Friday, May 29, 2009

Sorry, I have to complain...

I am kind of annoyed at two recognized shows that I have entered this year. One is coming up at the end of June at UNH. They wanted you to send your (huge amounts) of money and entry by May 6. And as of just a second ago, they STILL HAVE NOT POSTED THE ACCEPTED LIST???

Um, what? It has been 23 days. I think that is absolutely ridiculous. I actually called the secretary two days ago to check and see if I could find out if I had been accepted or wait listed or WHAT! I was SO polite on the message. And you guessed it, she has yet to call back. And this is part of her JOB. She is paid to run these shows.

And the other one is a show in July up here in Maine. The entry was due yesterday, so I forked over another HUGE check. I called the organizer the night before last to ask about stabling and such, since I unfortunately have a special need horse when it comes to stalls (her RAO). And yet again, you guessed it, no phone call back. Granted, the show is not until July, but still. I really feel I should have gotten a call back.

Now, I have organized and acted as secretary for many shows. It is a tough job, not one that I particularly enjoy, but I ALWAYS emailed or called back a competitor within 24 hours. I bent over backwards to help competitors, because I know what it is like to have a question, have a special need, or simply what it was like to be new to a sport and need my questions answered.

So yes, after my extremely long week at school, I am feeling entitled to just a small bit of complaining this evening. :D

EDITED: It is common, here in the Northeast it seems, that dressage shows and three phase events post an accepted list.  Or at least they send out an email saying you got in, long before the ride times are posted.  I have found out that it is different in other parts of the country.  So just to those who think I am being unreasonable, truly it is something that it done here and I guess I have come to expect.  :)

OH and by the way (as of today 6/10) I have been accepted at UNH.  I ride Training 2 and 4 twice, once on Friday and again on Sat.  :)

Cantering your Standardbred

When I first started riding Dreamy in 2006, I became involved in a local breed club. Long story short, for MANY MANY reasons I am no longer a member by my own choice. It just was not an environment for me. But during the time I was a member and an officer, I asked multiple times for them to hold a "Canter Clinic". It was something they had done years before, when I had no need for one. Of course, this never happened.

But anyway, Dreamy's canter has gone from nonexistent to pretty good. It is still not 100% balanced, and after about 1.5 times around a 20 m. circle it sort of falls apart, but hey, I am impressed with what we have. I think we are fine where we are for dressage, at Training level. The canter is not perfect, but it would be absolutely ridiculous and unfair for me to stay at Intro (walk/trot) level. I don't think we are actually ready for 3-gait under saddle classes, such as what we will do at the show in Skowhegan in a few weeks, but whatever. Her canter is really not that good around and around a large ring. It becomes flat and four beat.

All told, we have worked on the canter for EIGHT months. That is all. SO I am pretty proud of what we do have at this point.

So, despite the fact that I never got to help organize and ride in a "Canter Clinic", I would say that at this point I could INSTRUCT the canter clinic myself! LOL! Just reality the reason my horse's canter is pretty good is because of my instructor Judy. All of the techniques I have learned to improve Dreamy's canter, I learned from Judy. All of it is based on classical dressage. No gadgets, no pulling, no pushing...just good riding.

So enjoy my ramblings on cantering and training the Standardbred....I hope it helps someone!

Disclaimer! First of all, take this for what it is worth. I am NOT a professional, just an adult amateur who has been studying dressage for years, but I know I still have a lot to learn! I have been taught by great instructors and almost all of this has come from them. I really cannot take credit. And some of this has just been trial and error with my own horse.

Dressage foundation – No matter what discipline you ride, I truly think dressage basics are good for every horse. It teaches a horse to come from behind, really USE their hind end, accept and reach for the bit, and simply move well. If you can, take some dressage lessons from a good instructor. It is money well spent.

Training scale – Learn the training scale. View it here: Basically it is: rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness, and collection.

Lateral work – I think lateral work is one of the most important pieces of training a Standardbred. Start from the ground, placing your hand where the leg would be, and teach the horse to move away from pressure. You can do turn on the forehand and haunches on the ground and easily transfer them to under saddle. Also learn and develop a leg yield and a shoulder fore.

Develop a half halt – There is much mystery surrounding just exactly what a “half halt” is. Basically it is just what it sounds like: you ask for an “almost” halt. Using your legs and rein aids, you ask the horse to rebalance. Half halts are used before a transition and during any gait. You actually need to teach your horse what a half halt is. Most of the literature makes it sound like your horse will just “do it” if you ask. You need to start by actually making the downward transition (from whatever gait) and then gradually use the half halt to rebalance instead of the transition. (see below under canter for more on this) As Robert Dover said, “Most riders ride from movement to movement. Effective riders ride half halt to half halt.” Makes sense if you think about it.

