her take it up to the loft, and I lose it. Tylene is firmly in control now.
I actually stomped my feet and threw a hissy fit worthy of a 3-year-old.  “No. I’m not doing another thing until I take care of my own d*%^ horse.  You’ll just have to wait.” 

That caught everyone’s attention.  Suddenly everyone had a moment to help unload the truck and trailer. Score one for Tylene.

By Tuesday, a fellow wandered into Journey’s End looking for stall work—I hired him, and put Apryl on horse care duty--changing blankets, swapping turnout, scrubbing water tubs, washing horses for clipping, etc, all the stuff that makes us full-service boarding and not just feed-and-muck boarding. 

Within days, a rhythm emerges, and we get stuff put away and the horses settle in, and training gets back on schedule.  Tylene moves back into the shadows.

In Fight Club, the narrator vanquishes Tyler because he falls in love with a rather quirky woman. The rhythm of life at Journeys’ End does the same for me. I fall in love the footing and mirror placement in the indoor, I fall in love the huge fields to hack around, I fall in love the full-size permanent dressage arena, and I fall in love with being in complete control of my horse’s care again. I fall in love with running SFD at Journey’s End, and Tylene is vanquished.  I hope for good. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

BLM Finals 2010

The easiest way to mess up a perfectly good training flow is to enter a show.  Works every time.

Secret, the super-star good girl, for the two weeks before the BLMs, well, simply wasn’t.  The rides would start out well. Then tension would creep in. She’s half Arabian, so she can do tension. Tension in Arab-speak means quickness.  The other half is Friesian. Tension in Friesian-speak means a chess-piece neck and a hollow back. Then I’d get strong (big show coming – gotta get it right RIGHT NOW).  Secret’s good-girl nature would kick in, and she’d start over-reacting to every aid. Then she’d hit overload, and run away with me. With her neck in already in my lap, I didn’t have brakes.  Great.

On that note, let’s toss her in the trailer and compete with the best horses on the east coast.  Just to add to the fun, let’s take the 4-year-old along. I figured, if I’m going to be embarrassed in public, I’m going to do it right.

Tuesday, as Secret and I are dashing around the arena in a ball of frustration, Ed, who will forever be known as Amazing Shoer Ed, dropped by to reset a couple horses. I dismounted in a storm cloud. I did my usual “Ed, fix this horse.”  He, of course, offered me a lesson, and did his standard line about how he can’t fix training problems with a horse shoe, and then proceeded to do just that.

Guess the mare wanted bigger hind shoes.

Of course, she’s a mare, so this didn’t make her perfect by Wednesday. She still had to trust that I would be trustworthy, which frankly, I hadn’t been. The 45-mph winds on Thursday didn’t help, but even with the wind, she kept getting better and better in all of her reactions. Her scores on Thursday at second level were low 60’s, but as she became more ride-able with every passing moment, she showed me that the trust was returning.  That was much more important to me than high scores.

Friday was our second level championship class, so I asked Scott for warm-up help. Within moments he had us sorted out. He had me focus more on the rolling feel of her gaits, instead of the engagement, and she just floated into her championship class. She was amazing. She read my thoughts and we danced through second level test three. 

Championship classes have two judges, one at C and one at E.  The C judge agreed with me. The other, well, not-so-much. 

Ah, the fun of horse shows.

The C judge awarded her a 65 and change, placing her third in the class. The E judge gave her a low 57%, placing her near the bottom. I’ve seen spreads before, but this particular spread really bothered me. A 65% means your horse is on the right track and all is good. A 57% means either something bad happened, or you and your horse are insecure at the level. With these thoughts churning in my mind, I headed out to ride in the second level test three open class. When I sent in entries, I hoped to use it as the warm-up for the Championship class, but the schedule hadn’t worked out that way. As I looked around warm up, I noticed that most of the other second level championship competitors had the same idea.

I went down the centerline, rolled into the medium, and my mind was churning with thoughts of “Am I messing up this super-fun horse???”, and then into the first shoulder-in, with “no, that friggin’ judge needs her eyes examined,” and on and on it went, rolling between cursing the judge in my mind and wondering if I owed Secret’s mom, Linda, a huge refund.  Meanwhile, Secret is going along under me doing her job, with frankly, very little help from me.

