Santos and Me

Riding Journal Part 4: October 1998 - end of season

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Sept. 21 - Oct. 6: An unexpected break in training

Cortney hasn't been to see me in almost two weeks, so I am very glad she's back! To let her know how glad I was to see her, I was practically perfect for her tonight. I think I will be very good for her at the BLM's because she's riding wonderfully, and has earned my best effort. Cortney has won my respect, I don't make her wish for impulsion now. No indeed! She really understands how to make the connection and balance. If she doesn't get the scores for her Bronze medal at the next show, then I will stomp on the judges toes, cause we are looking fabulous! I have put some real "basics" into this girl along with lots of extra tools she may need someday . I love it that she can show me off to my best, and pretty much keep me from outsmarting her. No easy job!

I had planned to take a week off after Morven Park to catch up on some things and get a breather before gearing up for the BLM show in Lexington. Unexpectedly, my sabbatical stretched into two weeks. Excalibur, after four accident-free years, got himself is some kind of tangle that resulted in a broken talus bone (hock). I was pretty stressed out but he had arthroscopic surgery at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and the prognosis is good. Sure is convenient being five minutes from the place! Once I knew he'd be OK it was back to work on Santos.

This cool weather and the break in our routine has had a desirable effect on Santos and me. Everything feels fresher and he is motoring, especially during changes and the canter work which he loves! I have to learn to channel the energy and resist the urge to collapse forward and hang on his face. I have zeroed in on this mental image I have of Gerd Reuter who I have watched at the shows all summer. He has such control over his body and he's just so...definite. I try to do the same - sitting tall, not slacking off at all, and making the most out of every step we take. Things are feeling good!

October 11: An Audience

On Sunday Cortney and I did an impromptu demonstration for the Intercollegiate teams at the first VA Tech Intercollegiate Dressage show. I loved having the audience to myself. I was sure to make good eye contact with each and every one, my own interpretation of the "join up" theory. Since I had to keep my eye on the college girls, I couldn't be as energetic as usual and Cortney was a little peeved, but we looked fabulous anyway. Only she and I knew that we could be better. I made it up to her by being perfect after my adoring fans left.

Frances was coming to Blacksburg to judge the Intercollegiate show, so I convinced her to bring Santos along. The next thing I knew I was the lunchtime entertainment! I told some friends about it and my husband told the rest of the town so suddenly there was this crowd of people. You know how dressage shows usually are, three people watch - your trainer, your spouse/parent, and the judge! This was new to us both! Santos was such a stinker looking at everything and not moving very forward but I know I probably wasn't helping as much as I could have. The only solution was to get him forward and round and attentive which took lots and LOTS of convincing and just about wore me out. We demonstrated a Training level test which was pretty nice except for the flying change. I ran through a Third Level test which was a bit grim -- and very hard to do in a non-regulation sized arena. After everyone left I kept riding and things improved...of course!
October 13: WOW! Extended trot and halfpass are coming!

Now that Cortney has gotten impulsion figured out, she can't get enough of it! I love that running away feel myself! But Cortney and I are both under orders to cool our jets a little, so I suppose we will have to contain ourselves a bit, but I will promise to throw in some surprise movements just to show my joi de vivre. I must express my exuberance! Uncalled for flying changes, sometimes gracefully done through a most elegantly performed buck is my favorite. Tonight I outdid myself with an incredible trot extension, it had such thrust and suspension that even I for a moment didn't know quite what to do with it! I surprise myself on occasion with my own fabulousness.

Flying change...on purpose!

Things are FINALLY coming together and it is so incredible. I no longer need to have the planets in alignment and perfect karma to get a decent half-pass. In fact, Santos and I are becoming the half-pass machine in trot and canter. I just have to sit back, relax, don't hurry, and let it happen...and it does! The lateral work has helped our collected work which helped produce an indescribable and unbelievable extended trot.

When I look back, our progression to this point has been just like all the books say it's supposed to be and I didn't even realize it along the way. Here's what I mean: When I started last spring I was happy just to get trot or canter on Santos. Then I learned to ask for forwardness, straightness, and roundness. Then I could start thinking about corners, circles, and bending. Next I learned to direct the horse more laterally in leg yields and shoulder-ins. Now we are building on these skills for Third level which demands more collection, quicker reactions and immediate and correct responses. It's micromanagement. Now in a half-pass I have to come around the corner with good impulsion, roundness, flexion, come straight up center line, half-pass maintaining the tempo, flexion, and alignment. There's no time for passengering anymore. I'm constantly correcting, regulating, directing, driving, allowing...and thinking! THIS is so cool.

October 22-25: BLM Championships - Third level, last show of the season
Lexington, VA

Show season is over now that the BLM's are over with.It's the time of year when for no apparent reason breakfast and dinner comes an hour late. What is wrong with people?

I hope Cortney will come and ride me when she can, when we can relax and work out some basics without the pressure of having an upcoming show. Of course as it gets cooler, I get friskier! But Cortney has gained courage this summer, so she won't mind if I feel too good.

These shows at Lexington are too much, days and days of tests, and everyone is getting grouchy by the third day, including me. Cortney and I got real close to that USDF bronze medal, but it didn't happen. We had some pretty nice tests nonetheless. On the last day, I had to give Cortney a proper lesson in "Santos etiquette", she got just a little carried away in thinking she was in charge. That may well work with other horses, but not me, not ever! I will let her encourage me, even dare me to put out more effort, but nobody can demand it and get it from me. I am not one to sulk or act out, I just go on strike. Cortney is no fool, so she stroked my ego, apologized profusely, and promised to say please forever more. So I let her have a nice test to end up on.

