Great Expectations

or “My Life in Blog Sounds Much Cooler Than It Really Is”

Posts Tagged ‘dressage’

A new horse…

Posted by mandyhuckins on May 28, 2009

No, not for me.  My friend/riding student has found a horse to lease/purchase.  We don’t know much about the horse because he was donated to the riding team at the University a few years ago and unfortunately, they had the wrong paperwork in his file.  What we do know is that he is a Hanoverian (I used my masterful powers of deduction to come up with that when I saw the brand on his left hip.  It is the same as the one Dancer has.  Leads me to believe he might have been bred/born in Germany.)  His name is EisVogel (translated from German to English =Ice Eagle, I believe) and he goes by Eis.

Last week, we went out to ride him.  He is lovely and has a very kind soul.  No horse is perfect – this one has had to have his hocks injected and he is a bit overweight at the moment.  He also has a bit of a club foot on the front right (which had also lost a shoe the morning of the day we went to ride).  We rode him in A’s saddle which was a bit too tight and her bridle which had a different (softer) bit than the one they had been using for him.  It was a very windy day – but, given all of those things, he was really lovely.

Here is a short video of me cantering him.  As you can see, he got a little fussy to the left, but came right back to work when I steadied him and drove him forward.

I don’t think anyone is currently riding him dressage – but, he definitely has had dressage training.  When I asked for some lateral movements, he responded.  I could tell that he knew what he was doing, he was just a bit rusty.  He leg yields beautifully, but fought me a little when I tried half-pass at the trot.  He did offer a pretty nice shoulder-in and responded well when I asked for a lengthened stride.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get any of this exciting stuff on video.  You know how that goes. 

Assuming he vets ok, I think he will be a good horse for A.  After riding some challenging thoroughbreds for the past few years, A deserves to have a nice, easy to ride boy that will do what he is asked to do.  His calm nature and willing attitude will go a long way towards building her confidence and allowing her to move forward in her riding. 

I hope they will be happy together for many long years – developing the kind of perfect partnership I know is possible between a woman and her horse.  I am just sorry I am not going to be around to see it blossom.  Moving sucks.


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A good ride…

Posted by mandyhuckins on May 6, 2009

For those of you who are interested in reading about my riding life, here is a post for you (it has been a while).  For those of you that are more interested in my shopping/decorating posts, you can tune this one out. 

I have mentioned before that a very cute 15 year old rider at our stable has a red-dun quarter horse named Jack.  She rode western when she first purchased Jack, but she has decided that she is now interested in the challenge of dressage.  Obviously, these are two very, very different disciplines.  They have asked for my help in re-training Jack.  And, because I only have a little over a month left in Montgomery, we are under a time crunch.  So, I am supposed to be riding him at every possible opportunity.  Last week, I had some nice rides on him – at the walk and trot.  But, things fell apart whenever I tried to canter.   One night, he picked up the canter, but was so unbalanced – it was horrible.  Another night he had a total melt down the minute I would ask him for canter.  I took him to the round pen and had him canter in both directions several times, but he couldn’t maintain the canter for more than one circle around and he just looked off-balance and horrible.  After one canter attempt, when he came back down to trot, I noticed that he looked off.  I stopped him immediately and brought him out.  Sure enough, he was lame.  It looked to me like it was up in his stifle.  When I came to check him the next morning, he looked better – much less stiff.  So, I tried to get on him again that night.  I asked the barn owner, who was out in the ring giving a lesson, to watch him.  He was still short striding (taking a much shorter step) on his left hind leg than his right hind leg.  As luck would have it, the vet was already coming out the next day.  He looked at Jack and pronounced that he was sore in his heels and needed back shoes.  He also had us put him on some pain meds for a few days until the farrier could get there. 

