Monday, July 29, 2013

Puckerbrush Farm Dressage


I'm still pretty numb about it all. This was a goal that I've had on the radar for years now but that I really honestly never thought that I would achieve: I can't overstate how low my self-confidence in my dressage abilities was up even until very recently, and getting the silver medal required riding to a standard that until this year I could only speculate about me and Ringo reaching. 

 (Pa capturing my sexayyyy braids and Ringo's even sexier topline in warm up on Saturday - he's come such an unbelievably long way since we started our dressage journey two years ago)

 (So. Focused.)

Growing up, the FEI-level dressage riders in their top hats and shadbellies seemed like a different species of rider altogether from whatever I was capable of doing. Even though this past weekend was my third show at this level at this point, it was surreal to realize that I had actually become one of those riders, that I was the one walking around in a shadbelly (though my top hat has been long retired), and that--and this was the most surreal revelation of all--I actually deserved to be wearing this most ridiculous athletic attire of all time. I've always struggled with self-confidence as a rider, so this was a huge and difficult to process sensation. I'm still processing it this morning, but needless to say I'm completely overwhelmed with relief and happiness.

(I look like I have severe scoliosis, but look how fancy Ray looks!)

So anyway, back to the show. Pa and I drove up to beautiful Newburgh, ME (a suburb of Bangor) for Puckerbrush Farm's annual summer show. Neither of us had ever been to this venue (or even this part of Maine) before, so it was definitely a little nerve-wracking, but we needn't have worried. The facility was a beautiful private farm that boasted rolling fields, a little cross-country course, a massive indoor, and two big outdoor arenas all on a quiet dirt road. The atmosphere was super relaxed and calm--a big plus for Ringo and me--and all the people we met were unbelievably friendly and kind. 

 (One of favorite pictures of the weekend - so calm and cadenced)

 (Struttin' - this was from Saturday; our extended trot was WAY BETTER on Sunday but alas, there is no photographic evidence of it)

I rode the PSG on both Saturday and Sunday, giving myself two chances for that last silver medal score. That turned out to be a most fortuitous move, as I missed qualifying on Sunday by the narrowest of margins--.5%. It was pretty frustrating, as I again had two judges and one of them gave me above 60% and one didn't, but I also was pretty unhappy with my ride and felt like my low score was pretty deserving. 

(Changin' - Ringo's tail gives away his enthusiasm, per usual)


I allowed myself to get very mentally absent in the warm up, where the somewhat deep footing (from rain the day before) got me riding really passively, and then I never snapped out of it when it was time to go in the ring. As a result, our test had a lot of silly little errors, and also just wasn't up to the standard of connection and cadence that I was able to get at Mount Holyoke. Since our current level of collection is pretty much just barely acceptable at this level, not bringing our A game is a big deal! So while the score was disappointing because I was soooo close, I was way more frustrated with my bad ride than with the number. 

I spent a lot of time on Saturday night going over my test (as I would have the same judge who had given me my higher score as my only judge on Sunday), and picking out specific things that that judge hadn't liked that I could improve--in this case, collected walk, shoulder in/half-pass to the left, and my single changes. I formulated a more decisive warm up plan with Pa, and went to bed feeling determined that I was going to ride like the silver medalist I so dearly wanted to be.

 (This isn't a great picture but I like the thrust Ringo's showing)

And wow, what a night and day difference between the two rides. On Sunday I came out as determined and focused as I've ever been. Ringo was a little lazy in the warmup and I worked through it firmly but without getting him wound up, and he felt amazing by the time it was our turn to go. Then, in the ring, I rode every movement to the absolute best of our ability, and really focused on improving our weaknesses from the day before. We did still make a few mistakes--our 4's and 3's both contained errors--but other than that it felt like the best test I'd done at this level yet. 

(And I got another 7 on rider! A great feeling)

And it was rewarded as such--64.7%! We did it!!! In two years, Ringo and I went from being sort of sketchy prelim eventers (who were never going to win the dressage even at a small event) to a competent FEI-level dressage partnership. I'm so overwhelmed, thrilled, and thankful. What a horse. What an amazing, incredible horse. 

I also obviously couldn't have done this without the unbelievable support of my parents, my trainer, and you readers, who have kept me going even when I've really doubted the path I've been on. So thank you, thank you, thank you. 

(We made it!!!)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Kyote Photo/Video Round Up

First of all, thank you SO MUCH for all your wonderful comments on my last post. I'm still seriously 'chuffed to bits' (as the Brits would say) with our performance last weekend and am sort of absorbing how amazing this journey with my wonderful horse has been. 

Two years ago to the weekend Ringo and I trotted down the centerline of our first show together after a year of rehab from an injury that could have easily been career-ending. We went First Level, and I still remember being so blown away with how fun it was. I'd never had a horse before that liked dressage, and so had never thought that I could like dressage, too. Over the following two years Ringo and I have learned a mind-boggling amount, all of which I never thought I would be able to learn, but I'll always be most thankful for that first realization he gave me: that dressage can be really, really fun. Even at the times when this sport seems so frustrating, I always come back to that feeling and smile.

But anyway, this post isn't supposed to be about Ringo! I've finally organized together a bunch of visual media of Ky from the spring's adventures: professional photos (used with permission, of course) from King Oak and Groton House, and a video of our stadium round at GHF from my Pa's cell phone (so apologies in advance, we look like little tan and black ants, but his cuteness is still evident). Enjoy!

(Ky cantering to 3rd place at King Oak, being uhhmaaaaaazing)

 (Struttin' at GHF - I absolutely love this picture)

 (Being a champ over the log out of water at GHF, even though I presented it to him like a total doof and so got mildly left behind, despite it being approximately 12" in height. Oh well. He's still amazing.)

