Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From the Student's Perspective -- Alexa and Mi Alma

Alexa Derr is one of my juniors who spent last winter working with SFD's schoolmasters. I thought it would be fun to see how her winter lessons affeted her show season. So I asked her to write a blog for us.

by Alexa Derr

Last winter, I had the opportunity to ride SFD’s schoolmasters, Silly and Pikasso. and those lessons really shaped me as a rider for Mi Alma, my young horse.  Thanks to them, Mi Alma gave me a truly memorable 2011 competition season.

Before every lesson, I would get butterflies in my stomach. Mentally, I psyched myself out thinking that maybe if I sat there and looked pretty, Silly would do the rest, since she is a schoolmaster. As you know, that’s not the case. It took time for me to stop riding her as if she was a glass horse and my inexperience would surely break her. Once I got over that, we had some really good rides where I learned to organize Silly’s big engine and big gaits. 

Once I had a handle on balancing the big dressage engine, Pikasso took over teaching me the lateral movements. We clicked and his power was perfect for me. Riding lateral movements gave me a variety of tricks when schooling other horses. He has amazing willingness in collection, and riding half steps for the first time sent me to cloud nine! These two horses took me from sitting and looking pretty on a horse to feeling every movement, using different parts of my body independently, and riding actively. 

After searching months for my next dressage partner, I found my budget was too limited for a trained horse. So I had to get creative and start from scratch…how about a three-year-old off-the-track thoroughbred? I met Mi Alma two weeks after his last race in October of 2010. With his puppy dog personality and sound mind, we bonded instantly and I knew he was the right project for me.  I had hoped to train him enough to sell, and then use that money to buy a more trained horse.

After an exciting winter of learning and growing, it was time to put my new tricks to use. In late spring, Mi Alma and I had the opportunity to ride with Suzanne Hassler of Hassler Dressage. I was decently calm and collected on the drive down, but as soon as I walked into that amazing facility and humongous ring, I became a deer in headlights. I had to overcome those paralyzing voices in my head, which is easier said than done. 

Ange got me out of my fear with her ever-tactful words, “You don’t suck and you won’t suck.” It worked, I snapped out of it and RODE. Turns out, there was nothing to be afraid of after all. Miss Suzanne was such a sweet lady and a great confidence booster. She declared Mi Alma a possible third level candidate. So maybe he isn’t a resale project after all.  He could be the one to help me reach my goal of ‘A’ Dressage rating (third level) in United States Pony Club. 

Mi Alma was very easy to mold into frame, but that was the problem. Over the summer, he trapped me into doing his work. He looked pretty just coasting down the long side, earning his pretty blue ribbons at intro level, meanwhile my arms and legs were killing me. Enough was enough; it was time for some role reversal. Getting his hind end under, his back swinging and his forehand up was very challenging, especially with his three-year-old body parts going every which direction. Keeping his shoulders aligned, his barrel/back pliable and non-board-like, his legs where I wanted them, and a relaxed top line was no easy task. Once again I had to overcome my mental block and get those independent aids back in action. When I did, boy did it make a difference. 

Then the ‘C’ word came into the picture… Canter. Looking back, I am not really sure why I was so nervous to canter since his days on the racetrack were short lived due to his lack of energy. But I think the transitions was the problem. His transitions went from trot, crash on the forehand, race to the first stride of canter, and then crash on the forehand again. Again with body parts flying everywhere, Mi Alma had me trapped into doing his work. It was bad enough my dad started calling me “noodle,” due to my flopping arms, stomach and legs. Rather attractive right?  

So back to those beloved seat lessons I went. After a nice tune-up, I was able to “sit, slide (my legs into position), cue.” Bam! We had a non-scary transition followed by a decently uphill canter! My oh my what one week at SFD Baby Boot Camp can do.

Now, the day I had been dreaming of finally came. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about the “Big Leagues:” Dressage at Devon! Now if you have met Mi Alma, you know he has the most laid back personality, so timing warm-up, class size, and class time length was quite the task. In the end, he had just enough energy to strut out of that ring with that DAD green ribbon flapping on his bridle. Remembering that day brings such a smile to my face because I not only overcame all butterflies, but I held my own riding in a ring of professionals.

Mi Alma has taught me patience and how to be affirmative in my cues. He has also taught me to anticipate his reactions and from there I am able to cue faster and more accurately. This has helped me to feel more and use independent aids to their capability. Thank you to Ange, my parents, the Brok family for finding Mi Alma, our fan club, and those who played hooky from school and work to watch us at Devon!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

OVCTA's Big Fall Show

I love OVCTA’s Big Fall Show. It falls on the first Sunday in November, and marks the end of the show season for those of us at SFD. But that’s not why I love it.

Despite it's humble name, the BFS is a 4-ring, well-ran and well-judged schooling show.  The rules for dress code, bits, etc, are enforced just like a recognized show, all the way down to the bit-check technical delegate policing warm up.  It has the feel of a recognized show at a fraction of the cost. But that’s not why I love it.

The BFS is staffed with an army of friendly volunteers. They greet you with a good morning, wish you a good ride, and just make the whole show-stress thing a lot less stressful.  But that’s not why I love it.

The BFS hosts the championship classes for OVCTA’s schooling series, and gives great prizes.  The show committee goes out of their way to make sure each competitor’s packet has a treat for the rider and a treat for the horse. Each Dressage Seat Equitation rider gets a prize, as well as all of the team competitors. The champions get embroidered saddle pads, huge ribbons, a victory gallop and a perpetual trophy.  But that’s not why I love it.

As a barn, my students have typically done quite well at the BFS. But that’s not why I love it.

The BFS is held at Ludwig’s Corner show grounds, which is close to home, so most of my students show up either to compete or be moral support for each other. A few years ago, one of my students brought wine and cheese to share. The tradition has grown, and this year the show committee let us set up a snack table for everyone to share.  The adults, the kids, the parents, volunteers, and various supportive friends and family members hung out, watched, and supported each other, turning what could be a stressful year-end championship into a fun, relaxing day spent enjoying our horses. 

That’s why I love the Big Fall Show.