Tag Archives: dressage

Hey Now, That’s A Fancy Mustang!

People, the show was amazing!

Sue warming up the best Mustang at the show. Also, the only Mustang.

Sue warming up the best darn Mustang at the show. Also, the only Mustang.

Sebastian was his usual self. Calm. Obedient. Hungry!

His stall was full of hay! Clandestine hay is way tastier.

His stall was full of loose hay! Apparently, clandestine hay is way tastier.

Things started off with a bang when he got a second in his warm up class!

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His remaining two classes for the weekend were very large (21 horses each) and full of fabulous horses. The competition was fierce! Each ride was judged by two judges, so it was fun to compare scores and comments between judges. In the USDF Regional Championship Class there were 15 horses above 70% and 2 horses above 80% (that many rides with scores that high is raaaaaaare), so I was crazy excited that Sebastian got an 8th with an average score of 73.9%!

"People get so excited about these things. They must be edible"

“People get so excited about these things. Surely they must be edible.”

Watching him line up for the awards with all the giant warmbloods was hilarious. And made me so proud! Here’s the victory gallop (er, trot):

Trying to keep up!

Trying to keep up!

For The California Dressage Society Horse of The Year class there were two separate rides judged by 2 judges each, so in the end each horse’s score was an average of 4 judges’ opinions.

Suuuuper free walk.

Suuuuper free walk.

According to all those judges’ opinions, Sebastian and Sue are an excellent pair! After the first class Sebastian was in second place with an average score of 74.7. Whoo hooooo!

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In the end his average score among the 4 judges was 72.4%, earning him a 4th for Horse of The Year! What further blew me away was the the consistency of the comments. Lots of “lovely” and “willing horse.”

A very good boy.

A very good boy.

The best part of looking at the scores, however, were that Sue and Sebastian got a NINE on harmony between rider and horse not once, but TWICE!! Getting a 9 is crazy wonderful. Something that essentially never happens to the average rider, and very, very seldom to an amazing rider like Sue. And here it was- twice in one show! That is one special way to know you that you picked the right trainer. Oh yeah!

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So now Sebastian is home and riding him is such a joy. All the hopes I had for him going into training, to help him learn to move in the best possible way and mature his mind with lots of outings, have been greatly exceeded. Riding him now is like driving a sports car (albeit one with very eager brakes), as compared to the station wagon I sent to Sue. I’m even thinking that this dressage thing might be something that Sebastian and I can do together. I’m finding the precision needed to ride a good test to be both challenging and invigorating. It’s going to be my turn to start showing him in October. I must say it’s a little intimidating to show him in this new-to-me discipline after watching Sue ride him so beautifully, but I’m excited to try it out none the less. Here’s to at least not embarrassing myself next month at Greenville!

Little Mustang, BIG Horseshow

Well, the summer was fantastic for Sebastian, the wonder pony, and Sue, his wonder trainer. So fantastic, in fact, that we have decided to take him to the California Dressage Society championship show.

People, I am READY!

People, I am READY! Juuuuust as soon as someone tops off this hay bag…

Whoa. Big time stuff!

I’m so proud of what Sue and Sebastian have done this summer. He hasn’t magically transformed into a giant, splashy mover (although his movement has improved a ton) but what he lacks in flash he sure gains in consistency. He was always 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in his classes. His median score at the moment, going into championships, is a 71.2%. To a non-dressage rider that doesn’t sound that great (it’s not a C minus!), but in my intro to dressage showing this summer I have learned that that is a really good score! BTW, there is this amazing website, Centerline Scores, that lets a person totally nerd out on scores from dressage shows.

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I may, or may not, have looked up every horse in Sebastian’s class and found that, in fact, only two of his competitors have median scores higher than his. That consistency thing really works for him! I am keeping my expectations low, however. There are a good number of horses in Sebastian’s class who have gotten 78’s at past horse shows and everyone will be riding their very, very best. This show draws the fanciest horses from throughout the state and the classes are huge! No matter what happens, it’s an honor just to have him there and know that he earned his place among the European imports and soon-to-be six figure superstars.

Stillwater's Bastian, imported from Nevada!

Stillwater’s Bastian, imported all the way from Nevada!

The show is this weekend, September 19-22. Please wish us luck!

