This Week in Dressage: Shoulder-in Left

It’s no secret that our Elementary needs work – our Elementary everything, basically. My first impressions from our last show was pretty much that everything sucked and would suck forever, but this time I have been able to be a little more objective (numbers don’t have so much bearing on a dance, you see) and pick out the things we really, truly have trouble with.

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I came up with six. One for each working  week between now and our next show. The beauty of schooling a movement is also that you don’t just improve the movement; in order to improve the movement you dig up a crookedness or a lack of impulsion or whatever it was that was causing the trouble in the first place, and so we improve.

This week’s movement was shoulder-in left. We had a 7 for shoulder-in right and a 5 for shoulder-in left on the same test. Ouch. I used the following exercises to work on this:

  • Warmup with leg-yields in medium or even free walk, usually on the long diagonal. Transition to long easy leg-yields in working trot, then more difficult (usually just F-X-M) in collected trot. This got her off my inside leg and started to warm up whatever muscles make the leggies cross.
  • Elementary 5 shoulder-in set in reverse: M-B shoulder-in right, B turn right, E turn left, E-K shoulder-in left. This one was to give me a feel for what was going on in the test itself and where we were going wrong. She felt very dull to my inside leg, so I headed for my next exercise, a favourite to get her off my inside leg.
  • Circle 20m in working trot. Spiral down to 15m, then to 10m in collected trot. Complete the circle, then leg-yield out to 20m circle and immediately go to working trot (if her medium trot was any good we’d use that instead). I love this exercise because the horse really wants to get off the tiny circle, so there’s motivation to leg-yield. The upward transition on the bigger circle also creates some anticipation, increasing the energy in the leg-yield itself.
  • Then we did the Elementary 5 shoulder-ins again. They were better, but still not super.

Arwen had felt SUPER responsive to my inside leg in shoulder-in right, the spiralling exercise, and the leg-yields, so I knew it wasn’t that that was causing our shoulder-in left problems. Back to the drawing board. Time for Googling and reading all those long dull classical descriptions of what the shoulder-in really is, and then the little light bulb went “bing” in my head when I was reading troubleshooting somewhere (EuroDressage, I think).

Now I know I have the seat crookedness issue, but I always underestimate how often it comes back to bite my bum. The descriptions mentioned that failure to sit DOWN on the inside seat bone could cause quite a bit of difficulty for the horse. BING! My left seat bone used to strenuously resist being sat upon. Lots of stretching has finally worked it so that it’s not sore anymore, but the old habit remains and my muscles are still trying to protect it. So I can sit on it, but it takes focus.

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pictured: focus… on carrots

I went back and did the Elementary 5 shoulder-in work at the next session, this time really, really sitting on that inside seat bone (while maintaining the straightness across my shoulders and evenness of the distance between hips and elbows). Lo and behold, she slipped sideways like water. She established the shoulder-in well, but we had some trouble maintaining the position all the way along, so we started to play with some more difficult exercises.

  • Shoulder-in down the long side. As soon as the quality of the position deteriorates, ride a 10m circle in slight shoulder-fore, re-establish shoulder-in and continue down the long side. We were popping 10m circles twice or three times in a long side at the start, but as she figured out that it was actually possible now that she no longer had to scramble to try and stay under me, and things got a lot better.
  • M-F shoulder-in right; A turn down centreline; A-X shoulder-in right; X change the bend; X-C shoulder-in left; C turn left; H-K shoulder-in left. This is a SUPER difficult and challenging exercise and I didn’t get after her too much if we ended up in shoulder-fore somewhere along the way as long as she stayed rhythmic, but you can’t beat it for getting the horse off your leg and correctly positioned without using the wall. The quick little change of bend really helped to get her listening, not unlike the B-X half circle left X-E half circle right thing.
  • Back to the Elementary 5 shoulder-ins and voila! We have ourselves an equal shoulder-in left.

