Does a bit of bling make you a dressage diva?

IMG_0408.jpg

My mare and I are on the cusp of Third Level. Flying changes come and go – occasionally she does a few easily clean and straight, and other days, it’s, “huh? I have no idea what you’re talking about.” All other third level moves feel fairly easy; the changes will come soon enough. Probably.

So I allowed myself the indulgence of buying a new (admittedly unneeded) show shirt at the Animo Black Friday Sale. 

Admittedly, the shirt above falls in the rather blingy (but oh so fabulous!) category. Does this make me a dressage diva? It is an interesting question.

Such a (negatively) loaded term. I immediately think of a small overweight woman bouncing along on an enormous horse, weighed down with bling everywhere. “NEVER!”quoth I.

Yet one most know oneself. The truth will set you free.

mirror

Know Thyself

Diva definition: “a usually glamorous and successful female performer or personality.”

Having attained a certain age (well over 50), perhaps I’m entitled to enjoy a little glamour here and there. Well made, glittery shirt? Sure.

As for success, well, it comes and goes. Doing what we can to be successful AND have fun.

Dressage Diva: Yes, in the true sense of the word. Bring it. I’m old enough to enjoy the glitter if I want to. That said, let’s try to stay reasonably tasteful. One can go TOO far. As in this:

 

desf (32)

Coming soon: Starlight embraces her inner dressage diva with her own glittery coronet (aka browband). Just wait until you see her Christmas Present.

 

 

Cue the smiles: baby pictures of Starlight

Like any fond parent (“horse mother”) I see the beginnings of greatness in the picture below of Starlight at One Day old, kindly sent to me recently by Janne Rumbough, Starlight’s breeder.

IMG_1291.JPG

Look at Starlight cantering already on those long, spidery baby legs. Her momma is pretty gorgeous, too, if you ask me. Here’s a close up of one day old Starlight…IMG_1293.JPG

You can see she from her coat and gangly legs that she’s really just newborn, and yet she already looks like a nice package. It’s amazing how quickly they get up and get running! Essential, of course, because in the wild they might have to run from a predator, but still amazing when you think about how long a human baby has to be carried around.

Below you’ll see Ms. Starlight at Three Years Old. Notice that her mane and forelock are roached, and her dock is trimmed. This is traditional for the presentation of Andalusian PRE mares.  If I were showing her in breed classes I would need to prepare her this way.

IMG_0226.JPG

Now she’s looking pretty grown up and elegant, with a lovely reach and an eager expression. That star stands out nicely against her black coat!

The picture below shows her cute backside. She’s almost saying, “excuse me, are you admiring my nicely rounded hindquarters? Humph.”

IMG_0227.JPG

Such fun for me to see baby pictures of my big grown up girl, who is now 16.1 hds. The same sweet and interested expression is there, and the same leggy elegance, but now she is filling out and muscling up.

Here is her wise, kind face in July, 2016. I just love to kiss that nose – and she doesn’t seem to mind it.

 20160708_Edie and Starlight__DSC7696.jpg

 

Should you go to a clinic?

Star and I have struggled a little with finding a steady connection with the bit. Star’s automatic reflex is to raise her neck and brace herself, especially if she is a bit tense or nervous, becoming quick in her gait and keeping her back hollow. Ick.

Of course I would like to slow her tempo, adding cadence and push from her hindquarters, engaging her back, and getting a nice, steady connection with the bit. It’s a work in progress.

Right now I’m in the midst of a three day clinic with Corinne Dorrepaal, a wise and experienced trainer from Holland who comes to the USA for clinics occasionally. Lucky me!

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-9-06-28-pm

Much improved connection, thanks to Corinne’s help at the clinic

Clinics are expensive – each lesson usually  two to four times what you normally spend on a lesson – and I found myself thinking about that cost. Is it worth it?

It depends. In Corinne’s case, Yes! Here’s my metric for deciding whether to spend the money on a clinician:

  1. Is he or she an effective teacher?  Many clinicians offer years of experience, having seen literally thousands of horses and riders of all sorts. They draw on that vast resource of knowledge to quickly solve your riding problems.
  2. Does this person treat the students and horses with respect?  A positive attitude with respect for horse and rider is nonnegotiable. They must not drive the horse into the ground with too much work during the clinic (and if you feel the work is too hard, Speak Up!), or use their authority to abuse horse or rider.
  3. Does this clinician offer something different from my current teacher, but not conflicting with her general methods? If it’s just more of what your teacher offers (without further depth), why bother? If it conflicts with what you do at home…you will have a problem continuing the work and either lose all you gained at the clinic, or have conflict with your trainer. Don’t do it.
  4. Do I finish the lessons with practical exercises to take home and a clear understanding of what I need to do, practice, work on, aim for?

    screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-3-13-18-pm

    Starlight in a nice uphill collected canter. She can’t maintain this very long yet, just a few strides and then we let her go bigger for a few strides, then collect again..

