Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Setting Goals

This year, I set quite a few goals for Jelle and myself, and I am very pleased with our progress so far.

Let me  list the goals:

1.  Two weeks in Florida in January, including a clinic with my trainer, Henk van Bergen
2.  A Rider Performance Certificate in First Level (4 scores >60%)
3.  A Horse Performance Certificate in First Level (10 scores >60%, 4@test 3)
4.  A Rider Performance Certificate in Second Level (4 scores >60%)
5.  A Horse Performance Certificate in Second Level (10 scores >60%, 4@test 3)
6.  USDF Bronze Medal

We have achieved #1 and #2 goal, with #3 and #4 in sight.  We would be further along, but I kind of messed us up in two shows. Let me explain.....We competed in three USDF/USEF Recognized competitions, and have two (or maybe three) more budgeted for this year.  Jelle had three scores above 60% in First Level from his first show before we moved from Florida. (scores for performance certificates are cumulative for both horse and rider). So, we needed 7 more scores.  We accumulated four more scores in our first show of this season (Greater Atlanta Dressage Show) in April, so I had plenty of good scores for MY performance Certificate, but I should have entered Jelle in at least one First Level Test 3 (since you need 4 scores at the highest test of the level). So after that show, we still needed all 4 "test 3" scores.

I have to admit, that I had not read the USDF requirements thoroughly enough, and didn't see the score requirement at the highest test of the level I thought we were on track.  SO, I entered the Dressage on the Mountain Show in May, thinking we would get the four remaining scores and be golden......

That was not to be.  A fellow competitor had her horse get loose during the night, and he headed for the hills (long story that I won't go into here). She was so distraught, that I scratched the 2 Sunday classes that I had entered to help her (against the sage advice of a student of mine).  But I feel like there are always more shows and we need to help and support each other above everything!

Anyway, I only garnered 2 more scores.  I always enter 2 classes each day of competition. One lucky move on my part was that I DID enter one "test 3", so at least I got one score towards Jelle's "Highest Test of First Level" PC requirement.
Then I did a 2 day clinic with my mentor, Henk van Bergen at the end of May. I always like to have Henk see us on a quarterly basis so we can know that our training is on track, and resolve any issues that may come up.  I am happy to say that the only issue was that I could have been adding in more sophisticated lateral half pass!!  LOL

Then I entered the Dressage at Greystone in June.  I meant to enter 2 First Level Test 3 classes, and 2 Second Level Test 1 classes.  I didn't fill the class numbers in correctly, and wound up in First Level Test 2 again!!  Ack!
And, after I had sent in the entry, I also had time to think about how green he was at the Second Level elements.  We were working on all of it, true enough, but my philosophy is to not compete at a level until the horse is completely comfortable and schooled in all the elements and qualities of that level.  And he wasn't there yet.  Oopsy!
Again, my wonderful horse did not let me down!  The overall quality of the work was getting better and better, and the few places which were not solid were the more difficult elements which were not weighted too heavily.  He wound up with a 64+% and a 67+% in Second Level Test 1.  Not to mention, a 67+% and a 72+% in First Level Test 2.  We swept the blue ribbons in both levels, and ended up with the high score of the show!!  I was VERY proud of him.

So, we took some time off in the heat of the summer, (my Colorado vacay photo ~~~~~>had a great time!) and as we have come back into work, I can feel both his understanding of the more sophisticated collection work (the canter/walk  walk/canter transitions, counter canter, rein back and shoulder in) is much better, and his strength and balance in all his work is really coming along!

Our next competition is coming up on September 13-14, and we are entered (properly) in First Level Test 3 (both Saturday and Sunday) and Second Level Test 1 (both Saturday and Sunday). We will add the Atlanta Fall National Dressage Show to pick up that last pesky score at First Level Test 3 for Jelle's First Level PC.  We will also have accrued all the scores for my Second Level PC, and 6 or 7 scores towards Jelle's Second Level PC.  I will have to be very careful about which tests I enter to be efficient, and yet considerate of his progress.

Third Level (and my Bronze Medal) will, in all likelihood have to wait until next year.  But that is okay!  I knew when I first made the goals for this year that it was a VERY ambitious schedule, and I am so proud of Jelle that he is so willing, generous and athletic!

Have you reached your goals for this year?  Have you set goals for next year?  Let me know so I can cheer you on!!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What Level Are You?

I hear this question asked quite a bit.  What Level are you?  It is an honestly asked question, but the answer is not so simple, in a lot of cases.

