Monday, August 29, 2016

The Road to 4th Level

Show season is fast approaching. It has taken me an entire year of riding and getting my body worked on to feel like I might actually be approaching readiness for 4th level. This will be my first time going out that high, and I am understandably anxious about it, mostly because I still sometimes can't make my body do all of the things I tell it to do. Sometimes I see video of myself riding and think, good lord you couldn't ride your way out of a wet paper bag, but I know this is not really true. I see other riders much better than myself complaining about their own positions, and I see riders much less skilled than myself going along blissfully and happily bouncing away without a worry in the world, and I wonder where exactly I fit into all of this. 

I do know one thing. I have come this far. If I have done this much, then I can do anything. And I am going to do this, damnit. 

When I get nervous about a goal, I sit down and think it through, and break it down into smaller pieces so that I am able to grasp the task at hand. I'm poorly organized at best (and also very messy), but having things set out in front of my nose makes them easier to grasp. I have a particular goal in mind, which is to get my silver medal with Dylan. It's a lofty goal, but I believe it can be done. He got one with his mother, and I hope now that I can do the same.

Goal: USDF Silver Medal
Four scores at 60% or higher;
Two of these at 4th level from two different rides, under two different judges
Two of these at Prix St. Georges from two different rides, under two different judges

Okay, I think I can handle that. So where do we need to begin?

Fourth Level Movements:
Trot - Medium, Extended & Collected, Half Pass, Shoulder In
Walk - Extended and Collected, 1/2 Pirouette
Canter - Medium, Extended & Collected, 1/4 Pirouette, 1/2 Pirouette, Half Pass & Multiple Flying Lead Changes Every 4 Strides, counter canter on a 10 meter circle
Halts - collected canter to halt
Reinbacks - Reinback series four steps back, four steps forward, four steps back again

Medium trot

All of these things Dylan can do easily. We are already schooling all of them, and capable of doing all of them. The most critical thing now is the quality of work - yes, we can *do* all of it, but can we do it well? Can we do it REALLY well?

Things I am continually working on in all gaits:

Walk work: The main problem I ever have with walk work is when we stretch, if I don't loosen my curb rein maximally Dylan will curl down and inward instead of outward. He likes to stretch, so it is up to me to allow him to do it correctly.
Trot work: Mediums and extensions are now quite easy - once I was able to sit the trot pain free they became quite simple for me. Lots of transitions gives me the energy in the collected trot that I need - Dylan is very flashy with his legs but he can also fluctuate between way too relaxed and not collected enough, and way too forward and tense where he gets his front legs flying and the hinds trailing. Shoulder-in and half pass are uncomplicated and the only thing I ever have trouble with is that his tendency is to want to be too steep. Obviously that is all rider.
Canter work: Canter work was easier for me before I got the saddle adjusted. Now that I sit in a much better spot and am using myself much better, I have to actually do that... use myself much better! It requires a LOT of strength to keep a powerful horse like Dylan under control in the canter. He is capable of cantering on a dime but it requires an incredible amount of ab strength. Quarter pirouettes are easy, but half pirouettes are more complicated and if I am not riding him forward through them, he will swap behind and flounder through the second half of them.
Halts and reinbacks: Occasionally not square or straight. I will need to practice the reinback series more, seeing as I only just noticed it in test 3! You have to halt, reinback four steps, walk forward four steps, then reinback four more steps, then trot on. Pretty complicated for someone like me who can't ride and count at the same time!

For the most part, it goes very well.

Except for changes. Holy crap. I suck at changes so much.

Part of this is because I seem to not be able to ride and count at the same time. I've never been one to count down my strides to a fence. I see a spot, I'm going for it. (Or sometimes, I don't see a spot and I'm still going for it. I was never very good at it.) So counting and riding together were never impressed upon me and I don't do it well naturally. Kind of like in the pirouettes, Dylan tends to anticipate or just sort of assume he knows what's happening, and if he isn't set up just right he will be late behind with the changes, or hop with his hinds both together in the changes. The canter has to be good, bouncy and uphill, and he has to be perfectly straight. Because of horses I've ridden in the past, I tend to get stuck holding him on the original bend for far too long, and if I do that he will struggle through the change and not be clean, because he's still bent the wrong way. It takes brain power to remember to STRAIGHTEN him before the change. No, all the way. No even more. JUST DO IT ANDREA.
So not only am I grappling with making sure I tell myself to do all of these things in preparation for a change, then I have to successfully make it through the change and not relax and go, "yay I did it!" Because then I'm 4 strides away thinking about how I did it well, but I'm already supposed to be setting up and executing a new change. It's so much more brain power than my little peabrain is used to having to deal with. (I lead a pretty simple life, let's be honest.)

But we will get there. As have all things, it is improving with every ride, a little at a time.

I am still deciding precisely what the show season is going to look like this fall. It's pretty solidified for the winter/spring/summer next year - working equitation shows as well as dressage shows, and some IALHA shows - but this fall is less concrete. It just depends on what else is going on! If I plan this far out for next year, then I can make it happen, but it's getting increasingly hard to just 'get away' for a weekend. There is petsitting, horsesitting, and client appointment to plan, which can all get very complicated. Not to mention the fact that Future Hubs has a surgery scheduled for literally the same week that O's baby is due in the spring...!

So what are YOU working towards for next show season?


  1. You sure do need a heap of concentration power for those upper level tests!
    My goal next show season is to have a show season at all. I don't have access to a float so I'm a bit stuck.
    Once I work around that (ride to the comp grounds?!) I want to take my young gelding out to introduce him to the concept of being worked on that environment (as opposed to gazing around at all the activity & trying to make friends with everyone that walks by!).

  2. I am 100% sure I could not count the changes. I manage to count to fences about 10% of the time. :P

    I don't know what I'll be doing next year. Probably just farting around at schooling shows with Candy and attempting to like...not totally screw up Gina's baby! I look forward to hearing how you and Dilly progress!

  3. Exciting to see you set and achieve new goals with that sexy beast! Curious....Are you going to include any lessons to check in or use the shows as your primary means of feedback?

    1. Definitely lessons. I've been trying to find a trainer I actually like for many months. The ones I like are fully, and there are plenty of ones I don't like and wouldn't ride with. And then of course, I think I find one and then somebody tells me about how they're a horse abuser and this and that. Dressage people man.
      So hopefully I can actually find one, somewhere.

  4. Hi Andrea! Comment sign-in is being squirrely and won't let me in...
    I've been fairly-regularly reading along since the days of Gogo, and just wanted to say best of luck. It's so interesting to see where life takes people. I hope you can get video of some tests you guys do - Dylan would be a treat to see strut his stuff!

    Also, I think you guys will rock it even if things get crazy and you don't end up quite as prepared as you'd like. Both of you have loads of experience (be it slightly different areas), so hopefully you both can just enjoy the ride and do your thing. :]

  5. What shows are you gonna be at? We need to synch schedules!

    1. Yes we must!! I'll message you when I have a better idea!

  6. My trainer is Suzanne May, widow of Wolfgang May. She's located in Louisiana but clinics often in Texas. I think she's the best dressage trainer in this area of the country. If you'd like to get an idea of her teaching style, I'd be happy to send you a bunch of youtube videos from clinics past. She has one student who just earned her bronze, five more (including me) working toward their bronze, and has schooled several to silver in the past.

  7. I am impressed! If anyone can do it, you can.

  8. Woohoo!

    I'm working on our slow trot and strong trot with Spud at the moment.