Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fun times Eight

The Quad Squad.  Thanks Anne Milller for the photo.

As I mentioned in my last blog, Venus and I were members of this year’s DVCTA quadrille team, or the Quad Squad, as coach Anne Miller referred to us. Or the octa-rille, as Doug dubbed us, since there were 8 riders in the pattern.  Then there were 5 flag bearers, so that name doesn’t fit either. . .no matter what you call it, that’s a lot of horses in a 20x60. And a lot of fun.

As a pro, my life is horses. I ride, I teach, and I care for them.  Because the horse business is a high-overhead gig, I have to ride, teach, and take care of a lot of horses to make ends meet. Which means my own horse often gets the short end of the stick.  Last time Venus was in the ring she was 6, mostly because I have had so many client’s horses and sales horses to show.  Which, of course, is a good thing.  But it doesn’t help Venus.

This season two of the horses I compete stayed home to train, so I decided this would be Venus’ year.  Even so, I was having a hard time getting her out often enough for her to learn to relax in the artificial environment we call dressage shows.

When I heard that DVCTA was doing try outs for third level horse/rider combinations for the quadrille demonstration to perform at Dressage at Devon, I tried out. I knew it would be a significant time investment, but since it would also give Venus much-needed mileage, it would be worth it. 

We did several unmounted run-throughs, before and
at Devon, much to the amusement of  spectators.
Thanks Joan Gottier for the photo
Our first practices were pretty hairy. The horses and riders didn’t know each other, and we really needed to trust each other to trot head-long towards another horse’s head, tail, flank, or whatever the pattern required.   Venus, being the only mare and a chestnut, caused a bit of anxiety at first, until everyone realized that she is, in Megan Mendenhall’s words “a lover and not a fighter.” Gradually, the horses and riders became more comfortable with each other, and the pattern began to emerge.

Venus is super adjustable in the trot, and settled quickly into the trot work. But the canter, well, cantering behind one horse with another right behind her definitely jump-started her enthusiasm. Thank goodness Saber, Gert Stearn’s GP horse directly in front of Venus, is a patient sort, and didn’t mind our tailgating.

The "after" shot of the movement in the unmounted photo.
Thanks Anne Miller for the photo.
After a few practices of this, I went home and decided it was “now or never” time for Venus’ canter half-halt.  My poor mare was in boot camp.  She did a lot of chestnut mare whining.  When I’d ask her to shorten her canter stride, she wanted to get hoppy.  When I strengthened my seat to get the canter strides rolling and shortened, she’d drop her withers and fall into the trot, or jump forward into a huge canter, leaving me behind.  She really didn’t understand how to make her strides as quick, short and uphill as we needed to keep the spacing, particularly in the left lead.

So one day I decided to let geography help me out. I went out on our big hill and asked her to do canter-walk transitions. The hill kept her from crashing onto the forehand in the walk. After a couple trips up the hill in canter-walk-canter, I could cue a canter half-halt and she would push her withers up while she shortened her stride. Why hadn’t I tried that a year ago???

I took this back to practice, and I would be lying to say it was flawless, but at least it was ridable. 

Then red-mare drama struck. 

First, the silly girl was playing in turnout and wiped out.  Of course she did.  She bruised her right stifle, leaving it hot, puffy and sore, but no major damage.   So I took Mandy to pinch hit for a practice.  My super-pony really wasn’t up for the task, but she gamely did leg yields instead of half passes, and canter-trot-canters instead of the flying changes. The next practice Secret was my catch ride, who, of course, was perfect in every part of the ride, but at 15 hh, was by far the shortest horse in the lineup.  Next to play fill-in was Slingshot, who surprised me by his maturity (he has been home training this season). He cracked both Anne and I up – he has only schooled flying changes a couple of times, but got frustrated by me asking him to canter-trot-canter when all the other horses were swapping leads, so he started to put flying changes on his own. Gotta love that boy.

By Sunday’s dress rehearsal, Venus’ stifle was back to a normal temperature, so she rejoined the group.  Libretto, Melissa’s mount and Venus’ partner, was delighted to see her.  They were really cute at rehearsal.  In quadrille, the ideal is to be so close together that your stirrup clinks your partner’s stirrup. That night, Melissa and I were so close together we could have put our foot in each other’s stirrups. 

Venus and I, Melissa and Libretto.
Thanks Anne Miller for the photo.
Then, of course, Venus had to be dramatic once again.  After her fall, I had taken her off of turnout until after Devon. She is the easiest keeper in the barn, so several years ago I bought her a Stall Grazer, to help make her limited amount of food last longer. Monday night of Devon week, she pulled the thing off of the wall, crashing it onto her left front leg.  Because she is Venus, the leg swelled up like a balloon.  Of course it did. 

Venus has a terrific swell response to any trauma to her body, even from injuries as minor as a scrape. So I have learned to engage the 3-day rule.  If the swelling is there in 3 days, she may have actually damaged herself. If it goes away in 3 days or less, then it’s just her red-mare inflammation response kicking in.  This works well most of the time, but it was Tuesday morning of Devon week, and our first Dressage at Devon experience was scheduled for Thursday night, 2 days away.

After much hang wringing and phone calls, Deb Tsang graciously offered her horse, Oz, to me as a back-up in case Venus’ leg didn’t come around. So I climbed aboard gentlemanly Oz on Thursday night under the lights in the Dixon oval. 

Meanwhile, back at home, apparently Venus realized that she was going to miss the fun.  By Thursday afternoon, the edema in her leg returned to normal and Dr. Crowley gave Venus the all clear.  So we headed to the Devon for Friday’s performance.  She had been locked in a stall for a week, and hadn't made Thursday night’s practice under the lights, but I bravely suited up for Friday’s performance.  I figured, no matter how excited she was, if she kept her head down and her spacing correct, the awesome music would cover all of her fresh-horse playfulness.

My civilized mare!
Thanks Jenn Bryant for the photo
Friday night started well --really well, in fact. Venus felt super and was right with my aids.   Venus and I both really respond to music, so she was trotting in tempo with the music, and I was humming along.    We started cantering to Melissa Etheridge’s “I Run for Life,” a powerfully charged song, and Venus was right with my seat.  Swept by the emotion of it all, I had an uncharacteristically sentimental moment – this was MY horse, my uncivilized 2-year-old was now a big girl, cantering around the Dixon Oval with 7 other horses.  I got a little choked up.

Then I totally forgot the pattern.

Yea, so much for sentiment.

I set up the wrong movement. Then I had to do several really, really strong half-halts to get her back into position, which, she accepted, even with her very fresh, very playful attitude.  We finished the pattern, and I was super proud of my girl. 

Then the applause started. Apparently, my girl can’t take a compliment.  I could feel her getting wound up like a spring. We were supposed to leave at the walk.  Not quite.   Venus and I left at the extended trot.  So much for an encore.

Unmounted for special awards,
just like the hot, spicy CDI
horses ;-). Thanks Jenn Bryant
for the photo.
Saturday and Sunday’s performances also went well. I dismounted for the applause on Saturday, to help Venus sort it out. By Sunday she was more accepting of it, but she still made it very clear that there was no clapping at practice, and therefore clapping during a performance must be wrong. I will be making an applause CD to play in the indoor this winter.  Maybe we’ll need that skill in the future; you never know when 12 other riders will need me again.

 A special thanks to Unionville Equine for sponsoring the team. This whole experience was truly special.