Monthly Archives: May 2011

Faeryn the “overachiever”

I took both horses to Marie’s this weekend. I took Faeryn Saturday and I was especially interested to see what Marie thought of her progress, since it’d been quite a while since she saw her. We worked on some basic stuff warming up and then I showed her our shoulder in, turn on the haunches and leg yields. Right off the bat, Marie pointed out that Faeryn was out the shoulder both directions – and THAT was probably the reason her half halts were not going through. We worked a lot on keeping her shoulders ‘underneath’ her and not letthing the drift to the outside either direction. We did some canter work and then Marie stunned me by saying, “I think you should move her to Second level and try to qualify her for the Championships at Second.”  I knew Faeryn was working well and that her canter has improved immensely, and her shoulder in and her turns on the haunches were getting pretty good – but did not really think she was ready for second level ‘now.’  I was thinking by the fall I would show her in some schooling shows at second level to test the waters.  Marie’s reasoning made sense though – she says her shoulder in and turn on the haunches are good – better than her leg yields. Marie says horses with a bigger stride like Faeryn’s sometimes do have trouble doing the leg yields. I do think it is ‘telling’ that leg yields appear in first level and then disappear, never to be seen again. Whereas shoulder in appears in second level and appears in every single level thereafter. Ditto for turns on the haunches. It really makes you wonder why leg yield appears at all.  I was not convinced, since I had not even tried yet to develop a medium trot/canter, and I had only tested the waters once or twice for the canter/walk and walk/canter transitions.

So, that night, I dug out my test booklet and read through the second level tests. They’ve changed since I last rode them with Fling in 2007. (Not that I would even remember them from 2007 in the first place! LOL!)

I knew she could do the full serpentine at canter already, because I’d ridden her through that a few times. That movement is from Second 1. And I also knew she could do the half 20m  circle counter canter from Second 3 because after working at the HDS show a few weeks ago and seeing people ride that test, I went home and tested it out. The “unknowns” for me were the walk/canter and canter/walk transitions, 10 meter canter circles, and in my mind, the biggie – in Second 3 you now have to ask for a canter depart in counter canter, on the rail. From the walk.

Amazingly enough – once I got her shoulders in ‘control’ and aligned better – she was amazingly adjustable and the half halts were going through! She doesn’t quite have a show-ready canter/walk – there are one or two short trot strides – but she is staying connected and through during the downward – which is the most important thing.The 10m canter circles were no trouble at all.

So, there’s a schooling show June 5. Instead of entering her in 1/1 and 1/3 – I will show her 1/3 and 2/1 and see how it goes!

She is so much fun to ride – she’ gotten very ‘handy’ and ‘maneuverable’ – in fact, she is starting to feel a whole lot like her big sister, Fling, who I always call my ‘little sportscar.’  I guess now I am a two sportscar owner!

Faxx steps up to the plate

It has been awhile since I took a lesson from Marie on Faxx. Between horse shows, Debbie Bowman clinics and other conflicts our schedules just haven’t meshed. Faxx and I really needed some help in some of the first level movements. Specifically the leg yield from K to X that has been eating our lunch.

As usual, Marie could see to the root of the problem. The problem with that movement was just the symptom. Faxx needs to get much more ‘adjustable’ and learn to make quicker changes of  bend, changes of direction, etc. and listen to me and stay on the aids. He is not falling out the right shoulder as badly, but is still leaning against my right leg the opposite direction.

We did all sorts of great exercises to get him quicker in reacting to changes of bend, and in general more ‘handy.’  One that I am incorporating in Faeryn’s ‘repertoire’  — do a 10 meter circle at trot, and when you finish the circle, change the bend and pick up the canter and do a 15 meter canter circle. This illustrated to me just how slow Faxx was to respond to my aids. Faeryn did it much better when I tried it out on her this evening. And yet another (that Faeryn is also doing now) is to do a three loop serpentine…start out at canter, and change leads through trot every time you cross the centerline. Faxx did this one a bit better than the trot/canter one. Faeryn did it fairly well and will be a good ‘intermediate’ step to get her ready for the second level movement where you have to do a simple change every time you cross the centerline.

And today was Marie’s Mother’s Day show. I had not ridden these new tests before in a show situation with Faxx. I was not really concerned about how I scored  — this outing was definitely for practice. I am showing him at an Arabian show Memorial Day weekend and that will be my only chance to qualify him for Arab/Half Arab sporthorse championships. And, we only have two months to improve our game before the championships themselves.

Even though Faxx has been to Marie’s many times, he’s gotten silly about spooking at anything that is ‘different.’ Today some chairs had been MOVED (horrors!) and there was a table set up near the arena with auction items for a charity that Marie supports. I had just a few minutes in the arena during a break and he would not get NEAR that one side. I was so aggravated by him! I didn’t have time to ‘fix’ the problem before we were booted out for the show to begin. In the warm up arena, I made him constantly do figure 8s, leg yields, shoulder in – anything but just ‘trotting pretty’ along the rail.  He was working pretty well.  When I went into the arena for our test, I had a minute to cruise around the ring and he was still spooking along one side and I rode him more aggressively than I think I ever have before – using my whip and my spur to get him OVER and stop looking at stuff. He got better, but not completely “over it” before the judge blew the whistle. He was very ‘up’ over getting ridden more ‘assertively’ than I think I ever have before – when Faxx gets boogered, he wants to stop – and I was determined he was going to keep going FORWARD no matter what. He drifted a few feet off the rail despite my best efforts — BUT he was listening to me and did not ‘stiffen’ against me. He was also very animated. His free walk was better than usual – he has a fabulous walk but just wants to ‘wander’ across the diagonal. I kept after his butt to go forward, forward, forward. He is getting the lengthenings pretty well now – his trot can sometimes get a bit uneven if I push him out of balance, but the canter lengthening – and the transition back to working canter – has gotten very reliable. When I’d done, it felt overall a bit ragged to me, since it seemed I was just booting him every stride – but bystanders were going ‘wow’ at his movement and connection. He DID stay nicely connected for the most part.

I had an hour between rides and discovered I’d scored a 67% before I had to go again – but did not get to see my test first.

My next ride was First 3 – home of the killer K to X leg yield. It was bad – it felt like a 2 to me. He also got a bit uneven in the trot lengthenings because I pushed him too much. His halts at X were all better than what we had last year.

In all, riding him more ‘assertively’ I think is the answer. I have been ‘babying’ him too much (as Marie said).  So we got a 65.1 on the second test – I got a 5 on the canter/trot/canter transition across the diagonal. Definitely need to practice that more. We won our first test by a large margin, and landed in second place by a few tenths of a place in the second ride. But, i was very happpy with that as a first effort. The person who beat us has been showing first level for several years.  Oh – and that movement that felt like a 2 to me? We got a 6. LOL!

He will just improve from here. he got 8s on gaits for both tests and I got 7s for rider. I have known this judge for a long time and she has never seen Faxx before. I saw her at the lunch break – after I was finished – and she told me I was riding better than she’d ever seen me ride. I feel llike I am riding better. For one, I am sitting up straight and not looking down. And I am getting better at keeping my legs longer and keeping them a bit further back and resisting the urge to draw my leg up. So I am much more efffective with my legs. So it was a good day and I feel a bit better about the prospect of showing him at the rated Arab show. He has one more schooling show before then – on May 21. Debbie Bowman is also coming that weekend, so i will show him in the morning and then go ride another horse in the clinic in the afternoon!

I rode Faeryn this evening and she is just a blast. she has come a LONG way in just a few months. I am going to show her First level at the HDS June show with an eye toward qualifying her for the Region 9 championships held this fall. By fall I hope she is ready to show second level in schooling shows – and by next year she should be ready to show second level at recognized shows. She is already doing a lot of third level work – she can do a good walk pirouette and we’re starting half pass work. She needs to get her canter/walk/canter transition and her mediusm. But the mediums are coming.

I rode Fling Friday and did not get the ‘magical’ canter pirouette – but no worries. Her canter in general is much better and I got several really good flying changes. Life is good.

My “pirouette pony”

Just watching dressage, it always seemed to me that the canter pirouette was one of the coolest movements ever.

And now that I’ve experienced it myself, it really IS cool. Fling did a SUPER canter pirouette yesterday. How could I possibly know this, you ask, since I am just a beginner at this stuff? Sometimes you just know. Fling had gotten reliably good at walk pirouettes, and as odd as it sounds, the cante pirouette and the walk pirouette are very similar in respect to your position on the horse, and your horse’s movements. In the walk pirouette, I finally was able to identify that to do good ones, I had to really sit on my inside seatbone, make sure Fling was properly bent around my leg, and then almost feel like my inside seatbone was the ‘pivot’ point and she just rotated, on the spot, underneath that point. This is what makes dressage so hard – this was one of those things I just had to figure out on my own. I am sure different people have a different mental imagery of how they achieve the correct feeling.

I’ve also been mulling over the similarities between half pass and walk and canter pirouettes. Fling has a definite ‘gift’ for half passes. Not every horse is good at everything. The extended gaits will always be a stretch for her. But despite having a very short back, and a short-ish neck, she’s learned to bend well enough to execute a really good half pass at both trot and canter. I think she is heading the same way with canter pirouettes and I got to wondering if that was because the movements were so similar.

I have finally figured out the best way to warm her up and don’t get frustrated that she does not ‘come out of the box’ a third level horse each time. We do lots of lateral work at walk, but I am moving to trot quicker, but continuing the lateral work in trot before we move on to canter work.

Last night her canter work was awesome from the get-go. We ran through some of the things that are more difficult for her – canter half pass to the right has typically been her weakest half pass work. She nailed it last night.  Interestingly enough, her more difficult walk pirouette is to the left.  The super good canter pirouette she did last night was to the right.  In general, her canter is better to the right. Sometimes that ‘disconnect’ is not entirely her – I think sometimes it’s me.

I think the reason the pirouette was so much better this time is that I have also realized that I need to stay centered over her back – I noticed in the walk pirouette that if I turned my head too far to the inside or outside, that disrupted my position just enough to negatively influence the walk pirouette. I have to keep my focus, my body, everything, centered ‘between her ears’ so to speak – or her inside ear, but I cannot look to the inside any more than that.  I think that is what turned her ‘schooling’ pirouette into an honest to gosh real pirouette. I ‘sat” on my seatbone, stayed centered over her, and she just pivoted around my seatbone. Magical.