I must admit, I was skeptical that this would solve our problem.  The farrier came on Monday and I put Jack on the lunge Monday night.  He has been known to exhibit bad behavior on the lunge, but that night, he was excellent.  He listened to my voice and walked, trotted and stopped on command.  He looked pretty good (maybe still a bit stiff on that left hind), so I didn’t want to overdo it.  Last night, I got back in the saddle.  He was great!  He didn’t have any meltdowns.  He sprung right into trot when asked.  He is staying down and round through his transition to trot (the down transition still needs work, but it is getting better too).  We even did a little shoulder-fore at the walk (this is when you ask the horse to bring this front half a little to the inside – it is helpful in getting the horse soft and round).  He did trip a few times when I first started….but, overall, he felt so good that I decided to go for broke and ask for canter.  I did have to chase him into it a little bit, but he stayed calm, did not freak out and toss his head up and we cantered nicely around a circle about three times before I asked him to come back to trot.  The barn owner said it was the best transition to canter she has seen him do.  That is sad…but, I was also very excited.  Poor boy!  His acting out was because he was in pain.  😦  I guess all of the work I have been asking him to do in really using his back end and carrying more of his weight back there was causing his heels to hit the ground more than (or harder than) usual and it was making him sore. 

I also had the chance to ride Dancer.  I have noticed that she has really been ignoring the aids when asked to trot.  So, my goal for yesterday was to sharpen that up.  She was definitely getting better by the end of the ride.  We also had several very nice transitions to and from canter.  And, I introduced a movement called Travers (pronounced like “tra-ver” rhymes with where).  Anyway, this is when you bring the horse’s hind end in.  They must remain bent in the direction of travel and cross their legs as they move down the rail.  (That is probably the worst description of all time!)  I am hoping that using this movement along the rail will help to develop my half-pass.  There are actually some different schools of thought about this – some people like to use Travers and other trainers think it shouldn’t be used because it is encouraging horses to be crooked.  I am of the “all things in moderation” mind – I think it should be fine as long as I don’t overdo it and mix it up with shoulder-in.  I want her to be more in tune with my change in seat bone position and I think that these types of movements will help.

All things considered, it was a nice night at the barn.

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A cancelled lesson…

Posted by mandyhuckins on April 21, 2009

I was sick yesterday, so this post was delayed a day.  I hoped to report on our second lesson with Emma Winter on Sunday, but unfortunately, it was cancelled due to the threat of foul weather that actually didn’t materialize until later in the evening.  Bummer.  But, “A” and I came out to the barn to ride Dancer anyway.  She was difficult for “A” to ride – not badly behaved necessarily, but just in that mood where she wasn’t giving anything up easily.  She didn’t want to relax, she didn’t want to come on the bit, she didn’t want to go forward, she kept popping out at the shoulder.  “A” did a good job of sticking with her and she was able to improve Dancer’s carriage by the end of the ride.  Sometimes, horses are like that.  They just have bad days and you have to ride the horse you have during that particular ride.

When it was my turn to get on, Dancer really let loose on the bad behavior.   Just like earlier in the week,it was asking for canter to the right that brough it on.  Here is a snapshot from the video clip of her acting ugly and trying to run the videographer over. 


I wish I had more on tape, but when you have a 1300 pound horse leaping towards you with her blind eye facing you, you drop the camera and run!

After we worked through this little tantrum, she was actually quite nice.  Here is a still shots of trot and of canter to the right:





I love how her ears are turned out to the sides in these – that means she is listening to me and inwardly focused on the work I am asking her to do instead of paying attention to something off in the distance or pinning them back in frustration.  I like that I am sitting up straight and balanced in both gaits, but I need to keep my thumbs up (instead of turning them to the inside) and I still need to move my heel back under my hip a bit.  I was riding in my student’s saddle, so maybe that is why my stirrup has moved back.  Dancer’s back is up and she appears more “squashed” through the body instead of being strung out.  Progress? 

Compare the trot picture above to this one about a year ago in Germany (sorry for the poor quality – the lighting was bad):


See how much longer she looks here?  It is as if she is just throwing herself around instead of carrying herself on her hind end.  (And, look how I am being popped out of the saddle!)

Here is a sequence from yesterday during a period that felt “right” (although we were going to the left – ha, ha!):







Pretty, no?

I still have concerns – I don’t like having to hold her. I don’t like that she is getting fussy.  I don’t like that huge muscle developing under her neck.  But, I am hoping I can have more times like the trot sequence directly above and fewer times like the very first picture in the post. 

