Sunday, April 23, 2017

Wherein I judge a schooling show

The barn I board at is h/j focused. R and I are the only ones who mainly focus on dressage. It's a great barn with great care and plenty of places to ride, so we're both very content there. The barn owner/trainer decided to put on a little schooling show with the morning reserved for dressage. After casting about for an available judge (we're in West Texas; they are few and far between) I decided to offer myself up. I'm qualified enough to judge a schooling show up to first level, which is what this one was. I've scribed dozens of times and watched probably thousands of hours of dressage. So I offered, and they said Yes. I've never judged before and was hoping it didn't prove to be overwhelming. It really didn't! I felt comfortable, and most of the scores ended up in the low sixties, with the better riders scoring mid to upper sixties. It's funny -- as a novice judge you throw out scores for each movement and hope the overall percentage is appropriate for the ride. I'm sure experienced judges have a much better sense of where the percentage will fall.

I also judged dressage seat equitation and sport horse under saddle. Luckily I felt like there were very clear differences between first, second, and third, so I didn't have to agonize.

R and Dakota made their first-level debut and had two very respectable rides. The trot work is lovely; Dakota gets a little tense and distracted in the canter. Once Dakota and R find their harmony in canter, I'd say they'll be ready to try first level at a rated show, and start their journey towards a bronze medal!

Just before the very first ride of the day, one horse spooked and bolted out of the indoor into the outdoor, which in turn caused a little girl's horse to spook, dump her in the gravel parking lot, and high-tail it for home (about a quarter-mile away). With an Arab, they quite literally high-tail it! The little girl (maybe seven years old?) was tough as nails -- there were tears for about ten seconds; then she took a deep breath and said she would go ahead and ride just as soon as they collected her horse and walked him on back, which took about ten minutes. Then she went in and rode both her intro-level tests like a champ. It was her first show away from home and her first fall; I was impressed with her grit.

I most definitely do not want to be a full-time judge; but I would love to do it every so often. I had a good time.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Suzanne May clinic videos: day one

This clinic actually took place the week before the show, so I'm posting out of order, but whaddya gonna do. It has been busy. Was a great clinic!









Monday, April 10, 2017

Second-level bronze scores: check!

We are home from the Texas Rose Dressage Classic, and utterly exhausted. I've never shown three days in a row before. My first schooling ride, Thursday evening, was challenging. Clair was pawing and cow-kicking all through tacking-up, and then some more as I mounted, and then she was a live wire for the first ten minutes. I don't know why my brain shuts down at shows, but it does. I realize now I should have just pushed her forward, and then more forward. But instead I tried to contain her, and I'm sure I just irritated the crap out of her. In any case, we settled into a decent ride after a bit, and I was pleased.

My two rides on Friday were pleasant and obedient, but not nearly forward enough. I deserved the 57% and 58% I got. Trainer Suzanne hadn't arrived yet -- she would have gotten me forward right off the bat. She arrived Friday afternoon and helped me school that evening. Forwardness achieved!

My second-one test Saturday went really well. I had the same judge as the day before and he rewarded our new energy with a 63.4%. Second-level bronze score number one achieved! My second-two test was going sort of ok, and then I went off course (it was really windy, I couldn't hear my reader, and even though I had the test memorized I forgot where I was), and then things fell apart. 54%.

On Sunday I decided to scratch my second-one test since it was in front of the same judge as the day before. Plus, Clair and I were tired. So we put all our eggs in the second-two basket, in front of the toughest judge at the show. The test went really well, with just a few small mistakes. None of us was at all sure it was going to be good enough. We went to lunch, and I asked a friend who stayed behind to text me with the score, no matter what it was. As we were waiting to be seated at the restaurant, the text came through: 61.5%! Second-level bronze score number two achieved! And there was much rejoicing in the Mexican restaurant. I really have to give so much credit to Suzanne, who coached me Saturday and Sunday and fixed enough of our issues to get us our scores.

Third level, here we come!










Sunday, March 26, 2017

Less than two weeks to Texas Rose Dressage Classic

Clair and I are going for our second-level bronze scores in Tyler April 7-9. I'm feeling fairly optimistic. Unless Clair acts very different at the show, we should be able to squeak out a couple 60%s. Trainer Holly will be debuting at fourth level! She's bringing a couple of her students so we'll have a group to hang out with. My only real concern is day one, Friday, when I may not have a reader for my tests. I have second-one memorized and know that I can do the same with second-two, but my brain is also famous for fizzling out under pressure. That would be embarrassing.

I liked Clair's work today in spite of her being little miss spooky. I can't really blame her -- the West Texas winds were howling, causing lots of strange buzzing and banging in the arena. We have a clinic with Suzanne next weekend so we can work out any kinks.







Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dakota the wonder horse

R was out of town for four days (wedding planning!) so I rode Dakota four days in a row. It was wonderful. I know I sound like a broken record, but R has done a superb job bringing him along. And as a bonus, he's just a smart, sweet, willing boy. He's starting to really grasp leg yield and shoulder in in trot. His canter departs are getting better and better, and the canter itself is showing a slower, more balanced cadence. He's fun to ride because he never tunes you out. Sometimes he overreacts, but it's always honest.







Sunday, March 19, 2017

Dressage truth bomb from Suzanne: leg yield!

Sorry about the random order of these, but that is how they seem to present themselves in lessons. This time it was leg-yielding: a movement, along with turn on forehand, taught early on in the horse's training. It is done with lateral aids ("baby aids") which are same leg, same rein, same side, as opposed to diagonal aids which are inside leg to outside rein. These movements are very rudimentary and have but one real goal which is to teach the horse to move away from the leg. The rein helps the leg on one side because whichever rein the rider pulls on, the haunches move the other direction. The rider sits in the middle of the saddle. It is not seat-yielding or weight-yielding. It is LEG-yielding. While the goal is to keep the horse relatively straight and parallel to the long side, it is still a movement bent opposite of the way the horse is travelling. This is a very important detail! It is precisely why the rider should NOT sit to the inside of the bend in leg-yield. Basics are the foundation upon which all future progress up the levels depends. We have all seen and heard stories of riders "hitting a brick wall" and not being able to move up the levels because of something done incorrectly in their basics. This is one of those things. It might help in the moment, but it will wreak havoc later when half-pass and other movements bent in the direction of movement are expected. The horse is totally confused when a rider first asks it to move away from seat and weight, and then expects it to move under the seat and weight in the much more advanced collecting exercises. Those exercises, if accomplished at all, become stilted and lack reach. Also, leg-yielding, done incorrectly, teaches the horse to "escape to the outside."

It is best to do it right in the first place and not use "tricks" to get it done. Don't use seat and weight to "push" a horse where you want it to go! That is not LEG-yielding. This has other consequences as well. Rider position suffers. And if I had a nickel for how many times a rider thumps on their horse and says it's because it won't listen to their leg. Well........?!?! I am aware that horses don't always cooperate, but could it be poor leg-yielding, perhaps? In a yielding to the leg, the inside leg and hand work together with the inside leg back. The seat is even and level and makes sure the horse gains the same amount forward as it does sideways. It is in half-pass (traversal) that the inside leg is forward, the outside leg is back and the weight is more into the inside heel without leaning or collapsing. The bend is in the direction of movement, and the aids are diagonal (inside leg to outside rein). It is a much more sophisticated movement. These two movements are very dissimilar even though they both go sideways and forward. Don't make more out of leg-yielding than it is. It is for controlling the haunches of young or green or messed up horses. Period.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Dressage truth bomb from Suzanne: hands!

This was an especially good one for me because I tend to overvalue harmony when I ride. I have to remember that sometimes you have to sacrifice harmony to generate some improvement in the horse's way of going.
Hands get a bad rap. It's ironic because so many riders "hand ride" anyway. All the fiddling with the reins (or even a death grip) without the proper support of the seat and legs is incorrect and ineffective. Yes, we must ride with our seat and legs, back to front. However, hands play a very, very important role. They "catch" the resulting impulsion and help shape the horse and facilitate balance. That is not to say they "hold" it. They must give for the horse to demonstrate self-carriage. Hold too long and the horse either resists above the aids or curls or has a fake "head set". Give too long, however, (especially early on in the training process) and the horse is back on the forehand. Their natural balance is more forward, and they push, rather than carry, behind. It is all about degrees, and these degrees vary from time to time and as the horse's training progresses. We all want to look good and not be too "busy". Many riders look especially good on a horse, but aren't really riding - not getting the best result from the horse. Others get a lot done but look as if they are working too hard. The sweet spot is hard to achieve. It makes sense, though, that the better the horse goes in training, the easier it will be to look good in competition. That is why Wolf often said that competition interfered with training. It is what it is, though! Competition tells us how the training is going. Another thing that Wolf often said was "from nothing comes nothing"! A rider must use all the aids at their disposal. None are inherently "bad". We have to remember, too, that horses don't often come to us without the baggage of some bad riding/training. Correcting this has it's own set of obstacles to overcome. The rider's scores in "Collective Remarks" include not only seat and position and harmony, but also effectiveness and use of the aids - ALL of the aids!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Dressage truth bomb from Suzanne: canter!

