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!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Do You Have a Plan When You Ride/Train Your Horse?

Someone posted a question similar to this in one of the online groups I follow.  People have asked me this before, but as I mostly lurk on this particular group, I didn't add my two cents.  But many other group members did comment.
To paraphrase, most people said they start with a plan in mind, but let the horse dictate what actually happens.  As I read the the replies, it started to occur to me that I USED to take this tack, but not anymore.
Let me explain...
When I train a horse, I have a plan with several components.  I have the Master Plan, which is the Training Scale.  I also have the "Plan of Attack", which takes into consideration the overall picture of the horse--his conformation and his personality.  Different horse-types require different focuses of the training scale at different times in their training.  Those are my general goals.
Then I have more specific goals, based on the long term goals--such as, a general timeline for progression (usually month to month), and this part of the plan is the most flexible, even after the idea is set.  The reason is that I initiate this timeline on a "best-case scenario", which doesn't take into consideration any hiccups (lameness, sickness, unanticipated weaknesses that need more time at a certain point, etc.).  The timeline usually gets longer, as we take into account any interruption, unforseen circumstances, or slow-down in the training.
Then we have the benchmark plan.....that is specific points of progression (apart from the timeline), and is used for competition purposes. Such as, as the purpose and elements of "Training Level" get easy for the horse, we should already be flowing into the concepts of "First Level" (where impulsion is introduced), such as the lengthening of the trot and canter. Then as all the elements of First Level are becoming easier, begin to introduce the notion of collection through some steps of the shoulder-in and other more sophisticated lateral work, and so on.
And to answer the question of a daily plan, yes, I do have a plan for each ride.  And I expect to be able to execute the elements of my plan.  If the horse is dictating something other than I have planned on a regular basis, then I believe the failure is mine!
If I don't "get to" the elements of the plan I lay out for the day, I have to wonder--"is my plan unrealistic"? Or, "do I really understand the training scale"? Or, "am I skipping ahead of where my horse truly is in its training"?
I believe that if I am not able to execute my plan for the training session at least 98% of the time, then there is something wrong with the master plan, or of my execution of the master plan, plan of attack, or timeline (the big picture).  If you are not able to execute the daily plan, it is just a symptom of a bigger problem in your training.