Thursday, April 28, 2005

It Has Begun

Once again, today started out beautifully: blue sky, cool, light breeze. By 10:00, however, the clouds began to roll in.

I rolled in a little later, and immediately was torn: Do I watch the dressage rides, or wander through the incredible International Trade Fair? I compromised; I wandered, then watched, then wandered, then watched. While it was a good compromise, I've learned something important: when you've been through the valley of temptation and have succumbed (uh, honey, about that credit card bill....), you have to drag the spoils of battle with you the remainder of the day. I got some great deals, but next time, I'll try to get those great deals later in the day.

Now, the important information: the dressage riders!

After watching the tests today, I see why all the riders I watched yesterday were working on the same things: flying lead changes, counter canter, and trot half-pass. With a few exceptions (more on this later), these were the bugaboos that separated the wheat from the chaff. It was surprising how many of these horses either had trouble with the counter-canter, or trouble changing leads after doing a counter-canter. Several horses changed late in the back, and more than several kicked or bucked when asked to change. Is this a TB trait, I wonder? Or just a result of high stakes and rattled nerves?

I'm certainly no expert, but I noticed that the rides who scored well tended to have one thing in common, one thing that lent itself to a consistent, rhythmic ride: excellent transitions. I now bow humbly to Whit and Carol, both of whom have tried to reinforce the importance of good, smooth transitions. I was able to see today, as I watched rider after rider, what a difference these make in a test.

I missed Phillip Dutton's ride, and he remained in first until the end of the day. I did, however, get to see a few really fine rides: Tiffani Loudon-Meetze, riding Above 'N' Beyond (I want to know what official color this horse is--sort of a chestnut, but a tail that has every color in it--just like Goober's) has a smooth, really nice ride (nice transitions, really super extended trot, and very obedient). Le Samurai, a holsteiner/TB cross, ridden by Robyn Fisher, gave another nice, smooth ride. A bit of problem at the end, I think, but not enough to bring her down too much. I was especially glad to see Corinne Ashton, who I met yesterday (she's a first time Rolex rider, and a Pony Club Leader in Massachusetts, I believe, with many of her clubbers here to cheer her on) have a solid ride--again, only with some lead problems, and maybe a little stiffness.

The rain begin in earnest just after 2:00, and Jan Thompson, on Task Force (who I think might have been the one I saw working with David O'Conner yesterday) rode a really nice test even though it was raining. Her ride reminded me of Tiffani's: very forward, smooth, rhythmic, and connected. Again, good solid transitions.

Horse and Rider just had an article on "Don't Stop Showing"--that is, if something goes wrong, don't make a big deal about it; stay focused, stay professional, fix it, and go on. I think it was Kristin Schmolze who embodied that: her hat blew off half way through the test as the rain/wind got worse, and she plowed on, never letting it bother her.

I'm kicking myself for having missed Kim Severson on her new horse (those darn good deals at the trade fair); I'm going to make sure to catch her tomorrow on "Dan".

I'd love to be able to see the comments--but here's what I think I've learned after watching these wonderful horses and riders today:

+A tense, stiff rider/tense horse cannot make smooth transitions.
+Horses must be prepared for transitions, including lead changes.
+Half-passes look a lot more impressive going away.
+Shoulder-ins range from almost side-passes to just a shoulder-in. I think the latter were scored higher, but that's just a guess.
+Horses that were bracing against the bit simply don't look relaxed, and many of these horses fell into that camp.

A lot of these "hot" horses had trouble stretching, reaching for the bit--that was another "big" thing that set the winners apart. I know in my own riding, I need to work on being more "forward", and it felt like some of these folks were holding back, perhaps fearful the horses WOULD take off. Poor Peter Gray had that trouble--once his horse had done the extended canter, he wanted non of this collection business.

Perhaps I can consider Rolex to be a very long, very expensive riding lesson.....

More tomorrow, where the rain will remain steady in the morning, and t-showers begin in the afternoon. Gulp. I'm sure the tests will be affected. Bless those beasties (and their riders) tonight.

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