Secret seems to know her job. She earned a 64% and placed third.

So we decided the judge at C was right.

Saturday we had scheduled a lesson with Scott—between their building project  and WEG effecting the show schedule this year, lessons down at Hasslerville have been slim pickings. If we know he’s going to be at a multi-day show, we try to reserve a day for training instead of competing. Lately, the left half-pass in canter seemed to jump-start our tension/runaway cycle. With Scott’s help, we were able to sort out what is physical tension and what is emotional tension, and work out a plan to help Secret through both. She was super. I can’t wait for next year; third level is going to suit her well.

Sunday was our first level championship class. I had low expectations for the class, as at first level she gets dinged a lot for her upright, Friesian neck.  

She warmed up well. Cara was my eyes on the ground, making sure I had the ideal tempo and neck as long as she could balance. The class started really well, with Secret right with me, but as we got further into the test, I could feel the fatigue of a long show. She tried really hard, and did all of her work right with my aids, but her neck got shorter as her gas tank ran low, and I was giving her a lot of help with my seat. 

The judges saw the fatigue, but they also saw the obedience. Her combined score was a 66%--with both judges being within .5 of each other. 

She went at 11:50, and it was a huge class, ending at 4:08, and awards were at 4:20. At lunchtime, her 66% stood her sixth with ribbons to tenth, so we went to lunch in Lexington, hit their awesome bookstore, and then took our time packing. 

When we got back to the showgrounds, she was hanging on to ninth place. At about 3:45, she was bumped out of the ribbons, so we debated leaving or hanging out for the test sheets. By the time Linda had done the Arab paperwork and I had crammed the last things into the trailer, we loaded the horses and pulled around to the office and just as our test sheets were available.

Holy crap the little black mare gave me a 10 and two 9’s.

The halt at A earned a 10 from one judge at C and the 9 from the judge at E. The other 9 was on the leg yield on her harder side from the C judge, who could really see her crossing, and rewarded her lateral suppleness.

SIing, of course, was a star schooling with the big boys all weekend.  He and I had two lessons with Scott. He handled the distractions much better than at Devon, and by the end of the week he was letting me re-engage his brain when he lost focus, no small feat for a young mind. In his second lesson he gave me glimpses of the big-boy canter to come. Wow, this horse is going to be amazing.

Now I’m home and back to reality. This week we move into our new home at Journeys’ End Farm in Glenmoore, Pa.  The week after we have one more show – the OVCTA Big Fall Show, then the season is completely over. This last show has me really excited about the winter’s training.

Pictures to come, I promise!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Warm-up Ring Safety

A year ago, at the OVCTA Big Fall Show, an accident occurred in warm-up. A competitor was seriously hurt. She was life-flighted from the show grounds and spent several months recovering. She has made a complete recovery. Thankfully, her story has a happy ending.

A few months back, she came to our OVCTA board meeting to discuss warm-up safety. Not etiquette, safety. Her thoughts and resulting suggestions made extremely good sense. Since then, I’ve been preaching it to my students ad nauseam. Of course, riding a youngster at Dressage at Devon got me even more fired up about this particular soap box.

The soap box goes like this—when you get on a horse, you are responsible for the safety of everyone around you. You cannot blame the horse, or the left-shoulder-to-left-shoulder rule that half of the world forgets. You, as pilot, need to keep your eyes up and keep your horse far enough away from other horses  to prevent accidents by preventing herd instinct from kicking in, literally or proverbially. 

Horses are horses, and are hard-wired to certain instinctual behavior, regardless of their training. Their instincts say that when a horse is crowding their personal space, he is asserting authority. In a pasture, when Bucky crowds Angel, Angel either moves away from Bucky, showing submission, or fires a kick at Bucky, telling him she’s the boss. Once this hierarchy is established, both Bucky and Angel can happily graze.

Put Bucky and Angel in a crazy, stressful warm-up, in an unfamiliar setting, with a bunch of other strange horses, and, for the horses, hierarchy is up for grabs. This whole equine discussion is going on while we are focused on competing for tiny pieces of satin.

