At the end of 2016, I faced losing the ride on the best horse I’d ever sat on. At the end of 2017, I face, for the first time in my life, regular and serious training on a horse who can go all the way, as well as starting another talented baby. And nobody but God can take either of them from me because it’s my name on the papers. It truly should not be possible, not for an anxious overachiever in the middle of nowhere on a shoestring budget, but God pays no attention to the possible.
When I have finally upgraded my membership (gotta pay Dressage SA first *gulp*), I will share what’s going on in my heart about the upcoming year of dressage, as well as my adventures riding Coach J’s super ultra fancy horses yesterday (squee!). But for today we’re going to be a bit intellectual and look at the things we want to work on this year in terms of the four babies I show myself.
The man himself went from strength to strength in 2017, starting off by coming second in his first classes ever with mid-60s scores. He never scored less than 63% through a year at Prelim, then debuted at Novice with scores in the low 70s. We finished by scoring 66s again at CHG Champs despite riding in a thunderstorm with me as sick as a dog.
So his goals for 2017 were:
School all the Novice work, ready to compete next year.We have schooled everything. It’s not all polished yet, but he can go into an arena and do any Novice test without totally embarrassing himself, I’m sure. We have not polished all of it, but the movements are installed. Jump 70cm courses with confidence. Do our pre-flatwork short hacks calmly.He’s sometimes a little tense, but there has been no bolting. Yay!
With Coach J’s help, Thunny’s schooling is pretty much on track to continue scoring steadily at Novice at the very least. Our greatest bugbear is tension in the show ring. If he’s relaxed he unfailingly scores in the 70s. He has never been disobedient in the show arena, but he locks up through his back and neck, going from being connected and through (for the level) to simply being rhythmic and on the bit. This is just something that we’ll have to keep competing to resolve, and I’m willing to be patient with him. If it takes him five years to be consistent at competitions, then so be it. The horse is far too good for me to lose sleep over losing points at Novice because he saw a butterfly.
With this in mind, my focus is shifting to schooling correctly rather than winning competitions next year. Of course I would like to compete him at least once a month to work on resolving that issue and, obviously, earn grading points, but we probably won’t be doing CHG Series. We will probably end up going to bigger shows, though, for both of us to get our heads around the atmosphere. (Also because Coach J might be there).
I’ll be real honest, I kind of have no idea what goals I should be setting. In yesterday’s visit Coach J was talking about doing EM this year. I have my doubts, but the oracle knows best. Mostly I’ll keep chugging along doing my thing and watching to see what God does, because He seems bent on blowing my pathetic little expectations out of the water lately.
First and second quarter:
- Improve all of our downward transitions.
- Improve our stretchy trot.
- Improve both lengthenings.
- Improve the halts, specifically staying connected in halt and immobility.
- Improve rein back.
Third and fourth quarter:
Introduce all of the Elementary movements:
- serpentine four loops
- halt immobility 5 seconds
- canter circle with break of contact
- half stretchy trot circle
- canter-walk transition
- transition from walk to counter canter on the long side
- medium trot
- extended walk
- serpentine 3 loops with counter canter
- medium canter
- leg-yield zigzag
- turn on the haunches
- 10m canter circle
- half circle in counter canter
- simple change on a short diagonal
- simple change on the long side
- E-X half circle, X simple change, X-B half circle
- collected trot
- Keep working on quiet little hacks.
Arwie had another year of doing everything from showjumping to working riding to a whole lot of dressage. She took me to my first ever Elementary and tried her guts out in every single test despite mediocre riding and simply poor schooling, even scraping up a few placings as we went. Most of all, she was the dragon who relit my fire when I needed it, which is what she does best. Someday, if God wills it, I’ll ride the big grades and nobody will remember her – but I will, because she made it possible.
- Get points for Elementary Medium. Sooooooo close. We would totally have done this if it wasn’t for the issue with her feet that ruined the last few months of the show season. It was God’s will, so I don’t mind admitting that this goal didn’t happen. Still, we have nine points and we need ten. She’s still registered with DSA so I might just drag the beast to one more show, get the last pesky point and then be done.