Forgive my nerd splurge. I was so excited to figure it all out, and Arwen felt pretty awesome by the end of it.

Dancing with dragons. Glory to the King.

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Q2 Goals Recap

Oh, but first I must tell y’all that the kiddies are incredible!! But you knew that, right? We are taking FOUR ponies and their little riders to Gauteng Finals and I am so proud of them I might just explode. 😀 Best of all, my riders that didn’t make it to Finals are just as talented as those that did, so it’s only a matter of time before they get there, too.

So Liana, Vastrap, Zorro and Pennie have all made it and they are all going really very well, particularly Zorro (but don’t tell the other ponies I said that). Their kiddos have put in a lot of work this season and I’m so happy to see them being so richly rewarded. But of course we can’t lose sight of the real Reason why we’re here: they planted, I watered – and our Abba Father gave the increase.

Well, now back to goals. Let’s have a look.

Arwen

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  • Get points for Elementary Medium. Still chipping away at this! It’ll pick up now, hopefully, that we’re going to more dressage and fewer showing shows. Either way, last quarter we had two points, and now we have five. It is possible to get points one class at a time.
    Our Elementary work is slowly improving. The horse is starting to touch the limit of her physical ability (not necessarily her natural talent – but her ability combined with dodgy schooling due to being my first project ever when I was, like, 13) and I don’t think we’ll ever show seriously at EM, but there’s no reason why our Elementary can’t be solid. To be fair, though, the problem is more mine than hers. I flounder at the level. I don’t know what anything is really supposed to look like and I don’t have the opportunity for lots of dressage lessons, so the tests are basically our lessons. I even struggle to remember the longer tests. But it’s all a learning experience; my next Elementary horse will be better and this one is a whole lot of fun. Our next show is CHG Leg 5 in the end of August. We have eight weeks before then, including one week off and one week of test riding right before the show, leaving the remaining six weeks to work on our six lowest marks (shoulder-in left, walk-canter transition, medium-working canter transition, turn on the haunches, 20m circle with break of contact, rein back). One movement each week. It will take an art to keep this from stealing the joy of the dance, but one breath at a time, God is taking over the artist inside me.
  • Don’t mess up a show riding/show hack class. 
  • Jump a graded 80cm round.
  • Do some cross-country lessons and/or go drag hunting. I doubt hunting will be on the calendar this year, but we might just make it to xc lessons at President’s Park. Which would be absolutely fabulous (and disgusting preparation for our August show, but whatevs).

Arwen is laying the foundation of my own education. If I ever do go up the grades (and that’s really up to God; my dance with Thunder on Sunday showed me that it’s not the level that matters, but the threefold cord) nobody will remember Arwen – but I will. Because she went first, and she paved the way.

As we start to see 2018 on the horizon, I am also pondering a foray into another discipline with her next year. Part of me just yearns to go event again, but another part can’t justify the expense for a discipline the horse won’t excel in. Probably showing. Maybe it’ll be time to gird up my loins and face my fear of showing judges.

Exavior

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we all still miss him

As y’all know by now, I had to make the decision to sell the big guy. He’s with a trainer in Brakpan right now (something I’ve been too raw to write about – the trainer is lovely and I know he’s a lot happier with a job to do, and God sent that miracle for us just like He’s sent everything else in Exavior’s life) and hopefully he’ll met his person soon.

Midas

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  • Hack alone and in company. Done! With a child on board (in company), too. He loves his hacks.
  • Be quiet at shows. 
  • Compete up to 70cm showjumping at training shows. Still winning at 60cm (and kinda bored at the level, too) but I don’t think I should make him haul my heavy behind around 70cm. He pops around it at home with kids, and he has a new little partner to finish bringing him on, so as soon as little partner is ready, we’ll do it.
  • Compete up to Prelim at training shows.
  • Compete at the Nooitie shows. We did all the ones that seem to be happening this year, and he came home with some ribbons, too.
  • Go cross-country schooling. Fingers crossed for this month!