Our race for satin brings out the “it’s-a-horse-show -I’ve-gotta-get-this- absolutely-perfect-right-now” behavior, i.e. looking down, and problems arise. There we are, being all self-focused and perfectionistic, unaware of the battle for herd hierarchy around us, and we don’t notice the other horses until we are too close. 

One of two things happens. Our confident, powerful dressage horse does what dressage training was originally created to do—he clears a path through the battle field. The less confident horse gives way, maybe towards another less confident horse, who also gives way. Or worse, towards another confident war horse, and less confident horse panics. By this point, the rider on the confident horse is half an arena away, not even realizing the chain reaction they started.
Or the second thing happens. The insecure horse tries to look around and get a feel for the heirarchy, which gets the rider correcting the horse’s head and looking down, which makes the horse feel more fussy and claustrophobic, and the rider more tense and frustrated, creating more tension, to the point of boiling. About that time, that confident war horse enters stage right, and the insecure horse looses it. 

In both scenarios, injuries can be prevented if we just stay aware of what’s going on around us. 

As a coach, I can help prevent injuries by making my job of be my student’s “eyes on the ground” on step further. In addition to helping her be confident about her horse’s tempo and balance, and I can also keep her clear of traffic jams. 

As a competitor, I can prevent injuries by keeping my eyes up and communicating with the other competitors.  “Coming up behind you,” or “outside,” said at the last minute does not justify cutting someone off, but said early enough can prevent many disasters. If I’m riding a particularly insecure or inexperienced horse, I can communicate that to my fellow competitors. This does not absolve me of responsibility, but hopefully it will remind my fellow competitors that I’m in there, and to please look around occasionally. Or I can warm up my Nervous Nellie in a quiet, out-of-the-way warm up.

But my contributions are not enough. 

Every one of us needs to wear the responsibility for everyone’s safety like a coat. We need to be aware of each other, and communicate with each other, and know that we, personally, can keep our fellow riders from harm.

Because the best happy ending is the accident that never happened.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Dressage at Devon 2010, Sling’s Trip to the BIG TIME

Dressage at Devon is a magical show each year.  Take the largest DSH breed show in the country, complete with tons of cute, nervous babies, add a prestigious CDI with the fire-breathing FEI horses, then top it off with a kick-butt trade fair, and you have a A LOT going on.  Then cram the whole thing on a show grounds the size of a city block.  Yes, this is a recipe for craziness, and yes, it is an intense show, but somehow it works.

This year, Slingshot, Wendy Adam’s super-star 4-year-old was my ride.  Sling, more than any other horse I ride, has a fan club.  Wendy owns Glory Springs Farm, a big, active boarding barn in Wernersville, where I teach a couple times a month. We joking call it SFD West. Wendy bought Sling in utero from Marilyn Cormier, another student, and he grew up at Glory Springs, so all of the boarders know him.  He’s been with me at Red Bridge since January, and his fun personality combined with his loud snore (this boy can saw some logs) as endeared him to the home SFD crowd.  So when we show, everyone comes out to cheer him on. 
This was Sling's "staff" on Tuesday - he had a whole new crew on Wednesday! 

I love this young horse too.  He’s goofy, personable, honest, gives 110% every ride, and has an AMAZING hind leg.  True to his bloodlines, he is a slow-maturing horse, so Wendy and I decided to wait until he was fully 3 ½ before we started his formal education.  He’s been under saddle since mid-February, and rewarded our patience by being mentally ready to start his show ring education by July. I specify mentally, because every time I enter him in a show, he hits another growth spurt, tipping his balance hither-and-yon, resulting in some interesting dressage tests.  That is the reality of showing young horses. 

I love the young horses.  Helping these young horses learn confidence and trust is really exciting to me.  To build confidence, I have to take the youngsters to the edge of their comfort zone, then bring them back to more comfortable, over and over again.  To build trust, I have to clearly create boundaries for when they are nervous, but I can’t add pressure when they are at that edge.  I have to sense when they are on the edge of overload, and take them to where they feel safe.  I have to be completely ok with any embarrassing shenanigans that may happen.  Often, to help, I enlist an equine babysitter—a seasoned, nothing-bothers-me, no-nonsense horse to help. 

In July, the NJ Horse Park show was perfect for Sling’s first outing.  Secret was going too, so she could play babysitter.  The show was 3 days long, so he could be there long enough to work through the worry, then get over it.  We requested the back side of barn C so he could have a quiet place to get away from the show ring commotion. 

As expected, Sling was OVERWHELMED.  On Friday, when he was completely beside himself, we didn’t canter on the left lead at all.  His safe spot was anywhere that Secret, his babysitter, was.  We spent a lot of time walking and lunging, and had to keep our mounted work in the quiet, tucked-away-out-back warm up.  Secret came ringside with him and watched his tests.  By day 3 he was much more confident, both leads had arrived, and we could watch the big boys in the crazy warm-up, but joining them in the sandbox, well, not yet.  He showed in the 4-year-old test, and earned respectable scores.  Wendy and I were very pleased.

Since July he has had 3 other day trips, twice with a baby sitter and once flying solo, but all at quiet venues, and he has become more and more confident with each outing.  But Devon is anything but quiet. 

We arrived on Monday afternoon, and a stroke of luck had us stabled with Ursula Ferrier, who owns Scimitar, Sling’s dad.  Ursula is not only a great horseman, she is a fun person to hang out with, which kept the atmosphere calm and relaxed, which is exactly what Sling needed.

On Monday, when I schooled Sling, he seemed cool as a cucumber coming out of the barn, so I mounted and rode to warm-up.  Our timing was unfortunate—everyone seemed to leave right as we arrived.  His confidence left with the other horses, so I got off and went back for lunging equipment.  A few minutes on the lunge, and it seemed a light bulb went off in his head.  It was like he said, “Oh, yea, I know how to do this,” and my good boy returned. 
Warm up on Tuesday

Tuesday Sling’s entourage showed up to watch him go in Suitability to be a Dressage Horse.  Sling was a perfect gentleman about having so many humans fuss over him.  He warmed up great, and once in the ring, he noted that I was making suggestions from the saddle, but was a bit too overwhelmed to truly respond to them.   I played my supportive rider role (“no, Sling, the judges stand won’t bite,”  “Good boy Sling for going around the flowers instead of jumping them,” etc.) and tried to keep him away from crowd.  We did ok staying clear, that is, until they called for the right lead canter.  Right then I was looking for my way clear, but was behind two horses and with one on my right.  They all started cantering.  My vote was for us to make a circle, and depart on that circle, but herd instinct pulled Sling into the canter – which would have been ok, if it had been the correct lead.

I brought him back to trot, and actually cued the canter, but by then he was upset, so he took the incorrect lead again.  By try 3 we got the lead, but Mr. Try-too-Hard was flustered.  The rest of the class was nervous rushing.  His mind didn’t even settle in the line up–he stood there fussing with his bit, which is new for him.
Wednesday our Materialle class was later in the day, and Wendy and I alternated walking him around most of the day.  But it really didn’t matter, by the time I got on he was wound up.  I spent warm up asking for his attention, and about the time I was concerned I wouldn’t get it, he settled in to my aids.  Then I started to get ambitious.  I know Wendy wasn’t concerned about the placing, but I like to give owners ribbons when they let me compete their horses. 

So we went in, and frankly, I over-rode the trot work. As a result, I got his neck a little short, and he got fussy in the contact and inconsistent in the tempo.  After the first trot, the judge had us walk for what seemed like forever, which gave Sling time to settle into the arena and me time to mentally whip myself into shape.   I allowed his neck longer for the canter work, which allowed his incredible hind legs to do their thing, earning him a 7.6 for his canter.  He earned a 7.6 for general impression, and a 6.7 for walk. Not surprising, his trot was his lowest score, at 6.5, for an overall of 71%, ranking him 7th overall. 

But the best part for me was after the class, when this huge, goofy warmblood, in the craziest show in the area, is such a good boy that Paige, Wendy’s 10-year-old daughter, can lead him around in all that commotion.  This is a super horse on so many levels. 

Thanks Wendy, for the opportunity to show such a fun horse.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Barn STILL in Limbo

For some reason, writing a horse blog has an inherent pressure to focus on the sunshine-and-butterflies.   Most of the time I can easily comply, but sometimes it is really hard. 

Like lately.  Mixed between the super training progress and great fun at shows is one overriding pressure – I still haven’t found a barn.   

Don’t worry, I’m not going to pull a “poor-Ange” on you, I do very much love what I do.  But lately, this whole barn-relocation has tainted the fun.  I hate that the time and effort to build Straight Forward Dressage into a positive, supportive horse community could be shattered if I can’t find a suitable facility. Plus I’d have to go find a “real job.”  So I’m being hit on both the practical and idealistic levels. (ok, so maybe this is a little “poor-Ange,” but I think I may be entitled to just a little)

Stress? What stress??

Half of Red Bridge’s property closed September 15th, and I am happy for Renee.  A few horses have left, and the remainders are in training with either Cara or I, so I am much happier about that. When I let the business expand to include boarders, I felt I was getting stretched too thin, and not giving the care I like to give.  We have consolidated down to the main barn and the little white hunter barn, which makes chores much easier.  My only real complaint is the loss of the washing machine. As I type, I am at a laundry mat washing saddle pads.

As of today, I have three options, and whichever one I choose will change the direction of SFD.  Late last week I thought I had this all sorted out, but the contract negotiations are getting dicey, so I don’t think it’s going to work out.  Being so close to “out of limbo,” then being back in limbo, well, it makes it that much more unsettling.  

My horse-pro friends have been super-supportive in all of this. Several have offered me stalls, and so I won’t be stuck stabling horses in my tiny back yard (yes, I have had that nightmare more than once lately…). 

I guess this is the price to pay for having so much fun most of the time. 

Ok, I’ll get off the pity-pot now. 

It’s Devon week, and Slingshot is handing it all like the super-star he is becoming. Cara and Ockie are competing the PGS and I-1 on Friday and Saturday, then three weeks later we head to BLMS.   More on that later--in a more positive light, I promise!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pics from Region 8

I promised photos - here are a few.

Chilly weather on Thurs, we just HAD to have jackets.
This show was nuts, lots of stuff going on.  The hunters were competing in their Marshall-Sterling finals, the jumpers were doing their thing, Tues -Thurs had a DSH show, and we had 6 dressage arenas cranking, one under CDI rules. This makes for a really fun show, with tons to watch, and, of course, brings out the vendors.

This little dude was a pony jumper, didn't catch his name, but seriously, the jumps are as high as his withers.  Impressive!

Shows are a combination of relaxed sitting around, then hurry-up-and-stress. 

Cara and Linda's pre-class ritual.

Ockie likes her hay where she can see everything.

I drug them off the show grounds one day to see Saugerties' famous lighthouse. It may be the shortest lighthouse I've ever seen.

See, tiny lighthouse. Only3 stories high.
I got artsy with my new camera :-).

Oh, yea, competition shots!

And, of course, a special thanks to our coach.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Tack Room Makeover

Anyone who works with me knows I get snippy when I can’t find things.  At a show, when we are out of our routines and stressed, order is hard to find.  Luckily, Cara feels the same way, so usually our tack room is a picture of anal organization. But not last weekend.

Part of the problem is my new trailer. In my old trailer, I kept some show stuff tucked under my shelves, just for horse shows. My new trailer has these awesome airflow windows, so I’ve been sorting out what can go where, what lives in the trailer all the time, what comes just for shows, and keeping it all below the windows.  As a result, I forgot my cheapie-tired-looking-do-we-really-need-these plastic shelving and carpet.  Well, we needed them.   Without the carpet to define our tack room into zones, and our shelves to get stuff up off the floor, we were primed for disorder.  Then add unpredictable upstate NY fall weather, which feeds the over-packing instinct, and we had, by far, our messiest tack room ever.

BLMs are 4 1/2 weeks away, so I’m trolling web sites and e-bay for solutions.  Furniture for a tack room is a challenge.   Every show stabling is different.  Saugerties, this weekend, had nice, tall stall walls, so even if we had hanging shelving, they wouldn’t hang low enough to reach.  The walls were also pretty thick, so the hanger-part had to be able to fit over the wall – a problem for our bridle racks.    But the floors were pretty flat, a rarity in show stabbing, so free-standing items (like my forgotten selves) would work well.  At NJ Horse Park, on the other hand, the stall walls are wood half-way up, then chain link at the top, giving us lots of places to hang stuff, but making the tack stall an easy victim of rain or a runaway hose. 