Help Your Horse Walk

Like many competitive trail riders, I find the walk to be my horses’ most important gait. It is an area that Sebastian and I have found challenging. I would like 4-6 mph at the walk. Sebastian, after the initial excitement of the ride dies down, would prefer a pace more suited to sightseeing and frequent stops to sample the local flora. Maybe 1 mph. In the video below, Sue Corrie will give you some tips on influencing your horse’s walk correctly. Much of Sue’s teachings is based on the work of Mary Wanless- very good stuff. The video focuses on the way the rider’s seat connects to the horse’s hind end in order to control the tempo of the walk. It allows for a bigger walk that comes from stronger engagement from the horse’s hind end, rather than dumping the horse onto his forehand.

Here Sue is warming up Sebastian at a show. She is both on a long rein and her seat is actively connected to his back. She is asking him to use his hind end while he walks along, relaxed.

Here Sue is warming up Sebastian at a show. She is both on a long rein and her seat is actively connected to his back. She is asking him to use his hind end while he walks along, relaxed.

Before thinking about the concepts from the video, be sure your basic body alignment follows the classic shoulder-hips-heels rule: if a plumb line were dropped down from the heavens, it should pass through all those body parts. A way to check this is to imagine if the horse were whisked out from under the rider; the rider should always land on her feet. This is a good image to have in mind in order to stay balanced on ascents and descents, as well.

Sue talks about your seat bones in the video. If you are having a hard time knowing where they are pointing, you can sit on your hands to get a feel for them. Alternately hollow and round your low back to feel how those “flashlights” shine backward and forward. Find the spot where they point straight down. In this position you have the best chances of “plugging in” to your horse’s back and influencing his movement properly.

A final thing to keep in mind is that the movements that Sue describes are probably not as big as you might imagine. Big movements with your seat are very uncomfortable for your horse. Imagine moving at some speed down a trail with a big, sloppy backpack moving all over your back. Ouch. Now instead imagine a tightly packed backpack that is well secured to your back. Ahhhh. Be the tight backpack! Riders who *look* relaxed on a horse are riders with very active core muscles that hold them still in relationship to the horse. They can influence their horses easily because they are not sending a million extra signals to the horse through meaningless floppy body movements. Pay attention to the change in Sebastian when Sue uses her seat to make bigger movements and shove him forward- not a happy boy.

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Initially you may need a helper on the ground so you can figure out how to coordinate your seatbone going down and back when your horse’s hind leg on the same side is in motion. In order to speed up the walk you will actually feel like you are opposing the motion of the horse to some extent as you take the lead and tell the horse to put his hind leg down at a faster pace. Instead of letting the horse’s movement carry your seatbone at the current speed, think about your seat bone being connected directly to your horse’s hind hoof.  Tell that hoof to come down sooner with a faster down and back motion with your corresponding seat bone. Change the speed your seatbones are moving at but keep the movements small- no floppy backpacks! This feels opposite to what lots of us do instinctually to try to get our horses to walk bigger- exaggerate the way our hips move naturally at the walk. This exaggeration may cause your horse to take faster steps but it will also shove him onto the forehand, hollow his back and make his back end trail out behind him. Done correctly, Sue’s method will have your horse reaching farther under himself with his hind end. The increase in speed will be powerful and correct.

Good luck! Find the Big Walk!

The Little Mustang Does It Again!

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I really, really thought Sebastian’s last show at Yarra Yarra Ranch was going to be a peak in terms of scores and ribbons. This weekend the competition was still at Yarra Yarra but with a new judge, on a new day.

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After his first test (Training Level, Test 1) the judge commented to Sue, my trainer, “Thank you. Lovely test.” as she rode out of the ring. This is a big deal to hear anything but a “Thank you” as you leave, the equivalent of “you may be excused”. When I heard “Lovely test” I began to have some hopes that things had gone very well. To my eye, the test looked almost flawless but, as you can imagine, I am somewhat biased. Low and behold, he scored a 75.8%!!! For all the non-dressage folks out there, that is *really* good. For his second test (Training Level, Test 2) he was not as forward moving, and we found out why when he finally pooped right in front of the judge’s table. As Sue later pointed out- nobody likes to run around when they really have to poop. So he picked up the wrong lead twice in the trot to canter transition required at that moment and scored a 3/10 for that move. The rest of the test, however, was still awesome enough for him to score a 71.3% overall.

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Yep, two more blues!

So there is our victor, enjoying a net-free flake of hay in celebration of winning some totally useless (translation: inedible) floppy blue things his ecstatic mother smooshed into his mane. I had this super cute picture idea where I pinned the ribbons to the mesh of the stall door and was going to have him put his head out the v-shaped cut out between the ribbons, but of course he was too short to stick his head out. Alas, a small horse showing in a big horse world.