Faith

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  • Stand for grooming and farrier.
  • Lead and tie up. 
  • Box well. Almost almost there – we can box without a bum rope, but with cookies and with some hesitation.
  • Be good to bath. 
  • Be good to catch. 
  • Show in-hand. Spring Show was cancelled, but we’ll probably send in a video for the E-Show in August because then at least nobody can tell me I have a hairy yak in person, right? She behaves nicely in-hand, trots up and stands square, just needs a polish.
  • In spring, lunge.
  • In November/December, do the groundwork and have a rider on, just sitting.

Ah, the joys of the long and dull two-year-old year while your precious, promising creature’s withers slowly catch up to its behind. She is wonderful though. I can’t wait to sit on her.

Jamaica

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  • Hack reliably in company. We haven’t hacked much, with most of the focus on jumping, but he’s never put a foot out of line in walk and trot – I’m quite happy. I still wouldn’t lead a long hack on him… but to be fair, I’ve got hacking nerves, so I wouldn’t lead a long hack on anything very much except Arwen (and Trooper).
  • School Novice dressage. As evidenced by the appearance of a topline, he’s carrying himself a LOT better. Still not brilliant, but to be fair to him, with his body shape and previous schooling brilliance on the flat is going to be a lot to ask. We have most of the Novice 1 to 4 work down. Trot lengthenings and free walk are still a sticky point. His canter work is lovely.
  • Jump 90cm graded. Heading that way; we’re doing 80cm at shows and popping over the odd 90cm height/width fence at home. The horse can do it – he just skips along. It’s my nerves that are the problem and that’s just going to be a step-by-step process.

So grateful for the spotty one – he has done so much for me already, and continues to do so much with every session.

Lancelot

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  • Reliably do long hacks alone, in company, and wherever without any drama his kid won’t laugh off. Very, very close to finishing this one – we haven’t been on a super long hack yet, but he’s done 45 minutes or so in w/t/c, even with a novice rider. He’s lovely.
  • Do a training show or two at Prelim dressage. Done! With 65% and 67.3% in Prelim 3 and 4, too.
  • Consistently jump graded at 70cm, preferably clear. He’s completing his 70cm rounds, but he still has the odd stop that he likes to throw in, and I just want him to be rid of that habit. I’m not too worried about poles – that’s just greenness in his body. I just want him to hunt down the fences.

Lancey is so close to being handed over to Z-kid for good. He just needs to be a little braver at shows.

Trooper

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  • Do training showjumping shows, up to about 60cm. He is still struggling to figure out that jumping is a thing, but he’s very sweet about it.
  • Do training dressage shows, up to Prelim.  Schooling Prelim at home all right.
  • Be as safe as a house on hacks, mostly in company.  You could literally be a one-armed two-year-old with ADHD and hack this thing out without being in any danger.
  • Be as safe as a house on the ground. Just need to box, then we’re good.
  • Be fully quiet at shows. We haven’t been on an outing yet, but I’m aiming for August.

I’m hoping we’ll be able to afford to do all the competing we’re hoping for – the sale ponies often end up a bit sidelined in favour of the more lucrative training horses. That said, I’ve given him six weeks off anyway. He’s three and a half and has all the basics; I can’t expect a whole lot more from him right now.

Thunder

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Thunny spent the first half of the year competing under K at SANESA, but their season is done now, so it’s  time he and I started to get our duckies in a row.

