I don’t even know where to begin with this blog post except to say that Thanksgiving Break is less than a week away which means I get to go back home to my barn-family and my A-Wood girls! I am so excited to have the week off and get to spend it at home riding with all my favorite family of dressage riders. There is really nothing like being at home which is what Applewood has become to me. My lesson two weekends ago (this post is late, like normal!) was amazing as well. I had such a good time seeing the Boss and Julia and everyone! We worked on all the Prix St. George work and I am happy to report we are not going backwards even without lessoning since August at Gladstone in New Jersey for Festival of Champions.
A summary of the lesson would be that I just need to keep riding for more, especially in the trot work. The half-passes are in a pretty good place but to improve them I could start doing more zigzag work. This helps to keep Val supple and thinking otherwise he has too much time to be against the leg and slow down behind. The shoulder-ins are solid but I need to keep working towards more cadence within them. As for the canter work we schooled our first true half pirouettes, and the Boss agreed with all the exercises I have done which was good to note. To develop strength I try to school transitions in and out of pirouette canter on the straight lines in our arena. Doing this improve my tempo and speed control as well as strengthening his hind end and teaching him how to always think forward and be ready for the aids. We have now moved on from schooling pirouettes on a circle to riding them down the diagonal like in the real FEI test. To help make sure I get the correct feeling I need to focus more on riding forward into the pirouette and turning my head and body to shift my weight and help him around the turn. There should be six strides exactly in a half pirouette, and counting out loud also is a big training tool I use. As for the canter half-pass I need to keep on working those in zigzags as well, but try to do them a little quicker. Jason even got on him and schooled the Intermediare 5-10 pattern and the Grand Prix 3-6 one! Now I just need to become quicker in my timing to be able to pull that off! We got clean fours, which can be improved by checking on the overall connection to the bit. Best part of my ride had to be getting back on after Jason and schooling the passage/piaffe/passage transitions. What a feeling!
At home this past week I had been really trying to recreate the feeling of power and brilliance I have in my rides with Jason. That is still a hard thing for me, to get everything and then some out of the Red head. Sometimes I still do not understand how to power him up all the way and I catch myself not riding for a 9 every time. The only way to stop myself is constant vigilance!
*note: Harry Potter is coming out this week; Can you tell I am excited?*
To do this I am really honing in on speed control in all the work. Warm-up is now all about transitions within the gaits at any moment. We ride forward one letter, back one letter, and so on. This carries over into work on circles of all sizes, bending lines, leg yielding, and basic lateral work. His left half-pass is the weaker side and has been since before NAJYRC. To focus on the throughness I am powering him down before riding it these days and then powering him back up once in the movement. Val tends to shift his weight onto the right side of his body too much, counter balancing away from the bend and the leading foreleg. This results in him dropping the true connection with the inside rein which is a major point of contention between us. He has to be soft and light, but present in the hands as well. Whenever I lose the feeling I take him back to a slow walk where he is deep within the connection and truly on the bit. Then I re-establish the connection of looseness within the bend as well as crossing and activity behind. He has had a hard time with the movement from the beginning and over this last year we definitely pushed him forwards and gave him an “immersion” course in the subject. Now I am going back to the beginning and smoothing over any training cracks before we go further. They aren’t holes yet – but left unattended they could be! We are also doing transitions within the gaits in the half-pass; someday I hope to be able to ride forward and back with the same light supple connection for every stride. All of the tedious and repetitive work is going to pay off this season – it has already allowed me greater control of the crossing and steepness of the exercise as well as making him swing more through his body.
This weekend was another exciting one as I purchased my shadbelly! What an amazing moment that I have dreamed about since starting on this dressage journey – and even better to spend it with my tremendously supportive mother! I could not do anything without her and I am so blessed to have an expansive support system full of relatives and friends alike. Pulling on that perfect black coat, sitting in a saddle, and seeing myself for the first time was a moment I will never forget. It took me back a moment realizing how far we have come in a year – from the pipe dream of competing for the FEI Juniors, to mine and Val’s first ride in the double, to purchasing a top hat and showing in it for the very first time, to riding my first freestyle, to riding down the chute at the Kentucky Horse Park, to winning two FEI medals on a horse I have brought up from not being able to canter, to standing in the United States’ training facility in awe, to watching Totilas compete in the same arena I have, to trying on my very own shadbelly. It has been one amazing year.
And now for the most exciting adventure yet – I have been offered and accepted a working student position with Hassler Dressage for the 2011 year! Excitement, relief, and anxiety are just a few of the emotions I have wavered between these past few weeks as we have finalized details. I don’t know what to say other than I promise to keep this blog going, and post more frequently. I finish my semester at the University of Georgia and then head up to Maryland to get settled in their beautiful new facility of Riveredge. I am so thrilled to be part of their team and have another wonderful support system. I believe there are five of us trying for the Junior/Young Rider tract as well which will make this season that much more special.