  5. Is the clinician open to questions and discussion when I need more clarification?
  6. How did I feel about the lesson(s)? I always try to have my clinics videotaped, as many of the sessions as I can. I’m a visual learner, not auditory, so watching video helps me understand what happened and reinforces what I felt. It also helps me decide if it is worth going back to the clinician because the real question is…
  7. Does this clinician make a positive difference in my horse and me quickly and effectively? 

Day one of the Corinne Dorrepaal clinic, within 15 minutes she had my horse looking so much better! Of course, in my lessons at home, this happens too. A little warmup and some coaching does a lot of good. But I felt we made some important strides forward in the area of getting a good connection over the top.

What I took away from my first day:

  • The gray areas matter: always pay attention to the little things, don’t be sloppy. Every transition, every moment.
  • Keep asking Star to lower her neck (from the base of the neck) all the time. Be wary because she starts to bring it back up and you don’t realize it. Especially in the transitions, lower the neck, it improves them and also makes her stronger.
  • Slow the tempo down in trot and canter. Keep the energy through frequent transitions within the gait (“almost walk, trot on”), but keep the tempo fairly slow.

More insights in a few days! And here is a small portion of the lesson video, focusing on collecting for a few strides, then lengthening for a few strides exercise, all while keeping the neck low to engage the back. We begin with a little walk work and proceed to trot.

 

 

 

Take care of your equipment

Horse equipment is EXPENSIVE.

Most likely, if you own or care for a horse, I don’t need to tell YOU that. As my husband has long said, “it’s not the buying (of the horse), it’s the keeping.”

How then should we care for this expensive equipment so it lasts as long as possible and functions as it should?

First, Store it Properly.

Saddles generally run in the thousands of dollars, and while they can last for decades if properly maintained, they need to be stored carefully. Whether that saddle fits you or the horse for decades is unlikely, but hey, there’s always resale value.

Best way to store a saddle? Like this:

 20160708_Edie and Starlight__DSC7538.jpg

This saddle is on a “Saddle Mattress” (yes, nicely personalized) so that the rack underneath will not damage the wool flocking of the saddle (http://www.saddlemattress.com). The padded saddle mattress can be made in almost any color with custom piping and name or initials, and it slips over the saddle rack to protect your saddle. You can also easily take it with you if you move to another tack room.

If I store a saddle on a tubular metal saddle rack with no padding, the metal will compress the flocking that I have paid a saddle fitter to adjust to my horse and the saddle will become lumpy and uncomfortable for my horse; the rack may also stretch the leather, compromising the saddle.

Wooden racks that are curved and shaped to fit saddles with no hard edges can be fine if you can find them. They are usually quite expensive but they are an elegant solution; however, you cannot easily take them with you so I prefer the portable saddle mattress.

Bridles should be hung on rounded bridle hooks, NEVER ON NAILS, which will weaken the leather. Here’s a lovely example:

 20160708_Edie and Starlight__DSC7536.jpg

Note that these bridles are hung on proper hooks, but many of the saddles in this backroom are right on the metal racks. Alas. Some saddles have covers but others have the sweaty pad placed over them to dry. Even upside down, that pad will get some dampness on the saddle, not good (see below).

Second, Cover Your Saddle. If your saddle did not come with a dust cover, buy one. All tack rooms are dusty (barns are dusty!). A dust cover helps reduce the dust on your saddle. NEVER store your sweaty, damp girth directly on top of the saddle. Preferably wipe it clean after use (o.k., I admit I don’t always do this), and then place it on top of the dust cover so the dampness does not contact the seat of the saddle. A dust cover also protects your saddle from UV rays if the tack room has a window. UV (sunlight) will fade and dry out tack badly. We’ve all seen those formerly black saddles, now blotchy brown…

Damp and sweat are the enemies of leather: remember that. Metal saddle racks are bad, too.

Third, Clean and Condition Your Tack regularly. I did not grow up in Pony Club and I’m not British so I do not do this daily. God bless you if you do. But when it gets dry and crusty it is uncomfortable for the horse and bad for the tack. Don’t go there.