We are nothing if not a work in progress.

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Night off (for Dancer)…

Posted by mandyhuckins on April 17, 2009

Last night, I decided to give Dancer the night off.  I started thinking that she might have been acting up because of soreness. I was gone for a week and I found out that she was only ridden once in my absence.  Plus, I had a lesson to teach and I really needed to ride Jack. 

The lesson was with my young rider.  I was so surprised to see her cantering around independently all over the arena one night this past week.  Before I left, she was still cantering on the lunge.  Maybe I should go away more often… Also while I was gone, she participated in a Hunter/Jumper show and won Grand Champion for her division!  Despite the success, she might have been progressing a little too fast….those dang diagonals are giving her a lot of trouble.  I told her before I would allow her to do much of anything else, she needed to prove to me that she could pick up the correct diagonal all most of the time.  So, I put her back on the lunge.  We did a lot of sitting trot work without stirrups and without reins.  Her balance is improving a lot.  We even tried posting without stirrups (difficult for everyone, even those of us whose legs are the size of a bird’s).  I re-explained the concept of looking at the pony’s outside shoulder.  I had her repeat up-out and in-down.  She could say “out…out…out” in time with the pony’s movement.  But, whenever I had her start posting and tell me if it was correct or not, she would get it wrong!  Sometimes she would start posting correctly, then I would hear her say “nope” under her breath, switch diagonals and then tell me “ok, it is correct.”  I would have her fix it back and then really watch the outside shoulder to try to get it right.  By the end of the lesson, it seemed like she might possibly have it.  We will see…Any riders out there have any suggestions?

My ride on Jack, the western quarter-horse we are trying to change into a dressage horse, was ok.  He is showing some definite improvement.  And, actually, although it feels rather choppy, when I glance in the mirror as I go by, he is moving quite well in the back.  He needs to always think forward, forward, forward to get that western training out of his mind.  Sometimes, he will come nicely into a frame, with a relaxed neck, vertical head and rounded back.  We will go that way for a while until I do something to upset him (change direction, squeeze with my leg or just breathe) and then he will throw his head straight up into the air.  Straight up!  His owner (a teenage girl) has been riding him in the Vienna training reins.  Maybe I should too – it would keep him from hollowing out like that.  I think I will give them a try next time.

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A new trick and something cute…

Posted by mandyhuckins on April 16, 2009

Tonight, Dancer learned a new (bad) trick.  In response to the collecting and reaching under work I have been asking her to do, which should have the effect of lightening her in the front and having her carry more of her weight on her back end, she started popping up with her front feet.  I HATE that!  And, I don’t want her to be THAT light in the front.

This was happening when I asked for the canter.  In the past, I did have a some trouble with her getting worked up when asked to canter, but I ended up chalking that up to excess energy.  This is just disobedience and evasion (I think).  At one point, she was so nervous and upset, that when I asked for right lead canter, she used the pressure from my left leg as an excuse to go into a pseudo reining spin/canter pirouette.  While it was kind of cool in a way, it was very bad behavior on her part.  I was able to stop her with a strong voice command and then she stood, tense and blowing.  It was like she was saying, “I can’t do it momma – it is hard and I don’t know how.”  So, we went back to calm trotting for a moment to clear our minds and once she was settled and I asked for canter, she gave it to me with no problem. 

At the beginning of my ride, she was so heavy in my hands – she really wanted me to hold her head and neck up for her.  She was also very, very difficult to keep straight.  I kept trying to lighten her and get her to hold the position for herself.  By the end of the ride, we had achieved that – and it was a great feeling.  We also were able to do a few shoulder-ins at the trot.