Cantering! – Obviously, a Standardbred CAN canter. Their race training makes this gait a mental hurdle more than a physical one. Of course, there are STBs who are built in a way that makes it harder for them to canter, but overall, the majority can canter under saddle. I have many tips below for the canter, seeing as this has been something Dreamy and I have been working on since May 2008.

1. Do a couple leg yields at the walk, either on a long side or on a circle, then ask for a trot, get a nice easy trot for a few strides on a circle, and then ask for the canter. Getting her to step underneath her body before the transition improves everything. Also I will do one to two strides of leg yield in a test right before the canter. They are tiny, usually on a circle or corner, and more of an aid to come underneath herself with that hind leg, rather than a full leg yield.

2. Time your canter aid when her outside hind is coming forward, as that is the first step of a canter stride.

3. When Dreamy decides she does not want to pick up the correct lead (happened A LOT last summer to the left), I would counter bend her before I asked for the transition. This helped immensely! Counter bending is something I use a lot.

4. Once she understood the canter transition from the trot, my instructor had me asking for the canter from the walk. This really helped her to step up into the canter, rather than lunge or fling herself into it.

5. I have found that a few good strides of canter are more beneficial than just cantering around and around and around. Since I want to improve the quality of her canter, I come back to the trot/walk when the quality deteriorates. Ideally, you can go from 2-3 good strides and build up to 5-6, then a full circle, then the ring, etc. etc.

6. I often use the trot transition to “half halt” during the canter. Because Dreamy needed to figure out her balance at the canter, and did not yet know what a half halt is, I could not half halt in the canter to rebalance her. I would ask her to trot, rebalance her that way (plus trotting is something she CAN do) and then ask for the canter again. This leads me to…

7. I have also found that transitions, transitions, and MORE transitions help a ton. I literally will do 2-3 trot-canter-trot transitions on a 20 m. circle. It teaches her to sit back and ready her body for the upwards transition, because she is expecting it. I also have done a trot figure eight, then asked for the canter each time I crossed X. Then I would canter half a circle, come back to the trot, and then ask again at X for the other lead. Granted, anticipation is not usually a good thing, but I found for a canter transition it was. (Dreamy doesn't get nutty about it or try to rush, so that is also why it worked. If your horse gets too riled up, encouraging anticipation may not work.)

8. I have found that having a “Canter Support Group” is a great thing! Feel free to email me anytime!

Here are some great resources I have found online:

Cure That Pace!

Trot On!

A Change of Pace

10 Steps to Improve Your Shoulder Fore

How Horses Work

Sustainable Dressage (This entire website is fantastic!)

Here is the half halt info:

The Half Halt Demystified (Great DVD. Anyone want to buy it for me?) Just kidding...

Back to the Beach (Just a great article!)

Lessons and Training

Wow, you would think I have been doing nothing lately, with the lack of posts! :) Quite the contrary! I have been very busy riding and taking lessons, but of course my job right now is out of control busy!!!! So while I have been doing horsey things, I have had no time to blog about it. I teach twelfth grade English and I was the prom adviser. My kids are graduating on June 7. Thankfully prom was over on May 16, but now I am in the midst of final grades, senior week activities, overseeing senior exit exhibits, and helping with marching practice. As a matter of fact, I am sitting here in my classroom at the moment, waiting for a student to do her senior exit exhibit at 3:45. Only a half hour to sit around and wait for her....then she presents for an hour. That means I get to go home by 5PM today! That is better than yesterday, when I arrived home after 6PM.........ah the joys of teaching!

So after the NEDA Spring show, I knew I had a lot to work on to improve our connection. I have taken lessons on both Saturdays since my show, and I have another one scheduled for tomorrow morning. We have been doing lots of bending in my lessons as well as lateral work to really get Dreamy into my outside rein. Even though I know the adage, "Inside leg to outside hand" there are times when just getting through the test takes precedent. That to me is the double edged sword of showing. I show in order to test my skills and see where we are in terms of our training. But sometimes the pressure of a show can make things fall apart and I end up riding the test, not the movements. This is similar to teaching, where instead of teaching for content and knowledge and improvement, you "teach to the test" such as the SATs.

