Santos and Me

Riding Journal Part 1: Fall 1997-June 1998

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October, 1997: First Lesson - bucking, twisting, evading

The raw weather is as good an excuse as any to pretend I'm only 3 years old, I'll try some squealing and bucking just to see how game Cortney is. That is, once she convinces me that she really wants me to do something other than stand here pretending to be a statue. Okay, she asked nice, so I'll move. Now I can do my unique trademark airplane impersonation, every 4 strides I will twist my head totally sideways 'til it's parallel with the horizon, and then do it again in the other direction, every 4 steps, and I'll see how long it takes Cortney to become sufficiently horrified to make me stop. I can do this trick in all 3 gaits! Well, first she's gonna have to MAKE me canter. I wonder if she scares easy if I won't steer? Let me drift towards that really steep embankment. Hmmm, she's going to have to EARN a straight line with me! Maybe next time I will actually do a few steps of canter.

Where IS his head going? How CAN he do that? Frances says I need much more contact, but I take it and he stops. Keep him moving! Thump with legs. The reins grow again and the process is repeated. How embarrassing. I swear I know how to do this. Forward, straight, and connected, somehow I can barely manage to accomplish just one let alone three.

I've probably asked for fifty thousand canter departs in my life and almost all have resulted in success. My aids seem only to say to Santos trot faster and his head goes to the clouds. I lean forward as if to help and bounce uncontrollably.

For a few strides his trot comes together and I get a brief taste of an elastic back and big overstep. WOW! It soothes my frustration and leaves me wanting more.

Is THIS where you want my head?

Winter: Basics - moving forward

It's still cold, so I'm going to keep acting like a youngster, bucking can really feel good! Poor Cortney, sometimes I know I should just behave and do what she wants, but it's my job to make sure she doesn't have too much success too soon, when she really earns my obedience she'll really appreciate it. (my name translates to saint, I told you those Hessen guys had a sense of humor) I am letting her have some small victories, I will canter, but not without some airplane head and lots of flying changes that aren't asked for. Well, I like to do them, let her try to keep me from it! Cortney has a crookedness problem, don't we all?, and I can really aid and abet that, since it happens to correspond to my same crooked side. No straight lines yet for us! But this girl is a real sport! She keeps coming back! She hasn't even cussed at me. Yet.


I do wonder why Santos looks at every tree, bucket, dog, and person, like he has never seen any of them before. Surely he's heard cars drive down the road before, but in the cool winter air they suddenly send him off in little fits of bucking which I am unaccustomed to. Fortunately Santos does not try too hard to unseat me and surprisingly he does not scare me (much).

The canter is coming and Santos gives me lots of practice with the trot-to-canter transitions by breaking into the trot regularly and too willingly. If I use any leg, I get quite a lovely lead change. So I'm supposed to keep him going with my seat while keeping a contact. Not possible, I conclude. Straight lines are nearly impossible and we find we canter best by falling into a 6 meter circle to the left. After all, that's my best side!

This is exhausting stuff. I consider myself to be in rather good shape, trim and athletic, but I am pooped. I have to ask for walk breaks and even threaten to throw up once.

One day we manage to canter twice around the ring. Victory! I am hooked.

Spring, 1998: Focus on position - sitting back and staying straight

Well, it's warmer, Cortney and I are both getting fitter, and she's starting to learn how to ride me effectively. No more airplane head, she's on to that, and she has found out that I can indeed canter and even go where I'm told, most of the time, but I will still swap leads at any given moment just to give her the right amount of dressage rider frustration to keep her interested. And there will be lots of new stuff I can pull as soon as she starts leg yield and shoulder in. She's so nice to me, she worries that she's being too demanding of me, so to be a nice guy, I do super extended trots for her, you know, keep the carrot in front of the rider stuff.

Getting better...sort of.

Videotapes sure don't lie. Frances is right, I clearly collapse left and she assures me it must be fixed if I am to hope for straight lines or anything lateral. "Chest up, sit right, straighten up" reverberates through my head but it is still a frustratingly slow process to correct. As soon as any new instruction enters my head, everything else seems to fall apart.

I am happy to see that for the most part, that vestigial hunter trait of leaning forward has been largely eliminated. Now I only attempt this fetal position when I am frustrated, confused, or otherwise out of control!

I had my first audience. My former instructor came from Michigan to visit Frances. She had a client along and I had a mutual friend with me. Santos and I performed quite respectably under the pressure and managed to show off a few very nice medium trots. I was reminded of how far we had come was feeling very encouraged.

Undoubtedly sitting left

May: Preparation for Shows - leg yields and transitions

Plans for going to a show! Training and First Level. Sounds easy, but think again! Cortney has to find out how to keep me aligned and happy in leg yield, and after years of coming from canter to halt, it's tough for me to do a smooth canter to trot transition. And I'm not going to just offer up throughness, Cortney's going to have to sweat for that!

Giving me a taste of things to come!

I signed up for our local one-day recognized show. I step up my lessons to two or three a week. I am to the point where I take breaks to talk over concepts and not because I am worn out.

Leg yields are really hard for me. He has to be round, through, and forward. Frances won't let me pony-step through movements--she never lets me forget that forwardness is everything.

Suddenly I feel overloaded mentally and ask to ride Santos some by myself to sort things out. Frances thinks it's a great idea and hangs out at the house while I ride. I know she's peeking through her windows, but that's OK. Some things improve while others slip without her constant reminders. Toward the end of the ride she offers her help which I happily accept.

