Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Forget the Milk! How About "Got Registrations!?!?"

This week, I checked out the USDF current standings for 2010 season awards and was delighted to see Piper Warrior and I ranking fairly well for our first real full year of competition together.

For USDF Horse of the Year (HOTY) awards at Training Level, we are ranked 166 in the USA.   The HOTY list bottoms out at median scores of 60%.   So far, 385 horse / rider combinations across the country have earned a spot on the list.   Our median score is 66.2%.

At First Level, we are ranked 161 out of 333 with a median score of 64.737.   I hope to see that jump up a little at the next competition.

For Musical Freestyles at First Level, we are currently standing at 13th with a score of 68.958%.

AND, as an older rider, I am now registered with USDF as being "Vintage".   And accordingly, we are now also listed in the "Vintage Cup" award standings.   At Training Level and First Level respectively, we are currently ranked 18th and 14th in the USA.   Very cool indeed!

The USDF also offers "All Breeds Awards" sponsored by different breed associations.   As a registered KWPN Dutch Warmblood, Piper is also eligible for USDF All Breeds KWPN/NA awards.   However, in order to earn the awards, all of the proper registration information must be completed and filed with the KWPN/NA.   And sure enough, for Piper, it is NOT.   Whoops!

And so the mad dash to get this completed has begun.....   Have you got your registrations in?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Qualified X 3 !!!

Just before the 2010 competition season came to a close, Piper and I competed at the two back-to-back Vermont Dressage Days competitions in Burlington VT.   There, we rode in three classes per show:   Training Level Test 4, First Level Test 4, and USDF Freestyle.

The journey up to Burlington is not excessively long at 2 and a half hours, nor very challenging with most of the drive being on one highway.   However, talk about hilly!   At times, my truck labored up the Green Mountains at just under 50 miles per hour.   But, the truck soldiered on and we got there and back home perfectly well.

The Vermont Dressage Days competition is held at the Champlain Valley Exposition Center in Essex Junction.   The dressage arenas, warmup areas, and stables are all towards the back of the large site, on level ground.   Being close to the impressive Lake Champlain, the showgrounds enjoyed strong breezes, keeping the potential summer heat at bay.   The nights were pleasantly cool and Piper seemed comfortable in his temporary accommodations.

Qualifications Complete

One the first day of showing, Piper put in a good effort.   Enough to complete qualifications for First Level and First Level Freestyles.   That allowed day two to be free of any pressures and goals.   We were now fully qualified for the USDF Regional Championships in three categories!

The second day, however, turned out to be challenging in new ways.   The winds were quite strong.   Piper was on his toes while also being a bit tired.   An interesting combination.   He needed some reminding to pay attention and stay focused on the job, but also confidence to keep things together.   However, overall, he was more confident than I'd ever seen him.   Spook-free.   Braver.   More trusting.   It was pleasing progress for the naturally timid boy.

As for our freestyle, in the end, the music was not radically changed leading up to this competition.   A couple of little blips in the mixing were smoothed out, but that's all.   Instead of editing the music, I adjusted the choreography to match the phrasing.   Overall, the judges enjoyed the music, as did the audience.   And scores close to the 70% mark were earned, earning blue ribbons in both classes.

What's Next ?

The season's goal was to get to the USDF Regional Championships.   We have qualified, but we are not there yet.   And with horses (and life in general) you just never know what will be thrown your way.   However, the intentions are clear.   We are now entered in the 2010 Championships.

Until then, we will continue training, with focus on strengthening and balance with an eye towards improving our lengthenings.   While our lengthening scores have improved from 5 to 7 in the past couple months, there is always room for improvement.   And the work needs to progress from mere lengthenings to true medium paces.   And then eventually extended paces.

We will also continue to work on the contact, seeking a quieter more subtle yet more effective communication between horse and rider.   And from that, the ability to finetune the movements within the tests.

Dressage is a long journey.   First Level is not our final destination, but an enjoyable stop along the way.

Who's Next ?

Meanwhile, one of our 4 year old horses is now being prepared for his very first competition in October.   And THAT actually feels more exciting than anything else right now.   Competing at USDF Intro Level A & B, aka "the walk-trot tests", Big Ben and I will be taking those huge first steps together.

Very exciting indeed.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

July Shows & Qualifications

The past couple weeks have been focused on competing.  Training, traveling, and riding.

After the GMHA June show, Piper stayed at the facilities for a week, enjoying a 4-H Camp week with his junior rider.  They participated in all sorts of activities from flat work to eventing, showing to trail riding, and hanging out.  Upon Piper's return home, we got hit with the heatwave to end all heatwaves.  When it came time to get back to dressage, Piper was heavy in the hand and not as light on his feet as one might like.

GMHA July Dressage Days

And so, the GMHA July show was much harder work than the June show.  We did not sweep, but we still put in a good showing.  Piper was Reserve Champion High Point of the Day at Training Level Open for one day and earned a few nice ribbons.

And, we completed our Qualification for the USDF Regionals at Training Level Open.  A mean feat, that, as open riders have to earn 68% in order to qualify.   68% scores do not come easily at any level.

But the big event for GMHA July was Piper's freestyle debut.  The music was not perfect.  The choreography wanted a bit more fiddling.  But we froze both, committed to practicing with what we had, and showed it on Saturday to a small but appreciative audience of about 40 or 50 people.

Nerves.  Riders can suffer from them.  So can horses.  And that's okay as long as the horse and rider take turns being nervous, with the calmer one providing support.  If both are worried at the same time, effective riding goes out the side door.

As our music started and we headed into the arena, I could feel we were not in sync with our trot music which has a very strong "clip clop clip clop" beat.   Instead of half halting and getting Piper's footfalls to match the beat, I just sat there in passenger mode.  Piper, meanwhile, was having serious second thoughts about approaching the judge at "C" at all.

And so the 4:45 minute ride progressed.  Piper continued to avoid "C", each time cutting a couple seconds off the ride and putting us ahead of the music.  Fortunately, his lack of impulsion (not a good thing, by the way) prevented us from getting too far ahead.  And the rider, overheating in a jacket which was not required in the humid 90 degree heat but was highly recommended, just hung in there, knowing it was not going to plan but not doing much about it.

We survived.  And that's about it.  We earned 62.5% from one judge and 65.625% from the other.  Final score:  64.063%.  Not horrible, but certainly not what we are capable of when the horse is not spooking and the woman in the saddle is actively in charge.

I vowed to actually RIDE my next freestyle the following week.  And did.

UNH Dressage on the Seacoast

At the UNH (University of New Hampshire) show, as soon as the music started, I helped Piper latch onto the beat.   Then, throughout the test, I rode the movements as best as possible technically, while listening for the music cues and making adjustments as necessary.   The final centerline, with zig-zag leg yields, went fairly well, and I beamed with satisfaction in my final halt.   The ride felt pretty good.

Both judges rewarded us with just over 69% and we won the freestyle class with a qualifying score of 69.271%.  We used the same music CD.  And the same floor pattern.  But this time, the rider RODE every step of the test as well as every phrase of the music.   And that makes a difference.


So, at this stage, Piper is qualified for Training Level Open and half qualified for First Level Freestyle and First Level Open.  We have two opportunities left to chase those qualifying scores.  Until then, we've got a bit of time to train, tweak the music, and work on our technical execution of the the choreography.