Because my next show is not until June 19-21, I have been able to take some time to just train. No worries about riding Training 4, no worries about scores, just plain old classical riding and training. This time without competitions has allowed my instructor to push us into a different comfort level. For example, we started working on walk-canter transitions. We tried this last fall, with spotty success. Dreamy is not 100% sure what I am asking, since she is so "well trained" to expect the canter cue when trotting. As soon as I sit the trot, shift my weight, and bring my outside leg back a smidgen, I can feel her gathering herself in preparation for the upwards transition. But when I do it at the walk, she moves sideways. :) She expects a lateral movement at the walk.

So we tried it. And it did not go very well. But that is OK. I much rather have things fall apart at a lesson than at home. I think truly Dreamy was frustrated because she is not 100% sure what I am asking. She went right into her bucking routine.

DISCOVERY #1 - My horse bucks (quite well actually...) when she is confused. As my instructor said, she is giving me the big middle hoof. Why, yes, that would be exactly what my diva mare is doing. :D This is something that started during our clinic with Linda Zang, which loyal readers may remember. Linda thought she was sore and suggested I use a raised pad under the cantle.

DISCOVERY #2 - My horse is not sore. Nor can I use a raised anything under my cantle. I already use an Equigel pad all the time, which is wonderful. It provides just enough even cushion and my saddle fits her perfectly. The reason I am very confident saying this is because I rode a handful of times at home since the clinic with a black foam Cashel pad, exactly like the one pictured here. It makes the saddle flaps stick way out away from her sides. Tacking her up, I knew right away this would not work. Sure enough, near the end of our walk/trot warm up, my saddle had slipped literally over a hand's width backwards! I had to dismount and fix the saddle.....tried it again.......and finally just took the Cashel off. My saddle does NOT BUDGE because it fits her so well. It was awful using the foam pad! And then the next time I tried just the Cashel foam pad without the Equigel, but it was the same thing.

So, I am sticking with what works. My horse bucks when she is confused or upset. And that only happens when I push her too far. Now, there is a fine line between challenging your horse and moving to the next level, and then pushing them too far and frying them. Dreamy has a very thin line. The nice part is that when we totally fried her brain with asking for walk-canter transitions, and she began doing her best to get me OFF her back, we were able to give her a walk break and go back to what she already knows well: the trot-canter transition. And she was fine. She was tired and slightly cranky, so it was not our best ever canters, but it was doable. There was a time when she would have been so peeved that we would have had to go back to just trotting or something equally as easy. So I am proud of her for keeping her cool. Judy (my instructor) encouraged me to try the walk-canter transitions on my own and told me I would know if it would be OK to do so. So far, so good. The day after this lesson, I did our normal routine of warm up, lateral work, bending exercises, and then asked for the canter like I always do...from the trot. She was fabulous.

So then, after getting good canters in both directions, I gave her a walk break. I picked her back up and asked for the canter. I'll be damned, she picked up the left lead canter TWICE from the walk with no problems! It was super! I ended there, knowing full well that if I drilled her it may backfire in my face.

This past week has been tough for riding. It has been raining for three days, so she has had the last two nights off. Tonight I would like to ride, even if it is just an easy dressage hack, seeing as I will be taking a lesson in the morning. I did get to jump on Tuesday, which was awesome. Our upcoming show on June 19-21 is a big rated A show here in Maine. We are doing hunters, and seeing as it is not "our thing" I am not too worried about how we place. But I do want to do well in the over fences classes. The real reason I am even doing this show at all is because the manager wrote a Standardbred division into the show! So besides my breed division, I will also do the Easy Does It hunter division.

My horse is a dressage horse, goes in a dressage frame, and is used to working with full contact on the bit. A hunter is more stretched out, not in a "dressage" much as I hate the word frame, it is true. A hunter goes with their nose poked out in front of the vertical, with much less rein contact than a dressage horse. So truthfully, a greener horse will look much more in a hunter frame than my horse will. I fully expect to be beaten by horses who are not as trained as Dreamy. This is OK. I have been training my horse for dressage, so I do not think we will suddenly be able to look like a hunter and place well. A good experience overall is all I want. Plus it is a great way to show off the breed and the NEW Standardbred organization that has started here in Maine.......

Here is a pic of a pony in a nice hunter frame. The pony is advertised as $30,000, so it must be doing something right.

And here is my horse is a dressage frame. She is a little too deep, but I was riding her that way since we are on the track. She becomes a fire breathing dragon at the track and I had to rider her deep to stay on her. LOL!

