Monday, July 10, 2017

Fifth Year Anniversary

This weeks marks five years as team Rijkens.  Every day I am so grateful to Rijkens for all he has brought into my life.  When he came here to Houston from Michigan five years ago, I started showing him at second and third level.  In his second year of me owning him, he qualified for and competed at Prix St Georges USDF regional championships where he was the 12th place horse in region 9 with our trainer Andrea.  After earning our USDF bronze medal, we spent some time dwelling at fourth level, and last year we were the 2016 Houston Dressage Society amateur fourth level champion.  Rijkens allowed me to realize a life goal of being an FEI rider, and earlier this year we earned our USDF silver medal.  Currently I'm working on improving my ability to reach collection and engagement.  Hopefully by next year I will be in a position to show Intermediaire 1.  Rijkens is qualified this year for regional championships at I-1 with our trainer.  It has been five stellar years and everyday with Rijkens is a gift.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Jan Ebeling Clinic

Rijkens and I had two very productive lessons with Jan Ebeling this weekend at beautiful Isabella Farms.  The focus was on engagement.  From the very beginning of the ride, Rijkens must be responsive to the go aids (my seat, legs, and if needs be reinforced with whip or spur) but he must not be tumbling forward onto his forehand.  To achieve this I must have a very lively amount of energy while maintaining the collection through my strong position and slowing my rise an fall in the initial posting trot.  We achieved this via transitions within gates, and from walk to trot transitions early in the lesson.  The engaged trot work translates to engaged canter work later.

In canter, again the transitions within the gait are critical.  Deliberately and quickly get to just one or two or three strides of collected canter, then transition to one or two or three strides of lively working canter, and back again.  On a small (15 meter) circle, ask for some very collected steps.  I must guard the haunches swinging out on the circle, and even ask for haunches in on the circle sometimes for more engagement.  Rider position if critical: I must keep my right shoulder back and my right hand down on the right side of Rijkens' neck.

In the canter pirouettes (for PSG), remember to ride the diagonal line from M (or H) to A, in order to give yourself plenty of room for the pirouette.  I must really collect early, well before the turn onto the pirouette.  We were able to school some quite good pirouettes in both directions after some very collecting half steps where Jan walked behind us with the in-hand whip.

For the half pass I had good positioning and bend, I must make the half pass right steeper.

In the tempis I must remember to keep the collection for the entire line, not allowing Rijkens to get long and running by the end of the line of tempis.  Instead I must keep the engagement and remember to allow (not pull on!) the new inside rein; the aid for the change is new outside leg and the straightness is supported by the new outside rein, while allowing with the new inside rein.

It was a great weekend, and at all times but especially in the heat I must get to the point of collection and engagement early in the ride by keeping the energy revving while slowing the miles per hour.  The combination of driving aids and half halting aids within transitions helps to accomplish this.  Like making soup-- is their too much salt?  No, maybe there just needs to be more soup.  Or, is there too much soup?  No, maybe you just need to add more salt.  Like an experienced cook, the rider must regulate and begin to feel when more energy (driving aids) is needed or when more half halting (restraining aids) is needed to acquire the desired degree of engagement and collection.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Lunge Lessons from the Abyss

In an effort to deepen and educate my seat, this week and much of last week was spent in a combination of lunge line lessons with and without stirrups, and much off lunge riding without stirrups.  (An aside-- when your trainer says "ok take away the stirrups" in 100 degree Houston summer heat you get immediate street cred from any barn buddies that happen to be within ear shot.)

DON'T WAIT is the take (to-the-barn-not-home) lesson.  From the mounting block I need to raise my expectations that Rijkens will be prompt off my leg and light in my hand.  If he isn't, I must create stored energy in him with my strong position, and even-ness in both reins (no knitting).  The rider must create the energy and brilliance in the horse that a really startling spook, such as from a semi truck or other very scary object, would create, but that it is controlled and submissive.  Yes I know it's not easy but if there is ever a time where I can cultivate this kind of awareness between a horse and me it is definitely with Rijkens.

Added to the lunge lessons and stirrup-free riding at home this week and last, my barn buddy Lisa has graciously allowed me to pick up a weekly ride on her wonderful horse Nate, a very close cousin of Rijkens.  The focus of those rides also has been to get to the point in an efficient way (a must-have in this Houston heat) with an emphasis on collection and engagement through the bio-mechanics of the centaur human-horse dynamic.

