Broke the Third Level ceiling – hallelujah!

It has been one heck of year on all sorts of levels. I have not had the time or clarity of thought to get a decent (in my opinion – some of you are still waiting for me to achieve “decent”) blog post together. I took a quick glance at the last post and realized that at least one of the 2015 shortcomings was addressed. Whitman and I managed to get past Third level.

I dropped him off with Jordan LaPlaca for two months at the beginning of the year for some serious retraining/attitude adjustment, etc. I did get on Whitman once I was cleared to ride and worked on getting him fit. However, due to the lingering swelling and scar tissue on my BUTT, I could only ride in my bare bones, shallow/flat/hard as iron seat cross country saddle. My left leg swung like a pendulum with a mind of its own, so I was fairly limited on how much I could do with the evil twin.

I do recall sitting in Jordan’s living room bemoaning (whining about) my inability to ever get past Third Level. I got my bronze on Lazlo nearly a decade ago (OMG – wish I had not looked that date up – did it really take me ten years to move on) and have largely stalled out since. I sold Lazlo, but we weren’t going to move any higher together, and other horses had come and gone as sales horses and I was waiting on Whitman (being born and then growing up since he is only eight now). Anyway, I was whining about the seemingly cosmic block on getting past Third and a few sour grapes over others that had. I was thinking it wasn’t going to happen with Whitman either at the time.

So fast forward a half year – Whitman remains complicated but has really shown tremendous improvement. It also helps when you move like he does and can pull off Third and Fourth level moves without trying very hard. I took him to a schooling show in May and he was naughty (to say the least) in warm-up but I stayed on the bugger. One woman in the schooling ring was uber– annoyed with us over our rather dramatic warm-up. I wished I had stuffed some coal up her derriere prior because she would have produced a diamond – but I charitably kept that thought to myself at the time. In nitWhit’s defense – the schooling ring was insane. The tall bay one went into the competition ring and other than being tense in the back and behind the leg, laid down a respectable test. The schooling show was a good idea though because he seemed to have left all the naughtiness and tension at that show.

We went to a USDF show in June for our Third Level debut and chalked up some lovely scores. I didn’t need more scores at Third Level, but I felt immensely better about myself as a rider and my current horse. Whitman was great in the barn, the schooling ring, and very honest in the show ring. We did have a very awkward jump over a shadow on our courtesy circle, but that was about the end of the excitement. We placed second or third to horses that cost more than several times my annual income and had to get on a plane to get to this country, so I was feeling pretty pleased with us for that.

My regular instructor felt we could handle Fourth 1 & 2, so that was what we aimed for the next month at a recognized show. I have to admit the week before, I was almost looking for reasons to scratch and was imagining all sorts of situations where we fell short or greatly embarrassed ourselves and those associated with us. We made it to the show, waited around until late afternoon for our first ride and of course it was nearly 90 degrees. Whoever came up with the idea of riding in dark wool coats was a sadist.

The test went well but I was picking it apart and just praying that we at least broke 60%. When my trainer brought me the test, she intentionally had the blue ribbon over the score. When I saw the 69% (darn good for a dressage score), my eyes about blew out of my head. This was despite a last minute ring change to a ring that Whitman had not been in before since I was scheduled to ride in another ring. The comments from the judge were “elastic, expressive and impressive” (I will be having that put on a T-shirt!).

Four-2 was pretty darn good as well – not awe inspiring, but it looked like a nicely broke horse doing a test in the heat. I have always had a bit of a mental block with flying changes for some reason and that has turned into a self-fulling prophecy. Fourth level, test two is the first time you have to start counting strides between flying changes. I cannot figure out why this is so tricky – I can count strides between fences and adjust between fences no problem. Our changes were about a stride late the week before the show when practicing (part of my anxiety about the weekend), so I overrode them a bit in the test. Whitman is turning into one of those unusual horses that is actually better in the show ring than at home (a rare and surprising treat), so he changed immediately when I cued. I did what I thought were our “three flying changes every fourth stride” and was wondering why I had so much more room on the diagonal than I had at home?? Watching the video later – we had a lovely line of three tempis. So we took a “4” for that, but that is (hopefully) an easily  fixed pilot error. That test scored a 62% – so not fabulous but respectable.

The next day was even hotter and I had only entered for one ride at Four-1 anyway. I had nothing in warm up but a melted puddle of exhausted warmblood.  My trainer and I both accepted that it wasn’t going to get any better and went into the show ring. Whitman actually stepped up and really put forth a lovely effort with much more zip than we had in warmup – the ham does love an audience. I had an error of course (tried for a “giving of both reins” in canter instead of showing steps of “very collected canter”) but we still got a 64% from the judge that was considered to be “stingy” with scores.

I pretty much spend the rest of the afternoon packing up and doing my own happy dance. I even hung around a little extra since we were most likely going to be getting the Fourth Level overall for the weekend. Had I known it was going to be a pack of economy sized (meaning too small for a warmblood) purple polos, I would have headed home. Beer Budget Dressage does not do purple (we are classy that way 🙂 )

The lovely little bald spots on Whitman’s head are from him literally “putting his nose where it does not belong”. There was a hole in the stall mesh to pour grain in and he kept trying to stick his nose out to encourage people to pet him.


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