It appears that basically anyone who is anyone in Texas knew about the CD clinic this past Friday in Magnolia. It was held at Haras Hacienda and since it's about an hour from the house and unlikely to happen again, we had it on our calendars since it was announced back in May I believe. I applied to be a rider and waited the LONG LONG wait for announced riders in October. I was a little disappointed to not be chosen at the time, but alas, sometimes it's best to not be chosen lol.
Friday snuck up on us as we'd been working all week recovering from the Haras USDF show the PRIOR weekend, plus prepping for our Barn Hunt weekend the same weekend as the CD clinic on Friday. I knew it was going to be a shit show when I scheduled it, but yolo, right? Thursday evening had me teaching dog training and then we were trying to prep the farm last minute for the trial late into the night. I was up again early on Friday to grab Sarah and head to Houston to get a dog neutered and another one OFAed with Alex. Because... do all the things, right?
I started out the morning in my normal exhausted state and stumbled through trying to figure out to wear. As I pulled on my breeches and riding top, it occurred to me that I'd look like the biggest dork at the event. I'd look ready to hop on anything though at a moments notice and began debating what to wear. If it falls outside of riding wear, work wear, or dog showing wear, I'm always at an awkward loss. I opted for skinny jeans, a riding top (I seriously have no nice shirts and it was going to be pretty warm), and my river boots. There, that was going to have to do. But wait, what was Sarah wearing? Aghh... so I called her and she was going through the same struggle and had settled on a complimentary outfit to mine without us even discussing it prior. Cool.
One other thing I realized late Thursday night was that there was an autograph signing on the schedule rather than "meet and greet" like I had in my head. I messaged Sarah about it and wondered "what do we take to sign?" She had no words of wisdom and I began to debate. Do I take my double bridle and have her sign it? Then I'd have CD riding with me each ride until sweat and gunk wore off the signature? I doubted she'd have a white paint pen to sign it too, so I'd have to bring that? Geez, that wasn't a good idea. What about a hat? I have several TSG hats? But they don't sponsor her and she'd probably think I was extra weird immediately for doing that... The next morning I had an epiphany and realized I'd ordered the Carl Hester and Valegro books and BOOM! Perfect thing to sign!
I grabbed the dogs we needed, threw everything except my camera that I'd planned on taking but then wondered if they'd not allow photography (they didn't so whew), and headed to get Sarah. We then headed to Starbucks so Sarah could fuel up and I decided to get something too. The barista messed up BOTH our orders (poor lamb) and we got that sorted out. At this time we were running pretty far behind our expected time table so I was like eff it and we headed to Chik Fil A for some food too. Why not?
We FINALLY headed to Houston and the vet clinic. Dogs were Xrayed and dropped off for testicle removal and we wished Alex well. I began heading towards Tomball (since I recalled that the Charlottes on I-10 was closed) and the Charlotte's there since we were somehow BACK on schedule and needed to kill some time. While going up 290 I was talking to Sarah and somehow "2920" looked like "352" and therefore I took the exit at Buccees and not Love's and we headed happily towards Magnolia before I realized we had to go back down to Tomball. I dun care. We make it to Charlotte's, pawed through all their things and then we ate some gourmet Burger King before heading to Haras for the "meet and greet/autographing."
About this time I realize I'm going to look like an awkward 8 year old girl no matter how I go about offering CD something to sign and I'm debating not bothering her. Sarah is having little to none of that so I'm like ugh. Going to be so awkward.
Peopling, I don't do it well sometimes.
We get to Haras, they're charging for parking and I'm secretly happy that I didn't have time to go to the bank so I have some cash. They have us park on the far side of the parking lot, we get out and start walking like robots. The weekend before we had been in this approximate area so we just went on autopilot and walked up towards the stables and into the arena. There was a vendor and then BOOM CD sitting there. Sarah was talking about why we bothered to buy tickets when you could just walk in. I'm like unno, hold on, I need to get a sneaky shot of CD.
