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She's Not a Baby Anymore!

Early spring saw some immediate changes in how Ellie carried herself and our dressage work started to truly improve.  There had been times last year where flat work felt like a fight and I wondered to myself if she was ever going to just relax and listen to me haha.

Thankfully, as the title suggests, Ellie has suddenly grown up in front of my eyes.  We have had some really stellar lessons lately, where I feel like I am suddenly able to make things click.  We also had an incredibly frustrating dressage lesson a few weeks ago where Ellie was in rip-roaring peeing heat (not normal for her) and we worked through 45 minutes of her refusing to bend right.  So, ya know, as much as she is improving, she is still an opinionated redheaded mare!  ;-)

But, I have to give her credit because she is really working her little butt off for me!  Sadly, I had not been able to schedule in a jump lesson before our first three-phase, which led to me riding her ridiculously backward at a slow trot the entire …

USDF National Convention, Symposium and Awards Dinner

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) National Convention, Symposium, and Awards Dinner this past weekend.  I flew to Jacksonville, Florida on December 3 and thankfully the northeast weather was fine for traveling.  You just never know in December!  LOL!

My friend Tina from Florida was nice enough to pick me up from the airport.  We headed straight to the Jacksonville Equestrian Center, where the Symposium was to be held.  We had a booth at the trade show, to represent the United States Trotting Association (USTA) and Standardbreds in Dressage!  It did not take us long to get the booth set up and looking fabulous! 
Jessica at the USTA had the banner made....

This photo above was taken by the USDF photographer and posted to their FaceBook page!  Yay Standardbreds!  :)
Enjoying our booth!  :)  Tina is on the left, I am on the right!
We decorated our booth with dressage ribbons...most were from the Florida Standardbreds since I had a limited amount of space in my luggage.  The tricolors are Dreamy's!
Four of the five USDF All Breed Awards won by Standardbreds in 2010.  Dreamy's award is on the far left.  I did not hang up her other award.
We headed to our hotel to get ready for the Salute Gala and Awards Dinner.  Dreamy won two dressage national championship this year: the All-Breed Open Training Level award and the All-Breed Adult Amateur Training Level award.  Tina's horse Whiz Bang won two championships at Second Level, Open and Musical Freestyle.  And the SPHO-Florida's ambassador horse Sea the Gray won the reserve Second Level Musical Freestyle award.

The banquet began at 6:00 PM with a cocktail (half) hour followed by a yummy dinner and dessert.  We had a lot of fun, but WOW it was the longest banquet I have EVER been to!  LOL!  The All Breed Awards were at the end, and of course, our breed organization is USTA so we were third from the end.  We accepted our awards around 10:30 PM!  Whew!  But it was very cool to go up on stage and accept Dreamy's two medals.  I felt pretty proud of our breed!  It was a smaller turnout than I expected, but there were still many people there.  Sadly, many of them left long before the end of the banquet, but what can you do when it goes on for FIVE HOURS????  LOL!

Here is one of our awards....I also have two pics from the banquet coming in the mail.  One is of me with USDF executive director Stephan Hienzsch and the other is of the three of us with our awards.



Both Saturday and Sunday mornings, December 4-5, we arrived at the JEC early to attend to our booth for the day.  We chatted with many people and all were very supportive (and many surprised) to see Standardbreds on the dressage videos and photos we had.  There were only around 20 booths at the trade show, which surprised me.  I guess I thought it would be a larger turnout for a national organization.  I suppose it could be the economy...??  Anyway, I was happy to also have time to see some of the symposium, too.  I did not know what to expect, but I ended up really liking the format.


The two presenters were Gary Rockwell and Lilo Fore.  There were demo riders for each test from Intro A through Fourth 3.  On Saturday they ran through Intro, Training and First.  Then Sunday they did Second, Third, and Fourth.  Because there are new tests, it was focused on the new movements.  Gary would judge the test aloud, which was interesting.  While watching the rides I would imagine what I thought each movement should score and then you would hear Gary actually say the score and his commentary.  Very educational.  Lilo would work with the horse and rider pair at the end of the test, highlighting new movements and helping each rider make improvements.  

The one negative part of the entire symposium was some of the "inflated" scores given out.  There were a few times were I felt Gary was being too generous, such as when a horse broke into an unbalanced trot during the canter and received a 7 on that canter movement and when a rider earned an 8 on rider position and she literally rode like a sack of potatoes.  ON a side note, I saw a professional have her Training level test called for her, which surprised me.  I know you are allowed to do it, but it seemed odd at Training level.  Call me picky, but I wanted the symposium judging to reflect REAL judging, not just be "nice" to avoid backlash from auditors.  The ironic thing was that there was a dressage show going on at the JEC all weekend and the scores were VERY low across the board.  So it seemed wrong to have the symposium riders all earning 70%s when the competitive riders outside were all earning 50%s.  ????

