Monday, June 18, 2012

Can you help?

Ok, this really isn’t a blog, it’s more a request for help.

Seems Chase Bank teamed up with Living Social to give away a bunch of big grants to small businesses. So of course I applied.  But in order for my application to be considered by the committee, I need 250 votes from the general public.  The theme of the grant is  social marketing, so they are collecting votes through your Facebook account. It’s easy (and free) to vote, all you have to do is this:

2) Go to "Login & Support" (this will log you in via Facebook)

3) Search for “Straight Forward Dressage" and click “VOTE”

If you wouldn’t mind, help pass the word, as I need to get all 250 votes in the next 12 days. 

Then you can click on the link on Straight Forward Dressage’s Facebook page and vote that way.  

Thanks for your help. It’d be really cool if we got the grant, and even cooler that you would be a part of helping us get it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Return of SFD Schooling Shows

Cheryle and trusty steed, Karison

by Cheryle Oshman Blunt

Two years ago, my favorite part of my job at Straight Forward Dressage was planning and running our schooling shows. Sure, show day could be rather busy, and no matter how early I arrived, there was still never enough time to feel truly ready before the first trailer would pull in. But still, the mechanics of running a show appealed to me.

My goal, as show secretary, was simple -- create a fun, relaxed event for the participants. For me, that meant two things.  First, being super-organized. I tried to think about anything that could happen, then tried to have a plan, knowing that a plan would help people feel secure. Of course, we were still caught by surprise occasionally, like when the judge's tent blew over, but we even recovered from that pretty quickly.

Second, making everyone feel welcome. My volunteers and I would greet each rider with a smile. And I found that the more we smiled and wished them a good ride, the more I could see our competitors relax and enjoy themselves.

After a couple of shows, we started to get more relaxed ourselves. We started coming up with new, fun ideas for prizes. Ange came up with the idea of the excellence pins, and many of us started dreaming of baseball caps and show coats festooned with lots of little dressage pins. I brought crazy party hats to one show as a silly prize for highest score at each level. We ordered slightly silly ribbons.

The best part was that we had a lot of riders who came back over and over, and they changed from riders to friends. That year, I really enjoyed the OVCTA awards banquet because I knew so many people from our shows. Our shows had some momentum!

Then we moved. Twice. Moving is time-consuming and it zaps your energy. It takes time to settle in and get to know your new home. Many people asked us if we’d be hosting shows that first year, but before we could even truly answer that question, we were in the midst of the second move. If you’ve been keeping up with Ange’s blog, you’ll know that we spent the last calendar year assessing and tweaking our current home. And then a few weeks ago, Ange asked if I’d like to plan a couple of shows for this season. It seems we’re ready.

And I can’t wait. I’m hoping I’ll get to see many returning friends. I’m also hoping for some new faces – both human and equine. My fingers are itching to start putting together a day sheet and calculating scores. I’m contacting judges and editing prize lists. I’ve pulled out my old folders, and checked to see if I have dressage-test sized paper. I’m wondering what new prizes we might offer this year. Excitement! The fun begins on August 25th.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Happy Anniversary, SFD

Last week marked Straight Forward Dressage’s one year anniversary at 9 Lyons Run Rd.  Slowly but surely, with each item we check off of the to-do list, we have turned this farm into our home.
The indoor has 10 attached stalls, so boarders don't need to worry about leading horses to the indoor in the dark or in the rain. Perfect.

When I looked at the place last year, I liked the basic framework of the farm.  It had abundant pasture space, two separate barns, a big hill to get stifles stronger, a quiet indoor for the youngsters and the loonies, a busy roadside outdoor so the horses can get used to distractions before we spend big bucks on a show, and a small house so I could again live with my horses. 

But it had some problems.

The pastures were big, but overgrazed and lush with buttercups instead of grass. The fence had many, many suspicious posts.  The lower barn was ideal for my boarders, with its large tack room and attached indoor, but the aisle flooded whenever it rained heavily--thankfully the stalls stayed dry (I joked that SFD horses had waterfront property). The outdoor didn’t just flood, it held water like a pond.  Both wash stalls had drainage issues, and the lower barn had very little airflow. Plus it all looked a bit tired, like it had been rode hard and put away wet.  Then there was the house, where it seemed everything we touched broke.