So my horse is not a hunter pony. :( And I fully expect she will be beaten by greener STBs who are not in any type of frame....except that they move with their noses stuck out and riders have looser reins. But it is all good. :)

Anyway, the other day when we jumped, I just wanted to establish good rhythm over the fences. I know in the Easy Does It division, we can either trot or canter. Even though Dreamy's canter is coming along very well, she is not ready yet to canter an entire course of fences. Nor is she really ready to canter around a 100x200 ring four times in an under saddle class......but we'll try our best. Right now, her canter is good for about 1.5 circuits on a 20 m. circle. That is all. So my plan is to trot the fences and keep a good rhythm. A hunter jump round should stay the same rhythm and tempo. I set up a cross rail on the edge of my "ring" and we just trotted around, going over the jump each time. I wanted her to get into a ho-hum kind of rhythm, nice and easy, where she was not speeding up on the approach or cantering like a crazy unbalanced race horse on the landing and get-away.

I was impressed that she trotted in, cantered one stride out, and came right back to the trot very balanced and rhythmic. I realize we will never be perfect hunter jumpers, but I am very happy with her. We did the cross rail about 5 times in each direction, just trotting in, jumping, trotting out, and back around to jump. It was exactly how I wanted the session to go. I also took her over a bounce gymnastic of three small fences. I set it a little long so she had to reach to make the bounces. Next time we jump I will try it a little tighter.

So life is good. Just too busy! After graduation on June 7 and then the all night Project Grad trip (yes I got suckered into that......BOOO!) I am a FREE WOMAN! Well, I am contractually required to be at school until June 19, but hey, that will be a piece of cake! :D

Monday, May 11, 2009

NEDA Spring Photographs

I hate trying to get my photos into a long post, so I am going to do the photos separate. I am hoping that I can get a professional pic too.

I am actually on the center line (got a 7 on this center line) but from S's vantage point, it looks bad. LOL!

I am sitting up, but Dreamy is on her forehand....

Whoa, big canter stride. Unfortunately, S never got a good pic of the canter. My position is not that bad, really. Definitely getting better!

Free walk...her hind legs look odd. ??
Cantering and I am TRYING so hard to sit up and keep my legs at the girth...

YAY! Our second place ribbon for Training 2! With the nice backdrop of gravel piles. We should have though of it and taken a pic near a NEDA banner or something nicer.....

This is our good luck charm, thanks to On the Bit! :) :) :) Thanks M!!!! I know it is working!!!

C wanted to take some here is S looking over my tests at the end of the day...

C taking pics of me untacking Dreamy. For an almost five year old, he takes pretty decent pics!

NEDA Spring - "No guts, no glory"

I had the best time at NEDA Spring this past weekend. It was just perfect and we had a FANTASTIC day. I think it was the two best tests we have EVER had. :) To date....of course.

My times were later in the day (Thank you Sue McKeown!) so we left around 8AM. MapQuest told me it was a 3 hour, 11 minute trip, so I planned for 3 and a half hours. There was no way around going down Rte. 93 that I could figure out, so yes folks, we drove through the middle of Boston. Over the Tobin Bridge. I am not that nervous of a driver, nor is S, so we figured "NO GUTS, NO GLORY!" Seeing as I was throwing all caution to the wind, entering a pretty big show with a STB, we figured we might as well live large. So that was the weekend's motto: No guts, no glory. LOL!

The trip down was uneventful, except for a cranky child. We should have left C with his grandparents, but S was like, "Oh he'll be fine...." Ah well. And there was the tunnel in Boston, where I told Shawn he ought to get out of the far right lane, seeing as it seemed like there was an exit coming up soon. He was like, "I'm FINE!" Well........we ended up having to take a random exit in the tunnel. I was literally crapping my pants, thinking we would suddenly emerge with a 20 foot horse trailer in downtown Boston. YEAH GREAT! Luckily, there was a turn off back onto 93 right before the exit (odd, but PERFECT!) so we were able to save the day. I would have been SO PISSED had that turnoff not been there. The tunnel had lots of turns and you have to watch the signs. S let me navigate myself the rest of the way. I told him I knew were we were going....well I knew how to get to Rte. 3, just had never taken the Marshfield exit (#12). So I think he finally realized I MIGHT have a clue. YA THINK???? :p

We arrived with lots of time to spare, as I had planned. Seeing as I had never been to this venue, I wanted to be able to get the lay of the land before I had to worry about riding. I got Dreamy settled and left her with S. There was a nice big area to park in, which was nice. It was sort of an old and rundown fairground, but there was a lot of space. Then I took C with me up to find the secretary's booth and figure out which rings were what. There were four competition rings and two warm ups.

All signed in and ready to roll, we headed back to the trailer parking. Dreamy was calm and ready to go. We walked up to the warm-up with about 45 minutes to go before my test. It was becoming quite hot and humid, so I wanted to limit her warm up. I had no idea what I might get, but I knew I did not want to completely tire her out before the test.