Find a schedule you can live with and make it work. I get it done by simplifying it this way:

  1. Don’t try to do all the tack on the same day. Too tiring. Don’t take bridles apart except maybe once or twice a year. Otherwise the task becomes overwhelming (especially when you have a double bridle!).
  2. Use warm water only to clean the tack and remove dust and sweat. Most experts believe that soap just adds gunk and is another thing to get off.
  3. Allow tack to dry slightly, then condition well with a good conditioner like Passier Lederbalsam or Effax Lederbalsam. Apply generously with a small tack sponge. Let soak in while you are finishing the rest of the tack.
  4. Take a cleanish dry towel (small one) and wipe the excess off, polishing the tack.
  5. Wash the bit off every single day. I just run it under the faucet quickly. If you don’t have running water, dunk it in the horse’s water bucket or wipe it with a cloth. Leaving it with spit or chewed carrot on it will make it crusty and uncomfortable for  20160708_Edie and Starlight__DSC7539.jpghim to put in his mouth. Keep it clean.
  6. Voila! Clean, soft, beautiful tack. Not my bridle at right, but a nice one.

Love affair with a mare

My dear friend, Velda Ruddock, professional photographer extraordinaire, captured something special in her lens…

 20160708_Edie and Starlight__DSC7515.jpg

Oh yeah, THAT’s the itchy spot, mom. Keep currying there please…ahhhhhh…..

 20160708_Edie and Starlight__DSC7548.jpg

What are we going to do today, mom? Something fun I hope? How about a nice trail ride?

 

 20160708_Edie and Starlight__DSC7551.jpg

Starlight, today you’re going to learn Tempi Changes, Piaffe, and Passage!

Ha ha, just kidding. It will be the usual walk, trot, canter.

 20160708_Edie and Starlight__DSC7692.jpg

That was a good day’s work, mom. I like being with you.

 

 20160708_Edie and Starlight__DSC7791.jpg

Let’s just snuggle. You wouldn’t happen to have any sugar, would you? I do love that stuff.

Starlight at the horse show

Starlight made the jump to Second Level this weekend, and did it in style with some quite good scores. Below are a few nice pictures from test 2-3. What a truly lovely setting and we always enjoy showing at Osierlea in San Juan Bautista, CA, where everyone is helpful and friendly, the footing is excellent, and there are gardens all around you. No dust or flies, either, I don’t know how they do it!

It’s horse heaven. Star told me she’d like to live there, but unfortunately it would be too long a commute for us. We’ll just have to visit occasionally.

DSC03689.JPG

Up the Centerline for the halt and salute

DSC03615.JPG

Shoulder-in

DSC03608

Medium trot across the diagonal

DSC03670.JPG

Collected canter right

DSC03676.JPG

More collected canter right!

DSC03681.JPG

Counter canter serpentine, right

Getting better all the time…

Starlight is at a stage where progress happens fast. I know  plateaus will come soon enough, but I’m enjoying her willing attitude and aptitude for dressage.

What a dance partner she is!

A fellow blogging friend challenged us to a “before and after” post about our horse, so here we go: the first five months with Starlight

Starlight in March 2016 when I bought her:

DSC02900

Talking to Starlight before the vet check. You’re going to be my girl now (assuming you pass the vet check)!

A few weeks later, under saddle as we got to know each other. Looks at those happy smiles.DSC02965

 

In April, at the Woodside HorsePark on a cold windy day, having a clinic with Miguel Tavora, Starlight gets a little TOO enthusiastic about the canter depart!

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 7.51.36 PM

Whoa there, girl! I don’t want to play Calamity Jane in this partnership!

Our first show, Training Level, six weeks after I bought her. She was very tense, but obedient and safe.

IMG_1973

Notice how shiny her coat is as she sheds out the bleached winter coat and grows in a nice shiny black summer coat. I feed her Platinum Performance and Chia Seed which helps with shine, too.

By our fourth and last show at Training Level (hooray!), she feels like an old campaigner. Works beautifully in a crowded warmup ring, has no problem with the judge’s booth or the flowers on the ring, knows her job and does it. A little tension in the first test but performs very well.

DSC03362.JPG

See how much more grownup she looks now!

While we continue to struggle a bit with reaching over the top for a solid connection with the bit, Starlight improves weekly and always has a willing spirit. I can’t say enough good things about the Andalusian – when you find a good one.  For me they are the perfect combination of trainability, willingness, good sense, forwardness, comfortable gaits, and beauty. You can tell I’m besotted. This horse would follow me anywhere and do anything for me. It is a precious trust.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 9.33.29 PM

Starlight in May 2016, finishing a Training Level test and feeling quite pleased with herself.