(What a good creature!)

I also have some exciting news about Ky that I'm waiting a little longer to announce so as not to jinx it, but if it works out I'm going to be a very, very happy lady. So fingers crossed I can spill the beans in the near future!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ringo is an FEI Winner!!

The title says it all: Pa, Ringo, and I drove out to Mount Holyoke College this morning for another go at the PSG. We had a great test, were rewarded with a 63.9%, and won our class! Wahoo!!

I was feeling pretty good after our month of steady work since GMHA and our great lesson last week, but I still wasn't really sure if we were up to scratch yet. At GMHA I felt like I rode the best I could and it wasn't good enough (this wasn't remotely as disappointing as it sounds--I was thrilled!--it just meant that I had more homework to do). So I really wanted to treat the show today like a schooling experience: I wanted to put my homework from my last show and last lesson to work, focus on my position, and ride as correctly as possible.

For things like the multiple changes, I knew that this might mean that we would make some mistakes today, because we've previously skated by through incorrect technique and are now re-learning how to do it the right way.

In general, Ringo felt GREAT. Better than GMHA. His canter feels like it's finally come out of the strength plateau that we've been working through literally since last October--he's finally gotten to the point where he can maintain a PSG-appropriate level of connection indefinitely and still be soft, happy and relaxed, whereas before I felt like I had to fight to keep him in the box every single stride. He's really, really pleasant to ride at the moment. Hooray!

And as a result, I now feel like I can maintain a much nicer position, because I don't have to fight him nearly as much. Riding today, even though I know how still unbelievably far away from top standard we are, I felt like I had a clearer view than ever before of what top-level riding is supposed to feel like from a position and aids point of view. It was really, really exciting.

The competition was in the Mount Holyoke indoor, so I didn't bother bringing the camera because I knew the pictures would be sort of sketchy. So instead, here's a video!

What a perfect creature :)

Obviously there's still stuff to work on (pirouettes, 3's, trot cadence, trot mediums/extendeds), but overall I'm absolutely thrilled. On to the next!

(Our pretty ribbon, score, and 7 on rider--a first for me at this level! Hooray!)

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Sorry I've been so quiet on the blog for these past few weeks - how on earth is it already the second, going into the third week of July?? Needless to say the time has slipped by on me. It's high summer on the farm and the past few weeks have been a blur of sun, sweat, barbecue, and other quintessential American summer activities. I truly love summers on the east coast, and seeing as this time next year I'm probably going to be in chilly and drizzly England, I've been trying to soak up every last ray of sticky humid sunshine that I can!

Meanwhile, things have been relatively quiet on the horse front since Groton House. My dressage trainer has taken all of July off in order to study for the Bar exam in early August, so I've been on my own with both horses for a while now. I've been working a lot on my position, the quality of Ringo's collected canter, and the quality of Ky's connection, but mostly it's been a pretty boring few weeks.

Yesterday I did finally get a lesson and got a massive bevy of videos to make up for my bad blogging in July thus far. Ringo, as you can see, was a very very good boy :) Enjoy!

Trot warm-up:

Look how steady! Look how cadenced! The more solid I can be in my position, the easier the trotwork becomes for Ringo in leaps and bounds -- even typing that out seems so obvious that I feel like an idiot, but hey, clearly it's been easier said than done up until now.

Canter warm-up:

I think Ringo's canter has come such a long way in the past year. Last summer, this would have been our most collected canter, and now it's our warm up canter! What a champ.

Walk pirouettes:

Much improved!! Good boy :)

Then, we set up some rails to simulate arena corners in the middle of the arena, and we worked on what my instructor referred to as "Klimke corners:" Dr. Reiner Klimke's method of collecting two strides before the corner, one stride through the corner, and two strides after the corner:

The point of the exercise was to progressively build more and more collection and power into Ringo's canter, and while I'm not entirely sure I ever completely nailed the 'Klimke corner' precisely, just being more cognizant of my cornering in general definitely did just that. Then, when we added a quarter pirouette into one corner of the box, I was much better able to prepare him for the movement with the 'Klimke corner' in mind.

We did the same thing to the right, and by this point Ringo and I definitely had a better handle on the quality we were supposed to be aiming for (also, the right lead canter is Ray's easier direction):

After that, it was on to the changes. My instructor had me really focus on keeping him extremely consistent in the bend in his neck throughout the multiple changes--ideally that means that he should have his neck nice and straight between his shoulders, but since I'm currently incapable of doing that without falling back on the bad habit of trying to whip his head from side to side for each change, my instructor instead had me focus on maintaining the original bend (so if we came off the left lead the left bend, or the right lead the right bend) throughout the whole exercise:

It was definitely difficult! And Ringo didn't always change cleanly without the crutch of having me chuck him from side to side. But when he did change cleanly, his changes were SO MUCH BETTER than the hopping, close-stepping-behind bunny hops that he usually does:

Very good homework to keep up until my next lesson! The changes are the part of Ringo's repertoire that are definitely the most 'trick'-like at the moment, in that he does them and can do all the multiple change up through the 2's, but isn't naturally super correct in them. He likes to sucker me into just throwing him from side and allowing him to get really tight behind. When I ride really correctly right now, it reveals some holes in his training and he often changes late behind or a stride late altogether. But I was super pleased with how he progressed even within the lesson today, which gives me confidence that we'll be able to get stronger and better over the course of the summer.

In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying the summer as much as I am -- try to stay cool!
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