Tag Archives: first level

Conclusion: Because

I recently came to an important conclusion about my riding. I am sure you are waiting with baited breath to hear what it was. But to I think I should give you a little background first.

It started when I finished a few knitting projects I had planned on for quite some time. I had, in rapid succession, quite a few knitting projects I had planned to give away as gifts. I, of course, have many more I wanted to do, but I didn’t really want to start on them yet and none of the gift deadlines were particularly looming. So I felt a little depressed. There are so many beautiful projects in the world to be knit, how could I knit them all, and if I couldn’t knit them all, why should I bother knitting anything? Thus went my completely ridiculous line of reasoning. So I listlessly flipped through my knitting books and magazines thinking how fabulous it would be to knit this sweater, or that hat, but I just didn’t have the right yarn. Then I started going through my yarn stash and feeling the beautiful yarns and thinking of how I would love to knit with this yarn or that yarn, but darn it, I just didn’t have the right pattern. And then it hit me. I madly grabbed the two skeins of homespun yarn my mother had sent me ages ago that had been sitting in my stash begging for the perfect project and then lunged for the issue of Piecework that I knew had a pattern I had been longing to knit if only I had the perfect yarn. I knit a test swatch (but only a very small one because I generally don’t believe in them and because it is a shawl pattern for heaven’s sake) and then I paused…I realized I had no real reason to knit this beautiful shawl pattern from 1930, that perhaps Miss Marple would have knit. I had no one in mind that I would give it to, and I had no real use for it myself, though I suppose I could use it at work. Why would I knit this project? That was when it hit me- why not! I would knit it, as huge and ridiculous as it may be, because I could and it was there and I wanted to do it. I would enjoy it, the yarn was just right for the pattern and vice versa, it would be beautiful and special. Of course it will take ages and I am praying I have enough of the unique yarn that I cannot get any more of, but I am doing it because it will be knitting for the sake of knitting. What does that have to do with my great conclusion about my riding?

Well, of course, though I qualified for our state’s dressage championships at training and first level I decided that I wouldn’t go. It would be fiscally unwise for me, I haven’t been able to take as many lessons as I would like, and aside from the shows at which I qualified I haven’t shown Strider at all. And did I mention those shows were at the barn where I board? He usually travels well and winning certainly isn’t everything, but I want our first trip to championships to be over the moon wonderful. I don’t want to be worried that I am not prepared and that I can’t really afford it. But I still have been riding like a crazy person. At least 4 days a week, no matter what, I am at the barn riding. There was a brief time I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. Was I trying to prove something? Was I determined to get to second level by next year? No and no. Well, kind of no. Mostly no. I realized that right now I am riding religiously for the sake of riding. Because I love riding and my horse and the barn where I board and the experience of it- and I didn’t really need another reason. So my great realization is that goals are wonderful. Having a reason to do something can often be very important. But sometimes it is just as important to do something for no reason at all.

So, I hope you do something you love not because you have a goal to accomplish, but just because. And until next time, RAWR!!!!



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Finally! (and some drama)

I did it! Part of the reason for my long silence, though not all of it, was that I kept trying to take Strider in a dressage show. The first one I had to scratch due to a death in the family, the second one I entered and the whole show was canceled because of the EHV-1 outbreak. I was starting to sense a trend. I decided to risk it and try entering a third show though. It was last weekend and there was no apocalypse, a lot of drama though.

First, Strider’s saddle fit became a really big issue. It had been a small issue and had seemed correctable with shims and pads- and then more pads, and more pads. We were at four pads and my calling him, “princess and the pea horse” was a little too apropos for comfort. He was starting to get back sore as well. I was not ok with that and it did nothing good for our suppleness or transitions to say the least. He is already conformationally challenged so I didn’t want any other issues. I also go into the horse version of panicked parent mode when I know my horse is uncomfortable.

As soon as I could I started saddle shopping. Thankfully one of the mobile tack stores has a large used selection and was going to be close by; I was able to try six saddles in one weekend! Even better one of them actually seemed to be a great fit for Strider. The only downside was that it was a bit of a gamble because my trainer couldn’t check it for me. Based on my own knowledge and how my horse felt in it I decided to go with it (trainer is still out of the country- I will let you know if that was a good gamble when she gets back!). Worst case it has improved his royal highness’ back, doesn’t require four pads, and is, in my opinion, and based on some quick digging on the internet, a better value than what I had before. Now I can just hope my old saddle sells quickly so I can replenish my somewhat drained savings.

The new saddle came just in time. In fact, I got it exactly a week before the show. Less than ideal timing, but at least I got it before the show, since my old saddle was definitely not helping us out. I was worried I would be riding my dressage tests in my jumping saddle. But thankfully that didn’t end up happening.