It has been an interesting way to teach someone the way up the levels. Experience is the best teacher, and Cortney really got pushed off the high dive. Much of the best stuff she learned at shows where we didn't have the luxury of "let me start that over and prepare better". Each show was a crash course on getting our act together and reacting quick. But from that experience Cortney should have a whole new perception of the basics and riding in general, just how easy it is to get in trouble, it isn't as easy as it looks, how truly prepared a rider needs to be, etc., and she and I can go backwards a little now and really perfect the basics in an organized manner and be ready to wow them next year. She can go back and ride the more basic things with an eye to where it is leading. And I think that is the right place to begin. I am looking forward to it. Cortney is tops in my book!

Third 1     I. DeSzinay    59.024%
Third 1     L. Yukins      58.293%
Third 2     I. DeSzinay    57.209%
Third 2     T. Harting     53.953%
Third 3     I. DeSzinay    53.846%
Third 3     J. Peeters     51.795%

The BLM show is always a tough way to end the season. The best of the best are there to compete in the Championship classes and anybody who didn't qualify already had the sense to hang things up for the year. Well, everyone but me! I couldn't pass up the opportunity for just one more show, especially one conveniently held just a few miles from Frances' house.

All in all I was pleased with how we did and the progress we made through the weekend. I had a feeling this would be a tough show to top 60% so I wasn't too disappointed that it didn't happen for us, though we were tantalizingly close!! My Friday rides were so-so and that evening I watched the video. Our trot and canter work, half-passes, changes, and mediums were all looking pretty good...but our WALK work was hideous!! We both just get wiggly and he feels sooo slow that I end up throwing away my connection to the bit. The message finally got through to me. I must INSIST that he stay round no matter what. I can't worry about "speed" but rather focus on the tempo and don't rush it.

Saturday morning I rode Third 3 for the first time and I am happy to say that my walk work was MUCH improved which contributed to a better test all the way through. At home I had been having great difficulty maintaining the counter-canter to the left after the half-pass, but in this test it went very smoothly. I dare say it was my best test of the weekend, even if the score didn't exactly reflect that. It truly was a smartly-ridden test.

Sunday morning I filled an 8 am scratch in Third 3. In my effort to get more "umph" and pizzaz from Santos I managed to thoroughly irritate him which frustrated me and we sort of grumped our way through the test. We were tense and had a huge glitch when he "stuck" to the rail and took some major convincing to begin the half-pass. We launched off in a diagonal then recovered only briefly. Remind me not to fill any more 8 am scratches!

Santos and I made up and ended on a pleasant note, delivering an accurate but conservative test earning our highest score of the weekend. We packed up our things and took the horses home. Everyone was pooped - people and ponies alike. I was anxious to get home and still had to make the drive to Blacksburg.

My husband, mother-in-law Therese, and George look on.


For a few weeks I had been talking about how, though it had been a great season, I was looking forward to getting "back to normal" for the winter...spending time with my husband, being at home more, catching up on the projects I hadn't gotten to for months, sleeping more. Now that it really was over, I didn't quite know what to do with myself. In the week following the show, I had a business trip that took me up the highway right past Frances'. Normally, I'd have arranged to stop and ride, but this time I just kept on driving. It was really depressing...wait a minute...I don't WANT a break! I was really going to miss the drive, miss having the dogs Bucko and Hoolie greet me at my truck, miss the lessons, miss the frustrations and accomplishments, miss the lunches and dinners with Frances, and most of all, miss that goofball Santos and all his crazy antics.

I figured out that it didn't make any sense to quit cold turkey, at the very least I can try to get up there once a weekend in the hopes that my new-found skills and knowledge won't completely disintegrate over the winter. So after one "normal" weekend, I will be returning to Lexington this Sunday for my first ride in two weeks!

Look for us again next year...we'll be back, and better than EVER!

Thanks, Santos!!


My incredible year would never have been possible without my very loving, understanding and tolerant husband, Robert. He spent many evenings and weekends home alone, drove hours and hours to see me at almost every horse show, financed all those "things" I just couldn't live without, listened to me tirelessly when I had a breakthrough, and listened to me tirelessly when I was totally frustrated! He never questioned why I had to do this. I have a lot of making up to do this winter!!

I owe more than the biggest thank-you to Frances Yeardley, the most wonderful trainer, sports psychologist (!), and friend anyone could ever have! I don't think she had any idea of the degree to which I would be invading every nook and cranny of her life when we got started last year! I can't believe I didn't drive her completely mad with frustration sometimes. She never gave up on me and never let me get down on myself. She has the best attitude and just made me feel good about everything.

Last but not least, Santos! What a wonderful teacher - extraordinarily patient, hard working, and tolerant, trying again and again and again. He taught me about forwardness and connections, rewarding me with throughness and brilliance. Probably the thing I treasure most about my relationship with Santos has less to do with dressage movements, but rather the continuing increase in our trust and understanding. I just remember how big, scary, and unpredictable he used to seem to me. Now he's just unpredictable!! I always felt extremely proud to be riding Santos, even at 18 he is stunning and has so much presence.

Thanks also to the Virginia Dressage Association for providing the scholarship, to my horse Excalibur who was left in the wings, and everyone at the shows who made a newcomer feel right at home (Sarah Evans, Gerd Reuter, Jean Chappel, Jen Hatch, Janna, and many others).

On to Part 5...

Copyright 1998 Cortney Martin and Frances Yeardley
Graphics by Frances Yeardley

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