This week's Trinity Dressage Schooling Idea
*How to Qualify to Ride a Freestyle*
Spoiler alert - This has nothing to do with riding a freestyle, and I am being unashamedly clever in reeling you, my dedicated and serious dressage friend, into reading this. I know that my blogs probably have a lot less meat-and-potatoes in them lately, but I promise that will all change as we get into show season. But for now, I want to introduce you to my dear daughter, Paige (She always talks about wanting to be famous and has sent several photos into Young Rider magazing to no avail, so this is her spotlight, and "now is her chance", as she likes to say to her Breyers when she is playing and doesn't think I'm listening.
So Paige has been riding from the time she was in the womb (like most trainers with children will calmly and proudly announce). She has also spent her most formative years with horses in her back yard, Probably, for the first few years of her her life, she assumed all little girls had a black stallion called "JJ" living in a barn in their back yard, and so therefore all horses were "JJs" until we could prove otherwise. Fastforward through sitting through many of my countless hours spent teaching other people, and riding other horses, and watching me do the things in the barn she wasn't old enough or big enough to do, I find her at 8 years old to now posses more knowlege about horsemanship than most women my age, even though she is still not tall enough to put the bridle on her pony (small horse), Splash.
I am not a super competitive person, so the fact that she has not developed the drive to compete and show doesn't bother me in the slightest. If I was, I am sure I would be an incredible show Mom, but I have vowed to allow Paige the chance to grow up the way I did with my pony as my best friend (I didn't even have the option to show). The fact that she offers to mix mash for a sick horse, or that I find her apple cores left in her lunchbox to take home to give to "somebody", or the way she can clean a stall better than she can clean her own room makes me proud that her love is for the horses themselves, and not the thrill that they give us when we accomplish our own goals with their help. I know that there is plenty of time for that later, and she will have less disappointment and more wonderful memories this way if life takes her down a path that leads away from contact with these noble animals.
She does however, have one competitive goal: My fault, I am sure, for dragging her into the living room and squeezing her so tightly as I watch Totilas and Blu Hors Matine, Valegro and even Youtubes of my own friends ride their kurs on our big screen tv. Also my fault for squealing in the car when I hear music on the radio that matchs the trot for a particular horse, or that sounds like it might be great for tempis; Completely my fault for encouraging her to stick her ipod in her pocket while she rides.
So after she had ridden her very first test (Intro A), on her very first pony at her very first show off the leadline, I should not have been surprised when she asked when we could do a musical freestyle. It was, after all, completely my fault. Here's mom (NOT trainer mom, just Mom) who loves music, rides horses, has too many horses of her own to ride most of the time, who has stories of jumping and falling off and doing pirouttes but has never done a freestyle (for many reasons/excuses) shocked that the only goal her daughter has ever expressed was to ride a freestyle. But a freestyle was something I have never done, a fact that my daughter is very well aware of, and after just one test under her belt, she had it all figured out.
I took advantage of the situation and told her that she needed to get a 65% (shhhh don't tell - and she's not allowed to go on the internet yet so let's keep this between us for now). I didn't put any further restrictions on that (a mistake I will not again repeat) and she prepared for her next test. She is 6 at this point. And at 6, she actually has a pretty good idea of what a 65% is, and is a clever little girl with blue eyes and blonde hair and rosy cheeks, and she also has a pretty good idea how to get a 65%.
I don't think our poor judge for the day had even finished scoring that test before Paige was picking up her reins and trotting that brave, kind little horse around the ring, waiting for the bell. After it rang, Paige came down the centerline with the most intense look of determination, I almost thought something was wrong. The circles at E and B were still not perfectly round, but they were there and Splash got a kick and a pull and he went in his corners whether he wanted to or not. Her hands were in the right place, she was sitting up, and suddenly the fiercest competitor you will ever see ride Intro B had finished her test and was exiting the arena. I don't exactly remember what the score was, and it wasn't a recognized competition: Frankly, I don't want to remember because I don't want to be lying when I tell her she earned her 65% that day.
Partly because Mom has been too busy and partly because 1st and 2nd grade proved to be a little tougher on our schedule than we imagined, Paige hasn't done a freestyle in competition yet. But last year she did ride at a recognized competition, and made some mistakes that made her humbly determined to do better net time (and, I am sincerely hoping, to LISTEN TO MOMMY when she says TURN LEFT AT C). And trust me, there is a new freestyle born in this girl's heart every day.
The pony/horse/saint Splash has moved to our own property now, and the old quarter horse she learned to ride on here at home has been officially retired. Splash was generously gifted to Paige, and instead of leasing him at the farm I work at, he will now live out his years at our house, in our backyard, roaming the woods and freestylin' all over the place. In the 2 short months he has been here, Paige has learned the value of never trotting home, of why it's so fun to ride with a halter, of why you close the gate to the arena behind you, and how to ride with traffic in our much more modest, smaller sized arena. She has also learned how to catch a naughty pony from the field, and how the smallest amount of praise goes a long way with a smart horse. I'm excited to see all the wonderful lessons this summer is going to bring.
With that ipod in her pocket, I've been watching Paige canter around the ring in the snow and the rain, and forming her plan for greatness. Maybe some of my hesitation hasn't been laziness, maybe it's been the fact that she so perfectly represents what we all do inside, whether we are six or eight years old, or thiry-seven, or seventy: we are all riding around with a song in our heart, doing our very own freestyle. We are putting music to the feeling that we love so much, with our very best friend. To ask that to be judged and competitive, just for me takes the perfect joy out of it.
This month, Paige will be riding her very first Intro C (with canter! yikes!!!). If she does well, we will develop a freestyle for Paige to practice, and a show where they will kindly let Paige perform her Intro Level Freestyle. I know, it's going to be like watching paint dry (Splash takes nearly 45 seconds just to complete a diagonal in free walk) and perhaps I will offer to the show management to anonymously provide a light snack for the judge while she endures it. We are not trying to encourage Intro Level freestyles, of course, because that would just be very silly. (Or would it?) I promise we will practice, and that we will try to make the circles as round and testworthy as Splash can do. I also promise that we will keep this freestyle short and meaningful. I also promise that we will not use any music from the movie "Frozen." Furthermore, I promise to try to either not show any other horses that day, or make sure I can schedule all horses to be shown before Paige performs her masterpiece.
Because when Paige finally gets a chance to do her freestyle, I had better not be wearing any mascara: When you wipe that stuff off it makes a terrible mess on your white gloves.