After my ride, my adult dressage student “A” came for her lesson.  Something has really clicked for her (maybe it is the confidence being able to do a little canter has given her) and I think she had her best ride ever on Tempo.  He was soft, engaged, round and dare I say, using his hind end like a real horse.  It was a beautiful thing.  She did have a nice canter (to the right – his bad side!)  A very experienced rider at our farm took him to an event over the weekend as her horse had hurt his eye.  She really worked him hard on the flat trying to improve his transitions, his straightness, his roundness and his overall relaxation.  She admitted that he can be a very challenging horse to ride in dressage – although he is a push-button jumper.  He really needs consistent work on the flat.  She was there and watched A’s ride and was very impressed.  I wish I would have had my camera – although, given my success in filming lately, it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

In shopping news – look what will soon be arriving from Smartpak:









Aren’t these too cute?  And, for $12.95, who could resist?  I agonized for quite a while about which color/design to order (I was drawn to a pair of pink ones with little horses in blankets called “Preppy Ponies”), but I decided that I couldn’t beat the versatility of black and khaki.  I love flip-flops – yay summer!

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A beautiful ride…

Posted by mandyhuckins on April 6, 2009

Because I was going to be away from the stables for a week on my tour of America, I decided to try to squeeze in a lesson with my favorite student on Saturday morning.  She has been riding Dancer on the weekend for the past few weeks in addition to her regular lesson during the week on Tempo.  Poor boy – he tries, but he isn’t the best dressage horse in the world and I thought “A” might like to ride my girl.  I think at first, she was a bit unsure of herself, but this time, she did wonderfully!

Of course, I have been keeping her in the loop about the “new” way I have been riding Dancer and without being asked to do so, she has taken this to heart.  So, she really tried to sit well, hold Dancer up and try to get her round.  There were some very, very nice moments if I do say so myself.  I think Dancer is still trying to figure all of this out too…so sometimes she is confused about what we want and gets hollow, but she also takes advantage of the situation and just stops.  It is kind of funny – annoying, but also funny in an “interesting” (not ha-ha) way.  Horses are so much more intuitive than most of us give them credit for.  I have seen Dancer take advantage of a situation and go faster than I would like, but rarely have I seen her stop, like she loves to do with A.  If A’s attention waivers for a moment at the trot or she becomes the slightest bit unbalanced or she forgets to keep riding – Dancer immediately walks.  It is as if she is saying, “well, I am not going to keep doing all this work if you aren’t!”

On this particular ride, the number of stops were greatly, greatly reduced.  Also, she (the rider) was able to sit the downward transitions (planned and unplanned) with much more balance without allowing her upper body to be tipped forward.  Her sitting trot was also much better for longer periods of time.  There was no head-bobbing.  There was a little bit of a tendency to shorten her leg and thus loose a stirrup (but, who doesn’t?).  And, the biggest news of all, for her and for me, was that she cantered – TWICE!  This is HUGE because she has been letting a mental block keep her from cantering. In trying to dissect  why she was afraid to canter, we came up with a multi-pronged attack – build up the sitting trot so that the transition into and out of the canter wouldn’t unbalance her; develop independent and quite hands; put her on a horse with a nice canter who will canter when asked without running into it through a faster and faster trot.

When I saw how nicely things were going with Dancer on this particular morning, I just knew we had to give it a try.  Plus, Dancer’s canter has been amazing lately.  So, I prepped her and told her what to expect and then she went out and did it!  Dancer cantered about a half a circle and A was sitting just as lovely as you please.  It was smooth and round and controlled and we were both so excited we could hardly stand ourselves…until we realized that I was standing there with the video camera in my hand – not capturing this historic moment for future posterity.  I thought she was going to hop down and brain me.  But, I quickly told her that she just needed to do it one more time for the camera – and she did!  I was actually a little surprised that she agreed to do it, but honestly the first one was so good, she probably could have cantered forever.  Well, ok, not forever.  After one little moment where Dancer tried to do the dreaded speed trot (see how they take advantage!), A was able to get another good half circle of canter and I was able to capture it on camera.  I could not have been more proud or more excited.  And, I sincerely hope this helps to break down that mental block and we can move into the exciting world of cantering more often.

I had told A about the filming disaster from my ride on Friday (Dancer doing so well until the camera was on and then getting a little squirrely), so she convinced  me (yeah, she really had to twist my arm) to hop on and let her film me.  Dancer felt great.  She felt light in the front end and round through the back and not pulling on my hands.  We seriously had the nicest canter (to the left, no less) that I have ever felt on any horse and then the best transition to trot – trotted about 6 or 7 steps and then a lovely transition back to canter.  I was so excited!

Unfortunately, when we got back in the barn and checked the video, we realized that there had been an operator error and the camera was on when we thought it was off and off when we thought it was on – so I don’t have footage to share.  😦

A and I agree that we really need new “peeps.”  We aren’t doing each other any technological favors here.

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I’m sore…

Posted by mandyhuckins on March 25, 2009

It is Wednesday morning and my muscles are still sore from Monday night’s ride.  Now, that is a good lesson!  I let Dancer have the day off yesterday, but I did ride Jack – a cute little red dun Quarter Horse that I am helping to retrain from western to english.  He did fine.  I also taught two lessons because it is supposed to start raining and everyone was scared they were going to miss out if they waited until Thursday.  Both lessons were very satisfying – a young student who only started riding two months ago (tops) is now trotting around all over the place with her hands in the correct position, on the correct diagonal.  She has made amazing progress and is shaping up to be quite an elegant little rider.  She is preparing for two horse shows in which she will ride in walk-trot and over trot poles.  I can’t wait to see how she does.  My adult dressage student also did very well last night.  She is able to put Tempo on the bit much earlier in the lesson so that we are able to ride circles, figure 8s and serpentines.  She has been working hard on her sitting trot (which is difficult on a short stepping, pogo-stick trotting thoroughbred) and she even did some on the lunge without her stirrups.  Hard – but totally worth it. 

I came  home and got stuck reading back-posts from a fellow horse blogger Dressage Mom.  I am completely addicted!  Here is the link if you like reading about horses (in particular about Dressage)  I have been reading her recent posts for several months now, but she has been blogging since 2006 – so I started from the beginning last night and am working my way forward. 

I would like to ride Dancer today to try some of the new techniques at home, but it is looking very cloudy and I know the rain is coming.  I am considering skipping out at lunch….if it isn’t raining already.

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A very revealing riding lesson…

Posted by mandyhuckins on March 24, 2009

One of the many sad things about leaving Germany was that I had to give up my weekly riding instruction.  While dressage is catching on (even in Alabama), I have been unable to find a local dressage trainer.  Most of the people I have met who do this type of riding have a trainer come in from somewhere else (even as far away as California) twice a year or something.  Since I knew I would only be here for a year, I just figured that I would struggle along until we moved.  On Sunday night, a fellow rider (let’s call her “C”) called to let me know that a big time event rider was coming to a local farm to give lessons – she had signed up and did I want to bring Dancer along and ride in her time slot with her?  Yes, I certainly did!

So, away we went yesterday afternoon.  Luckily, the farm where the lessons were being given was only 10 minutes down the road from our barn.  Which was good, because poor Dancer was crammed in C’s trailer like a sardine.  I got a little nervous on the way there – the trainer is a very accomplished rider who competes at Rolex and Burghley.  Would she like us?  Would she be mean?  Would she think we were wasting her time? 

There was a slight snafu when we arrived – C’s horse, Nate, jumped off the trailer like a champ and then we spent 15 minutes trying to get Dancer to come out.  She really would rather turn around and walk out of a trailer, so that she can see where she is going, but this trailer was too tight and when she tried to turn around inside, she kept getting stuck and scared.  I was worried she was going to wedge herself in there and get hurt.  I climbed in and tried to back her, but she was so nervous she wouldn’t budge.  Whenever she did take a few steps back, she would rocket forward again.  Even when I brought a whip inside and tried tapping her with it to make her go back, she would not.  Finally, finally, finally with much tail pulling and treats and encouragement, she came out backwards.  Of course, by this time she was a sweaty, quaking mess.  Time to mount up!

Luckily, the trainer needed some time to breastfeed her 6 week old baby (!) and we learned later that she had competed at an event four weeks after giving birth.  Wow!  So, I got Dancer tacked up and out to the arena.  I had her walk around and look at everything.  When we started trotting, I was worried I was going to have the rocket underneath me that I had at the horse show this weekend, but she seemed pretty calm.  I was thinking about keeping her loose and relaxed and letting her muscles warm up.   In about 15 minutes, the trainer came out to the ring.  She wanted to know a bit about us and our horses and what we wanted to do with them.  When I told her that I had taken Dancer to her first show this past weekend and that we got a 68% on our test, a very shocked look flew across her face.  I admitted that I felt this was a generous score, but it was just a schooling show and the judge had been gracious enough to write lots of comments for us.  The trainer agreed that scores at schooling shows are not indicative of what will happen at a recognized show, but that they are very good for getting the horse in the arena and having the chance to practice the test.