The main warm up ring was full, mostly of FEI riders doing fancy things. LOL! It is cool to be at a show where there are riders doing piaffe and tempis all around you, rather than walktrotters who cannot steer! (Not that FEI riders look where they are going either....come to think of it....LOL) Anyway, I was a little intimidated by the "fancy" horses, so I opted to go to the less crowded side warm up. I just kept thinking....what is the BEST thing that can happen? Don't be nervous, just think positive! (Thanks Judy!)

Dreamy warmed up fine, getting both her canters with no issues. And there was NO PACING on the downward transition! It was clean! She was very good in the contact, not perfect yet, but very good. She was a bit sluggish though. I decided to take off my spurs last week, thinking that her bucking at the canter might have something to do with them. And since she is still spooky with whips, I was a bit worried about not having a backup in case she ignored my leg. Soon we were called for Training Test 2. The entire test went well, except for our right lead canter. I knew it was a good ride though. All I wanted was to score above a 60%.

We went back to the trailer and rested for a little while. I had some time to kill before Training 4. I ended up getting on just 30 minutes out, knowing that she would not need an extensive warm up. Dreamy was still sluggish, but I had put my small spurs on this time. I got her moving out in the trot and thought we might do better.

I decided this time around to enter the "intimadting FEI warmup area". There was no specific FEI warm up, but it did seem that only the lower levels went to the side warmup. This time the main ring was less crowded. Plus I wanted to rub elbows with the "fancy" horses. LOL! I am silly, I know. I got a nice trot and canter, and was walking her around on a loose rein, when I see S and C walking out to the bleachers. S has a RED RIBBON! OMG, OMG, OMG!!!

I follow him and ask what my score was.
We ended up with a 61.429% on Training 2!!!! There were 8 riders and we placed SECOND! They did not split the class between Open and AA. I totally started crying, no lie. S teased me for crying, but I was so proud of her! We got 7s and 6s throughout the test.......two 7s on each canter transition!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That was awesome!!! Especially since last year we were getting 3s and 4s on our canter transitions!

And our left lead canter circle was a 6 and our right lead was a 5. I am SO PROUD OF HER! I got a 6 on rider position, which was great. It was literally the best test we have ever done. The judge loved her. She said we really need to get the connection in the canter more established, but that she was a "lovely horse." And this is no "L" judge. We had Sarah Geikie, an FEI "C" judge. So I knew this woman was not giving away scores.

Suddenly, I was even more pumped for Training 4. I think I was a little TOO pumped, and I pushed her too hard. For some reason, perhaps from riding hot Morgans all my life, I always get Dreamy into a tempo that is too fast. The only reason our tempo was good the entire T2 test was because she was sluggish and I had no spurs!!! LOL! I think I was chasing her a little. Our canters were 5s this time on the circles BUT the transitions were 6s. We got a 4 on our low and long trot circle at the end. YUCK! She was just so pooped out and falling on her forehand. I thought it was OK enough for at least a 5, but the judge said we never actually stretched. Have to work on that. :( S never got a pic of it, so I cannot even evaluate it.

But again no pacing! The judge had no idea what breed she was. Usually because her gaits have never been "pure" until this show, and she always throws in a pace stride here or there, the judge has ALWAYS said something. Sometimes they wonder if she is lame (UM, no....) and sometimes they figure out she is a STB. The only person who did say something was the ring steward. She remarked that she was a nice TB. Nope, guess again. The look on her face was priceless when I said she was a STB. (After T2, I had said to S we needed to work on that right lead canter. I smiled at the steward when I said it, so she said something like, "She looks great, but still thought she was on the track for that canter." I said "No kidding!", smiled, and we went back to the trailer. When we were back for T4, I checked in with her and that is when she remarked about her being a nice TB. LOL!!!!) As much as I love promoting her breed, I also love when we are "so good" we "fit in" as a dressage horse. :)

Training 4 was not as nice of a test as T2, so we ended up scoring a 56% and came in 7 out of 8. There were 22 riders, but they did split the class this time. Technically I came in 13 out of everyone, but they split it up into Open and AA/JR/YR. While we did not get the 60% to qualify for USDF awards, it was the BEST test we could have ridden right now. The judge said we showed a lot of promise, but that we have to work on our connection to really get ready for First level. (Not that I am thinking that far ahead right now, but I realize that at T4 that is what they expect to see...a horse ready to move up). A year ago, we would have scored a 40% on this test, not even kidding. Heck, even last fall we would not have even hit 50% on T4!!! It is truly a hard test for us and really challenges us both. So while I was bummed out for not getting the qualifying 60% we need, I was very pleased with the ride in general. She was just so well behaved and so fabulous to ride. :) And hey, she was high point Standardbred after all........seeing as she was the ONLY STB there!