The line for CD is stupid long and I'm like UGHHH peopling is hard. And poor CD having to fake smile, sign, and move on to the next person. I said I felt bad for her so many times I'm not sure why Sarah didn't hit me. JK, it's probably all the riding advice and ponies I torture her with. Sarah makes us wait in line and I realize that the people have programs for her to sign and that's about when we realize we came in the wrong way and they were checking tickets on the other side. Meh. We waited in line anyhow and Sarah grabbed a few programs. I decide that I'm going to get my Valegro book when I see someone else with theirs and I realize I'm going to lose this program at some point anyhow. I begin the trek back to the car and remember to put makeup on too.
When I get back (trying to not clutch my Valegro book like a weirdo), Sarah is near(er) to the front and we wait. I see more Valegro books and I'm like woot. Wait, they have specific pages they want signed? UGHHH. I begin flipping through it and getting awkward again. I seriously hate winging ti people... We are getting closer and closer and I'm about to just throw the book at her and as her to sign wherever when we find a good two page pic and settle on that. I hop in front of her, thrust the book, and awkwardly swing around the table to slid in the seat next to her. I gesture at the picture to sign and say something like "well, I thought this was more appropriate than signing over Carl's face" and she breaks her autopilot face, we laugh together, and awkward pictures of us laughing were taken.
I made CD laugh y'all. #missionaccomplished
With that awkwardness FINALLY over, we head to find somewhere to sit. Next post I promise will have something about the clinic aside from me being awkwardly out of place. #justputmeonahorseandImfine
Sarah trying to be good and selfie us. Me being me.
Ready for some roundabout blog post? Loads of screenshots? Way too many gifs? Here we go!
So I was unable to stream most of the USDF finals live like I wanted because well, I was showing locally myself and last time I streamed things in the RV using my cell phone it ate up all my data and I ended up having to suffer through 2G for the rest of the month. No one wants to deal with that nonsense, trust me.
One of the really good things about a desk job 40 hours a week is that it gives me the chance to listen/casually watch things online. I've used this to improve my knowledge on many topics as well as entertain myself as I work through my work day. So anytime there's an event to stream, I'm watching it. USEF Network is my jam. I don't watch a lot of the jumping, but I do watch ALL the eventing and dressage events they have on there. Sometimes more than one. I love it, but I'm really trying to learn things from it. How certain people are riding the test and how they score in proportion. So much of this sport is based on strategy and I don't feel I can learn enough about how to manage my ride to eek out those last few points on a test ever.
I even watched some of the USDF 2916 Dressage Finals last week in preparation for this years finals and my own test for the weekend.
I like to believe this is completely an over the top ambitious thing I do, but in reality, it started because I can't always be on my horse and I wanted to watch people higher than myself do the pretty things. As I became someone doing the pretty things, I studied more and more. When I started this venture in 2015, I tackled it like a PhD in dressage riding and I have lecture times (online material and reading) as well as lab time (riding and lessons). Sometimes I have other activities such as clinics as well, but believe me, I treat this like a 20 hour work load all week long, every week.
Ask my husband.
So when I tuned into the video on demand for the 2017 Finals, I was delighted to have a commentator... Kathy Connelly! OK, sure most of us have heard commentators like KOC and others that are more like sportscasters commentating on an events. While they give many pieces of knowledge, the overall mission is entertainment (in my opinion). There isn't a lot of cohesive strategy given nor really lessons that the average person can get from watching P Duddy go around cross country via the commentators in an 11 minute cut in/cut out clip while they focus on multiple riders on course.
So back to Ms. Connelly.
Kathy Connelly is a USEF “S” Judge, USDF Honorary Instructor, and a well respected international dressage rider, trainer, coach, and judge. She is known for her amicable personality and non-intimidating teaching style. She also served as the commentator for the 2010 World Equestrian Games, as well as the 2013 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan. As a coach, Kathy has excelled with students having competed on Olympic teams, at the World Cup, the World Equestrian Games, the Pan American Games, the Canadian World Cup, and the North American Junior Young Rider Championships. - USDF Website
So that's who was the voice commenting during the rides in the AllTech arena. There was SO much helpful "that's a great attempt" "this could be fixed by X, Y, Z" and so many honest and easy to understand comments. Seriously, it's just hours and hours and hours of basically the most detailed clinic ever. Freestyles, Open riders, AA, riders, all sorts of breeds. You name it, it's on there and you can hear a high level professional guiding you helpfully through it without anecdotes, judgement, or snide comments. This is quite possibly the most helpful "strategy for showing/training dressage" that I've ever listened to and I look forward to it again and again to get more pieces of knowledge out of it.