Then, it was time to work.  The very first thing she had me do was shorten my reins.  I mean REALLY shorten them.  I took up probably 6 inches.  She kept saying, “shorten them, shorten them more, shorten them, really shorten them Mandy.”  I felt like I was about to get rid of the reins entirely and just hold Dancer directly by the bit.  She explained that because Dancer is “9 miles long”, I really have to shorten her base.  I can’t let her trail out behind.  I need to get her hocks engaged and move her weight from the front to the back.  I agree with all of those things, but it just felt so weird to hold Dancer like that.  She also had me widen my hands and elbows.  It felt very, very akward at first.  I know poor Dancer was thinking “WTF?  Why all the holding woman?”  It was evident that the trainer really liked Nate.  She had some very complimentary (and very true) things to say about his movement.  He is very nice.  I was trying not to get my feelings hurt that she didn’t like my horse, but I am a very protective mother hen. 

Well, the more and more she worked us and taught me how to really keep her shoulders and neck straight and really and truly hold her with the outside rein, the more complimentary she became.  I think she could tell that I was worried about Dancer’s raised head and hollow back – she told me that the roundness will come after Dancer learns how to carry herself in this way.  In fact, she was helping me to get her more round towards the end, but still riding this new way.  It did start to feel amazing – like we could do anything.  I felt like a completely new horse was underneath me and I felt like I was a much better, more effective rider.  Our last few transitions from trot to canter and back again (on the left, her bad sad) earned some high praise from the trainer.  And, while I was walking around to cool Dancer down, she told me that when she first entered the arena, she found my horse to be “completely unimpressive” but that when I put her together she was “just lovely” and she thinks she will be “spectacular.”  Wow!  And, she also told me that I have an “excellent natural feel” and a “very strong seat.”  Hooray!  I would have given anything to have a video camera there so that I could have seen how we looked.  How am I ever going to be able to keep that up at home without the trainer there correcting me?  I am going to give Dancer the day off today – she deserves it (and judging by how sore I am today, I am sure she is too) and I have some other horses I need to ride – and then try it again tomorrow. 

I hope this trainer comes back to our area again before we move.  And, I hope to be able to find a dressage trainer in Wichita so that I can continue to progress.

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The Show!

Posted by mandyhuckins on March 22, 2009

Our first show is behind us!  It was exhausting and stressful at times, but over all very fun.  Windtanzerin and I received a score of 68.33.  I know this might not sound like a lot, but for those of you who know dressage, you know that this is pretty good.  It was enough for me to win my class – Olympic dressage riders win with scores in the 70s.  (Of course, they are riding MUCH more difficult tests than I am.)  Now, saying I won first place is a little deceiving – there were only two of us riding at my level.  When I learned that, I could just see my blog entry (“We placed second, or in other words: we came in dead last!). 

The day dawned at 4:30, when I got out of bed, took a shower, fixed my hair and loaded my car with my clean saddle, bridle, new saddle pad, my cleaned show clothes and other essentials I might need during the day.  I arrived at the barn at 6:00 am, before sun-up and bathed Dancer and braided her main.  At a quarter to 8:00 the others arrived at the barn.  We fed the horses and loaded the trailers.  We were pulling out of the stable at 8:30.  Unfortunately, two of our riders had ride times at 9:10 and 9:17, so we were running a little late.  We pulled into the showgrounds a little before 9:00 and unloaded the first two horses and tacked them in record time.  Our leader went to sign us all in and get our numbers while the riders changed into their show clothes.  I took one of the horses, Ranger, into the warm up ring and started walking around.  The show managers allowed our riders to move to the back of their class to give them a little more time to warm up.  I helped the teenaged girl who was going to ride Louie (let’s call her M), but whom we switched to a paint pony named Jessie.  The pony was behaving better at the show ground than she had been at home the day before!  That helped give M a lot of confidence.  She rode both of her tests just the way I had coached her and she received a 67.5 and a 68.5 – blue ribbons (first place) in both Intro A and Intro B!  Hooray! 