In an ideal world, the tack stall furniture would be stuff that we can pack in, then ship in, so there’s no packing for show-unpacking into tack stall-repacking to go home- unpacking back at home.  Add our durability requirements, and I end up shopping for my tack stall at home improvement stores. Max, our favorite addition this season, is a fabulously portable tool box by Stanley. Max’s best feature is that it is built on a dolly, so it’s easy to roll it to the trailer at the end of a long weekend.

As I’m searching for shelving options, I come across the idea of “clamshell cabinets”—essentially two shelving units hinged together. I think this is a great idea, but I think I may need to try my creative hand at this.  There are two problems with this design–first, the shelves are right across from each other, so when the cabinet is closed, things can move from one shelf to another, and fall all over upon opening.  A lip at the end of each shelf and staggering the shelves will fix that.  Second problem – the $1400 price tag.  Plus, if I made it, I can use a pin-in-the-hole connection system (like on horse trailer butt bars), meaning I can totally separate the shelves if the tack room set-up would warrant it.  Plus I like power tools, and have a quiet week coming up, so I’m primed for the project.

I suspect I’m going to give Doug heart-failure with this idea ….

Despite the messy tack room, the show went really well.  We live and compete in Region 1, but as our championships are in November in down in NC, we decided to crash Region 8’s championship this year.   This isn’t our home region, so we had no idea how we would stack up against the competition. 

We did just fine.  Secret, who is an amazingly consistent 66-67% girl, landed us 3rd in her two open first level classes, and 1st in 2nd 3 open.  Cara and Ockie had a truly beautiful ride in the open I-1 class on Saturday to earn a and a red ribbon.  Figi, Trevelyan Farm’s super-star pony, grew up a lot at this show (she’s only about a year under saddle) and was in the 60’s and either in the ribbons, or just out of them, every class.  Plus we squeezed in lessons with Scott with each horse, which had a surprisingly refreshing effect on me.  The little shot of training-focus instead of show-results-focus really kept my mind fresh. 

Pics will come in the next blog, I promise. I’m waiting for Linda and Catharine’s photos. I’ll consolidate them and post soon.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers, and a Long Ride Home

 It takes a team to create a great show season, and sometimes, it takes a team to just get home from a show.  Coming home from Dressage in the Park July 19, the brake petal went to the floor, and I pulled off the road and started calling for help.  Here is Linda Butz's recounting of that afternoon.  The EMT not only brought us food, she restored my humor, which was no mean feat that day!!!

The Kindness of Strangers
 by Linda Butz

Most of you who follow SFD on FB probably know that Ange had truck issues when we left NJ Horse Park last Sunday. We lost the brakes on the truck but Ange managed to safely roll off the road to a flat grassy shoulder that even had some shade. We opened up the trailer-thank goodness the wonderful, new trailer has individual fans-pulled out our chairs and sat down to wait.

We were overwhelmed and tremendously grateful for all the folks who stopped to see if we and the horses were OK. One woman who stopped was a vet and she took a peek at the horses and declared them to be fine-yeah, we knew that, but it was nice of her to care. Another woman who works at the Horse Park took me back to get water for the horses.

The EMT from the show on Sunday stopped to check on us. We assured her we were fine and Ange joked that if we had pizza and beer we’d be set. About 30 minutes later she returned with pizza and soda-refused our money-and said she’d been at the show all day and imagined that we were exhausted and still had a long night ahead.

One woman came by who said she had a farm down the road with horses and that if we needed to, she’d send her husband up with their truck to hitch to the trailer and we could stable the horses overnight with her. People driving everything from motorcycles, convertibles, and trucks stopped constantly to be certain everything was OK.

Our true hero was Cara who after having competed early in the day, taken her horse home, and fed dinner to all the horses at home, drove all the way back in her truck to take us home. At that point we had to unload the horses, who both (including the 4-yr-old) handled the whole thing like the champions they are (to us, at least).

It was a nerve-wracking experience, but it could have been much worse-we weren’t on the Turnpike!  It also reaffirms my belief that the vast majority of people in this world, especially horse people, are good, kind, caring, and will go out of their way to help other horsepeople in need.

Thank you all!