 More surprises were in order though as the Thursday before the show I had to leave work early and go see my doctor because I was having intense stomach pain. There were no clear answers, as usual, but we treated the pain and set an appointment for a ct scan. Not eating in preparation for the ct scan calmed things down a little and though I didn’t get the results of the scan before the show I was able to make it through thanks to the wonders of modern medicine.

 I will spare you the rest of the drama involving warm up arena melt downs (Strider: “ZOMGWTFBBQ there are more than three horses in the arena), boot disasters (one fit and not the other- no kidding), and missing tractor parts.

 I will be honest: my first ride was terrible and it was all my fault. Poor Strider tolerated my show nerves fabulously though and between his generally being good and a somewhat nice judge we managed to eke out a 64% on t-3. It got better as the test went on, but I am pretty sure a drunken sailor on a unicycle could have done a better center line and halt, salute.

 Somewhat miraculously (it’s me we’re talking about here- historically I haven’t shown very well. Even when I have scored well I am usually an absolute basketcase), I gathered my wits, drank some sports drink and actually breathed a little before my next test. I admit I was worried since it was First level, but I figured I may as well relax and enjoy rather than freak out if the results would be the same. My old trainer used to hate it when I would say, “I have to stop caring,” because she didn’t understand what I meant. I am realizing that in order to show well I have to be able to let go of the outcome. I ride far better when I don’t care. It’s not bad in my case, because then I actually ride. Not caring for me doesn’t mean I stop trying; it enables me to try. We went in and though I rode conservatively, we ended up with a 67%. I really couldn’t have been more pleased.

 The next day we had a different judge and the scores, on average, were lower. We managed a 68% on T-3 (and it felt amazing!!) and a 61% on First 1. Both rides felt incredibly steady though and I was absolutely thrilled.

Vanya has not been sitting around all this time either. He has been doing western. I jokingly say that he “has a 4-Her.” I think in theory the 4-Her has him but if you ask him I am sure it is the other way around. He has done well at remembering what little western he knew and improving on it and has even become vaguely decent as a showmanship horse. He still needs work but western is good for him in his old age. I am sure he will be excited when fair is over and we can start focusing more on getting him and his 4-Her ready for barrels and poles though. He also is going to get his own little kid after fair and I cannot wait for him to get some lead line action.

 My RA has been pretty bad which is really why I haven’t been posting much. I am determined to push through it to the extent that I can, but often I have the energy to work, ride, etc. and then posting falls by the wayside. I will do my best to update more frequently whenever I can. I am trying acupuncture to help with some of the side issues that have been nagging at me so we’ll see if that helps. Even my knitting has been slower than usual. Oh well….always have to keep pushing on!! RAWR!!!!



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Good Times…

Sometimes things just seem to go your way. The last few days have been that way for me. Not to brag or anything, but really, it’s been pretty awesome if I do say so myself. So why exactly has life been so good? I’m glad you asked!

We had a dressage show on Saturday, and I started off very tense and stressed and had a bit of a rough time. However, I had gotten some help in the form of eyes on the ground and some instruction in riding my tests correctly (Oh, you mean the curving line in the canter in First level Test 4 is supposed to be bending in the direction of your lead, not changing bend like a nice hunter line!?) so I did my best to just chill and quickly get past it. It must have worked, because though we were tense on our first test, First Level, test 1, we got more relaxed as the test went on and it wasn’t awful. Our next test, First Level, test 2, was even better, but still needed more relaxation, but overall I was happy because we got some trot lengthen, some canter lengthen, and decent leg yields, which those three things have been to some extent the bane of our tests from day one. Though I should remind myself that day one wasn’t that long ago. I rode my first Dressage test on Strider in August. His leg yields, though gorgeous as far as crossover, have a tendency to be overbent and they were much better on that this time. So, a little more relaxed and getting happier by the minute, we moved on to First Level, test 4. This was our first attempt at it in a show, and only our second time riding through the whole test as I hadn’t been able to memorize it and hadn’t had anyone available to read for me. It was amazing!! It would have been our best score of the day, and as it is it was close, if we hadn’t had a jig in our free walk. I have to say having a jig in the free walk is super weird for Strider too, but overall I was still very happy. After our test the judge told me she thought I was doing a good job riding a “difficult horse.” Though I disagree with that characterization of Strider, I appreciated the comment very much especially as she had not been as complimentary to some of the other riders in my level and above. I was super excited! Our scores, though still not at my goal of consistently above 60% are getting more consistent and much closer to that level. I am very interested to see how we do at the show on September 19th after some lessons.