  • School all the Novice work, ready to compete next year. Our Prelim is solid; the only movements we have a little trouble with are halting (steady and straight but not square), stretchy trot, and lengthenings, all of which are Novice work anyway. He’s played with leg-yields, counter canter and simple changes, but I expect difficulty with lengthenings, so this goal will start with strengthening the basic gaits first.
  • Jump 70cm courses with confidence. Anybody can see that he’s no showjumper, but he’d make a really fun working hunter once he’s settled at shows. Since I drag Arwen to HOY anyway, I don’t see why he shouldn’t come along and plop around the in-hand, show hunter and working hunter.
  • Do our pre-flatwork short hacks calmly. These are hit-and-miss at the moment. He’s either perfect, or he sees a terrifying sparrow and bolts. He has a proper Friesian bolt too – no bucking, but practically impossible to stop except by means of a vicious one-rein, which I don’t really want to do to him. I don’t want to get killed either though, so he’ll have to have a few until he learns that whoa means whoa.

Onwards and upwards. Glory to the King.

Moving Forward

C. S. Lewis wrote that it doesn’t really matter how many times we fall; it’s the getting up each time that counts. Some days I feel very like those “muddy and tattered children” he wrote about, but I still know my heavenly Daddy is just waiting to wipe the mud and tears away and welcome me Home. Every day is one step closer – sometimes a stumbling, fumbling, floundering step. But a step nonetheless.

So, too, our journey to excellence in horsemanship is heading tangibly in the right direction, marred but not stopped by the odd mistake or bad day.

In anticipation of one day finally moving up to 90cm, I’ve been slowly picking apart my fears and working on them one by one. I’ve found myself almost entirely comfortable at 80cm at home, but absolutely entirely uncomfortable at 90cm. It’s all in my head, of course, but that’s fine. So is all my skill, dreams, and resolution to stick with my God. One’s head is a valid and important place for something to be. Abba is being patient with me and so is the horse; it’s the least I can do to return the favour.

In the past if I wanted to move up I’d set up a course at that height and jump it. It hasn’t worked. Right now I’m taking the idea to pieces and tackling each one individually. The first order of business was dealing with my thing with combinations, starting with this gymnastic line – pole, bounce, one stride, one stride. The ones were very long and the last oxer was about 75-80cm. I had to ride Jamaica forward at this or he’d throw in a nasty chip or a valiant leap to try and help me out. So that helped for my terror of getting the horse forward (which I must do because I can’t expect him to keep saving my bum at 90cm).

Then we jumped a single vertical in my comfort-zone dressage arena at 90cm. Then an oxer, only 60cm high but 100cm wide. So far, I’ve been OK. Not quite comfortable, but definitely not in the fear zone.

The horse is wonderful. I want to poke my eyeballs out with a fork when schooling him on the flat sometimes – but that’s also improving. Over fences he just goes in the same rhythm at every single jump even when I’m messing up and it’s amazing.

Savanna started to be very cheeky with her teenager, so she has been dumped into boot camp with mean Auntie Firn, as naughty ponies are. She is very sweet and levelheaded (especially for a 6yo thoroughbred) but there’s just no real schooling here at all. We spent a whole session just talking about rhythm. Then we spent another session trotting the same 50cm fence. She had two options: run sideways from a mile away, or gallop at the fence. The mare is not spooky but she doesn’t know where to put her feet and the running out has caused her rider to chase her at everything, so now she chases herself.

I explained to her that she really just has to go quietly over and by the end if it, she did. Then she went dramatically lame with an abscess. As thoroughbreds do. 😦

Miss South Africa here has settled in much better and seems quite happy and relaxed in her stable and field these days. Work, regrettably, is another story. This horse’s anxiety levels are through the ceiling and she seems completely uneducated on how to actually deal with it. She is nice to ride in her comfort zone with three balanced, obedient and connected gaits, but we have just been walking and walking and walking. Trying to show her where to find the stillness in the storm. I should know. Her ground manners are getting better (it’s amazing what a well-placed elbow can achieve) and we’ve come to an agreement: I don’t push her into the fear zone, she doesn’t rear up and strike at my face.

Liana has also developed a cheeky run-out at oxers. Only at home, of course – this pony doesn’t know how to stop at shows. I’ve passed Midas on to a new little rider so I’m giving Liana to Vastrap’s kid to school a bit. Her little girl is doing better and better, and always manages to get her over on the second or third go despite being very little.

