Sunday, July 27, 2008

Donida Show

This past weekend, I took Vienna to the Donida Show.

Coming into the show I honestly didn't know what to expect. Most of the time I have a good idea what to expect from the horse and how the horse will ride. With Vienna, I had no clue how the rides would go. The first reason being she is only 5; the second reason being this was her first ever show (and only the 3rd time she has been off property since being imported over a year ago); and finally, the fact I've only been riding the horse 3 days a week for the past 6 weeks.

Fortunately for us, this show was extremely small so the atmosphere was low key. When I used to show here back in the early 90's there were 200 to 250 horses at this show. This year, for a variety of reasons, so were only 60+ horses.

Below is a brief synapse of each day:

Thursday (Warm Up Day):
We drove down from River Run mid-day and got to the show grounds in the mid afternoon.

I planned on riding Vienna about 30 minutes in all three arenas for her to get a look at each, so that when we began showing, she would be accustomed to the new environment.

All in all, the first 90% of the warm up went really well. Vienna was responsive to what I was asking and for the most part adjusting to her new settings just fine.

As noted in previous blogs, we have had some "issues" in the canter departs. Today, there were absolutely no bucks. Each time I asked for the canter, she cantered on without a hint of a buck. The last canter depart I asked for went cleanly and I thought to myself (with a small smile on my face) "Yes, we've got it". However, I then put her on a circle, and the moment when began the circle she knocked her back ankles together and launched the largest buck I've had with her. The buck was so big, my right foot came out of the stirrup. The second buck came right away and this time I was airborne. Fortunately, the buck was so big that I was able to come over her left shoulder and landed squarely on both feet still holding the horse; like I planned a trick dismount. Immediately I got back on, to Vienna's surprise, and finished schooling.

Afterwards, I was laughing to myself about what happened. Mostly because I was lucky. Lucky in that I wasn't hurt.

Warm up went well for the test. I had a horse that was energetic, but I could tell she wasn't comfortable in her surroundings. Still no bucks in the warm up, giving me a lot of confidence.

When we started to go around the ring before being rung in, Vienna was becoming nervous. Nervous because she was in a new situation and didn't know what to do. You could literally feel her going, "What the hell is going on?".

Once the bell rung and we turned up the center line. we jumped around and reared a little. The comment from the judge was "dramatic entrance".

We got through the first part of the test fine. Then at the end of the ring, directly in front of the judge, Vienna shied at something and jumped out of the arena. In dressage, if you leave the arena you are eliminated. Fortunately, the judge recognized that Vienna was a young horse and allowed us to "school" the rest of the test. In all of the years I have ridden I have never had a horse jump out of the ring.

We then "schooled" the second part of the test and it went really smooth, which was a little frustrating. The judge gave us scores as if the ride counted and we scored a lot of 7's and one 8. For those of you not familiar with the scoring, when you are eliminated your score is counted as an "E".

Originally we had planned to just ride the one test. Quickly, my trainer Wendy Meyers ran over to the show office and we were able to pick up a second ride a couple of hours later.

In the time between the two rides, Deb Reinhart, Vienna's owner, lunged her for about 30 minutes and then I hoped back on for another 30 minutes of schooling before the next test began. The plan was simple: tire the horse out so she wouldn't have the energy to leave the ring.

That is absolutely what happened in the second test. We rode in a different arena than in the morning. This arena is notoriously spooky with a lot of foliage around the arena. For the most part Vienna took things in stride.

In the test I had a dead tired horse. She was flat and not really responsive to the leg. Because of this she fell out of the canter early on both strides and was a little sloppy. She didn't show her flashiness. BUT we went through the test cleanly with no errors and did not leave the arena. Because of this, Vienna began to understand what her job is.

We got slaughtered on the score, but that didn't matter because Vienna went better.

For Saturday and Sunday we signed up for the Training Level 4 Qualifying classes. The qualifying classes are to qualify for the Regional Championships in October. For the Open Division that means getting a score of 68% or greater from two tests at two different shows.

I lunged Vienna for about 20 minutes before getting on. During the warm up I could tell I had a horse that was going to do better than yesterday. She was starting to listen to me and was stopping some of her evasions to work.

While doing the final preparations I was telling myself that all I needed to do was ride accurately and things would happen.

As we began to walk to the arena Wendy says, "She looks super, just stay in the ring". That was followed by a glare from me and her then responding, "Shit I hope I didn't jinx you". We had the same judge from Friday when we left then arena. Whe we walked by the judge's booth, she tells me, "Wow she looks relaxed, you'll stay in ring".