I primarily focused on watching the freestyles (since that's my next hellish challenge) and while it can be hard to hear her at times through the music, you can readily get the gist of what she's saying throughout. The regular tests are really really helpful and easy to watch. You get to watch an entire group of "same level" riders and horses with a full commentary. Honestly, if you rode in the AllTech arena, you should find your rides and save them. It's like a personal critique for free.
So aside from the videos on demand being one of the best online resources I've seen for dressage riding and showing, I did notice some things that honestly made me really happy.
Riders come in all sizes and types at the top levels.
There were large people, small people, thin people, fat people, old(er) people, young people, seasoned veterans, rookies, old horses, green horses, draft horses, feathered horses, omg, you name it and it was on the screen. And remember, these were the FEI tests for the most part. So basically, I don't need to worry about the lingering pudge on my stomach or the butt padding I have. Just ride the damn horses and be appreciative of what your body is capable of. FEI is hard yo. Oh and eat the piece of cake. No one wants you super sore AND miserable. I'm going to constantly remind myself of this...
This was an excellent way to do some shopping and gear comparisons.
I'm not a "tack ho" in the traditional sense. I like a few items that I can count on and I like to just use those things. Unfortunately, I currently work with 13 horses so we have a lot of tack. Because of this, I am CONSTANTLY shopping. I know about all the strap goods, saddles, clothing, whatever you can imagine as best as I can so that I know a good deal when I see one. I know what can work for us and what I need to keep and eye on. Well, one thing we've been drooling over for SO LONG, are the Fair Play items, specifically the Bea and Betty coats and then the new helmets.
So when someone all clad in grey appeared (a color combination I've been considering when I start showing a certain big black feathered horse...), I naturally REALLY paid attention to her test. Granted, I'd never seen grey boots and was fascinated with that but that's neither here nor there. At the end of the test, I realized it was the Betty tailcoat and immediately started re watching the test to see how the shad "behaved" during the test. Also, the color online always looked more "blueish" grey than I'd imagined. Ordering things from overseas is tough y'all. Plus we'd only see the black short coat here at shows so yeah... stalking!
Horses of all types can do this.
We're always told this and then it's normally followed by "but warm bloods are preferred" or whatever the current phrase is based on whatever diatribe is online currently or going around the shows. Granted the nicest warm blood will always out pace the worst *insert random breed here* with natural "dressage" gaits; however, the idea is that we need to improve on all our horses gaits and that's what dressage does. Or should do. My high level warm blood requires SO.MUCH.WORK to get his gaits looking great (esp trot) and even MORE work to KEEP him there. Our paint mare will turn herself inside out to do what you want and is practically the energizer bunny so you can get MORE out of her at LESS energy/effort. Will she ever cover as much ground as him? (Probably)no. Will she ever be as fancy as him? (Probably) no. The mare we pulled out of the kill pen in July emaciated, just hit her first USDF show and scored 7s on her gaits easily with inconsistent contact from her AA rider while I worked my tail off to get 6.5s for my big guy in PSG. There are so many factors that go into what a "good" dressage horse is and honestly, heart and soul gets you SO far. Also, great training so that the horse LOVES it's job and just shows up with 110% effort. Oh and a rider that enjoys the task at hand as much. Besides, the range in warmblood "types" varied so so much too.
Coming off a weekend where we did just that and while the "goal" of "scores" wasn't exactly achieved, we had a blast and looked great giving it our all. The scores will come (and go) and there will always be another show. The relationship with these amazing animals and the village of people it takes to get you to (any) show should make you take a deep breath and realize there are much more important issues going on in the world and it is a huge huge luxury and pleasure to get to showcase our talent along with our horses. Again, eat a piece of cake, get on your pony, go make each other laugh and try hard while pushing your boundaries further and further.