July and August Show Results

Results from most of the Recent Shows
For all of you who are "Fans of SFD" through our Facebook page, you know we've been our usual crazy-busy at the shows.  Not fan? Try this link.
To summarize our recent flurry of shows (and to sorta justify why I didn't get a newsletter out last month...) . I know I'm missing a couple, but these are the ones I had easily-accessible results.  To compile this list, I plagiarized, edited and elaborated on everyone's Facebook posts -
Aug 15 Fider Run
Cara/Ockie, Ange/Sling
Straight Forward Dressage Ockie won I-1 with a 62.632. She has become dang consistent at a show, both out of a stall and out of trailer.
Sling is growing up - won the 4-year-old test, and brought home red with a 62.8 in training level. Handled it all like a pro.
Aug 11 Recognized Show at Blue Goose
Cara/Ockie, Cara/Figi, Carol/Merrick, Ange/Secret, Ange/Sling
From  Cara - Had a great day today at Blue Goose. Figi was such a star! In her first ever first level class she was high score of first level with a 76%! Training 4 she had some mistakes and got a 68.8%. She gets better by the day. Ockie wasn't her best, but got a 61.3% at PSG which is respectable.
From Carol  - Merrick won Training 1 at Blue Goose's USDF with a blistering 65.2 Best score he's earned in a long time. He faded after that but one good class is terrific.
From Ange  - Secret earned a 63.095 at 2nd 4 and a 68.140 at 2nd 3. She really felt like a 2nd level horse yesterday, I'm really proud of her.

Sling acted like a very mature grown up, earning a 64.4 in the 4-year-old test and a 64.8 at training 3.
From Linda - AND Sling held it together when a horse spooked in warm-up and dumped his riding, bumping Sling in the process. What a good baby! Sun-burned shoulders aside, it was a great day! Bet the horses slept well last night.
July 18-19 show at NJ Horse Park:
Cara/Ockie, Carol/J'y suis, Ange/Secret, Ange/Sling 
From Carol - J'y suis won First 3, qualifying for BLMs
From Linda Secret put in a solid show with 3 reds and 1 blue (at Second 4). Ange finally convinced her that the R lead canter single loop in First 4 does not require a flying change and on Sunday she pulled her second qualifying score of 66.316 for regionals!
From Cara - Ockie got a 60.2% in both of her I-1 classes, only her second show at the level.
From Ange - Victoria and Pene started well, then Pene fell in love with Sling, and threw her under the bus. He spent the rest of his show ring time calling to his lover-boy. 
From Ange - This was Sling's first outing, and he brought home two blues from the 4-year-old tests. By the end of the weekend, could even handle the big-boy warm up with something that resembled steering :-).
July 7 Recognized show at Blue Goose
Cara/Ockie, Carol/Merrick, Cara/Figi, Ange/Eclipse and Victoria/Pene
Congrats to Cara/Figi, Victoria/Pene, and Carol/Merrick for outriding their teacher at Blue Goose on Wed! You guys make me proud.
Ockie's first time at I-1 for a 63.421 - yes, Cara, you've turned her into a show horse!
Victoria proves that warm-up is overrated by cutting herself too close on time for my comfort, but not for Pene's - 65.667 in First 1 for red, and 66.944 in First 2 for blue.

June 19-20 Crazy weekend
Heavenly Waters - Cara/Ockie, Anita/Dream and Ange/Secret  Practical Dressage and Eventing - Carol/Merrick
Recognized Arab show in NJ - Victoria/Pene
From Ange - Everyone brought home a blue!! How cool is that?
From Carol  -  Pene/Victoria also brought home a Blue. They blistered the competition at an Arab show in NJ.
From Linda - WOW! 5 horses competing and 5 blues. Go SFD!
More from Linda - Secret was her good girl--I love to pampered--self. She blew me away by winning in her first outing at Second level. Now if USDF would only rewrite First-4 to include a flying change we'd be golden. She still had two 67's in that test even with the error. Good luck fixing that one, Ange!
From Ange - O-bird has become such a solid citizen at shows, Cara had to jazz her up before her tests! But it worked, Ockie likes blue :-).
Also from Ange - I'm proud of Carol and Merrick, she has developed Mr. Spook at Shadows into a brave CT horse, she didn't even need a coach this weekend!