Second Level

canter, dressage, Second Level, shallow loop canter

Determined, yet Relaxed

This month we’ve been revisiting the shallow loop at the canter, a move introduced in Second Level Test 1.

Happy campers. Micah & I return to work after an injury-imposed break.

Happy campers. Micah & I return to work after an injury-imposed break.

Micah and I had been working on this movement back in March, before he was injured, and it was our nemesis. The loop to the right wasn’t too bad but to the left it was a nail-biting, gritty affair.
Work to the left has always been harder for Micah and I, both of us being less coordinated and strong in this direction. Looking back, I’m certain that while the move was physically more challenging for Micah in this direction, I was making things harder than they should have been by tensing up. I was trying too hard.
Micah went from thinking the move was difficult to wondering what the heck was wrong with me throughout it. Instead of imparting a confident “You can do this” attitude, my tension was giving Micah the impression that something potentially life-threatening was occurring. No wonder he was resistant.
At the time we were preparing for our first Second Level outing at a local schooling show. I wanted to do good so badly — but sometimes wanting to do good pushes us too far down the Type A trail, making us push rather than ask, demand rather than suggest.
When Micah was injured in April, it threw my plans of a show season out the window. There was a time when I wasn’t sure Micah would ever be truly sound again. Second Level didn’t seem so important any more.
In the end, this break from work was good for both of us. We spent the better part of two months at the walk and trot, rebuilding Micah’s strength and flexibility. I worked hard to help balance him through corners and maintain a moderate pace while putting as little pressure on his back as possible. On cooler days, Micah just wanted to ‘go,’ so protecting him from himself was a challenge.
I picked a fine, warm day to reintroduce the canter — taking advantage of Micah’s aversion to working hard in warm weather. He seemed quite surprised to be asked to canter again after so much time away from it.
Starting with canter work on straight lines only, in short segments, we cautiously increased the work, moving from straight lines to big circles, until the day we were finally able to canter ‘round the entire arena. What a gift — to feel my horse moving strong and balanced beneath me!
Our return to Second Level work has been so slow and systematic, Micah and I were both better prepared to readdress the once-dreaded shallow loop at the canter. Micah returned to the work stronger and more balanced than before. And the time off gave me perspective: I’d been making much too big of a deal out of this movement. If it failed, I could try again. If Micah got tense, I could switch to something else and then return to it.
Simply approaching the work with a fresh start and a more relaxed attitude brought us better success almost immediately. Now I look back in wonder.
Lesson learned: determination is a fantastic thing — but shouldn’t involve the gnashing of teeth, especially when trying to teach a horse.

Related posts
DIY Dressage
March 14, 2018
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
dressage, Dressage Tests, dressage training, Second Level

And Then I Turned the Page: Second Level, Test 2

Last week, I left my lesson ecstatic. I loved Second Level!
Second Level Test 1 was tough, but doable. I bubbled with enthusiasm and hope for the future. I imagined a fun and successful show season.
The next day, on a long flight to Florida, I reopened the test booklet and turned the page: Second Level, Test 2.

Second Level, Test 2 begs the question: Who am I? Where am I going?

Second Level, Test 2 begs the question: Who am I? Where am I going?

Reading through the test I found myself lost several times. I started to panic. Who was I? Where was I going? The test includes an abundance of counter canter. Plus, you do some fancy half-turns and half circles that look like freeway on-ramps, if viewed from above. Who made up these tests?
I had to look it up: was travers the same as haunches in? (Yes) Speaking of haunches, the test also includes the turn on the haunches — which are an intuitive nightmare. You’re not actually moving the haunches so much as moving the forehand around the haunches. You employ a mysterious mishmash of aids which confuse the heck out of me and the horse. It all happens in slow motion (at the walk, right in front of the judge) and try as I might, I can’t really tell what the hind legs are doing.
My previous day’s confidence eroded and I found myself swimming without a life vest in a sea of self-doubt. As the plane landed, I texted my trainer: “Just read Second Level Test 2. OMG.”
As we waited for our rental car, small children scampered through the airport. They were delirious from lack of sleep and the excitement of being so near DisneyWorld. I snarled at them as they passed, exhausted from my own day of travel.
Plugging my phone into a nearby power outlet, I began watching youtube videos of real-life competitors riding the test. I needed to know what was happening as soon as possible.
The videos gave me a better picture of what happens/when and helped me to calm down. I started breaking the problem down into manageable pieces. I also started to have fun, watching those really expressive horses who were practically calling out to the judge, “Not enough preparation on that transition!” or “Could have been more tactful!” By the time my husband got the car, I was snorting with pleasure watching wringing tails and the occasional buck into the canter depart.
My trainer texted me back, “It’s going to be fun!” And so I cheered up.
Upon my return home, we worked on several of the harder parts of Test 2 in our lesson. It is going to be a lot of work, but it really is going to be fun.
Dare I read Second Level, Test 3? Perhaps not yet. I’ll work up to it, perhaps after a shot of tequila.

Related posts
Love in a Time of Colic & Chaos
March 15, 2020
Skipper Gets a Tune Up
March 6, 2020
The Beauty of An Excellent Halt
January 24, 2020
dressage, Dressage Tests, Second Level, transitions

Page-Turning Dressage

The other night I finished the novel I’d been reading and was left with nothing but the 2015 Dressage Tests, which were conveniently by my bedside. Second Level, Test 1 is a fascinating read if you’ve never ridden the test and expect to ride it in the near future. There were surprises, thrills, and chills.

Caught in the act.  Dressage nerd deluxe. Skittles is bored. Photo by Al Gilmour, somewhat tolerant horse husband.

Caught in the act. Dressage nerd deluxe. Skittles is bored. Photo by Al Gilmour, somewhat tolerant horse husband.

Surprise! I hadn’t realized we’re supposed to ride a right shoulder in up the long side, turn across the middle, then continue in left shoulder in. Was there a trick involved? Some fancy preparation? No, it’s pretty straightforward. Thank goodness!
Thrills! As I read, I realized I needed some clarification about the canter serpentine. It’s a really neat move but at Second Level you’re supposed to come down to the walk for the lead changes. Getting those walk steps in the down transition is tricky! The up transition is tough, too — Micah tries to sneak in a few trot steps. This needs work.
Since we hadn’t worked on walk/canter transitions in a while, the left lead canter transition was sticky (sometimes downright crappy). After a few practice rounds, things went pretty smoothly. I like this movement, so it will be fun to work on. The quick transitions make it impossible for Micah to run off at the canter and they balance him up nicely.
Chills! The hardest part of the test, in my mind (other than freaking out with show nerves) is the counter canter. I’m still in the ‘hopeful’ stage of counter canter — hoping I can maintain it. Micah senses my lack of confidence and drops back to a trot, so I have to fake my confidence for now. After some trial and error we got a good start on that movement — which ends with a walk transition. That’s the really hard part! This is kind of a sneaky test.
We’ll be practicing the walk/canter/walk transitions a lot in upcoming weeks! I’m pretty excited. It’s challenging,fun, and rewarding. Thank goodness I read the test!
Just so you know, I love being over-prepared since show nerves turn my brain to mush. Since our show season doesn’t begin until early May, thanks to our wacky weather, I should have ample time to get this right.
Next time you can’t sleep, read a dressage test. I guarantee you’ll drift off to dreamland with visions of horses in your head. And, may your own transitions be smooth and timely!

Related posts
Love in a Time of Colic & Chaos
March 15, 2020
Skipper Gets a Tune Up
March 6, 2020
The Beauty of An Excellent Halt
January 24, 2020