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Monday, August 1, 2011

Buck's County Horse Park notes, thoughts on the day and the sport...

So after an 11 month hiatus, I have returned to the competition arena! It is a place that I have missed more than I care to admit but it is still a return that comes at a price. My horses are not quite as prepared as they could be, my ankle is a constant problem while mounted and there is the niggling fear that it will become extremely painful when I need it most...but all of those mental hiccups aside - golly, it was good to go down the centerline again!!!! Even on a 90+* day at the end of July!

I have to start this post by singing the praises of common sense that have crept into dressage. I did not see a single top hat at the show. Not one. Everyone was wearing an approved helmet and most were even adjusted properly! :) So good to see many people setting a good example for other riders! I honestly have not seen that before, so it was good on a basic level to observe so much practically over 'fashion'! That being said, I did not adhere to the 'coats are waived' concession and wore my coat for both tests. My tests are quite brief with plenty of forward momentum, so it does not feel hot until after the final salute. :)

For those of you who haven't met our Liam (aka Don William WF), he is a very tall, lanky horse who is the kindest equine you shall ever come across. His main goal in life is to please the humans around him while cooperating to the fullest extent. But did I mention he is quite tall? Liam is creeping ever closer to 17.3 hands but is quite a nice shape where the rider sits, so he is a very manageable size to work with - especially when his amazing attitude is factored into training. This was Liam's first 'real' show and I am very pleased with how it went. He handled the new location beautifully, settled into his work with no outbursts - unlike some of the other horses who were cavorting around the arena with explosive bucking/rearing/running backwards exhibitions. Liam would watch them bucking or bolting and Melissa and I shared a laugh in the car ride home since his expression is 'Dude, why are you putting so much energy into THAT?' with a very quizzical look on his face. He is a cool customer that is for sure! :)

His test was a bit conservative and that was my fault/decision. As per the usual pattern, Liam warmed up nicely with excellent steering but our collection was lacking a bit - so the 10m turns and 15m canter circles lurked in my mind as potential problems in the test. But true to form - Liam trotted down the centerline and settled into his test nicely. The 10m turns in the trot were lovely, his rhythm was like a metronome and he was very obedient. On the negative side, I made the rider's choice of going for rhythm rather than brilliance as he was carrying just a bit of tension in his back, so we lost points for not enough power in the lengthen trots. His walk was lovely and other than a small 'looky' moment at the end of the medium walk, he was brilliant and relaxed. His canter in a test always surprises me - he was a tad high headed but the connection has improved so much in just a month and he is starting to relax his topline with some self carriage and push from behind. That being said - he is a big horse and it very hard to push him to show off his ground cover while we are trying to stay IN the ring! :).

His transitions from canter to trot have to be mentioned - he takes the half-halt beautifully now and settles instantly into a balanced trot rhythm --all with minimal effort on my part and that is often a real sticking point for some big movers as they progress in their training! As we have come to expect - Liam's stretchy circle was flawless and he halted squarely at the end of his test. Some of the judge's comments include - "willingly forward w/ clear rhythm" (trot), "relaxed, expressive Walk w/ clear rhythm and very nice overstep", "clear 3 beat rhythm" (canter) and "with more work on development of topline and balance, he'll move up the levels".

Needless to say, I am very proud of Liam and while a score of 7.16 indicates we have lots to work on - he is certainly proving to have the right attitude towards competition, so we will just continue to work on our skills together as a pair!

Now many of you know how I feel about Oz (aka Wizard WF). From his first breath I have seen all of Waldaire's greatness in this youngster - even through the awkward years and strange growth spurts that happen to most young horses. Deep down in the pit of my stomach, I feel as though he is The One and recognize a match for my temperament, my riding style and basic nature. As silly as that might sound, I can be pressed into admitting that while he is not perfect to every human on this planet - he is the perfect horse for me. :) Now his dam Abracadabra did contribute quite a bit to him as did her sire Again and Again and we all see some of Abundance's influence as well - to me his is Waldaire's upgrade - a bit more sensitive but like his sire and damsire 110% attuned to the rider's aids and mindset.

So with all of that in mind, I was actually a bit nervous about showing my stallion. It has been almost 11 months since he was in a show environment and the warm up was quite crowded. My leg is not where I would like it to be most of the time and I can not rely on it to hold my weight and balance. There were 3 rings going with all the horses warming up in the community space, the usual show commotion was going on...well, Oz took it all in stride, puffed up a bit and put on a show of what every stallion should aspire to at a competition! He was lovely in the warm up traffic, no disobediences, no calling for Liam back in the trailer. Steady, steady, steady rhythm, soft in the contact, light off of my leg and just super cooperative. I will admit I need to shorten our preparation time by about 5-8 minutes as it is hot and he was so good - it took a bit of 'shine' off of our test to be on him for so long. (my mistake!)

In his test, there were a few small errors (like me forgetting the turn on the haunches at C) and he was a touch on the tight side finishing the 2nd simple change but over all I am thrilled with how steady he was, willing to do whatever I asked and just a star in that environment! The canter was delightful, the trot work did show he was a bit tired but the walk was just lovely. I should have pushed him more in the medium trots and also in the workings as well but went for rhythm and compromised the brilliance. His canter also suffered from the same rider decision. It was a conscious choice and it lies in my strong desire to present a harmonious impression rather than drama and possible explosions...just like with Liam!

His scores included the following comments - "steady rhythm w/ good ground cover" (trot) 7.2, "clear overreach/relaxed strides, going somewhere" (walk) 7.8, "balanced canter but could show rounder jump" 7.3 and "as he strengthens more behind, he should make a good prospect" (general impression) 7.4. His overall score was a 7.34 and while that is not a record breaking achievement - I am quite pleased with his attitude, cooperation and execution of the test.

Thank you's go out to Melissa Gartland who is an International Silver Medalist, groom and support staff extrordinaire, time keeper and good company! Mom (the birthday girl) and Dad for breeding me such nice horses to ride! BCHP and Jacqui R. for running yet another super competition for all of the competitors to showcase their efforts and equines! Karin R. and her sister Kimberly B. for the cheering squad that came to the show! The usual suspects - the vet, the farrier, mom-the-trainer/coach - are always included in the thank you list!

So from here we will look towards the clinic with Catherine Haddad-Staller, Fidler Run Farm's dressage show and then possibly Dressage at Devon, if we achieve the required scores. If not, there are certainly many things to work on with all the young horses and it was lovely to get a validation of the quality of the animals that we have bred in the performance arena from an experienced licensed official! :)

Happy Riding!! Stay cool! Hydrate!!!

ETA: I have finally watched the videos from the show and am debating purchasing a new video system as the horses look short strided, choppy and hasty. Which is all quite distressing as they were very fluid and relaxed with great rhythm - even the judge commented on how good that facet was!!! Any suggestions for a new video camera?

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