 On that note, the next exciting thing that happened was I got a lesson! Jo, from the Tapestry Institute (http://www.tapestryinstitute.org/horsehuman/riding.html), came out to my barn to give me a lesson and I had a great time. She really worked on my position and helped me to relax and breathe, (You mean I should breathe more than once every ten minutes when I ride? What a novel concept!) and I could feel the difference it made in Strider’s movement and suppleness in even just a few minutes. It’s not magic, and I may not agree with everything Jo believes, but I appreciate that her goals for the horse and rider are to work as an effective team and she really needed all the help it could get! I hope I can get more lessons in with her as I think it will help Strider and I in the suppleness and relaxation element that I struggle with so much.

I also sold my boots that I hate, loathe, and despise. Don’t get me wrong- they are not bad boots; they were amazing and they are the closest boots I have ever had to fitting me. But, they were not very comfortable, especially not after I lost 50 pounds and my claves shrunk. So, I sold them to someone who needed them fairly badly for RMDS Championships as her boots were not comfortable for her and were not broken in. These should be far more comfortable for her and are somewhat broken in. I now can go on the hunt for boots that actually fit me. Weird. The amazing thing is I hadn’t even put my boots for sale. Now if only I can sell my two extra saddles that way!

But for now I am basking in the glory of good things and remembering how wonderful it felt when Strider really relaxed and loosened up….I love good rides! I can’t wait to get out and ride tonight! Until next time: RAWR!

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6th Gear

Sometimes I find myself wishing my car had a sixth gear. It already has turbo and goes up to 5th, but I always feel like I’m pushing it a little hard when I drive on the interstate for a long time. What makes me think of this, you ask? Well, a couple things.

First, Strider and I had a huge breakthrough in our dressage work last night. It started out relatively average. I lunged him in side reins as the trainer I groom for suggested, and had him do several trot to canter transitions to work on strengthening and loosening his back. We usually start with walk on a loose rein, and then go to more collection, then some leg yield along the wall, then trotting, then leg yields in the trot, then trot lengthening, then canter etc. Last night wasn’t really any different, I had, however, been reading on Jane Savoie’s blog about her tips for developing the trot lengthening since I was admittedly getting a little frustrated as I couldn’t figure out why Strider wasn’t seeming to lengthen for me. After all, the horse can jump 3’9” no problem, shouldn’t he have enough push in his rear to lengthen a trot enough for a first level test? (Don’t answer that- I know it is two different sets of skills, but I think you can understand where I was coming from. I know that doesn’t make logical sense, but neither do I sometimes.) The comments I have been getting on my test say he needs more stretch in his frame and more suppleness- well, according to everything I have read trot lengthening is supposed to develop suppleness. Huh? So which comes first, the suppleness or the lengthening? So, I decided to experiment a little bit and see what would happen.
Before I go too much farther I should mention, that I also was working very hard last night on sitting more upright and looking up as in all the pictures from my last show I was a little bit tipped forward, especially in the canter, and was looking down quite often. I know that these two faults of mine do not help at all when I am trying to get my horse balanced and loose so I am working very hard to fix them.
I sent Strider down the diagonal and remembered to let my hands go a bit forward but stay on the contact. I then pushed strider forward with my leg and tried to imagine my upward post staying in the air a bit longer and Strider reaching forward underneath me while still keeping the same tempo. It didn’t work. No 6th gear was magically appearing on my horse. I tried again on the next diagonal, this time I closed my leg and used the same things but I also gave Strider a little tap on his hip with my whip, while still staying very upright and holding consistent but more forward contact. I was blown away. Magically, 6th gear had appeared (I know, you knew it was coming…I wouldn’t blog about it if it didn’t…well, actually I would, but I wouldn’t be as happy about it.) Strider suddenly gave me much more push and I could see in the mirror he was reaching forward more through his back and his front feet were reaching out as far as they could. My friend Eileen would call it a “flippy toe trot” because he literally would flick his hooves forward wit each stride. It felt amazing and powerful. I praised Strider and patted him and told him how wonderful he was; of course he soaked it all up and gave me his look of, “What, no confetti?” He did his beautiful new trot for me twice more before I figured I should let him be. Hopefully we can have a repeat performance tonight. I still need to unlock the secret of the canter lengthening, but I am reveling in my moment.
All this did make me think a little about RA though too of course, since, thinking is what I do after all (and trust me, the smoke you are smelling is from the California fires so don’t blame me!). Some days with RA I am pain free and it’s like I have an extra gear because I am so used to being in pain; I love those days because I feel like an absolute beast that can take on the world and win every time. Other days I dream of having an extra gear because it would make it easier to get through everything and try to find a way to some relief faster; those days are the ones where RA really tests you and asks you from where you will acquire strength and drive.
Who knew a little trot lengthening would put me on this tangent? RAWR!


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