Finals is the time to push it but you need to be pushing it in every ride, all the time. The hard part about this is the typical crazy dressage person that's willing to "push it" is also very Type A and wants to push ALL the things. OK, so with horses you really can't push ALL the buttons at once and expect anything good to happen. You need to take calculated risks though and highlight what your horse is best at. Add those extra tempis, add those extra piaffe steps, add those extra WHATEVER and showcase yourself and your horse's abilities. Again, it's about having FUN while pushing the boundaries. And listening to Ms. Connelly enjoy herself when this happened should further encourage you to explore the edges rather than play it safe in the boring middle.
Freestyles are changing.
I think we've all seen snippets of this happening at Dressage At Devon and other high level competitions here and there when it shows up on Facebook. Someone using vocals TOO much, someone using an entire song, someone not matching up to their music ON PURPOSE. The horror of so many different things. (sarcasm). I love where we are currently in dressage and the direction the sport is headed. As a student of patterns, data, and behavior, I find it interesting to see what excites people enough to perform a freestyle. The music that moves them, the choreography that they choose, just all the pieces. I know my worst category will be my freestyles since the idea of precision and music do not come as naturally to me as a regular test. When you see hours upon hours of National Finals footage though, you realize that it's not so much one or two wayward persons riding to VOCALS or MODERN or whatever. It was a LOT. And well, when "normal" music started, I almost groaned. Having grown up on that, it should be familiar, cozy, whatever but instead it was like meh, snooze in many cases. Granted some sounded like an "ipod on shuffle" according to Sarah's words and I can't disagree but everyone seemed proud of their music and kudos to them. You definitely can get a good view of what people are thinking as to where they want their freestyle to be now.
So now we drive this truck of a blog post BACK around to passion. At the show last weekend, my mother said she was glad I'd found my passion. I don't tend to get emotional or overly thoughtful about why I do things (especially when I can logic or use numbers to figure it out). But yes, I do believe I'm passionate about this. I can tell this when I show. I'm passionate about my horses, passionate about enjoying my performances, passionate about working my tail off, passionate about being the best I can be and pushing my boundaries, the boundaries of those that train with me, and the boundaries of what other people believe is possible.
It's good to be passionate about something (sometimes obsessive I'll concede). Now back to logic, numbers, and business junk.
This past weekend was the USDF show at Haras. It was a really small show since most of the local big players were in Lexington at USDF Nationals. No big deal, we had plenty of fun showing our ponies nevertheless. As stated previously, we LOVE showing at Haras. Sure you're there to show horses, but it's easy to pretend it's a vacation. After the past few weeks, we all on the farm could really, really use a vacation. Instead of shuttling the horses back and forth each day, I said forget it, and we just dragged the RV down and grabbed stalls for the horses. We have two awesome training camp dogs in right now and they got to come along with us and enjoy the sights (and boy they did!).
So the main goals this weekend were really for me to just get out and FINALLY show. I don't mind helping out our project horses and awesome riders, but man, I haven't shown myself since April! I wanted to do PSG x 2 each day but the FEI Test of Choice wasn't readily offered and I didn't feel like torturing ShowSecretary.com anymore than I normally do so I opted for PSG x 1 each day. If we got 60+% both days then I get a Silver Medal. If I blew either ride, then no medal for me. In April I believe we got like a 56 or 57% for this test so we're in the ball park but honestly, we prepped HARD for this show this summer to show in August and the hurricane messed that up for us so we just pushed onward towards working on I1 and GP things.
Vana had been riding really well this week so we arrived and rode Friday PM in the big arena. He was again, really good so who knew what I was in for. Sarah was riding Luna at (Luna's) first recognized show with us and they warmed up nicely. The goal for Sarah was to grab some First level Bronze medal scores at 1st level so she was riding 1-2 and 1-3 each day. The horses settled in easily and we got ready for our ride times the next morning.
This was also my first show as an Open rider. I want to say I felt SO MUCH WAS ON THE LINE, but well... it's not. I don't feel any different than when I was an AA rider and really, while I'd love to attract people to our program, I love producing horses and am not worried about lessons and clinics in the least. If nothing else, it was rather freeing since I didn't have to worry how we appeared. When you ride a 22 year old dragon warmblood, it pays to be free and not worry about what anyone else thinks. I rode my test accurately and it was boring for a 57% or 58% score. We had two judges which I wasn't ready for and I decided to not alter my one judge plan for the two judge plan and just rode the thing. Vana was curling (not as bad as the CDI) again and he needed more energy but we were boringly accurate although I miffed the tempis. Meh.
Sarah rode her first test (1-2) and Luna was a star. Sarah has been working on her core strength as well as her contact and that showed through the test comments of course, but she kept her head together. Luna was amazing at taking it all in stride and trying her heart out for Sarah. I can't wait until she gets even stronger - she's a special one. Sarah ended up scoring 62.734% and her first score. She was happy before the score so to have earned the score made her even happier.
Her next test was the 1-3 test a few hours later and they did an accurate job but a few mistakes and just general tiredness from Sarah and Luna got them a 58% score.
That night Alex joined us and the three of us went out to eat and hit Dover to see what they had. I didn't have high hopes and it looked like I was going to end up with 5 hoof picks, 2 buckets, and a bag of braiding wire. Once I paid for those exciting items, I decided to try on this fur trimmed jacket they had at 25% off. It was super cute and flattering plus I get cold super easy and this thing is SO WARM so I dropped some money for that too and we all headed out to find a restaurant.
The dogs got to run around like banshees when we got back. It was dark and they just raced around having a blast before retiring to the RV for dinner and bedtime.
The next morning my ride was early (like 8:20am) so we were up to do the things right away. Vana and I warmed up and I was determined to kill off some of the FH (forehand) and "heavy/curling" and "needs activity/energy" comments. I knew our geometry would suffer a touch but I was going to go for it. I hate riding a boring test and getting a boring score so if we were going to "mess up" I wanted to have a blast doing it and encourage activity and fun. I probably wasn't "serious" enough in the warm up as I kept laughing and correcting Vana who was feeling really exuberant with his changes and movements. I worked on lightening him up and he was ready to fly. Our pirouettes felt a little gummy so I didn't expect much for those but the extended trot was better so who knew how this was going to pan out.
We entered the ring and Vana was hell bent on half passing so I had to manage him a LOT going down the center line. We did our halt and I once again had to manage his trot to C. I was super focused on going big and getting him with me that I forgot my mantra when riding PSG... "TURN RIGHT TURN RIGHT TURN RIGHT" so naturally habit kicked in while my brain was full throttle on my horse and we turned LEFT and hit an AMAZING extended trot. Bell rings and I'm like gdi... So I get him in front of my leg and we right our wrong. The rest of the test we kept going for it and I was really happy with everything. He felt like he was enjoying himself which makes my job a lot easier. I laughed at him in one spot, called him a dork near the judges, and I smiled through most all of the test. It was fun and we got lots of comments on how fun it was to watch us. Vana was hot in our 4s which I knew was going to be the case and we were PERFECT until the last set where he bounced me for a 3 and I hauled him up. A few months ago this would have resulted in a melt down with him and instead he was able to go OMG SORRY and we got the last line PLUS the change just in time for the letter. We then nailed our 3s so it was a big win for us.
PSG isn't meant to be easy and I honestly find it a really nice flowy test. It is a very kind test and easy to get a little mellow during it especially with someone like me and a horse like Vana. We do MUCH better at I-1 so we'll see where we go from here at the January show as we're still on pace to do GP in the spring. I'll figure out the show planning later. All of our mistakes and comments were things that were easily remedied without a "start over from scratch" so I'm not worried. We're SO much better than we were in April and our scores continue to improve each time we show. Also... I've only ridden this test like 4 times. Also also... I was able to go out and basically earn my scores in a single weekend for each level (save for stupid boring 3-3) so it makes sense at some point we're going to have to give it a few tries to get right. I don't mind that it's at PSG and I1 where Vana is happiest. We had a great time and we're really becoming partners so I can't wait to see where we go from here. Plus entertaining myself, my team, and the crowd is really fun.
Once more, Sarah had the 1-2 test followed a few hours later by the 1-3 test. After a night of plenty of sleep and a great meal, they looked pretty good. We played with blue tooth communication in the warm up and that was a nice help vs blurting out phrases to Sarah. (Although the other trainers do it and we got some serious gems to laugh about when you overhear them out of context). Alex was back this AM and she was recruited to read Sarah's test so I could run media with the video and my camera. We got lots of nice shots and it worked out really well. Neither Alex nor I really saw the test because of our roles but Sarah was happy with the rides and so was the judge - 60.781% Sarah's goal for her bronze medal scores were done and I was happy with her progress. Luna again was a star and performed better than Sarah rode. Such a good girl.
Later that day, the pair returned for one last try at 1-3. It was an "extra" test at this point and I told her to practice "going big" and having fun. I was calling the test so again, I wasn't really watching her performance but she had fun. They ended with a 60.441% again even at the end of the weekend.
Really, really not bad for a horse that just got pulled from the kill pen in July and is just starting to be in decent physical fitness. Sarah only began riding her about a month or so ago so they're just growing in leaps and bounds. Now to spend the winter with them getting them ready for 2nd and 3rd level so hopefully Sarah can get her bronze (or someone can buy Luna and get an amazing Christmas present!)
So basically, we were good this weekend. We wanted a vacation and we got one. It was restful and we got to show ponies. I had fun with my awesome horse Vana and we showed big and have a lot of little things to work on (seriously FEI tho) but we will be knocking on some high scores in the upcoming year (or if Jade takes over she should be great). Sarah has grown so much as a rider since joining our team and she's handling the show environment better and better each time out. Luna, well, Luna is just amazing. She was so solid the whole weekend: well behaved in the stalls, loved being in the big arena, made adjustments, and was a really really willing partner who gave a lot to the tests. Her gaits were consistently 7s so I can't wait to clean them up more and see how much more floaty we can get her!
I was contacted recently by someone that shares the same vets as I do. He needed to move a Thoroughbred mare and my vet told him she knew just the person. He texted me with lots of media and while the mare was cute and a VERY nice mover with some good foundation training, she's shorter and older than I typically like to get a horse at. Technically, she's the RIGHT age and the RIGHT height for 75% of the riders out there and their skills, unfortunately, "the man" has said we need things at or above 16h (but never above 17h), performing at a high level competitively but also super safe and can be kept in a pasture. A horse as young as possible (a fetus) is best but with loads of show experience.
But since I'm technically a "supplier," I have a much better chance of placing a horse if I follow this "formula" that buyers seem to want right now. I will fudge on a few things, but this mare broke a couple of my rules so I was reluctant to go see her. Our schedules finally met up and I went to check her out. The current trainer had her and she was super cute. I really liked her sweet face and willing nature and well, I'm a sucker for animals that are dying to try for their rider. We had a long visit and enjoyed ourselves with me going oh, why not... and I agreed to pick her up later that week.
Her Jockey Club name is Leafy Seadragon as well and so I was in (great name and try?)... how cool a name for someone that is a Wildlife and Fisheries person by nature with a love of coral reefs and SCUBA diving?
We got the mare home and I helped Hannah get started on her. She was eager and willing under saddle and thought the jumping saddle was so amazing! She tried really hard to figure out the different cues and we called it a night. They started to work on some pole work and jumps the next day and she was super game. Hard to not love a thoroughbred. With her gorgeous movement and relaxed nature (plus pre-exisiting training), we're going to head her towards dressage for her sport and some jumping for cross training. This is going to be an elegant, adorable, and easy going mare for someone that wants a really nice horse to hit the trails with, hop over small jumps, go to an event, or hit a dressage show whenever the mood suits.
Her name? Well we decided to stick with the "sea" theme and call her Nessie.
If you're interested in a really good mare or a simple project to develop, contact us. She's a great girl
First Two Riding Sessions