Friday, May 17, 2013
9:06 am cest
Well, I certainly have sucked at updating, haven't I? It's not because I've been only sitting
around drinking champagne and eating candy. Of course there's been plenty of that, but I've also been trying hard to keep
As usual, since our last show we've made great strides. I've had super lessons
with Daniel and Andreas and can feel things getting a little more technical and refined. One of my favorite lessons was with
Daniel where we just stayed mostly on a 20 meter circle and worked on ME. I had some of the best collection into passage and
pirouette canter after only focusing on how I was using my seat and not using my hands as much as I like to. The next day
during a lesson with Andreas I was struggling with the passage but then once I focused only on the feeling in my own body,
like I had the day before, suddenly it was better again. Yay!
In the last few weeks I've
gone on two trips with a friend to look at sale horses. I'm super excited to be looking for a young project for myself, something
to bring along for a while and then resell. There's a lovely black gelding I'm pretty keen on, so fingers crossed that he
But better than shopping for myself was being an observer while my friend
was looking at horses in a completely different price bracket. To walk into a stable and say, "only show me your best
horses," is pretty awesome, and the horses that come out are amazing. Most of the time.
was really interesting to see truly international quality horses of various ages, and then other horses that people are trying
to pass off as top quality because they want a top price tag. There were some amazing riders and other riders that I thought,
really? Some riders made normal horses look fabulous and others took great horses and made them nearly unrideable.
It was really interesting.
The best part of it though was watching my friend get on the
horses. This may be one of the nicest riders I've ever seen. Over and over I watched him get on strange horses, and without
stress or fighting, he figured out within one or two rounds how to get the absolute best out of every single horse. Every.
Single. Horse. On one hand it was frustrating because it looked so easy, every time, but for 99% of us it sure isn't. It
really was quite a privilege to watch this and I think my little brain may have absorbed some of the information available
there, because when I got back on my horses at home I found myself trying for a different balance in the saddle and thinking
a little more refined in my aids. Not necessarily that it worked and my riding improved, but as a very visual learner I hope
something sunk in!
I still have so far to go, so much to improve, but to have a fresh kick
of inspiration when I'm already surrounded by amazing talent is a gift I'm thankful for.
we made a new video of Countess to see where we're at. I still want to poke myself in the eye when I see the piaffe to passage
transition, because I know it's ME making the problems, but it is getting better. I love/hate watching our videos because
on one hand I can see the improvement, but mostly I focus on what needs to be better and I'm pretty quickly annoyed and disgusted
with myself. But for now I'm super happy and just so much in love with Countess, and so grateful for her patience as I bumble
along! She's an amazing bundle of Orange Goodness.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Grand Prix Debut
11:55 am cest
It's been a couple days now to relax after the show, where Countess and I both made our Grand
Saturday we rode the Intermediare II test. I think that was the fourth time
I've ridden it, and unfortunately, the second time I've gone off-course. Doh! Other than my off-course and one mistake in
the two-time changes, there wasn't really any big errors, but no big highlights either. It was a test of 6's, with a few 7's
peppered in for good measure. I was disappointed in my score, but happy with my horse. At the end of the day it was just a
warm up for the Grand Prix in my mind anyway, which is maybe not the best attitude and focus to take into a test, but I'll
forgive my enthusiasm for the debut.
Oddly enough I was probably more relaxed and calmer
Sunday than I was Saturday. I practiced a lot of the sports psychology work I've done in the past, focusing on Sunday's Grand
Prix ride. Andrea Woodard, one of the riders at Andreas', provided me with great coaching in the warm up (Andreas and Daniel
were both at Hagen CDI in Germany). Andrea pushed us but kept it from getting hectic, helped me stay calm and thinking.
