Thursday, October 24, 2013


Everyone in sport knows that while competing, you sometimes find holes in your training. Sometimes these holes are just a little dip in the ground; you can fill them in with a little bit of footing and never worry about them again. Sometimes, the hole is a shallow depression that you work on evening out over time, and eventually it goes away.

And sometimes, you step in a hole so deep that your foot gets stuck and you face plant.

I've spent a lot of time filling in holes in the training of both my horse and myself. He has trailering holes that need constant repair and maintenance. He had a massive hole with water when he was younger that we managed to repair, but need to double check it to make sure it doesn't reopen. He had holes in his show jumping training when he thought colored sticks were fun to knock down. All of these holes were worked on and smoothed over. While, they may need maintenance, they are generally not an issue anymore.

Now, it's finally time to go back and fully fill the holes in his dressage.

By the way, Dante is fairly good on the flat. He has a lovely collected trot, a quality half pass, fantastic lead changes, a steady counter canter, and a jaw-dropping extended trot. Dante is a horse who should easily score in the fifties (FEI) every time out. I've been told by Olympic-dressage clinicians that Dante could be competitive with the best horses in the world if we could correctly work every time out. And I believe him, after seeing the video tape from the clinic. Dante is a horse who 'has all the pieces', apparently.

Except the mental game inside the white box. 

All I can say is that Dante can practice at home, ride in lessons off his farm, and warm up beautifully at the show with the best of them. But as soon as we ride down centerline, it's like something clicks in his brain and he loses focus, takes any excuse to ignore me, and generally goes about above the bit. It doesn't always happen; he was quite well behaved at Millbrook. But at Surefire, Plantation, and now Fair Hill this year, we showed that this hole in his training needs to be fixed before we can move on.

Fair Hill in particular is frustrating, as I calculated later that literally one more point on any movement or collective mark from either judge would have put me at a qualifying score. It's satisfying to get through a CCI2* finally with no problems at either jog, no pneumonia, no worries about too many rails. But I definitely lost focus after getting a non-qualifying dressage ride. I ho-hummed around cross country, and shrugged about the SJ. I'm proud that even with an off ride from me, we still made it around clear on a division that ate half of the competition. But this past weekend was still supremely bittersweet.

In the past year, Dante and I have actually made huge strides in dressage; his canter is more true, his trot is more bouyant. His lateral work is more flexible and his frame is more uphill. By every indication, we should be improving in our scores.

And yet, Dante seems to know. We've gone to schooling shows, and while a bit of tenseness occurs, it seems that Dante saves his truly bad behavior for recognized shows. So this winter, we will come to the schooling shows dressed to the nines, clipped tails and braided, shadbelly and white gloves. I will go to every measure to make sure Dante thinks it is a real show and we will do test after test this winter. If there isn't a schooling show that weekend, I will pay a schooling fee to use someone's dressage ring and do the whole thing without a judge. 

Next spring, we will come out and go to Jersey Fresh CCI2*, and we will showcase our new ability to stay relaxed in the ring. And we will live up to our potential finally.

See you next spring.