So we did it. :) We did well at our first "for real" dressage show. As we were walking back to the trailer after my last test, I realized that this was my first recognized dressage show. I have done recognized breed shows, hunter shows, and CDEs. But I have never actually done anything but a schooling dressage show. So WOW! For our first time at a BIG dressage show, I was really really happy. I said something to S about this, and he was like, "Is this really a big show?" Well, there were 192 horses here and four rings......and he goes, "OH wow, I guess you are right!" This ain't SMDA anymore there buddy! LOL! I think it is funny that it never dawned on him that this was a "big deal." He looked over my tests at the end and was like, "Geez you sure got a lot of 7s. That's good right?" LOL! He is learning.....

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Horse Illustrated Profile - I am FAMOUS!

I was featured in the June 2009 Horse Illustrated HI Profile section. Yes, your friend STB Eventer is FAMOUS! LOL! I filled out the information back in the summer of 2008 and sort of forgot about it. I received an email a couple of week ago congratulating me on being chosen! I even won an Absorbine Stall Disinfectant Kit, which is a $50 value! And Absorbine sent me a shirt too! :)

I thought I would keep it a secret from everyone until the issue came out. I was able to purchase it today. Here is the full page...

And here is the close-up....

I hope you can read it! Go out and buy your own copy today! Maybe I will even sign it for you.......ROFLMAO! ;-)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Odds and Ends

Well, first off, let me say that I am SCARED sh!tless for this weekend's show. For some reason, competing at NEDA Spring down in MA seemed like such a good idea back in February. Now, just six days out, I am rather nervous! I got my times:

Training 2 = 1:33
Training 4 = 3:00

There are eight riders in my T2 class and 22 (HOLY CRAP) in my T4 class. There will be no ribbons this weekend. I am just aiming to break 60% on both tests. That is all I want. :)

Also, I am in the process of breaking in my new tall boots. Seeing as I bought them in March (I think...) there is no excuse for them to not be ready. I just kept putting it off because I KNOW they will hurt. So right now I am wearing them and my legs feel as though they might fall off. UGGG. They are Ariat Challenge Field Boots. I broke in my last pair of boots the fall of 1997, which was my first semester at college. I had to walk to the barn from my dorm and well, they broke in pretty quickly. That was nice, but it was also VERY painful! I DO NOT WANT any blisters! :(

And finally, my really awesome news is that I received a card from one of Dreamy's past owners. I wrote to all her owners on her papers back in the winter of 2007. Only one person wrote back within a month or so. When no one else wrote, I forgot about it.

Well, today I got a card from Dr. Schlesinger and his wife. They wrote:

Ms. Tewksbury,

I am very sorry that we have not written back sooner concerning "Dreamy Starlet". When we had her she was a spunky filly with a lot of promise! When she developed her chips I determined her racing time was over. I was an equine veterinarian then so I could have done the surgery but ending her racing career was the alternative. She was like a big puppy ready for everything. She had quite a disposition and lots of spunk. We were sorry to let her go. We are very glad a wonderful person like you has her. Maybe some day if it is OK we might come visit. Give her a hug for us.

OK, I admit it, I cried. It was so sweet of them to write and I love that they chose to retire her so young rather than do surgery and race her. And give her a hug? And come visit her? OMG, I love race owners like that. I am going to send them back a letter and pics, plus a list of where we will show in New England and New Jersey this year. I would love for them to see her at a show or even come to Maine. I wish they had pics of her from back then. She was only three when they owned her. :)

Well, I need to post the full story about the Linda Zang clinic. HOLY CRAP, IT WAS AWESOME! I am in the process of setting up lessons with Lendon Gray. I plan to go down to her NY farm for a couple of days this coming August. :)

Linda Zang Symposium May 2009

I applied and was accepted as a demo rider for the SMDA Linda Zang Dressage Symposium May 2-3, 2009. It was very exciting to be chosen, and even though it meant my "2009 educational fund" was tapped out rather early on, it was well worth the money.

This clinic featured the typical Who's Who of dressage warmbloods: Hanoverians, Dutch Warmbloods, Oldenburgs, Swedish Warmbloods, and Holsteiners.

And then there was Dreamy, a Standardbred. The Little Horse That Could. :D YAY!

I trucked Dreamy to the symposium myself both mornings. It was just easier that way. I have been to Spring Creek Farm many times and it is only about 50 minutes from my house. My "free auditor" was my instructor Judy. I was very happy to have her there both days to see me ride.