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. So we didn’t do this either, although not for lack of trying. Still, it’s no biggie.
Arwen tried her heart out for me this year, but we’ve been stuck in a rut for months, making almost no progress on our Elementary work. It’s not surprise, considering that all of her basics are lacking. It got worse when Thunder started to play with some of the movements and they were all so easy on him, which caused frustration with myself every time I schooled Arwie, knowing I could have done better if I’d had her as a youngster now. So, apart from maybe popping out to get that last grading point, dressage is on the shelf for Arwen for now.
Instead, we’ll be making our first serious foray into the world of showing. We’ve done bits, but this year I’m signing up with Showing SA (which is ridiculously cheap compared to DSA) and we’ll be hitting some of the bigger ones. The expensive classes do mean that I won’t be competing her as often, but she’s not a baby, she doesn’t need it that much anymore. I really look forward to it.
- Take at least one showing lesson or clinic.
- Get over my phobia of all showing judges. Show at least once with one of the horrible ones and learn to deal.
- Improve her rein-back and lengthenings.
- Get points to go out of Novice.
Last year this time, it was just days after I’d met Faithy for the first time. On the second of January, she came home – completely unhandled and so fresh off the veld that she didn’t even know what concentrates were and politely declined to eat them.
The little unicorn spent most of the year chilling in a field. The basic ground work was effortless, although loading went a lot better once I discovered that treats can bribe Faith into doing practically anything. I brought her in for backing in November, but it’s been slow progress, mostly because I hit a nasty burnout and non-competing horses went onto the back burner.
Stand for grooming and farrier. Lead and tie up. Box well. Be good to bath. Be good to catch.
- Show in-hand. Boo. There were no shows we could really do this year, as well as the minor disadvantage that she spent most of it looking like something like an adorable grey camel. Still, she has all the in-hand skills required, so that’s something.
In spring, lunge.I planned to start lunging in September/October and back shortly after her third birthday, but she was still such a baby then. I had to wait for the front end to catch up first, and I’m glad I did. She’s a sweetie, but very much immature for her age.
- In November/December, do the groundwork and have a rider on, just sitting.
She has worn a saddle, but that’s about it. Smart and loyal she is, but mature, not so much. I’m taking it slow. She could do with some growth and muscle tone before being asked to really do anything just yet.
Faithy is still only a very babyish three-year-old, so 2018 will still be very much relaxed. Our main goal is to be ready for YDHS in 2019 since I absolutely loved it on Nell last year, and since four-year-olds only do Prelim, I’m in no hurry. The main thing this year will be to establish rock-solid basics, and I’m taking the most basic of the basics: obedience, rhythm and relaxation.
First and second quarter:
Complete the backing:
- introduce pole work
- introduce the rider
- introduce walk
- introduce trot
- introduce canter
- move to the dressage arena.
Start preliminary schooling:
- introduce the figures
- establish good transitions between gaits
- establish balanced and united canter
- introduce hacks, alone and in company
- possibly ride a walk/trot test at our April show
- show in-hand.
Second and third quarter:
Complete preliminary schooling:
- introduce the idea of a long and low, stretchy frame
- grow the frame upwards to connection
- improve consistency in the connection in all three gaits and transitions
- introduce free walk and stretchy trot figures.
Introduce competing (August at the latest):
- box out to a clinic, lesson or training show
- compete at least twice at Prelim.
I didn’t even show Jamaica until February 2017, where we popped around something ridiculous like 50cm. We quickly made our way to 80cm, then stayed there forever as I tried to scrape my nerve together. Our move up to 90cm was easy, and I feel nicely set up for learning to jump Module 5 in mid to end 2018.
Hack reliably in company. School Novice dressage. Jump 90cm graded.
In another turn of events, it has transpired that he may need to be sold in 2018. Thank God (no, really, thank Him), his owners are happy for me to finish Mod 5. It doesn’t really change my plans, since I will not be riding him after Mod 5 anyway. I have zero aspirations to showjump right now. I would really have loved to event the dude, and might still if there’s spare time (ha!), but my focus will have to be on the yard and dressage. Still love him. ❤
First and second quarter:
- Showjump 90cm at available training shows.