I didn’t sit down all day.  I was coaching, tacking and untacking, calling tests, lungeing….before I knew it, it was time to get Dancer ready.  Aside from a walk around the premises in the morning, she had been tied to the trailer all day.  So, by 2:00 pm, she was a little anxious to be able to do something.  After walking her around in the warm up ring for awhile, I could sense that she was too keyed up – so I called for the lunge.  She galloped around me for quite a long time in both directions – even bucking one good time.  After that she was sweating profusely with nostrils distended.  She was better, but still keyed up.  I walked for awhile trying to get her settle in.  We did walk-trot and trot-walk transitions to get her listening.  I tried some halts and she wouldn’t stand still for more than a second and a half at a time.  I wanted to practice some canter, but I was worried that I would lose control of her completely if I did.  My competitor was warming up at the same time and whenever I cut my eyes over to her, her beautiful horse looked calm and responsive.  When they called her, I rode over to the competition ring to watch.  I also wanted Dancer to stand and look at the arena before we had to go in.  My competitor rode a beautiful and very technically correct test all the way through.  I knew she had beaten us before we began.  My horse was too busy trying to trample people watching in the wings and chew her way through her bit to notice what was going on in the show ring.  All too soon, it was our turn. 

I rode in at a calm walk straight down the center line so that she could see how it would look to head straight toward the judges table.  My plan was to then turn left (so her good eye would be toward them) to allow her to see everything – judges and crowd.  This is what I did, but the judge blew the whistle right as I passed her, so it was time to start.  Dancer’s trot down that side was the shortest stride of her life and she was craning her neck to look at everyone to her left.  Luckily by the time I turned down the centerline again she was moving forward more and paying a bit more attention to me.  Our first halt was not quite square, but I didn’t dare ask her to move her feet again once she was stopped for fear that she wouldn’t stop again!  The rest of the test flowed on – she never broke out of the correct gait, she never spooked, or did anything too bad.  At times she was not bent correctly and she was sometimes squirrely (dropping her shoulder or swinging her quarters around).  But, we did get two scores of 8 on free walk and medium walk.  There were lots of 7s and 6s and only one 5.  Here is the breakdown of the 18 movements – test instructions first, then the numerical score, then the judge’s comments in quotes, my commentary in parens:

Enter Working Trot, Halt Salute, Proceed Working Trot / 7 / “Straight Center Line, balanced halt”  (at least she did halt!)

Track left, Half Circle 10 m at E, Return to Track at H / 6 /  “Overshot turn, Steady Tempo”  (whoops!)

Half Circle 10 M at B, Return to Track at M / 5 /  “Losing quarters before B, lost outside shoulder”  (bigger whoops!)

Lengthen stride in Trot accross diagonal / 6 / “difference shown, topline needs more elasticity” (yes, giraffe, but heading towards the crowd)

3 loop serpentine width of arena / 7 /  “clear change of bend”  (here I felt she finally started listening)

Medium walk at C  /  6  /  “Transition needs to be straighter”  (yes, but she had to look at you)

Free walk from M to E  / 8 / “Lovely ”  (it really was)

Medium walk from E to F / 8 /  “clear rhythm, good quality”  (hooray Dancer!)