The implication is that you have a skill-set that is quantitative enough to put you into a category that is widely recognized in the Dressage World.  That is:

The United States Dressage Federation (USDF), and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF...our national governing body, which rules over all the competitions in the United States) recognize 6 levels of competition (ergo, training).  They are:

Introductory Level
Jelle's canter one year ago
Training Level
First Level
Second Level
Third Level
Fourth Level

The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI...the international horse sports' governing body, which rules over all the international competitions--the Olympics, the World Equestrian Games, Pan American Games, and all the CDI's held in each country throughout the world) recognizes 4 levels of competition.  They are:

Prix St. Georg
Intermediare I
Intermediare II
Grand Prix (including the Grand Prix Special)

So, the answer expected from the questioner falls in one of these descriptions.  But the interpretation of the answer can vary wildly.  If, for instance, my horse is 4 years old, I may be competing at Introductory or training level, and working on some leg yield, some lengthening of stride in trot and canter, and maybe even some counter canter to introduce the higher requirement of balance, one would think the answer would be, "I am showing Training Level, and working (or schooling) some First Level.  But even that answer is not really accurate.

Personally, as a rider, I have, in the past, ridden and trained horse(s) to much higher levels than where I am presently training the horse I have now. I have started and trained MANY horses to Training/First Level.  But because I am a trainer by profession, most were sold at that point to others who trained them further (or not).  I have trained several through competing Second Level, and trained one who was competitive at second level, but who didn't have the strength to be competitive beyond that, so she became my schoolmaster for students.  Her training didn't stop there, though, and I trained her to do single flying changes, all the lateral work in trot and canter, working canter pirouettes (she wasn't strong enough to "sit" for true pirouettes), and she even achieved some steps of Piaffe during her life.  That is my "trainer history" in a nutshell.  I have, however, RIDDEN many horses who were schooled through Grand Prix, so I could learn to feel, assess, correct, and train other horses to do it.  That experience should be part of any trainer's education.  I was lucky enough to be able to spend months (over the course of five years) in Europe at various trainers' facilities where I could ride their schoolmasters, and receive that education.

Jelle's canter today
So, how would I answer that question from above?  I, as a rider, have ridden through all the Grand Prix Movements (I even rode a Levade when I was in Slovenia at Kobilarna Lipica!). But currently, I am competing at First Level with my Friesian, who was a re-training project and didn't even start his competition career until last year (at 10 years old!).  So, am I First Level/Schooling Second? Yes. Or, more precisely, that is where the team is "proven" at right now, since we have received (good) USDF recorded scores at that level.

But, since Dressage training is a dynamic thing, we are progressing at a very good pace.  Jelle, my horse, is gaining strength and understanding of the the work being asked of him, and we are now almost ready to compete at Second Level, and are schooling most of the Third Level elements.

So, a better way to phrase the question, should you ever ask someone, would be "What is the highest level you, as a rider, have ridden (or trained) to?" or "What level are you competing (or working) at with this horse?"  You may receive a better answer than a blank stare, or a stuttered response that doesn't make sense.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Relocating IRIDE

IRIDE has relocated to the mountains of northeast Alabama.  Specifically, to 66 acres on Lookout Mountain, near Mentone, AL.

We have been working on the property to build a stall and pasture for Jelle, and I am happy to report that he is settled in nicely and loving it here in the mountains.

Getting used to the differences in philosophy in the horse culture up here has been a bit of a challenge, but I was forewarned of it with my experience at a stable/summer camp a few years back.  And quite frankly, the quality of the professional equine services has improved since then.
More about the specifics of that later.

I have found that I have about 15-20 acres of good quality hay.  I was quite happy about that, until I discovered the difficulty in getting someone to come bale it for me.  So, my husband and I are cutting a row at a time, and drying and gathering the hay the way I imagine the Amish do it.  The hay is thick and good quality, so the job is not that difficult.  And bottom line is that Jelle has great quality hay that is ultra fresh, organic (we haven't had to fertilize OR herbicide the field), plentiful, and cheap! 

The only expense we have incurred is the diesel for the tractor to cut it, and the personal man-hours of labor for my husband and myself.  Good thing it only takes about 20 minutes for the two of us to gather enough hay for a couple days.  I figure that a bale of this hay only costs us about $2.00 or so.

I have also had an influx of new students from this area (I travel between Chattanooga, TN; Huntsville, AL and Rome, GA during each week for regular lessons).  I am grateful for the warm welcome I have gotten from the dressage community up here!  There are quite a few talented, serious, and committed riders in this area!  I am also pleasantly surprised about the quality horses that they have.  Another thing that surprises me is the number of showing opportunities here.  There are almost 20 USDF/USEF recognized dressage shows within 2-1/2 hour's drive from me between the months of April and November.  That is plenty of competition opportunity for the students as well as for Jelle and me!