Lulu has been having a bit of a break after working very hard for the past two SANESA qualifiers. Much pampering has helped children back into her good books.

Magic is so well and happy. He was a bit lost without Exavior for a while, but I moved Nugget in with him and he is now back to full happiness again. He was wonderful to ride last week and much better to lunge – we can now canter on the lunge without having any wild moments.

Faith’s front end is finally catching up to her back end. She’s become so trusting of people. Definitely has an opinion and can be spooky, hot and quite pushy – but we’re working on that. This unicorn has an inner dragon. Besides, so far my spooky dressage horses have done all right.

Destiny’s focus has been on hacking. He’s nice in company and manageable on the trail alone, but nappy heading out. A well-placed dressage whip has sorted some of that out, however.

Arwen and I headed into the woods for the first time in – well, long. A year or more. I used to ride in these woods all the time before old Skye retired, but the string of young and/or spooky horses that have followed have kinda ruled that one out for me. But Sunè’s kid and I finally did it again and it was really rather amazing. You’re in another world in the woods. And even with Ice bounding in the bushes, Arwen never turned a hair.

As for Sunè and her kid, what more can I say? They’re a match made in heaven. She’s developed a cheeky little run-out, but nothing a session with me won’t fix.

Champagne makes for amazing photos.

I love how the trees dapple her twice in this one. Also she is now OK with chickens.

Last week ended refreshingly slowly, with dressage to look forward to, and lots of these special little moments scattered throughout. Chocolate froyo and my loony sister – as well as finally making my first foray into Francine Rivers when I found Redeeming Love on special for peanuts – are a good combination.


So are cats in boxes,


and rare moments of creative energy,


and dogs on laps,

and perfect plaits,

and dressage-sculpted dragon butts all in blue.

Blessed beyond all expectation. Glory to the King.

CHG Leg 4

We danced.


It was AMAZING.

This was Arwen’s first show since April. She boxed great, but was a little sweaty when we got there. We headed for the warmup and she proceeded to engage full dragon mode. Like – she was rearing. And bucking. And bolting. I feared for my life, or at least for anything flammable in the immediate surroundings.

True to form, she actually stayed pretty obedient in between the rearing and blowing flames at stuff. We dragoned majestically up to the judges, leaving them with mildly singed eyebrows, and headed down centreline with minimal straightness and maximum sass. I couldn’t get the grin off my face. She wasn’t scared really; she was just alive and fit and bursting with the exuberance being created. Who could blame her? I was filled with a sort of grateful giddiness that had nothing to do with horses. What’s a dressage test going downhill in a handbasket compared with knowing Christ the King?

In the end, though, the tests themselves weren’t that bad. She settled as we went on. We broke to jog in our medium walk once, but we got the simple changes in Elementary 4, earning 60% and a third place ribbon. Elementary 5 was a bit floppy; I got lost and got the -2 for error of course, and we kind of swooped down into the simple change, then proceeded to break to trot for half a stride after the medium canter and throw a random flying change in the counter canter. So we got two nice fat 4s for that. Still, 57% – so it’s grading points. We have 5 in total now, halfway to points for EM, although we’ll likely never actually do it.

Video of the better test here: https://youtu.be/w12GY0fihPc

Thunder was so quiet to plait, merely dragging L’s hapless boyfriend around a bit. He hacked obediently to the warmup away from his buddies. The warmup itself started out rather worried and we had two tremendous sideways spooks when birds flew out of the grass (seeing how he’s never seen a bird before), so I was kind of expecting a disaster and resigned myself to just giving the dude a positive experience.

He never quit trying though. Again, worried as he was, he stayed obedient and got it together for me. I don’t deserve them, I really don’t. So we headed down centreline in Prelim 2 and suddenly he was totally fine. Happy even – and relaxed enough for a killer free walk.