                                Nate in his stall before our ride:

Monday, June 19, 2017

Silver Medal

Rijkens has allowed me to realize several life goals, including earning my United Stated Dressage Federation Bronze and Silver medals.  On April 29 2017 at the Shoofly Farm CDI HDS open show Rijkens earned my final score for our silver medal.

The local dressage community has been very congratulatory toward me on this accomplishment.  One well wisher, an "L" graduate and grand prix rider, added a warning to not be in a rush toward my gold medal, but to enjoy the moment, the learning experience and the journey.  She mentioned that she too often sees people surging straight from their silver on toward gold.  I appreciate and agree with her perspective, and even felt backwardly complimented that she thought I might even be capable of zooming toward that lofty goal.

A discovery I've made in dressage, as in anything academic, is the more you learn, the more you know you actually don't know.  Yes I've gotten a few rides down centerline at Prix St Georges, but I am far from being where I want to be in competently riding correct collection and engagement for the FEI levels.  I couldn't rush headlong toward my gold, even if that is something I want; I lack the experience at the PSG level yet to move onward.

The good news is I have a perfect horse to allow me that additional experience in the FEI ring.  Rijkens has been called "almost a really good horse" by someone whose opinion matters.  Meaning: he isn't necessarily a perfect specimen, but what he is capable of he does really well and occasionally shows brilliance.  Rijkens is a very good small tour horse, earning his adult amateur our bronze and silver medals, and qualifying this year (2017) for local SWDC championships with me at PSG and for USDF Region 9 open championships at Intermediaire 1 with our trainer.

For now I will continue striving in the Prix St Georges, with our eyes on I1 possibly next season.  I've now ridden the PSG in all of four weekend shows, so eight rides.  As my friend suggested, I am in no hurry to rush toward the big tour.  Admittedly I want to ride it one day, but for now my focus is on improving my ride in the small tour and learning all I can with the capable and wonderful horse that I have at the moment.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Shoofly Farm CDI Open Show April 2016 snapshots

Monday, February 1, 2016

2016 Carol Lavell Grant

Rijkens and I are the recipients of a 2016 Carol Lavell Gifted grant for adult amateurs.

The Dressage Foundation press release is here:

An excerpt from our grant application:
My 2001 Holsteiner gelding Rijkens is a capable schoolmaster that I have owned and shown for three years.  When I purchased Rijkens, we started showing at the level I was capable of at the time, USEF second level.  Together we completed the requirements to earn the USDF bronze rider medal, and we have qualified at fourth level this year for our regional championships.  We have very good access to competent training at our home base, which includes an ongoing relationship with Lyndon Rife, a Grand Prix rider and trainer that has a decades long history of helping students reach their training and showing goals.  With Lyndon Rife’s help, in 2016 I plan to take on the challenging task of emerging as an FEI rider and earning my USDF silver and possibly gold rider medals.  

To that end, I plan to go beyond my regular training with Lyndon Rife in the clinics I currently participate in several times yearly when he travels to my home area of Houston.  The difference will be that with the Carol Lavell Gifted scholarship I will be able travel to Lyndon Rife’s farm in Dallas to spend a week in the beginning show season of 2016 in an immersion program at his farm, taking daily lessons and having him school Rijkens both in hand and under saddle.  

I'm looking forward to my week of intentional riding and training at LTR Dressage in Dallas with Lyndon Rife.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Feeds and Feeding, Rijkens edition

Each (rare) time I switch a horse's feed, I go through the exercise of reading the label, weighing the feed, and calculating how much each horse should receive daily.

In moving to Isabella Farms, they feed the premium diet called Progressive Nutrition Premium Performance 8 Sweet feed.  I weighed one three quart scoop of Rijkens' feed today at my grocer's produce scale.  One three quart scoop weighs exactly three pounds.  Rijkens is fed one and a half scoops in the morning and evening, for a total of nine pounds daily of Progressive Performance feed.

Rijkens gets three flakes of coastal hay daily, kept in front of him 24 hours a day via a slow-feed nibble net.  I haven't yet weighed his current hay but my best estimation is that one flake of hay is approximately two pounds to four pounds.  So Rijkens is eating approximately ten pounds of coastal hay daily (six to twelve pounds daily).  

