First Level Or Bust

Keep filing away at First Level.

How hard can it be?  For us, quite a challenge, but this time out Valiosa did everything right and we had two solid tests.

horse posing as Breyer horse
Valiosa, making her best Breyer Horse pose. Although she went rogue with one hind.

Her show result from last Friday’s Training Level Test 3 was 64.1, a 2nd Place ribbon.  Thrilled with her, and that score included a low 4′ score for coming on the wrong lead once – all stemming from tension which I hope will go away with time.

canter at first level
Pictures today are all from the First Level Test 3 Class last Friday.  Complete photo overload, sorry, but if your husband comes out and takes wonderful pictures of you poppin’ around endlessly in the ring, they’ve got to be shared! 🙂

horse that looks like breyer horse
This is the big ring, with the big horses – expectations are higher here than the shows we did last year.  Miss Silky Blue’s lengthenings, both trot and canter, are what really hurts our score.

trot lengthening with short gaited horse
For Lady Pumpkin Tush, this is really good, but this lengthened trot diagonal got only a 5′.

Canter lengthening scores were a bit stronger with 6’s. I think she did phenomenal, staying straight and focused.
canter lengthening with horse with short gaits
The score for this First Level Test 3 class was 61.8.  Nope she didn’t place in the class, but it’s a qualified score and she was wonderful and very different from the show just the weekend before.

white horse in dressage ring
Peach Tart, doing her thing and being fantastic.

collection at first level dressage

This was a wonderful experience for her – strong-willed and with a mind of her own, we negotiated on being a show horse for the day.  Carefully.

I don’t have the tools to be super strong and ride her perfectly.  Instead, I try to be very tactful in moments of tension, and together we get through it.

riding tactfully on tense horse

This crazy sport of dressage. Last halt; square, straight, prompt and in the right spot.  (Bit of nose tilt out to the left.)  Still only a 7′. Judge’s comment – Not closed.
square halt at first level

It can only get better from here.

Go & be someone you’d like to remember!

16 thoughts on “First Level Or Bust

  1. What the heck does “not closed” mean? Never heard that one for a halt before. She’s square, she’s quiet, Her nose isn’t poking up in the air nor crammed into her chest. She’s not gnawing on the bit and twisting her jaw. Sometimes I think judges, especially the “S” ones, put Grand Prix values on our First Level horses. Just judge the level, please…

    I have all the same First Level problems you do, especially the trot/canter lengthenings. I won’t even go into the leg yield discussion. However, I do have a suggestion for the trot lengthening. Every once in a while when the rider (me) doesn’t screw up, it actually works. Set the horse up for the lengthened stride before you even make the turn at H or F (talking test 3 here). You do that by flexing the poll a bit to the inside and collecting the stride a little bit to encourage the flow into the turn. As soon as you straighten from the turn, pull your thighs back an inch or two (don’t lift your heel, just move your whole leg back). This will open up the front of your body (like opening up a front door for the horse) while also shifting your pelvis to encourage forward movement and “close” the back door. Keep this position for as long as you need the lengthening. You must keep yourself perfectly straight the whole time–no leaning, no collapsing, no twisting shoulders, no elbows out, no hand movements except for maybe closing and opening (like pulsating) your fingers on the reins to get the idea across of picking up the front end and pushing with the hind end. It’s a lot to think about which is why I say I can’t always pull it off. But when I do it’s quite gratifying!

    As for the canter lengthening–hopeless. I picked up a book a while back written by a Grand Prix rider sometime in the 70’s maybe. The premise of her book was to list all the things all the famous trainers had to say about any particular movement. When she got to canter lengthening she just said “nobody knows how to get it”. Basically you just fool around trying a whole bunch of things with your horse until you find something that sort of works. Yeah…!

    Anyhow, you have a gorgeous horse so just keep on keeping on and remember you are certainly not alone out there with the issues you describe. Also remember that the folks picking up the ribbons have probably been down center line a hundred or more times than you have. You got a qualifying score! Rejoice!

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    1. Hahaha, oh Alli -yeah, not closed is a new one for me. But, it wasn’t perfect, so, well, a 7 we got. At this point we really can’t do better, and the horses we had to measure up to were brilliant. The judge must have been like – You clowns! 🙂
      I’m going to experiment with the trot lengthening advice at home, thank you! I think the main problem might be that I post the trot in the lenghtenings, thinking forward, light, up. This may not be the way to truly access her back… We just get the “rushing” comment every time. OK, so new plan!