So we were the first combination to go. Normally I wouldn't be happy about this but I really just
wanted to go! The judge rang the bell and the background music began, with R Kelly's 'I Believe I Can Fly' softly inspiring me into a fit of giggles as I did my first salute. I mean, come on! Talk about cheesy! Anyway,
after I started trotting off I heard nothing else until my final salute.
happy with the trot work. The half-pass to the right had been a bit tricky leading up to the show, with me constantly accidentally
giving Countess a cue to canter. In a lesson Friday, Andrea really helped me break it down and approach it differently, basically
eliminating the mistake. I remember telling myself to ride it only for a 5 or 6 as I was preparing, and taking the pressure
off kept the half-pass relaxed and correct, earning us a 7. The half-pass left is usually very reliable and also got
us 7. (If you watch the video, listen for Morten and Sarah Thomsen's young son saying, "hi Eiren" in between the
two half-passes. So adorable!) The halt rein back was a pleasant surprise, scoring an 8 from two judges! And I'm thrilled
with the second trot extension, she is really developing this better and better.
and passage is hit or miss still. That mare can get the job done in both, and when we are training at home I really have moments
where I believe this will be our highlight. However, in my first Grand Prix I rode the piaffe a little spastically, and poor
Countess didn't always know where she should sit and piaffe or go out, or maybe halt? She really did well considering the
lack of leadership I gave her there! Still we got anywhere from 5 to 7 in the piaffes, passage, and transitions throughout
Walk was good, next pi & pa tour was good until I really hit her with the
transition to canter! Poor Countess must have thought I had decided to make a run for it and off she went! She settled nicely
into the two-time changes, they felt big, safe, and straight. I LOVED the extended canter, it was the first time she really
felt like she stayed up in her balance, getting bigger without faster. So fun! In fact, it was so fun that I really wasn't
thinking far enough ahead to plan the canter zig-zag.
Without good preparation the half-passes
look like I'm again trying to make a run for it, in a race to finish the test! I'm actually amazed that the 3-6-6-6-3 counting
worked out and we managed to find our balance and rhythm back within the movement. The judges didn't think that my recovery
was worth giving me extra marks, so I got a 5 across the board there.
It was right about
here, finishing the canter half-passes that I really understood, oh shit, this comes fast! because all of a
sudden I was coming out of the corner, on the diagonal and I had 15 one-time flying changes ahead of me. No mental preparation
means no physical preparation, and so I wasn't surprised when we had a mistake. But even still I was happy; the quality of
the changes was good, for sure she has the ability to do them better, and she can certainly do them mistake-free. Not a worry.
The pirouettes were good, again not our best, but I'm happy. I still need to work on the transition
to trot, but at least we made it without too much ugly. A better transition there will help me prepare for a better extended
trot, but it was fine. The final centerline was fun, I'm really pleased with her passage, the transition in to piaffe and
the first steps of piaffe. Again it was me being a bit hectic in my riding there that made her lose the rhythm and confidence,
not knowing if she should go forward and out or stay or what. But the Orange Goodness just kept trying until the very last
step, the final halt and salute.
And suddenly we are a Grand Prix combination.
One one hand, it wasn't as big of a deal as I'd thought. At the end of the ride it was just another test, one that
I trained for and did an alright job on. I was really happy but not emotional at the end (I tend to be a cry-baby, it's genetic,
it can't be helped.). I was proud of my horse, thankful to my trainers and especially the owners, but I didn't feel ecstatic,
like I had just passed a major milestone.
On the other hand, I've wanted to ride this
test for EVER. I've ridden enough Grand Prix horses, trained the movements on a handful of horses, to feel like I should be
able to do this. But to put it all together in between those two salutes, it's hard. Really, really hard to do it at all,
and still harder to do it at the level to which I still aspire. I'm really proud that I finally did it on a horse that I finished,
and I'm really proud of the horse for putting up with my ambitions to get here.
I have felt
incredibly relaxed since Sunday's test, and I realize I feel like yes, I have passed that milestone, I have accomplished that
big goal. Instead of a big, wild feeling of celebration, it's the feeling that a weight has been lifted, one I didn't even
know I'd placed on myself. What a nice relief!
