Tuesday, May 27, 2008

9 Tests

Today, the entry for Piper's next competition was sent out. Over $700 worth.

We are headed to a 3 day show, with plans of arriving the day before the show starts so that we can take advantage of ring access prior to the competition.

The USDF allows a maximum of 3 dressage tests per day, so that's what I entered. 9 tests all together. Training Level Tests 1, 2, and 4... everyday. And for each T4 test, we paid the extra $10 just in case we actually enter the arena, stay in the arena for the duration of the test, and earn the whooping 68% required to get a qualifying score.

MEANWHILE, our other dressage horse, Jeddien, completed her qualification for the 3rd Level Open USDF Region 8 Championships. So, we are going to Saugerties NY in September. Question remains....

Will Piper be going with us? That is the plan. Or at this point, the dream.....

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Play Time!

Taking off the pressure, tonight was about Play Time! Piper loves to free lunge and jump and tonight, that's exactly what was on the menu.

Put a jump in the arena and Piper goes straight for it. No hesitation. No need to drive or direct him. He just sets his sights and gets down to business. Free jumping with complete ease, varying strides, never missing, never hitting, and often over a metre in height. His little ears and self controlled impulsion say it all. He's playing.

Of course, being a sweetie, he comes looking for praise and treats. It's so easy to have a giggle while giving him a pat, share a mint, then send him away to earn the next mint.

Play time. Or, as some will call it, cross training. Whatever. The point is that Piper's overall training program is not just about dressage. It's about being a horse having fun.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Malibu Lights

Yup, Malibu lights. That's the latest scary monster for Piper.

This weekend, we put Solar powered Malibu lights around the outdoor arena. Lights at each letter. It looks pretty cool!

For many years, I have ridden Jeddien outside in the dark. I find that riding in the dark, with less visual stimulous, it is easier to focus on balance and feel. We have done many hours of training after sunset. But Piper's night work was limited to walking up and down the driveway...

... Until tonight.

Leading him down to the arena, he was calm and happy. Horses can see better than us in the dark and he knows the lay of the land. Lunging, all was going well at the walk. But trotting must have gotten his blood up. Suddenly he "noticed" the light at B, stopped dead in his tracks, spun, and started backing up. And so began the real training.

Time and work progressed nicely. To one direction. Then, since horses are unable to reason that what was safe to the right will be safe to the left, he spooked all over again going the other way. So we worked some more.

When he was completely and utterly calm on the lunge, I got on. With a bit of insistance on my part, we got past the last couple of spooks and then did some very nice 20 metre trot circles and trots along the long side, passing each Malibu light as if we'd been doing so for years.

Next, our new judge's canopy styled screen tent goes up. That's gonna be exciting!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Debut

After one more successful training session with Piper, the weekend arrived... the weekend of his show debut.

Saturday, Jeddien competed first. With blowing winds, flapping judge tents, and a snapping flag overhead, she managed to put in a good showing. We won the 3rd Level Test 3 class with a qualifying score and came third at 4th Level Test 1 with a score that gets me a step closer to my USDF Silver Medal.

Sunday, the wind continued and the warmup was busy. So I decided to avoid the big warmup area and warmed up in the quieter staging area in front of the 4 arenas. Piper was a little star! He was coping much better than we expected him to. And he stood quietly at the end of our arena, watching the lovely coloured cob mare and her rider who rode before us.

But when it came time for him to enter the arena, he was having NOTHING to do with it. He was totally panicky over the idea of approaching the judge's tent.

After elimination for failing to even reach X for the initial halt, we moved to the big warmup area. The FEI horses were warming up. Horses were passaging and pirouetting while we walked, spiraling closer and closer to the end of the area where the concessions were placed. More tents.

It took an hour. But by the end, Piper was coping with the environment. And so, instead of risking having our second test result in another failed entry, we decided to end the day on a very good note.

Horses are interesting creatures. In demonstrations, Piper has happily walked over and even worn large blue plastic tarps that would scare even the calmest of horses. But, that is because he was slowly introduced to tarps over a period of 15 or 20 minutes. Given time and space, Piper learns to accept things.

But in a show situation, horses have only a couple minutes to accept a new dressage arena setting. They need to accept that the rider is putting them into a safe environment. This is where work with Piper needs to continue.

We learned a lot about Piper at this show. And, with exception to his panic attack, he actually was a pretty good boy. But there is lots of room for improvement. :-)

(Thanks go to Carole MacDonald of Equine Photography in Westboro MA for capturing these great moments with her camera !)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Party Time Approaches

Sunday looms. Piper's first competition.

At this point, after a couple more sessions and satisfying work at home, my expectations for the Sunday competition at NEDA's Spring Dressage show are quite simple.

Get there. Cope. Survive the warmup. Present our tests. Use the show stabling without stress. Get home safely.

No, I'm not looking for certain scores. I'm not even terribly worried about whether we get all the transitions and movements called for in the tests. No. I just want a pleasant debut experience.

The final result: I want Piper to be okay with the whole first experience so that we can go out again and again throughout the 2008 season. THEN we will start to give the competition something to worry about. :-)

So for for now, we are just going to a party!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Frequent Flyer Miles

At this early stage in preparation for competition, Piper simply needs to do time working. Not hard work. And not overly stressful work. But he does need to put in his.... Mileage.

With Jeddien, my dressage partner of over 12 years, the last thing she needs is long haul mileage. Oh sure, like all horses, she needs a careful warmup of the muscles and suppling exercises. But after that, ring work involves reminders of what is expected of her. Her brain knows the work. Her muscles quickly remember the work. And even when she has had a month or two off, a good rider can climb on board, ask for, and get reasonable work from her without too much difficulty.

However, that is not the case with Piper. He does not have the experience, nor the miles of training that Jeddien has. He has not done thousands of transitions. He doesn't do 20, 15, and 10 metre circles in his sleep. He doesn't halt squarely and in balance out of sheer habit. And he does not yet know that he should be paying full attention to his rider until the segment of work is complete.

These are things that Piper, and all green dressage horses, have to learn as part of their dressage education towards competition.

For the rider, this is where patience and a good sense of humour comes in handy. Sure. When Piper is good, he can be wonderfully good. But, when he is acting like the less experienced green horse that he truly is... well.... it just makes one's eyes roll.

Lots of patience, lots of work, and lots of miles. It will all come together, in time. It always does.