The test went well. I had a horse that was in front of my leg, moving freely and expressively. I was riding more and more confident as the test progressed, until she spooked in the corner by K and took a hard right out of the arena. I won't lie, the F-Bomb dropped a couple of times from me. I immediately turned her around and asked for permission from the judge to finish the test; which she let me. Again, the last 1/4 of the test went well.

Needless to say, I was furious. I had the test I wanted and couldn't get it. The judge gave us the scores, minus the collective marks. Estimating what the collective marks would have been we would have scored a 67.5-69%. Ugh!!!

Immediately I tried to ride another qualifying ride but couldn't. I decided not to pick up another ride that day that was not a qualifier because I was still very pleased with how she went. The test we rode was good and at about 80% of what she could do. Her demeanor, the warm up, and her gaits were a hell of a lot better than the previous two days and I was very pleased with the improvement. Vienna was trying hard and I knew that we on the right track in terms of her progression.

Once again, we rode Training 4 as a qualifying test. At this point, I was unconcerned with getting the score and instead wanted to stay in the ring and be consistent.

The warm up we did was the best she has gone for me in the short time that I have ridden Vienna. She started coming up through the shoulder better and could start to feel her hind end engage more and more. A couple of friends watching commented that she was looking better than yesterday.

The test itself went alright. Most importantly we stayed in the ring and the trot work itself was consistent. Unfortunately the canter work was not. We broke/lost the canter way too early on the left lead. Additionally, in the spot in the test where the horse is asked to stretch down in the neck we started off perfectly and then she became distracted and looked up and around for the rest of the circle.

After the final half (which we scored an 8) I felt very happy about Vienna's first show. The amount of improvement that she showed in the 4 days was more than I've had at any moment with her. Because of that I gave her a very big praise when leaving the arena.

Because of the mistakes we only scored a 64% and would have been really close to the qualifying score without them.

Final Thoughts:
I cannot express how excited I am about the upcoming training with Vienna. We took a horse to a show that was inconsistent in her work (specifically the canter departs) and left the show with a horse that was really trusting me and was starting to show her gaits in a more consistent manner. We maybe only showed 80% of our potential and when she was consistent we scored 8's. The 9's, and maybe a few 10's, will come soon!

Our next show is in 3 weeks and the time in between should be extremely productive as this horse will come to that show ready to go!

A big thank you to Vienna's owner Deb Reinhart for the opportunity to show the mare and for Deb's fantastic job grooming for me. Thanks to Wendy Meyers for coaching me this weekend. It was a treat to have her warm me up for each class, as the last time she was able to do this for me was July of 1995. And finally a thank you to everyone who traveled down to watch me ride. The support is always greatly appreciated!!

Upcoming for us is a clinic this weekend with German trainer Karla Spiritus and then the Whidbey Island August Show (8/15-8/17). We'll try to get our qualifying scores here as it is considered two different shows.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Henrik Johansen Clinic

This past Wednesday I rode in a clinic taught by Danish instructor Heinrich Johansen. I had previously ridden with Heinrich just a short time ago: 1993. In this clinic I rode Vienna.

We began the session at the walk and did a lot of work establishing a contact and connection from the inside leg to the outside rein. The purpose being to activate Vienna's inside hind leg so that she could release her back and then come through up to the bridle.

Most of the work was done on a small serpentine with bending lines. We really started to get Vienna up through the shoulders and she started to lay off the bit a little too.

In the trot work, the first emphasis was on going forward. Because she is a young horse, you want the young horses going forward. Heinrich asked me a lot to keep sending her forward and when we finally got what he wanted it felt great. I was also thinking in the back of my head, "Shit, I don't know if I can control this!". Again, we worked a lot on bending lines, especially through a change of rein across the diagonal. This exercise helped me out a lot in terms of timing my aids.

As mentioned in prior blogs, canter departs have been a limiter for us. Again, we dealt with some bucks coming into the canter. Heinrich put us on a 20m circle at the trot and then had me ride a diamond shape within the circle to control the outside front shoulder. Once I was able to get that connection we had some good departs.

Just like the trot, Heinrich asked for a bigger, more forward canter than I had been previously riding. Again the movement felt great and again I was wondering from time to time if I could control the horse.

In the clinic I wore an ear piece to hear Heinrich's instructions. Numerous times I lost the ear piece because of Vienna's movements so I was having to ride one handed while trying to put the ear piece in. Maybe that's why I thought I couldn't steer ;).

Overall, I was very pleased with the lesson. Not only to I realize I was riding Vienna too conservatively, but that I could ride this horse well. I was really pleased to get the timing of my aids down better.

The big highlight for me was the next day when Heinrich was talking to Vienna's owner and told her basically that when he saw Vienna 3 months ago he wasn't terribly impressed. But after seeing her the day before with me, he was very happy with the horse's progress! That felt good to hear.

We show in 3 weeks!