The landlord invested in getting the buttercups under control, and I contracted a local landscaper to keep the fields mowed, fertilized, seeded, and herbicided.  The landlord also spent a fortune getting the house up to snuff—fixing the water in the basement, replacing the heater, paying for a new water tank that Doug installed, and getting rid of the mold problem to name a few.  Even with all this help, Doug spent every weekend trying to stay ahead of the constant flow of broken stuff.

I love all of the turnout.  Our fields extend all the way to the tree line.

The flow of breakage kept coming, and coming, aided of course by every horse’s natural tendency to destroy stuff. Doug was drowning.

Additionally, Kelsey’s year as SFD’s working student was ending, leaving me with a gaping hole in weekend stable management.  I really didn’t want to burden Abigail, the summer intern, with the stress of running the barn while I was 4 hours away at a show—it seems to me a summer intern should get to enjoy a bit of the summer before going back to school.

So we ran the numbers, made a few lifestyle changes, SFD bought a tractor, a lawn mower, and a few other toys, and Doug resigned his day job.

That was 6 weeks ago, and wow, is my man impressive.

In 6 weeks, he has motivated the landlord to fix the drainage problem in the wash stalls, he dug a new ditch on the side of the driveway so the lower barn doesn’t flood, removed soil along one side of the outdoor so it drains better (technically, he started that before he came on board full time, but who’s being technical), built two biting-fly traps, built a sky-bridge over the aisle way in the lower barn, caught up on most of the repair list, installed an exhaust fan in the upper barn, planted tons of flowers, cleared the wild rose off of huge sections of fence line, and has plans to improve the airflow in the lower barn. All while he has kept up on the spring mowing.

This is Doug's copy of a biting fly trap Doug found online.  I think it looks a bit like Dr. Who's Daleks, but when I mentioned this on our Facebook page, I was disappointed that so few SFDers were geeky enough to know what I meant...

Then there’s the weekends. Having Doug to worry and obsess about the horses at home freed me up to worry and obsess about the horses at the show with me.  Which works well, since the show season has been rolling right along. We have 2 horses going to a schooling show Tuesday, 1 going to a recognized show the following Wednesday, 2 going to a schooling show on the 17th, and a whopping 7 horses going to Ride For Life. Knowing the horses at home are in good hands takes a huge weight off of my shoulders.

Now that Doug has most of the safety and stable management under control, Abigail has been freed up to work on some of the dress-up details on the farm.  With her busy paintbrush, all of the gates have a protective, matching layer of rustoleum, the cavaletti have a fresh coat of paint, and the fields have been getting their regular mucking (yes, I’m just anal enough to pick the poo out of the pastures – worms can’t breed inside of the horse, so eliminating the bugs bedchamber meant our fecal counts were impressively low this spring). Next she gets to tackle the doors. We’ll have this place looking as pretty as it is safe by the end of summer.

Of course, with all this, the horses are thriving. We added some recycled fiber to the indoor in the fall, and combining that with the additional turnout, all of the horses’ backs, stomachs, and joints are stronger than they have ever been.   I actually have a new problem--obesity.  I just ordered more grazing muzzles.

Happy Anniversary SFD, here’s to many happy years at this address.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Well, Then Again, Maybe ...

Back in December, I decided that although I wanted to get Venus to the shows this season, she wasn't going down the centerline until she was relaxed. This is not the stand I take with all horses, but Venus had tons and tons of show miles when she was a 4, 5 and 6-year-old, so the “just getting around the ring” stage had already happened.  Plus this is my horse, so I wanted to enjoy the ride in the ring, not just get through it.

When Venus is relaxed, she is the most fun thing I sit on. Her reactions to my seat are so fast it feels like she reads my mind. When she is tense and insecure, well, not so much.  She gets stuck in her head and I become a passenger. I know her so well that I can make it look passable when she is insecure, but it isn’t nearly as much fun to ride, so I decided that she wasn’t going down the centerline until her mind was with me.

She hadn’t been to a show in four years, so in early May I loaded her up for Morven Park.  She was entered in one class on Sunday, and my plan was to scratch unless she was 100% with me.  I picked that show because Hassler Dressage was scheduled to be there, and I could get Scott’s help on Friday and Saturday if she was overwhelmed. 