May 23: SWVADA Recognized Show - Training & First levels
Green Hill Equestrian Center. Salem, Virginia.

It's pouring buckets and it's cool, and my stablemate, (Mr. Gets all the) Attention, is with me so that's grounds to be a jerk in my opinion! Cortney is going to make a good rodeo rider soon. Heehee, she doesn't think she needs the whip, reckon I'll forget how to have impulsion as soon as I enter at A. That's my favorite show trick, the other is performing movements above the level. But Cortney manages to keep me from embarrassing her and we had a very successful showing.

Training 4     Elizabeth Lewis     60.000%
First 1        Elizabeth Lewis     61.071%
First 2        Judy Westenhoefer   57.742%

What a day. I am the second ride of the show and I warm up in driving rain until the decision is made to postpone the show an hour. So I got off and waited an hour in my soggy clothes. When I remounted, Santos was a firecracker so I didn't dare carry a whip. In his legendary multiple-personality way, Santos did a complete reversal upon entering the dressage ring and settled into the dullest of ambles! The test was not exciting, but not a bad starting point either with scores in the high 50s and low 60s.

The show was a great confidence builder and I was ready to work toward the next one..the VADA/NOVA show at Culpeper's Commonwealth Park the end of June. Goodbye Training Level!

Off to a good start!

Late May/Early June: Schooling Second level - work on shoulder in and roundness

Plans for more shows, and moving up to Second Level. Now I can have fun with shoulder in! Cortney will learn to walk and chew gum for this one. What do you mean, stay on the rail? AND stay round, good luck!!!!! Cortney didn't know that I could canter in place, hahaha. (I have more tricks yet to be seen). But she persists and it is starting to fall into place for her, so sometimes I do a good shoulder in for her. Along with a good buck now and then and a flying change just to keep her crazy. But I always give her my best effort in the medium trot and canter. And she is learning to really ride, not just be a passenger. Oh, but just wait 'til halfpass time.

The show video was an eye-opener. My lengthened canters that felt so huge were hardly noticeable, and transitions within the gaits were imperceptible. We need lots of work on lengthen canter to working canter and back again. I have a tendency to do too much with my body and those flying changes just come too easily! It's hard to believe that Santos can collect himself in canter merely by me sitting a bit forward and allowing it to happen rather than trying to force it. It is amazing to me still. Riding a horse back to front is much different than riding one from the front only!
Early June: Basics continued

Oh man, Cortney has figured out that she can and should have contact for real, and she's making me work! No more coming up against her hands and doing what I want for half the arena 'til she gets me round again, she's learned to react quickly and keep me in her hands. Oh well, I got ways and means to be a source of frustration even so!

Who would guess that it would be so difficult to keep a steady contact? It's amazing how much a horse's head really does move (especially Santos's) particularly in transitions. They give me fits. I'm constantly adjusting my reins and I can't seem to ever get it quite right for very long. The ONLY way to get him round though is to have that consistent contact that is a delicate balance of firm yet giving. "Lower, rounder" is my mantra..well, I hear Frances say it enough!
June 20-21: VADA/NOVA Show- First & Second levels
Culpeper, Virginia

Whew boy, it was hot! In more ways than one! (Of course I am a hot looking guy, the other horses were hot competition, and the temperature was boiling.) Cortney's getting brave, she jumped right in to a scratch at second level so that's the first class! It's too hot to really work, so I will just be extra elegant and get easy points that way. There are some very good horses here, when I'm warming up I make sure they all know I am superior, but during the tests it's only people watching, so I don't show off, I'll save my energy 'til the other horses are watching again. Of course the judges like me, I am beautiful. Cortney is doing a good job of riding the tests, she likes to be beautiful too in her riding , so we can't work too hard or we may lose our poise and grace. We probably could have nailed a 70%, but we are doing quite well in spite of the fact that I refuse to exert any unnecessary effort, and all but one of the 5 judges here recognize that I am extraordinary. I think Cortney is ready to take on the harder Second level tests and start thinking about Third level. I am ready to get on with the action! And I am looking forward to confusing Cortney, now that she has learned to keep me from drifting off of straight lines, next she will have to figure out how to make me drift (halfpass), how will she learn if I make it easy for her?

A nice moment at Culpeper.

The show at Culpeper was so much fun. Frances wasn't showing this weekend but she had her hands full keeping Santos and me in line! I got a wild hair and at the last minute filled in a scratch for Second Level Test 1 which would be my first test of the show. We had nice warmup with no major problems. I gathered my wits and watched the combination before me -- a stunning young warmblood stallion ridden by a professional. Drat! I had a small case of nerves and my brain seemed to be operating at a much lower speed than normal. I don't know where my lengthened trots went and I gave Santos an escape route through my hands in several of the transitions. But, all in all, it was an OK test and Frances offered up all kinds of praise and encouragement. She's always so positive, I guess because like all aspiring dressage riders, I am hard enough on myself as it is.

Things really went well the rest of the weekend and we got some terrific scores in the high 60's at First Level and the low 60's at Second. One 66% was bittersweet -- it was in the First Level BLM qualifying class (for a regional type championship). I tied for third place, but was fourth in the tiebreaker, and only the top three qualify! I was still thrilled and the weekend was really a personal victory and an assurance that Santos and I are on track.

First 3     K. Rouse        66.857%
First 4     M. Davies       68.485%
First 4     K. Thompson     56.667%
Second 1    R. Breukman     60.769%
Second 1    J. Moore        61.026%

On to Part 2...

Copyright 1998 Cortney Martin and Frances Yeardley
Graphics by Frances Yeardley

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