      Love the canter comment. Really hoping to get it right one day. We’re going to keep on keeping on. (And in a week or so, I might have some great news to share in the training front!)


      1. Yeah, my trainer doesn’t like me to post a trot lengthening for the very reason you stated. But since Sassypants doesn’t listen to much of anything I tell her at a show anyway our lengthening comment is usually “none shown”. Although once for the canter we did get an “upward but no extension”. At first level the whole thing is kind of relative anyway. As long as the judge sees “some” difference between working and lengthening you’ll get better than a 5😂. Which is why collecting a bit before asking for the lengthening is helpful. My biggest stumbling block is how to get more length from a horse whose legs are too short for the rest of her body. She made it into the Hanoverian mare book on her jumping ability, not on her gaits.

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        1. Yeah, we’re showing “difference” alright, at least there’s that… Just rushing every time.. Sigh. Got them short little legs too. Can’t wait for some pumping action to be installed behind 😉

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  2. Well done, both of you. You are fulfilling the requirements of the level, even if your lengthening are “still developing.” Here’s something important for you to think about: generally Iberian horses excel in collection and lateral movements. They tend to struggle with lengthening. It is just the way they are built. They CAN extend the gaits, but it doesn’t come easily and they need to become strong in their back and abdomen before they can do it without losing rhythm or balance. So…often Iberians do better at upper levels where collection (the thing they do so easily) is value, and they don’t score well at the lower levels. I would not spend forever chasing after high scores at the lower levels. Keep working on your basics, but keep teaching her (and yourself) new things. Gymnasticize and strengthen her as you have been doing, and things that have been difficult will start to be easier as she gains the strength to carry herself. A good trainer will help you with tips on how to lengthen those strides. I have found a useful exercise for trot is to go on a 20 m circle in shoulder fore, then medium trot for half the circle, back to collected trot/shoulder fore, medium trot again half the circle, etc. Back and forth never asking for too much at once so the horse does not change tempo or fall on the forehand (that’s where the engagement of shoulder fore helps – it gets the medium off to a good start). Medium canter can be done in the same way but honestly, shoulder fore canter circle is not easy…try it using the whole ring maybe ;-). And don’t worry about perfection. Your mare is LOVELY and you are a beautiful team. I think when it comes time for piaffe/passage you’re going to enjoy the Iberian in her!

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    1. This is where I’ve been fretting some on my own. What if she’d not Iberian Enough to actually have good collection and sort of a little swing in the step, and still short strided enough to never get the lenthenings!? Ghaa! 🙂 (Forget the extended for now.) Well, I’m about to find out.
      Love the exercise on a circle with the shoulder fore, this might just set her up to be able to do it. Lately, I feel as if I’ve been doing too much “chasing” with her. It is NOT right, but easy to fall into when we run out of other tools. TIme for a change.
      Love it that you believe in us. She is such a kind horse and I’m lucky to have her. Getting to piaffe with this mare would be a dream – no idea how to teach it, but maybe one day!

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      1. I really think she IS Iberian enough to have the collection. It looks like she steps quite well behind and she is still developing and growing. Lots of transitions (between and within the gaits), and lots of shoulder in (was it Nuno Olivera who called it the aspirin for the horse? anyway, it is a cure all). Be careful not to let the shoulder pop out or to be fooled by neck bend. Overbending the neck is a common mistake (yep, we all do it). Get your son to film you so you can check on yourself. You want a nice three track and you will start to feel and see more engagement. Building that horse core strength takes time, time, time. Star and I are working on it, too.

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        1. Yep, it was Nuno.
          I’m super sick, home on the couch, not ridden since Friday, and going through the “feel” of my past rides. (Not liking it.) I’d like more straight, more hind, way softer hand, and ability to place the shoulders in, out, or wherever.
          Nothing like a little break to sort of refocus. Hoping my son will come out when school’s out.

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          1. So sorry you are sick :-(. Well, it is a good Pause to think, imagine, revisit rides. Don’t be too hard on yourself. There are obviously many beautiful moments of harmony (we can see them in the pictures). Creampuff is coming along!

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    1. No true artist over here, but you may borrow anything you like, at any time!
      Love your new kitty! (Drinking out of the glass too!) and Carmen in the last sunshine picture 🙂
      Best of luck in First Level – you’ll do well!


        1. I liked her relaxed she looked in a couple of the last clips you put up. She’s much steadier in the bridle too, over here on my side there’s a lot of pinging back and forth… Can’t wait to see how you do at First Level when it’s time!


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