On my drive home I was reflecting on the fortune of buying this wild little horse at auction and finding such success in the sports we have tried. There are the important factors of conformation bred through generations of hardiness and early conditioning in the rugged mountains of Nevada, but I also appreciate that Sebastian had time to grow up quite a lot before being handled by humans. There are horses who are fortunate enough to only ever interact with excellent horsemen who understand how to communicate the strange and often counter-instinctual things we ask of our ponies in a positive and effective way, but these horses are rare. I looked for about a year before I bought Sebastian, and I found a number of young horses who would have been huge projects not because of their age or inexperience but because of the interactions they had had with humans. Buying a wild horse with 90 days of training from a natural horseman was actually an easy way to start a good relationship. Sebastian knows how to be a horse, first and foremost. He has suffered from plenty of my mistakes over the past few years but he has a real training foundation (thank you Bob Mundy and Susan Dockter!) that has made everything else we have done so relatively easy. This next piece of dressage training with Sue Corrie is teaching him up to better use his body, correctly and efficiently. I have been fascinated to see how well this translates to show ring success when laid on top of his natural horsemanship foundation. He unloads from the trailer at a show and looks around with curiosity, not anxiety. Sue can hop on without any ground work or lungeing and find that he is mentally the same horse she knows at home. He can really show off what he has learned with Sue because he isn’t nervous. Nope, he doesn’t have the movement to be competitive at the higher levels of Dressage but for me that’s an excellent trade off for a horse that is just so easy to do things with.

Now watch, next show he’ll be a complete maniac because I tempted fate and wrote all those things down. I’m knocking on some wood here. I’ll let you know after March 30th- our next outing!

Fancy Shmancy, Kick Butt With A Mustang!

This last weekend Sebastian went to his first Dressage show at Yarra Yarra Ranch in Pleasanton. After less than two months of Dressage training, I had what I thought were realistic expectations for a horse whose breeding selected for the ability to stay sleek and fit on five mouthfuls of grass a day and the domination all the other scrappy stallions on the range. My goals are for Sebastian to learn to move to the best of his ability and to gain experience going places and not being a silly beast. A horse that carries himself well will stay sound in the long run, and a horse that goes places without fuss is just a delight to have. So the feedback from a judge and the competition are interesting elements, but not the things I really expected to define the day as a success.

The training has been a major indulgence. It is only justified by the fact that Sebastian needs to stay in work to stay healthy and I am too pregnant to tie my own shoes, much less ride a horse. I have him out in Brentwood with Sue Corrie and she has been doing an amazing job with him. What a difference a handful of weeks can make! In preparation for being worked and shown through the cold months he even got a real show hair do- a full body clip. Not a single heart or star shaved in! We were super serious.

My camera battery conveniently died halfway through the show, but here are Sue and Sebastian in the warm up arena:

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Bastian, getting his Dressage face on.

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Stillwater’s Bastian, aka Lucky # 244.

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Tiniest horse in the warm up ring.

Sebastian took the change in scenery quite well, only occasionally worrying. Someone *crazy* had installed some terrifying brick pavers in the aisle the horses cross to enter the show arena, which required a lot of loud nose breathing and very wide eyeballs to cross. Fortunately they were not as deadly as they first appeared.

His first test (Training Level, Test 1) he got a little distracted and initially bungled picking up his left lead canter, but I felt it was a great first ever go in a Dressage class. Apparently the judge agreed- he scored a 68.958 and won his class! I was stunned. This was not at all what I was expecting from a real live Dressage show. Little range ponies can win?? Very disorienting. Also awesome.

Now it is true that I am awash in all sorts of prenatal hormones and therefore a bit prone to waves of emotional intensity, so I am not embarrassed to say that the second class (Training Level, Test 2) actually made me tear up. Sue rode him very well and it was just lovely. He didn’t have big extravagant warmblood movement or rhinestones glinting in his browband, but in my eyes he looked like he pretty much did belong there in that fancy arena. I felt so satisfied as we waited the hour it took for the class to finish (it was a big class). Then I was blown away again- he scored a 71.429 and won the second class! It was surreal.

Sue and Sebastian, victorious!

Sue and Sebastian, victorious!

Here’s to hoping this pending baby will wait until after February 10th to arrive so I can watch the next show. Until then, we will bask in the glory!