At some point in this awesome journey of
mine I decided I wanted to stay in Europe until I had ridden Grand Prix. Then at some other point I thought, screw it,
I just want to go home. But I'm really pleased that I've been able to stay and accomplish this. I'm amazed that I've
had the kind of help from the ground that I'm getting from the Helgstrand Dressage Team. I'm thrilled that, while I still
have a long way to go, I'm learning how to ride a Grand Prix to their standards. All of these things give me an enormous feeling
I'm still so hungry to be better, to minimize my own mistakes so I can
highlight my horse better, and I'm going to do my best to stay here until I AM better. That's why I'd better get off my arse
and go ride my horses.
Before I go, it's worth saying that I finished with a combined
score of 63.688%, a higher score than I've made in the Inter II. Two of the judges had me mid-64, and one of the judges at
a high 61%, but all three had me in third place of the seven combinations in the class. I have a long way to go to try to
reach the class leaders but I'm working on it!
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
9:49 am cest
Last weekend I got myself a Grand Prix horse.
Not because one was bought, but because one was made. Countess,
the incredible Orange Goodness, and I made our Grand Prix debut!
More later, but what a great, fun experience! We did
it! (and managed to come 3rd!) I freaking LOVE that horse!
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
My Adapting Seat
7:36 pm cest
Bloody hell this is hard! Just when you think you've figured something out, then there
comes giant, gaping holes where you thought you'd sort of had an idea of what you might be doing...
When I'm not focusing on the mistakes I'm making and the things that aren't going perfect, I can admit that the training
is going incredibly. Both horses are getting stronger and my communication with them is getting clearer. And the truth is
that mistakes are part of building my education, so as long as my attitude about these mistakes stays positive then I am still
This week I've been riding with Thomas. The first lesson was good but hard because,
as expected, he approached and focused on things differently than Andreas, Daniel, or Andrea. However, like in lessons
with the others, I got a lot of good stuff out of the session and tons to think about and process. Because of this my ride
(on my own) the next day felt really good and I think I had some big improvements.
today's lesson Thomas didn't have to go back and tell me many of the same things he said Monday, instead finding new mistakes
to point out. That's a good sign!
The things that are really sticking with me from
the two lessons are as follows:
From Monday, I needed to 1) LISTEN TO MY HORSE, specifically
her own rhythm. In everything - trot, canter, passage, and piaffe - I was not listening to her her rhythm and so I was throwing
her off with my aids. Durrrrr.... 2) MAKE IT LOOK EASIER. Sure, this Grand Prix business is hard. Of course it is. Anyone
who's ridden it knows it. You're going to make mistakes, get over it. But riding around making it LOOK hard? Well, no one
wants to see that. Besides, doing the epileptic spider monkey impression does not actually make the horse go better. So calm
the shit down, be clear with your aids and then remind the horse that if she doesn't listen to the first leg aid then the
next one won't be so nice.
Today left me thinking mostly about my seat, and how little
idea I have on how to use it! We were working on the Grand Prix half-passes in the trot, you know the VERY steep zig-zag.
I could get the line but would loose the expression. I could get the expression but loose some of the bend. If I had the expression
and bend I would completely loose the line. We were steadily getting through it, making some mistakes, getting better, when
all of a sudden I just threw my body into it differently. I felt like a clothes pin somehow, very stiff and holding, with
my butt out of the saddle, but somehow I was way more together. BOOM! Sideways, forward, bending, made the letter with enough
time to easily change bend and kept going forward and sideways to finish the second half-pass. My inside leg was getting forward
expression, outside leg getting the sideways, seat and hands working together getting the bend and steering. Thomas
said it was great, so much better when I sit straighter like that. So when I say I threw my body it really isn't the right
image, since from the ground I looked straighter. But however I eventually come to describe the feeling in that position,
The other interesting thing about the position work today was in the tempi changes.
Monday Thomas told me to sit stronger in my core (I've been told by Daniel to ride the canter with a stronger seat too), but
then in the tempi changes keep my knees a bit more on (not squeezing but just there). Suddenly they were so much better.