Anyway, I was able to watch the Training 2 and 3 tests, which was nice.  Sadly I missed First 1 to be at the booth, but did get to see First 2 and 3.  I am going to ride First 1 next year and wanted to see it.  I also saw some of the Fourth level tests too.  All weekend I took notes and really felt like I learned a lot. Here are my notes...I apologize if they are unusable to anyone but me!  LOL!


On sea-sawing the reins, using them alternately, both Gary and Lilo reminded the audience that forward energy is lost.  They also said that they CAN see it, however subtle you think you are being.  And on a sensitive horse, it can show up as head tilting.


At one point, a horse was being silly at the canter, when Lilo asked the rider to sit deeper in the saddle.  Lilo made me laugh when she said, "You're having a conversation there!"

Gary reminded a rider to not allow her arms to come forward in the stretchy trot circle.  He said to think of it as a quiet release.  He called it "oozing the reins".

I had a revelation about the trot loops in Training 3 (which used to be in Training 4).  Instead of thinking of it as a straight change of rein with a weird bend at "X" (seriously this is how I envisioned it), I now realize I have to think of it as three 10 m. bends.  If I am on the right rein, let's say, coming along past C, I have to ride a right bend through M, then straighten for just a moment (even sitting a beat...!) and then ride a left bend through X, again straighten the horse for a stride and sit a beat, then bend again to the right through F.  That makes MUCH MORE sense to envision it that way.  What was I thinking before.....????  LOL!


Lilo corrected a rider's hand position, saying you should have your hands one fist above the withers and one fist in between them.  She called that "home base".


Both Gary and Lilo reminded many Training and First level riders not to ride their corners too deeply.  You only have to ride it as deeply as your smallest circle in the test.  So that is a 10m. corner.  Only at the upper levels do you ride it in an 8m. corner.


Lilo called the Training level roundness like a "banana shape."


"Every movement lies in correct preparation, " said Lilo.  She said the word preparation at each level many times.


For a Fourth Level rider who was not always "riding" her horse (as I sometimes also tend to do) Lilo reminded her that, "Your expertise needs to be there when your horse needs you the most or makes a mistake."  Don't stop riding when you are doing something difficult.


The cool part was that not only did I learn a lot from the symposium, but from my new friend Juan!  LOL!  He was my adopted instructor for the weekend, patiently putting up with my endless questions.  If I lived in Florida, I would want to ride with him!  He watched my video from UNH Dressage this past summer and gave me some good pointers.


He recommended that I ride Dreamy in an exaggerated shoulder fore to the right, specifically because that is her harder direction, especially at the canter. Starting at the walk, then the trot, and working up to the canter.  This will help her to engage her inside hind leg.  He reminded me that if she wants to be heavy on the right rein, to drop it!  To let her figure it out.  And he pointed out her outside shoulder at the canter, how I am allowing her to drop because I am NOT supporting her at all in the left rein.  I HAVE TO remember to support that outside shoulder with my outside rein.  Seeing myself on the video while he critiqued me really helped.  I could see what was happening...since my feel on the horse is not always that good.  I think I need to do the same thing with Judy, my regular instructor here.


Going to the left, he recommended I ride her in counter position.  I asked if this was the same as counter bend, but it is not.  He said to ride her with her head and neck to the right but keep the rest of her body bent to the left, as normal.

I love learning from many different people.  Sometimes when someone says something in a certain way, it clicks for me.  Sadly,  with winter upon us, my dressage training is sort of on hold for a while.  But I have lots of homework here for the spring!  LOL!

Not only did we have the banquet, the booth, and the symposium, but also SPHO-FL's trainer Heather rode in the dressage show there at the JEC that weekend too.  She rode a client's Gypsy Vanner and SPHO-FL's ambassador horse Sea the Gray.  On a side note, both Tina and Heather (and the two STB mares Whiz Bang and Sea the Gray) were at WEG!!  Anyway, we got to watch her rides and help her out in the barn.   It was awards, education, and showing all in one weekend!  Throw in some great company, good food/drink, and lots of laughs, and I had myself a grand 'ol time.  LOL!!!


Overall, my USDF experience this year was fabulous.  I am so thankful to the USTA for giving support to us riders/owners showing Standardbreds in rated dressage.  And I owe my beautiful mare Dreamy everything.  She is the reason I had this experience in the first place.  :)

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