This one is mostly about canter:
I've always felt that correct canter departs are extremely important. They affect a rider's true understanding of inside leg to outside rein, but more than that, they develop the FEEL (feel is everything and the only thing) for balance, throughness, and self-carriage. Maybe it's the impulsion that a canter supplies that allows or helps some of the rider's aids to succeed. I think we've all tried to bend and soften and achieve movements at walk that don't really succeed because we can't generate enough impulsion. Many times instructors say to trot or canter to regain forward impulsion before attempting some new movement or concept again. Having said that, a correct depart is very different than just achieving the canter gait. It is not running into canter or falling over the inside shoulder into canter. I guess it's because most of us didn't come directly into dressage but came through other disciplines such as h/j or saddle seat or just trail riding. Those other disciplines (at least at low or beginner levels) teach cantering from outside rein and outside leg back (kicking). This causes the horse to sort of leg yield into the canter and fall over the inside shoulder. The unintended consequence of this is that the horse uses its neck as a lever (and comes above the aids) in order to help bring its forehand back up. Then the rider has the more difficult task (or at least added task) of "packaging" the horse in the canter after the depart for proper uphill balance and "jump" and throughness, softness, and collection. The reason some of this happens is that in "falling" over the inside shoulder, the outside hind is left out behind the horse. It should be under the horse supporting the first stride of the canter. It should be the "one" of the "one, two, three" of the canter stride. When we allow the horse to fall over the inside shoulder, we are really kind of coming in on "two" (inside hind, outside front) and falling further to inside front.
Please bear with me. I know I am long and wordy, but I so want riders to get this that I maybe explain or "draw pictures" too much. Anyway, riders develop this way of beginning their canter from their previous experience and body memory and, frankly, from riding a lot of young, green, or messed up horses (rather than the ideal schoolmaster) where just achieving a canter at all is a success. Might get by with this at low levels, but as we move up the levels, more quality is demanded. I always say "inside leg forward, outside leg back, shove with the inside seatbone forward, hold until the horse lifts into the canter, and release thru the inside rein". That's already a lot to think about, but what's missing is timing. I know this but don't say it enough. Often, too, I think the rider released or "dropped" the horse too early, when in reality, the rider asked when the horse's outside hind is on the way back instead of on the way forward. It's a feel that must be developed. Too much else suffers from this one little oversight: bad things like coming above the aids at the withers, falling on the forehand, losing the back, total loss of uphill balance which, in turn, causes contentious downward (non-existent?) (crappy?) transitions. In conclusion (Woohoo! Yay!), you can count on me stressing this timing more from now on:).

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Texted wisdom from Suzanne

Every so often Suzanne drops a dressage theory bomb on me via text. I love it! I love theory and truly believe that there is no "dressage mystique": if you know your theory and apply it correctly, you and your horse will improve.

I wanted to save the last two theory bombs both so I don't lose them and so others can benefit from her wisdom. Here they are:

I am home. Therefore, you may be subjected to random thoughts, such as the following: Due to all my lessons of late on lengthening and extensions, I've been thinking a lot about what is logical to us humans is often the antithesis of what it means to the horses. It is so true! We see it in bending them away (shoulder-in past the "monster") from what scares them rather than facing it. We see it in using legs (driving) into collection and downward transitions rather than pulling. Also, holding into upward transitions AND EXTENSIONS! More leg for less forward (but more activity) and less leg (but more seat) for more forward and extensions. Yes, there are half-halts, and softening has it's place. However, to think about all these things simply as the opposite of what might be expected could be an effective rule of thumb. I didn't connect those things sufficiently in lessons, I don't think.

Suzanne May

I've been thinking about hands a lot. I was pretty easy going about it before, but the more I think about it, the more I'm coming to the conclusion that the hands need to stay close together. Maybe it's because everyone's getting their horses past the "baby stage", or maybe it's because logic dictates it. Also, I have noticed a distinct lack of success with wide - and often low - hands. It really came home to me when someone asked me at a show why she couldn't keep her horse "on the bit". She proceeded to show me how he came down in halt with her hands wide and low. As soon as they moved, he was gone. It was a "trick". He was not accepting her hand. I realized that the horse could "bounce" between the reins. I have also seen a lot of "one-rein arguments", usually (exclusively?) on the stiff rein. What do they accomplish? Not much! It becomes like "resistance training" for both you and the horse! Both get stronger! The neck bends, but the poll never gives, the half-halt goes out the bulging side of the neck, and throughness never improves. It also is usually the result of temper. Instead, if we keep our hands together AND keep contact on both reins AND use them together - either to the right or to the left - the neck stays stabilized between the shoulders. The only place left for the horse to give is in the poll. As I've said before, these rein aids can be strong, but not long. This will help prevent the horse from opening its mouth, too. Goes without saying that the rider must support all rein aids with seat and legs. If the horse gives in the stiff side of the poll, it also has to take a little more contact on the soft side of the poll. Voila! Two birds with one stone!

Suzanne May