This year I chose not to attend Dressage at Devon. For the past several years I have shared a box with a good friend and another friend of hers (we each paid for 2 tickets). I actually rarely used the box except for a few times during the day and there was never anyone else in there. Early Sunday morning Michael and Isaiah sometimes joined me, but again no one else was even in the box at that time. In fact, the other two box holders were probably barely awake! B said this year she was only going to sell me one ticket because she wanted more control over her box and there were often too many extra people in the box. There was only one occasion over the past 4 years that I was in the box with anyone who was sharing the box! I declined a ticket, which is what I assumed she wanted me to do when presented with that option and reasons that I was never made aware of until that moment. Yes, I could have bought the box seat out of spite, but I simply couldn't be bothered. I am more bothered by whatever it is that I must have done to this person, whom I last saw when we had a very nice lunch together in July. Likely I will never know, but I think it is always a bit sad when a friendship ends.
ANYWAY! Events from the Dixon Oval were being live streamed on the USEF Network, although I do enjoy (for the most part...) watching the 4th level tests that take place in the Gold Ring. I also love to watch schooling...the good, the bad and the ugly. And the sometimes very lovely! But I prefer to go early in the morning for the start of the day and stay until about 3 PM. This year that would have meant missing a couple of days of riding because weather had taken out an additional day. There is still a possibility that I will go on Sunday.
The Grand Prix qualifier for the freestyle took place on Friday evening (26 September) so I did watch a good portion of that on live streaming. Interesting...there were only 12 entries. Six from Canada, 4 from the US, 1 from Sweden and 1 from Australia. Nearly all riders wore protective head gear. Scores ranged from 69% to 62%, so all twelve will be riding this evening in the freestyle. I applaud all of them for qualifying and putting themselves out there to be judged under the lights at Devon.
My first observation was the crowd. Well, the lack of crowd. Usually during the late afternoon the crowd builds in anticipation of the events of the evening. Not as much as for the freestyle, but the qualifier typically draws a reasonable crowd. Most years the evenings can be quite chilly since it is early autumn, but tonight is an exception. The air is warmish and the pumpkins, mums and cornstalks of fall almost look a little out of place. But the venue is always beautifully decorated. Sometimes one can almost forget that developers have encroached on all of the land surrounding the show grounds. I try to envision what it looked like 100 years ago. Watching spectators moving about I almost regret my decision not to go earlier today. But I had a lovely ride on Nikki and Suki worked beautifully on the lunge, so that is the trade off!
As I said, I applaud (and envy) those out there this evening. However, I was somewhat disappointed in what I saw. Several of the horses look unhappy. Wringing tails, necks cranked in, stiff backs. What is missing? Where is the joy? Even Isaiah, who is just eight years old, can see this. After pointing out a few things regarding the movements and what is to be expected, he too, is commenting about the negatives. He was also able to point out the correct ones (the obvious ones, anyway). There were some lovely rides tonight too, though, and the differences were obvious. We watched some Spanish Riding School videos to remind us how beautiful classical dressage is. There are certainly people who continue to train this way, but unfortunately many look for the quick rise to the upper levels so the horse can be sold, or the rider can compete at FEI to develop a "name" in the show ring. But if what we see in the show ring does not look correct, then what does that say about the trainer, and his/her methods? That's all for my arm chair quarter backing.....
The wonderful thing about riding in the early morning is that although some of the days became quite warm, temperatures in the morning were typically in the upper 40s-low 50sF. Cool enough for a sweatshirt that can be removed for the ride! I feel like both Suki and Nikki are working well so we continue to gain momentum. Last week I worked both girls in hand to get a few piaffe steps. It's not super easy to do alone especially with such big horses, but they did well. I was really pleased with their responses and willingness. It was a nice change for them as well. Next time I am considering going along the outside of the arena on the path to do the in hand work. We can use the arena fence as a guide. I suspect I will get a bit more animation too!
Sunday, September 28, 2014
I like to ride early in the day for several reasons. First, it leaves the rest of the day to do whatever I want or need to do. Plus it is usually pretty quiet with no one else riding. Today as I was finishing tacking up Nikki (around 8:20, because I got a late start) and one of the new boarders pulled in! I know, they have every right to be there, of course, but I love the peaceful mornings! It actually worked out fine, because I was finished riding Nikki before she came out to the arena. Nikki worked really well, doing some lovely shoulder in then pushing off into a medium trot. Horses are such creatures of habit. After I did that twice, Nikki pushed out on the third shoulder in. Even when I alternated between asking for a medium, versus a half pass or a 10m circle, I could feel her hind end really engage. I used that to my advantage!
By the time I brought her back into the barn ANOTHER boarder showed up! I usually comment about how surprised I am that no one ever shows up on the beautiful weekend days....... Most people come later in the day.
Suki had a short lunge session because I needed to give her a good exfoliation/moisturizing. Plus her white socks were a bit dirty. Once again her regained focus came into play. While we were in the arena two people came down the driveway on horseback, then continued along the side of the arena. Suki pricked her ears once but that was it. She continued to listen to all commands and work well without any sign of nervousness. Suki really loves going through the trot poles. Because they are on a straight line I have to run next to Suki holding the lunge line and try to match her stride as she glides through the poles. I imagine it is quite a sight; me at 5'4', trying to match Suki's very large stride and her 17.3h size! My jog beside her seems to give her extra energy while she pushes off from behind, ears forward.
Monday, September 29, 2014
Suki worked yesterday, but I will not be able to work the girls Tuesday or Wednesday so Suki gets two days in a row. Now that they are in at night again I do notice a little stiffness with Suki at the start of her lunging sessions. The good news is that she seems to work out of it pretty quickly. I can usually see her back loosen as well. Suki's tail bounces happily as she moves through the gaits. Sometimes she turns her head to make a face at me when she starts to get feisty. A horse called and as Suki started to respond I growled at her, so she turned it into a squeal, which somehow made her want to do a little leap. I pushed her forward with the whip and she settled back to work. It was pretty funny. She started off with a few head twirls so I was surprised that it took her so long to give a little buck. I know that the playfulness is a disobedience, but I put an end to it quickly. After everything she has been through I find it heartwarming that she shows such joie de vivre!
Nikki was awesome, and although I find it unnerving when Bo, the dog, charges down the driveway, Nikki is getting much better about it. He chased her a couple of times when he was younger (he is less than a year old still) so that caused a bit of nervousness. Bo has gotten much better about that part now that he is growing up a bit!
We worked on serpentines with transitions to walk as we crossed the center line. I wanted to focus on the sharpness of the transitions as well as softness in the mouth. This improved after the first two transitions, and she was awesome with the up transition, giving a super push from behind. Canter transitions were a bit bumpy today with a little bit of tension. I think I was a little tight in my back, so I tried to be softer which seemed to help.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Foggy start to the day! I had the girls go out over night since the weather was nice and they had been in most of Monday because of the farrier visit. When I arrived at the barn they were at the top of the field so I stood on the fence by the gate and started to take some photographs. Curiosity got the best of them and Nikki started toward me first.