We left the farm around 6:15AM and got down there a little after 7:00. I had plenty of time to relax, brush her, tack her up, get myself ready, and get on. I will give a run down of each day...

We entered the indoor around quarter of eight on Saturday morning. I was riding in a semi-private with Leslie E., and she was already in there with her Hanoverian gelding. I walked Dreamy around, seeing as this was only her fourth time in an indoor, showing her the mirrors and all that. I mounted up and she was fine. She was completely relaxed. This was good as I was a little worried. It is such an honor to ride with someone like Linda that I admit I was nervous. People started coming in, but Dreamy and I stayed relaxed. Linda showed up and I was ready to work. We had done a lot of walking and some trotting to warm up.

Then Linda spent the first twenty minutes of my ride talking with the auditors, asking their experience levels, and gabbing on and on about the book she wrote. Now, don't get me wrong, everything she did was fine, but it seemed to me perhaps that stuff could have happened BEFORE my 8:00 AM ride time! I was pretty bummed and figured we would not get a full hour. (As it ends up, we got to ride until 9:15, but still.......)

We started at the walk. She wanted to evaluate the horses and have the auditors understand what a judge is looking for in a walk. She said Dreamy had a "seven" walk that could become an "eight" and that the Hano had an "eight" walk that could be a "nine." Nothing like making me feel crappy about having a "lesser walk" than a HORSE THAT IS BRED TO DO DRESSAGE. So I walked around, trying my best to keep her swinging in the walk and not plodding along in boredom. Poor mare.

I could tell Linda did not think much of the fact that Dreamy is a Standardbred. Plus she kept calling her a Saddlebred and I kept correcting her. (OH and called her a "he" but whatever......grrr. How annoying though!). It did not help we are riding in a semi-private with a GORGEOUS imported Hano who has seriously awesome gaits and costs more than my college education. Because this is a symposium and not just a clinic, she is talking to the AUDIENCE about what we are doing and then asking us to do certain things. Not only do us riders get to learn, but it is taught in such a way that the audience is included too.

So she works with the Hano first and that was fine.....I half listen and half tune out. I was seriously bored at this point, as was my pissy mare. We had been walking now for almost an hour. At least the indoor is GORGEOUS and we get to enjoy looking at ourselves in the mirror.

Then I get to come along and do my trot and canter work. I think Linda was a bit more impressed, as I think she was expecting Dreamy to be much worse than she is. But she called her a Saddlebred again and when I corrected her she said, "Yeah, but she is definitely not a pacer." UM, YEAH SHE IS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My good god. It was funny because even my instructor was chiming in with the "Um, yeah, she is a STB!"

So the best part of the entire thing is that she thought Dreamy's canter was decent enough to not believe she is 1. A Standardbred and 2. A pacer (*GASP!!!*) And told me that our main problem is she is dropping her inside shoulder and then unable to come completely through her outside shoulder. She had me "counter bending" her at the trot and canter (which will fix both our connection and improve the quality of our canter...both my goals at this clinic) and it essentially made Dreamy bring that inside shoulder UP and then made her body straight. And holy cow did it work! :) Linda left me with the words, "Well this is an easy fix." That sounds pretty good!

I admit I was pretty bummed to only actually work with Linda for about 20 minutes. I was kind of feeling as though it was a real waste of 250 bucks to do this thing, but I had hope when Linda warned us we would surely "work hard tomorrow." I sure hope so! Here are the pics from Day One, taken by Judy.

Nice collapsing on my right side. LOL!

A little strung out and on the forehand.

Better, but behind the bit and I need to SIT THE HELL UP! Grrrr...

Dreamy's famous evasion by going behind the bit. :P


I arrived at Spring Creek much more relaxed and excited for my lesson. Now that Linda had our number, so to speak, I knew I would be able to really learn something. Having been a bit disappointed on Saturday/Day One, I was really hoping to work hard and LEARN something today.

Here we are at the trailer, ready to roll! She is wearing her SPHO-NJ saddle pad, of course...

We started right off with Linda watching us warm up. She immediately noticed that I was more focused and aware of my outside aids. Dreamy was much more connected (imagine that...) and did not do any of the "sulky hop" steps so many STBs like to do. The photos already show that we looked better. (Yes, I wore my SMDA fleece vest again and my white breeches....but I did change my black shirt.....yesterday's was solid black and this one has small black/white stripes! LOL!!!!!!)

We trotted and walked, and Linda had me do shallow loops along the long side. This was to change the bend but still be on the aids and through. Like this.....