Transition from Free Walk to Medium Walk  /  7  /   “clearly shown”

Working Trot at F Working Canter at A   /  7   / “needs bigger steps in trot”  (who thought someone would say that about Dancer)

Cirle right 15 m  /  7  /  “good balance, but losing bend in corners” (this was kind, I wasn’t  even in the corners at all)

Change rein across diagonal, trot at X  / 6 /   “need to be prepared for down trans. ride forward into trot”

Canter Left Lead /   6   /   “counterbent”  (amen, sister, but she was cantering and not racing around)

Cirle left 15m  /  6  /  “slight loss of balance inside shoulder” (yes, but for the left, not bad)

Change rein across diagonal, trot at X   /  7  / “better”

Lengthen trot accross diagonal  /   7  /   “better”

Stretchy trot circle at C 20m, sit at C   /   7  /   “could show more letting go” (sure, if I want to shoot off towards A)

Half circle 10 m to X, up center line, halt at G  /   7  / “not square, but good turn up center line”

The overall marks were 7 on Gaits, 7 on Impulsion, 7 on Submission, and 7 for the rider.  Not bad!  She wrote “Test got better as your test went on.  Watch to keep control of shoulders to keep horse straight.  GOOD JOB!”  And, we won!  I was so surprised to see my friend coming toward me with the blue ribbon in her hand.

Here is the link to the video on Youtube (I really need to learn how to embed videos here so I won’t have to link):

Be aware that the quality of this video is pretty poor – it is just a Flipvideo and is being taken from too far away.  But, it will give you a visual.

Thank goodness it is over!

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To show or not to show, that is the question!

Posted by mandyhuckins on March 10, 2009

Dancer's Father

Dancer's Father, Warkant

The world of horses is vast with many different ways for a horse owner to enjoy his animal.  I ride in the English style; more specifically, I practice the art of dressage.  In French, dressage means “training.”  In common terms, it is often referred to as “ballet on horseback.”  For me, dressage is about creating the ultimate partnership between myself and my horse.  It is mysterious and subtle, yet the results can be dramatic.  It is extremely difficult and forges a well-developed equine athlete.  But, according to my husband (a non-horse person), watching dressage is like watching grass grow.  This is probably especially true at lower levels where a rider might spend most of an hour-long riding lesson riding in a small circle around the instructor.

I am content to practice this discipline in the comfort of my home stable.  I do not feel the need to validate my progress by taking Dancer to a horse show and competing against other horses and riders.   In fact, I feel quite the opposite emotion – showing is quite nerve-wracking to me.  So, I have steered well clear of the topic by developing a list of reasons why I don’t show:

1.) It is expensive.

2.) I would have to buy special clothing (for me and for my horse).

3.) It is a lot of extra work – cleaning tack, bathing the horse, braiding its mane.

4.) You have to give up a whole Saturday to do it, and I have other things to do on Saturdays.

5.) I don’t want to cause my horse unnecessary stress.

6.) I am scared of it.

The stable where I keep Dancer is a very active show barn.  There is a group going somewhere almost every weekend.  Usually, these are jumping competitions, and as I do not jump, I haven’t felt much pressure to come along.  But, recently, the barn owner approached me and convinced me to go to a dressage only show with them.  Yikes!  How did that happen?  She systematically broke down my barriers one by one:

1.) It isn’t very expensive, as it is a local dressage schooling show. 

2.) I don’t have to buy special clothing, because it is a schooling show.

3.) It is some extra work, but my horse needs baths anyway and my tack should be clean all the time, right?

4.) It is local, so we won’t have to drive far to get there.  Going to this show will not consume more than the normal amount of time I have currently been spending at the barn on a Saturday.

5.) My horse has proven that traveling in the trailer to strange places does not stress her out.  In fact, she is so relaxed when we take her to Auburn to have her eyes checked, that she falls asleep during the exam.  No drugs required!

So, now we are just left with #6.  I am still scared of it.  There is nothing anyone can say that can really take that away. What do I think will happen?  Well…I am not sure.  I don’t really care about winning or losing.  And, in fact, I would welcome the chance to have some critical feedback.  I would like to know the areas where Dancer and I could use improvement.  I know we are suffering without the benefit of instruction here in Alabama.  The good thing about dressage competitions is that each rider performs individually, riding a test with pre-assigned movements.  The judge assigns a score from 1-10 for each of the movements.  He or she can also make comments on your score sheet.  That can be very helpful, but it also puts you out there. 

I don’t really want to hear anything negative about my horse.  I guess in that way, I am a protective mother hen.  Conversely, it would be even worse to hear: “this horse is too nice for you – let someone who knows what she is doing ride this animal.  You don’t belong here.”  I guess that would be the worst that could happen.

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