- Compete at equitation 90cm at SANESA. Score 70% (that’s a 28) or more, if not at the first qualifier, then at least at the last two. 70% is the pass mark for Module 5.
- Introduce all the flatwork required at Module 5: leg-yield, turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches, a little shoulder-in, a little travers. (The exam specifies only “lateral work” but I don’t expect to have to do half-pass).
Second and third quarter:
- In May/June, jump a 1.00m showjumping round. (I would love to do the 1.00m equitation, but it requires swapping horses, and that just ain’t happening, thankyouverymuch. Ask me in a decade).
- Jump at least one more clear 1.00m round at an appropriate pace. It doesn’t have to be fast, just flowing.
- Jump Module 5 in September.
- If we do fail it, jump it again in December.
I didn’t actually set personal goals in 2017, but I did improve my position a LOT. I had a terrible chair seat for years and I feel like this year I finally fixed it. It’s still not perfect, especially not in my current dressage saddle, but yesterday when I sat down in Coach J’s proper dressage saddle my alignment was suddenly perfect without any effort on my part. My hands are also a lot better, as is my core.
I do still have a very long way to go. Riding Coach J’s big horses really impressed on me the amount of strength and suppleness required to keep it up, and I know I’m still severely crooked.
In terms of jumping, my high Module 4 mark shows that my position is pretty adequate. Still, my nerves tend to show when I grab mane and my lower leg tends to swing back on landing, so there is lots to do.
Improve my own body:
- Have regular chiro. If my medical aid covers it, I don’t have an excuse not to go, and it doesn’t help that I care about Thunny’s back when my own back is stiff and crooked on top of him. I’m almost permanently body sore, and that’s a disservice to the horses who get to carry that sack of potatoes around.
- Take conditioning classes twice a week throughout the year. No excuses. My sister is a dance teacher, and nothing in the world compliments dressage like ballet does: it will be excellent for my core strength, body control, and awareness of how I use my muscles. Ballet is kinda savage so it’ll build my cardio for jumping at the same time. Even if my sister has to miss some classes, I have to find somewhere that I can cross-train. Volunteers get discounted membership at the local gym, so I really do not have excuses. I need to be just as strong and supple as Thunny.
- I’m pretty good about eating and sleeping well. (This week does not count. One of the many perks of being a friendly teacher is large amounts of sweets at Christmastime – children’s love language). Keep it up, especially when I’m on volunteer duty.
Improve my dressage position:
- Find out what’s going on with my shoulders – probably a chiro issue, but my left shoulder always starts stinging about midway through a ride. I also hang on my left rein a LOT and my left shoulder blade can’t go flat like Ms Ballet Teacher Sister wants it to. Literally, it can’t, not even with her manipulating it. (My chiro will be horrified).
- Improve on my bad habit of bracing the lower back as soon as I feel tension. That tension is not limited to nervousness – even if I’m just concentrating, the moment I try harder than usual, my lower back arches and braces, and I lose my connection to Thunny’s back.
- Improve on my bad habit of tipping forward at the hip, especially in canter. It’s related to the back and shoulders issues, but it needs focused attention to fix.
- Improve on my super bad habit of looking down.
Improve my jumping position:
- Improve my tendency for my heels to come up on landing. Lots of light seat for me!
- Improve my release.
- Improve my tendency to try and jump ahead on takeoff.
I’ve never been so genuinely and childishly excited for a show season. God has blown me away this year, and I can’t wait to see what He does next. Yet, as always, there is so much possibility for things to not go according to plan. Horses go lame. Money runs out. These things happen. But my Abba, He loves me, regardless of what happens. So I lay down my anxiety, I look forward with joy, and I look up with peace, knowing that whatever lies ahead is part of His plan.
And I do not dare to dream, for my dreams are foolish. But as He has proven time and time again, He dreams for me.
Glory to the King.