And yes, she was overwhelmed.  Friday she wanted to take over in the aids at every opportunity. Scott knows both Venus and I well, and did an excellent job getting me to clarify my aids and tune them just loud enough to get her attention but not get trigger more tension.  Each ride got better, but not good enough to put in front of a judge. So, as planned, I scratched Sunday’s test.

Memorial Day weekend was our next overnight show.  While the big boys and girls (including former assistant trainer Cara, who has been having a great season riding for Rolling Stone Farm) were all battling for Festival of Champions, Young Horse National Championships, and NA Young Rider Championship invitations up in NJ, we headed down to the quieter, less-competitive show at Heavenly Waters Equestrian Center, in Bel Aire MD.  I loaded Venus up, even though I wasn’t really thinking about getting in the ring, just giving her more experience.

We got there early enough on Friday that I could school her before the chaos started, and she schooled respectfully. I could feel the tension in her back, but she didn’t try to take over. She got better and better as we schooled, so I decided to go ahead and braid her.

Saturday I got on in time to warm up for her class time, with Alexa on standby run to the office and scratch me if needed.  She started with a nice, forward swingy back, which made me wonder if maybe she would be showable. 

Half way through warm up, I ran into a bit of tension over a rein back – not her favorite movement. I could feel her tension building, so I kept changing the subject. The warm up went like this -- what rein back? I meant halt-trot, then shoulder in, then halt, and maybe a step back – nope, too much tension, so how about walk-canter? Over and over again.  I was about to scratch, when Venus sighed, relaxed her neck, and stepped backwards.  To me, that was a huge milestone. Unfortunately, the time spent sorting that out meant that her trot was ready to go, and I had only cantered a one circle each way in working canter, and not collected the canter at all. But her mind was with me, so I figured, what the heck, let’s do it.

So I went ahead and rode the test.

I advise my students to ride all of the tests of a level before they enter, because the choreography of some tests suits some horses better than others.  Third level Test One was not suited to Venus’ strengths.  I also knew that Alexa was entered in 3-2, and would need my help in warm up, so 3-1 it was.

As expected, the trot work went well.  She was obedient and on my seat. She could have used more bend in the half passes, and I got a bit greedy in the medium trot causing an irregular step or two, but she came right back to me, so overall it was fine.  She came nicely to the walk, and gave me a hesitant-but-recognizable rein back, and I felt a bit of tension building...

I hoped the extended walk would diffuse it, maybe it would have, if it wasn’t immediately followed by the walk pirouettes.  I have used the walk pirouettes to help Venus collect her canter, so as we did each pirouette, I could feel the spring beginning to load.

Before the explosion ....
I tactfully walked the loaded spring to C, then cued the walk-canter. Or walk-hop-up-and-bounce, as it was. I kept my seat rolling into the corner, then she readily went forward into the medium canter. 

The corner comes up really fast when the horse is enjoying the medium.

We careened around the corner, to the tune of my not-so-effective half-halts. Somehow we made the second corner without leaving the ring, and careened around a suppose-to-be 10m circle, and somewhere on the circle she decided to come back to the seat aid, but I wasn't quick enough to notice.

Because when we headed across the diagonal for the flying change, and I gave a no-holds-barred-this-is-my-seat half halt, and she came back to me and broke to a quite polite trot. So much for that flying change score.

But that did bring her back to me, and the rest of the test looked like a normal Third Level test.  The right lead canter was expensive in the scores, but her coming back to me after taking over was priceless.

Sunday morning, after I fed breakfast, I plopped in my chair to play games on my phone while she digested.  A few minutes later, I felt something on my head. The next thing I knew, my hat was in my lap. Then I felt Venus grooming the top of my head with her nose.  My fun, relaxed show girl had arrived.

We warmed up for Sunday’s class, and after Saturday’s class, I focused on keeping her uphill instead of riding for power.  She gave me a very respectable ride, and I agreed with the judge’s final comment of “correct balance, ride for more expression.” The score was equally respectable, and Venus was relaxed and happy all day in her stall.

I think I just may have a horse to compete this year after all. Maybe.