Rijkens gets one half flake alfalfa in the morning and in the evening.  My best estimation is that one flake of alfalfa is approximately four pounds.  So Rijkens is eating approximately four pounds of alfalfa daily.

Rijkens spends about seven hours in the paddock each day, and probably four of those he spends grazing.  So if a horse takes in half a pound of grass for every hour spent grazing, Rijkens is eating approximately two pounds of grass daily.

Rijkens has access to fresh water ad libitum.

A very general rule of thumb is horses should consume greater than or equal to 1% of their body weight in forage per day, and less than or equal to 1% of their body weight in concentrate. Horses in moderate to heavy work have greater feed requirements than the average "rule of thumb" horse.

So Rijkens, weighing in at ~1,400 pounds should be eating at least fourteen pounds of forage daily and no more than 14 pounds of concentrate.

Rijkens' total daily intake:

  • 9 pounds feed.
  • ~14 pounds high quality mixed hay.
  • ~2 pounds lower quality pasture.

According to the feeding directions from the Premium Performance 8 bag:
1/2-1 hrs/day8-12 lbs10-20 lbs
Rijkens, with a full schedule of ~45 minutes work daily, should be getting 8 to 12 pounds of feed and 10 to 20 pounds of hay.  Being that he is 17 hands and ~1,400 pounds I would presume he is near the top end of the scale, so about 10 pounds of feed and around 18 pounds of hay daily.  Being that he is an easy keeper, Rijkens' diet does fall close to within the recommended daily allotment.  

Rijkens' dam Ladybug with her 2011 colt Lamborghini

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Conrad Schumacher Symposium warm up

Notes and video from the initial warm up day for the Conrad Schumacher symposium February 27, 2015.

Some key points:

Sit easily in the changes and just ask with your seat position for the change.

After a kick to create impulsion keep absolutely still.  A kick (or any giddyup aid) is only effective when the neck is in the verticle.  Open your legs and make your hip wide and he goes bigger.

For the flying change look through the ears of the horse, then you count to three to get the rhythm of the canter strides, then ask for the change.

To create a willingly forward horse take the whip in the inside hand in the middle and touch him with the whip on the inside shoulder as you give the inside rein. Let the horse do the job-- you just sit there. Be brave with the whip and let him go bigger.

The outside arm hangs loosely in the half pass.  Sit relaxed in the horse and sit with your butt wide and you are relaxed in the horse.

Most important criteria for a going horse:
     1)First, make them go
     2)Second, keep the neck in the vertical
It changes everything; from there the horse is willing and over the back and you can do anything.

A pirouette is nothing but canter.  You basically canter a half pass on a small circle.  You sit like in half pass: sit on the inside seatbone; the inside shoulder falls down; you lead the horse along the path of travel.  Inside hand gives; inside hand gives; inside hand gives.  Keep your rider's position; sit on the inside seatbone to allow the horse to turn.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Conrad Schumacher Symposium March 1, 2015

In preparing for show riding Mr. Schumacher shared three ideas: 90%; two minutes; and mental.
  • 90%: when warming up at the showgrounds for a test, ride way more collection and roundness of neck than you will actually need in the test itself.  So if in the warm up you are riding 110% then in front of the judge you can afford to back off that little bit 10% and still be where your horse should be.
  • Two minutes: in the last couple minutes as you're making your final warmup before the bell rings and including after the bell rings, keep riding.  Too often riders stop riding in those last two minutes and the horse has said good bye even as they're going down centerline.  Instead ride medium trot to walk pirouettes back and forth along the long side, or ride several brisk walk trot transitions.  Keep riding 110% percent those last couple minutes before entering at A.
  • Mental: you can only practice ride the actual test at home so many times, but you can ride a perfect test in your mind's eye limitless times.  Ride the test mentally again and again, and really feel the horse bending around your inside leg in the corner, feel yourself preparing your horse for a perfect half pass, feel riding the willingly forward tempis.  Ride the test and really feel it mentally many, many times in preparation for the horse show.
The rider's confidence is key to a successful horse show, and by being prepared including the above three principles will add to your self confidence.  

Winter riding in the gulf coast.  This photo, taken yesterday here at Isabella Farms, is probably much what it looked like to ride under the Spanish moss in Texas one hundred seventy-nine years ago.

Video highlights:

Full lesson: