Wednesday, March 16, 2016

first level debut: win some, lose some

Ok. I'm gonna be honest here. My impression of the 'lesson' portion of the fix-a-test session suffered poorly in comparison to our groundbreaking ride with Stephen Birchall the day prior. And I felt (feel?)... pretty sour about the whole thing.

BUT. I'm gonna try to make Brita proud here. Not only is she my eventing partner-in-crime, she's practically my de facto life coach lol. See, she teaches Baltimore city school children and knows a thing or two about managing tricky attitudes or personalities... and damn does she know how to manage me.

isabel practices positive thinking mantras every day just to put up with me
So she wants me to look for the positives. Therefore positivity will be today's focus. And, despite my sour grapes, it's actually not that hard to find silver linings. The day proved to be exactly what I had hoped:

  • We got experience riding first level movements in front of a judge
  • The judge's scoring was quite fair - it'll serve as a more or less accurate baseline for the level (except we got a 5 on a lengthening so obviously i hated her redacted)
  • Weaknesses were where I expected them to be - no new holes uncovered
  • We walked away with solid strategies for improving future tests
  • Isabel was a trooper

she reserves her side eye for Wick tho, lol
(don't let the mare face fool you - she's thrilled to have company on the trailer!)

Let's start with the day's biggest takeaway: CORNERS

Judge D schooled us on what it means to ride a 10m corner, and where Isabel's body should be relative to the long and short sides at each point in the turn. She actually broke it down to literal feet from the letters, then had us practice going through corners at walk first, then trot.

It was effective. This one detail had huge ramifications for how every movement rode, and how the test flowed together as a whole. In retrospect, corners have been a glaring omission from my schooling work and I'm eager to fix it.

As Judge D observed: you can't be balanced through the movements if you're not balanced through the corners. #Noted

here Brita demonstrates her life coaching skills with Wick too, as he just desperately needed a roll lol

Up Next: Weaknesses
  • leg yield right
  • right lead canter depart
  • canter trot canter transition at X
  • canter loops

Of particularly interesting note? THREE of these four weaknesses improve with better balance in the corners: the canter depart, canter loops and the canter trot canter transition at X.

The leg yield right is.... just harder for us than going left. Idk. We're working on it. But the canter work is getting better and should theoretically be within our grasp. Just needs more... more. Ya know?

Our stronger leg yield left from the first test run-through is below in gif form. Obvi there are still flaws here. But for us, this stands as one of our best efforts to date.


Anyway. We rode through the test, had a mini lesson, then rode through the test again.

The difference between our two scores for the test (5 percentage point differential) related to completely biffing our canter depart in the first test - thus also dinging our medium canter circle score too. And our free walk (the coefficient) in the second test was 1.5pts higher - which I'm attributing to literal exhaustion in the mare.

Those three movements account for 3 percentage points of the difference, and the other 2 are probably based in riding better corners that set us up better for the movements. Well, and our lengthenings were better in the second test. But I refuse to give credit to the lesson for that. #justsayin redacted

test1

test 2
Ultimately, I couldn't have been happier with Isabel's performance. She was tired and wanted VERY BADLY to quit after our 'lesson' - but she went ahead and ran through the test once more. Good mare is so so so good. 

I feel like both tests are an accurate reflection of our current level of training, and that both seem to indicate that first level is totally doable. I'm posting test 2 first - and would recommend that you watch that if you're only going to watch one - just bc we blew the canter depart in test 1. 

And, as usual, both videos include captions denoting the movements and scores as they happen for optimal viewing pleasure ;)


Otherwise, tho, it's essentially the same test. Actually I liked our leg yields a little better in the first test, and Isabel was a little less fatigued so maybe she was moving better. 


So. As it stands, I have a really good idea now of how these movements might ride at future shows, and what we can to do avoid leaving points on the table (namely, ride the damn corners!).

If you'll permit me to dwell a little on my negative reactions to the lesson (written densely and in a non-reader friendly format bc probably these is my own problems and nobody else cares), I'm sharing them here for the sake of documentation. Please feel free to skip!

  • It felt like we excessively drilled some movements without ever seeing real improvement. This, to me, felt unfair to the horse. An example included schooling 8 trot lengthenings in a row - one of which we were directed to pull out of on a sharp angle, and another we were directed to pull up to a halt. The judge's motivation was to get Isabel taking more weight on her hind end, and of course the judge couldn't know that Isabel was physically fatigued from the day prior... but it felt like too blunt of an instrument for such a sensitive horse, and punishing the horse for what amounted to rider error. Of course, this example is colored by my firmly-held belief that Isabel has phenomenal lengthenings - so I naturally feel any drilling there is unnecessary and potentially counterproductive. Again, the judge only knew what she saw. And on this day, Isabel lacked engagement.
  • The judge was very unimpressed with Isabel's engagement. A theme was Isabel's perceived (and real, if we're being honest) unwillingness to take more weight behind. Again, I knew the root cause here - and probably maybe should have told the judge earlier that we had worked on extreme (for us) collection the day prior. Ultimately, I ended the lesson after moving on to canter trot transitions. The judge asked if Isabel was always "so strong" and I responded simply "She's tired today" and brought her to a walk (she was dripping sweat and blowing hard by this point). We decided to just free walk for a while until we could run through the test once more, at which point I explained to the judge that we had played with half steps the day before, and she said "Ah so she must be tired over her topline." YES. Yes she is. 
  • Perhaps this was my error in judgement. I've essentially surrounded myself with Isabel-ites - people who adore this feisty little red mare and are as eager as I am to idolize her (or at least pretend). Plus I'm forever impressed by my trainers' abilities to decipher the horse. Dressage trainer C consistently translates Isabel FOR ME. And of course, Stephen had her figured out in about two seconds the day prior. So maybe I'm spoiled. Maybe I expected this judge to just immediately see everything that I see and know - to immediately recognize that our contact has improved so dramatically over the past few months that a little fuss here and there barely even registers to me anymore. But then perhaps it's a lesson I needed to learn. Judges will only see the horse I present on that day, in whatever her current state may be. And not everyone will love her. And that's ok. So maybe that's the realest takeaway of the day....

also worth noting: Brita was SUPER HAPPY with her takeaways from the ride and felt armed with a whole new set of tools. diff'rent strokes etc

Sooooo ANYWAYS... long self-serving introspective navel-gazing aside, it honestly should probably be considered a good day. And I can't help but be proud of those test videos. Riddled with errors and blips tho they may be, they are the product of soooo much time and effort and energy from both me and HRH Princess Isabel. #goodtimes

Probably won't do another of these clinics tho redacted

54 comments:

  1. It doesn't sound like a horrible experience overall, but perhaps just one clinic in a weekend might be better?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not a horrible experience overall by any measure - actually considered a good day. We did what I set out hoping to do!

      Delete
  2. Izzy does look a bit tired. You can see she is trying but is lacking some of her usual spice. I don't know how well the judge knows her, so she may not have realized that Izzy was doing her best for that day.

    That being said I have mixed feelings about fix a tests. I like the idea but it is super judge dependent. I saw one where a lady just about cried because the judge was so harsh. I wouldn't write all future fix a tests off but you can totally write ones with this judge off. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not writing off the format, just lessons with this particular judge. Her style of teaching does not match my style of learning. However I totally will (and expect to) ride under her as a judge again, as I thought the scoring was pretty good.

      Delete
  3. I can definitely see how anything following the Stephen clinic the day before might pale in comparison! And I can also see how these fix a tests would indeed be super judge dependent, so I'd agree with EventingSaddleBredStyle above about maybe not writing all of them off. You make a super good point about judges seeing only the horse presented that day though - I think that's a good thing for everybody to remember!

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Judges will only see the horse I present on that day, in whatever her current state may be. And not everyone will love her. And that's ok. So maybe that's the realest takeaway of the day...."

    I think that is the realest lesson to takeaway. And it's not an easy one at all. But recognizing it is important.

    It took me multiple lessons with skiing pros to learn that lesson for myself (instructor can only see what I'm able to do on that one day) and damnit, it sucked to learn every time. But once I got it hammered into my head, I quit being so cranky about life afterwards. (Still a struggle though, because lets be honest, criticism - constructive or non - always isn't the easiest to chew.)

    But I think the important thing to realize - lesson or clinic-wise - when you're receiving one-on-one instruction from a pro you haven't met before and don't have a history with is this: It isn't easy to throw yourself into the lion's den and the act of doing it to better yourself is very, very admirable. (Where lion's den is the act of throwing yourself 'out there' for someone to critique.) Being bold enough to jump into that kind of situation, regardless of the outcome, is really awesome. Doing it with a horse is another level of awesome, too, because you're putting accountability on yourself for another independently thinking being. That's really kind of incredible. =)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great points all around. Tho personally I'm a bit of a lesson junkie and throw myself gleefully into that lions den without second thought lol. Alas it backfired on this particular occasion.

      Delete
  5. Ouch, sorry it wasn't the inspiring outing that you had at the Stephen clinic. But, that was a pretty awesome day and a tough first act to follow.

    If it's any consolation, I feel somewhat "lukewarm" (furiously angry) about dressage clinics and the advice received therein (see "Bird can't even effing trot": http://whichchick.tumblr.com/post/130005549317/went-out-and-dressage-clinicd-with-bird-today ) until I've had about two weeks to process the information, whereupon I calm down a little and re-evaluate things ("Feeling a bit better about clinic...": http://whichchick.tumblr.com/post/130546219887/feeling-a-bit-better-originally-i-typed-bitter ). I do get stuff out of the clinics, but they are not fun or inspiring experiences for me. There's a lot of rending of garments and gnashing of teeth involved. *sigh*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i honestly love clinics, tho this experience reaffirmed Megan's (from A Enter Spooking) advice to audit a clinician first before riding. had i done so in this instance, i would have seen that the teaching style was unsuited to me.

      Delete
  6. We have talked this topic to death, but at least you did get some great feedback on test riding and strategy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. seriously - the schooling on riding 10m corners will legitimately improve ALL future tests and made the time/expense of the clinic worth it. could have lived without the rest of the lesson tho lol

      Delete
  7. I LOVE what Liz had to say about your experience, and really echoes a lot of the encouragement that YOU give ME all the time. :) You can only ride the horse you have under you that day, and the judge (or new trainer, or spectators, or whoever) only sees a small snippet of your journey. We can't let that color our entire horse training & riding experience! You still made a GREAT effort in that Prelim test and are continuing to make huge strides forward in the dressage department. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i couldn't be happier with the test riding portions of the clinic. no amount of encouragement will change my impression that the lesson itself was ineffectual (aside from the corner bit) and ultimately unfair to the horse tho.

      Delete
  8. I did a clinic with a BNT and international judge... and I hated it. It really soured me to riding with judges. I basically felt inept the whole time and left feeling a lot like you did! I have to agree though, your lesson with Stephen was a tough act to follow! I did like your second test! And I never thought about placing the helmet cam in a corner like that. I can definitely do that to record my rides! Thanks for the idea!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hm i never thought of the distinction between riding with judges vs non-judges, tho can see how that could be a thing. i actually left this lesson feeling like the training was inept, rather than the riding or horse LOL. but yea - the helmet cam totally works!!