Today he told me to slow down my aids in the one-time changes, while still keeping them strong so she believes me. When I
get too fast with my aids she gets hectic, looses the uphill jump & rhythm. So it was again a weird feeling, with a strong
core, knees staying on which made me feel like my butt was out of the saddle, and slowing my lower legs down, but damn it
Finally I had a big A-HA! moment in the piaffe and passage work today. Now, I've
been working hard on sitting light, not driving with my seat and kicking and pulling to try to make the pi & pa better,
and this has been working. But I still have been having a helluva hard time figuring out the transition out from piaffe to
passage, to get her to go forward again. Sometimes it's good but most of the time we lose the rhythm and mistakes ensue. Then
today I felt the left-right-left-right in my buttcheeks in the piaffe and suddenly it seemed important. I focused on keeping
that in the transition out... and there it was. Not perfect but so much better.
in the piaffe I feel the left-right but it's more in my hips going from side to side. With Countess today it was more of a
rolling straight feeling; if you sit on the ground with your legs straight in front of you and then butt-walk backwards, that's
what it felt like, or at least the best way I can describe it.
So it's just been kind of
fascinating how many different 'positions' I had today and the results from them. While I know I have a somewhat independent
seat, to break 'the seat' down even more is really interesting and quite exciting to try to figure out. It's never going to
be easy, but it will always be a great experience!
Sunday, April 14, 2013
1:01 pm cest
Yesterday was the Open House at Helgstrand Dressage, where they showed off their stallion collection
as well as the official opening of the new stables and riding hall. It was, in my opinion, dressage porn.
One after the other, incredible stallions came in to the PACKED arena and showed their stuff. The riders are all
incredible and the stallions were simply amazing in the charged atmosphere. Loud music, clapping, hooting and whistling got
them excited and animated but the riders always made it a good experience for the horses, and just laughed it off when the
young ones got wild.
Watching the horses go, you can't help but be excited. It makes you
wish for horses like this, and if you can't afford to buy them then you'll want to breed for one. You can work your ass off
to be the best rider you can be, and ask the same from your horse, that he becomes the best he can be, but to sit on horses
like we watched yesterday... the rest of us can just go home when these guys show up!
there is nothing in the world like Sezuan. I get to see this four year old stallion train regularly, and every single time
I'm in awe. But to see him yesterday with his "whites" on (bandages, etc.), braided up and just giving it everything
for the very loud, very appreciative audience... simply amazing. He's just so talented and, even better, so willing in the
work. You watch the trot and think nothing can be better, then you see the canter, then you see the walk! The horse is everything
you can dream of, and I totally agree with Andreas when he claims this is the best four year old in the world. How can anything
There were two Sezuan foals presented and they're also lovely. I was helping
with the braiding and grooming of the Hotline mare with her Sezuan colt, and while spending time in the stall with him I could
see this little guy was not only beautiful and correct, but full of confidence and personality. As I suspected he would, he
played out in the arena when being shown to the crowd; he moved uphill and swingy, with lots of bucks and leaps. Wow.
Although there can only be one king, and that is Sezuan, the other stallions that stood out for
me were the young KWPN stallion Franklin with his amazing activity and gaits, the beautiful moving Quarterback son Quasinova,
as well as Sir Donnerhall II, whose body mechanics are defy gravity. But really, not a single one of the stallions shown was
anything less than top quality and made me wish I had a herd of top mares to pair up with these boys.
The finale of the event was when Andreas presented his new Grand Prix partner, Akeem. Again, I've been fortunate
enough to see them schooling a few times, but it was so cool to see them in front of the audience. Akeem is simply extraordinary,
I'm sure once they get out to the competition ring there will be many comparisons of this horse to Totilas (under Edward Gal).
His piaffe and passage is breathtaking. Everything Akeem does is with incredible power, yet so fluid, soft, and rhythmical.
The best thing is to see Andreas smile like a little boy when he's riding. That's what it's all about, right? The absolute
thrill of sitting on such an incredible athlete, and their willingness to dance with us. So magical!
Here is a link to the Danish website Ridehesten.com's coverage of the event, with a picture gallery and above it a link to
a video of Andreas & Akeem.
There was a great party afterwards with food, drink,
a live band and of course dancing. The entire team at Helgstrand Dressage worked very hard for this presentation and it was
great to see everyone enjoying themselves. What a day!