Linda worked first with the Hanoverian. When it was our turn, we trotted and did some cantering. We worked HARD. I knew it was a good lesson because I could BARELY WALK when I dismounted at the end of the hour. I knew my time, money, and effort was well spent.

Here are the many things we worked on:

1. Connection with the outside rein. We all know we are supposed to ride "Inside leg to outside hand." But in every lesson it seemed that riders/horses were NOT truly through that outside rein. I realized I am overbending Dreamy to the inside and ultimately NOT supporting her on the outside rein. This is the root of many of our problems, mainly connection of course.

2. My LEG likes to slide WAAAY back for some reason! It seemed as soon as I got my leg AT the girth, instead of behind it, Dreamy's canter was way better. Plus I was then SITTING UP! She is falling in on her inside shoulder and then her hind end (outside hind) is dangling out there "somewhere." As soon as I got my inside leg right on her, supporting her, then her shoulder came up. Then with my outside rein actually THERE and connected, I was able to help activate that outside hind. As Linda put it, the most important leg at the canter is the outside hind. Hmmm....

3. Dreamy likes to buck! Linda thought her back was sore, but in the times I have had her worked on, her back has never been sore. She had Friday off, and let's face it, Saturday's ride was 45 minutes of WALK, so there was no way I was buying the back hurting thing. Dreamy just was pissed! When I started riding her correctly, she started to BUCK at the canter. I never got unseated, but there were times where it sure did surprise me! I was not that worried, but I never knew when it might happen! LOL! So that is the pic at the top of the blog for now......a perfect bucking picture. here it is, when the time comes for me to change the top photo, which I like to do every few weeks....

So Linda put a folded up towel underneath the cantle of the saddle. And she made me put my stirrups up one hole. The towel made me feel as though I were sliding down a staircase. The higher stirrups made me feel like a hunt seat rider. Great. But it did seem to help me keep my leg AT the girth, rather than slid way back 10"!

Working on my it is too far forward. But I am trying!

Now here, Dreamy looks fabulous! But WHAT am I doing with my LEG?????

4. Her canter....well it seems that with a consistent connection especially in my outside rein and my legs AT the girth, our canter will improve. It did improve tremendously just in the time I rode on Sunday! That made me feel good.

The one thing that we need to work on is the downwards transition. For one thing, she loses her ability to bend. I am not kidding, it is like riding a 2 by 4. I need to keep her bent around my inside leg. Plus not only will it help her connection and suppleness to be bent properly, but also there are a few strides right from the canter to the trot that are usually pacey. As Linda described it, she is cantering along, and then her head shoots up, her back braces, and she gets VERY rigid in her wither/neck area. This in turn causes her to pace. It is almost like....."OK canter, canter, canter, this is fine...I start to ask her to slow down and she goes "OMG OMG OMG......ah! Ah! AH!" and this is when she is pacey discombobulated mare. Then we come to the trot and it is stiff, stiff, stiff, so I bend her as best as I can. I need to time my aids better so I am asking for that bend AS we are coming from the canter to the trot to eliminate her moments of OMG!

Here I am trying SO HARD to keep my leg at the girth and sit up, that it looks as though I have also raised my chin! LOL!

One of our last canters......finally she is looking like a dressage horse!

We were both sweaty and tired by 9AM. But I was ECSTATIC! We had done so well and made marked improvement in our lessons. I am so glad I spent the time and money. Linda REALLY knew her stuff and with just one small movement or change, the horse moved MUCH better, if not perfectly. She was demanding yet kind. I liked her teaching style and would jump at the chance to ride with her again.

Despite my misgivings on Saturday and the fact that Linda initially seemed off-put with my Standardbred dressage horse, I felt like I had really made progress in my horse and in Linda's opinion of her. She actually even said something during one of our last trots to the effect of, "Now look...she actually looks like a Second Level horse now." WHOOOO! Linda does not seem the type to freely give such comments, so I was VERY pleased to hear THAT! :)

Overall, I am pleased with our experience at the symposium and would do it again in a second if I got the chance. THANK YOU SMDA! :) And thank you to Judy for being not only a great instructor, but also a great photographer. I really lucked out with Judy. She is exactly the person I need to be learning from right now. Plus, she is NOT threatened by me taking clinics with others. That is just so nice, because while Judy is my "instructor" I do enjoy clinics. And I must publicly brag that everything Linda had us work on over the weekend is stuff that JUDY has already picked up on and has me working on. So it felt good to know that Judy is on the right track....not that I ever doubt her, but I think she should feel good to know that her teaching/training is in line with a world renowned "O" judge like Linda Zang!

Now if only it would stop raining so I could practice what I learned....and get ready for our tests at NEDA Spring this weekend! :D