      Delete
  9. Something I try to do for any clinician (with out being that person that talks for ten minutes straight) is make sure they know the whole story, like horse is tired, or I am injured, or sick or whatever. I feel like it is only fair to them. Glad you were still able to get some take aways, and love your 'redacted' cracked me up!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. haha yay glad you thought the 'redacteds' were funny lol.... i try to inject a little humor where i can ;)

      but yes - that's a good point about giving a comprehensive intro to clinicians. somehow it kinda got a little mussed up this go round bc of the format (test, lesson, test) that we kinda just got straight to it. but in retrospect it might have helped get us off on the same page.

      Delete
  10. I still think it's pretty cool to do the test, get feedback on some stuff and make a few changes, do the test again and SEE improvement.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely. And I'm grateful for the feedback on corners to make that difference happen.

      Delete
  11. Its always tricky walking the line of listening respectfully to an instructor and when to just say something when you know your horse better. You have had a lot of really fantastic help surrounding you, but you really have come a long way and, I don't know, I kind of get the sense you are on the verge of a new level. No longer the student that needs to shut up and listen, but knowledgeable enough to start trusting your own path and perhaps telling instructors thanks but I know my horse and redirect an instructor into helping you with what you want to work on? Either way, good or bad--there is something to learn from the weekend. :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You might be onto something about the balance between shutting up and listening (where I prefer to be) and speaking up when something isn't right (something that less comfortable for me). Perhaps part of my displeasure stems from resenting feeling like I *had* to redirect the trainer rather than just go along with her. Probably need to work on that lol

      Delete
  12. I have a really hard time riding good corners... more details on what she said for that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can do that - I actually have the whole thing on video so I will go back and retrieve exact notes!

      Delete
    2. "All corner letters in a ring are at 6 meters from the corner so the horse must be parallel to the long side a stride before H and M (etc) as well as a parallel to the short side at the quarter line. If you connect those, that’s where the horse have to be balanced."

      Delete
  13. A judge once told me to make sure I really rode my corners, too. So the next time I did that test, I was super focused on making sure to GET IN THE CORNER...only, I was supposed to turn up the center line instead and got an error.

    Also, if this judge did not worship my favorite red head, then she deserves never to be ridden with again. She's clearly not qualified to ever see another horse again ever. :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha obviously ;) how could anybody not see my horse as the special unique and perfect snowflake that I believe her to me?!? Judge must have been a total hack lol

      Delete
    2. Wait. Favorite redhead? Pig is so miffed right now. ;)

      Delete
  14. You've already gotten great advice here, but I just wanted to add that having followed you on the blog for a while now, I also see HUGE improvement in this video over some of the ones you've posted before, so you should be really proud of all the hours in the saddle and mental problem-solving you've done so far. She really does look great. Free walk was lovely and her trot lengthenings looked great to me. (Also, for what my opinion is worth, which is nothing, I would have scored your one loop serpentines higher.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. aw thanks! we've pretty much been working out respective tails off, tho honestly the biggest factor in our progress is starting lessons last year with dressage trainer C. she... she has seriously transformed us. i bow down to her. thanks also about the canter loops - i felt pretty ok with them, esp knowing that they ride MUCH better for us in a larger ring :)

      Delete
  15. Sounds like overall it was a good experience!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I often underestimate how tired Gina will be after lots of hard dressage work. She's very fit and has excellent endurance, but she kind of struggles with the 'weight-lifting' aspect of dressage sometimes. I did a clinic the day after a show last year and don't think I'll do it again- I didn't feel like I got the most out of it that I could have had I had a fresher horse.

    You and Isabel have made some phenomenal improvements, and even this was a learning opportunity!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yea i was definitely surprised with how tired isabel was. still proud of her excellent efforts in those tests tho!

      Delete
  17. It's so hard when you know the horse is not at its best, and yet still have to get critiqued!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. honestly i have zero problems getting critiqued when my horse is not at her best - that's generally when i need the MOST help haha.

      what i do have a problem with is excessively drilling the horse without being effective or showing any improvement. there is zero reason to run through the same difficult movement 8 times in a row when there's no meaningful change happening. idk... this trainer and i just didn't speak the same language and she wasn't able to create any improvements in our way of going (aside from the corners).