I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but Prelim 3 wasn’t a test, it was a dance. I wasn’t concentrating all that hard. Not on the test, anyway. The sky – and heaven – was very big and blue, and so close. Close enough to kiss, or be kissed, perhaps. Either way, it was amazing, and I’m not talking about the riding.

The riding was good too though. The judge said she wanted to take Thunny home and keep him. I don’t blame her because he was so, so good. He was worried at first but he coped, then eventually relaxed into it and just revelled in the joy of it.

 He won Prelim 2 with 65.91% and Prelim 3 with 72.5%. He had 8 for his free walk and 8s for both his canter-trot transitions. The first judge would have liked him more forward – I think I was still being quite conservative, waiting for a spook – and his stretchy trot didn’t really stretch, and his halts weren’t square. But that’s actually kinda exciting because it means this horse can do even better.

So he didn’t improve on his Prelim 2 score from last time, but he did get 72% on Prelim 3, so that’s a huge win.

Video of the better test here: https://youtu.be/6EX4AwMDi-c

So I actually couldn’t have asked for better from my dance partners, and it was amazing.

Then K and Renè had their prelim tests and despite Renè having a naughty moment in the warmup, she settled right down and K rode her nicest tests yet. It was Renè’s first dressage and she got 58% and 60%, not shabby at all. K brought her on all by herself, too.

Then it was the moment of truth – Destiny’s mom was riding him at his first ever outing at walk/trot 2. And you know what? He was brilliant. Delinquent Destiny who broke my lunging ring twice – he didn’t put a toe out of line. He didn’t buck, he didn’t run away, he didn’t even spook. He just squiggled down the centreline and whinnied a few times, that’s all. When he came fourth with 60%, well, it was just the cherry on top.

As for my goals, I don’t really know about the rest, but love, joy and peace? They all showed up.

How mighty is amazing grace. Glory to the King.

CHG Leg 4 Goals

I have never been so relaxed the night before a dressage show. I suppose it makes sense; tension seldom goes hand in hand with either worship or dancing.

I still care too much about scores. But this week’s dressage rides have been… something other. Some of them were still the run-of-the-mill awful. But as we went on, there was an upward incline, towards the light. I focused less. I laughed more. I turned my Jesus music up loud and sang along. Judging by the swing under the saddle, the horses? I think they liked it.

I still worry a bit. There will be a judge out there who’ll eventually tell me that Arwen and I don’t belong in Elementary. And they won’t be wrong. But we’re not here to belong.

We’re here to dance.

Arwen’s goals: ride the tests from memory without too much trouble. Get a grading point or two (55% or more). Attempt to avoid setting the judge’s box on fire.

Thunder, on the other hand, has been feeling amazing, technique-wise. The stretchy trot wasn’t that hotshot this week, but his canter is about a thousand times better.

Thunder’s goals: show an improvement in his scores (last time 66% for the same tests). Subject to baby brain falling out of his ears, of course.

Firn’s goals: show the fruit of the Spirit. By my fruits I will be known.

Show love to the horses and the people.

Revel in the joy of a God-given day, even if it collapses into perfect chaos, as they tend to do. Let it be a joyful dance, a praise to His Name.

Be at peace with the fact that we’re not perfect and neither is anyone else.

Be longsuffering – be patient – with the horses, students, grooms, and fellow competitors.

Be gentle. Let each aid be as soft as possible, every word as kind and polite as can be managed.

Be good; treat fellow competitors justly, be good about the warmup arena rules, don’t push for a ride time that’d suit better.

Have a little faith. God’s got this.

Employ meekness; submit to parents, judges, marshalls, and the needs of others; surrender every breath of the day to God.

Have temperance – self-control – and don’t allow negative emotions to become negative actions when they arise (they will).

Tomorrow and every day, so help me God.

I can’t wait.

Glory to the King.