      Delete
    2. Agree that drilling a movement over and over is not helpful. And definitely, sometimes trainers and riders don't mesh. The last time I had a non-meshing experience like that, I cried. Granted I was also sick as a dog, but I was also an almost 30 year old, and I cried. Yeah.

      Delete
  18. ISN'T THAT BETTER, EMMA?! ;)

    That said. A 60 and 65% at your first attempt ain't bad. Own that awesomeness, lady.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. THERE DO YOU FEEL THAT? DO YOU FEEL THE DIFFERENCE!?!?

      haha. no. no i dont crazy lady.

      seriously tho, i couldn't be happier with the tests themselves and the scores. judge might not be on my short list for lessons, but i'll absolutely ride tests for her at shows.

      Delete
  19. I'm sorry you had so many issues with the judge. I'm still really intrigued with the idea of doing a test like this. I'd like a chance to know what I need to fix and try it again right away rather than the next time I ride.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oh definitely - i still really really loved the format! and the judge's schooling on the corners definitely made a big difference immediately for us - so we were able to right away feel that improvement.

      Delete
  20. Sounds like you learned several things, maybe most importantly that the judge only knows the horse you are currently riding, not the one that was fantastic yesterday, and certainly not the one that is so much better from what she used to be. As long as you are happy with your girl, and you learned something (corners much?), then I would call it a win.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yup, definitely weighs out as a net positive day.

      Delete
  21. I rode in a very similar clinic last year. It's bad, but I just saw the judge involved will be judging our next show and my first reaction was to not go because "she hates Bridget/us". It's amazing I survive as an adult lol. Love your reminder that they are only seeing what's in front of them on the day. Sorry it didn't go as well as you'd hoped.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yea... i know how you feel lol. luckily i actually feel really good about this judge as an actually *judge* (which makes sense since i've ridden for her in that capacity before and was happy). everything honestly went really well in that regard - i am happy with the tests and the horse's performance. i'm just not happy with the lesson itself, it wasn't particularly educational lol (except corners!)

      Delete
  22. It's good that you have an idea of what to work on now. I hope you continue to improve and that you ride much better next time!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Perhaps it wasn't clear in the post - I'm quite happy with how our tests rode and feel prepared for the level.

      Delete
  23. I think she's adorable...I wish to leg yield like you guys!

    ReplyDelete
  24. "Judges will only see the horse I present on that day, in whatever her current state may be."
    IMO, this is the most important lesson of the day. Yes, be fair to your horse, but also remember that the judge''s job is to judge based on the performance he/she sees right then, and even if they do know the horse, it would be incorrect to judge based off of prior knowledge of the horse. While the lesson might have been more productive had you guys discussed the mare's fatigue from the lesson the day before, it seems like the judge's initial comments were still fair.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It sounds like you were still able to learn (corners! Who knew?) a lot, and hopefully you've got even more tools for the tool kit now so you'll kick butt once competition season rolls back around.

      Delete
  25. I have a hard time realizing people don't like Ries either

    ReplyDelete
  26. Different instructors/trainers/judges have different things to offer and the best ones give you what you pay for; most important is both you and Izzy put out your best efforts for that day. And I've said this before and will say it again, I find it super admirable that you are constantly searching and hunting for clinic and lesson opportunites to improve yourself :) I wish I had the means to do the same

    ReplyDelete
  27. Maybe she just didn't realize how boss Isabel is.... Suzie and I are on #teamhate, as all red-headed mares must stand together lol.

    In all seriousness, sometimes coaches/horses/riders do not mesh and that's ok. Glad you were able to take something out of the lesson regardless!

    ReplyDelete
  28. awesome take aways! and you guys are going to rock first level! Can't wait to watch it over the season!! :)

    ReplyDelete