Monday, September 23, 2013

Elementa Part II, Porcupines, Lynxes and Foxes, Oh My!

       Note:  Some of you may have already received this entry's first addition but it did not contain the YouTube of Tanya, the porcupine. This one does.  Apologies!

  Witnessing Some Upper Level Tests and 
      on to Training Level Test Three

        With Elementa contentedly munching hay, I walked over to the far ring to watch some upper-level Prix Saint George tests.  Some of the rides were lovely and accomplished but others, well, not so much.  Two horses were obviously miserable.  Their riders weren't experienced enough to have good balance and rode their horses off their double bridles, not off their seats.  The series of flying changes flew all over, hindquarters flung one way then the other.  These amateur riders, I thought, should be getting more experience at lower levels.  

       A number of riders fly to Europe to purchase an upper-level dressage horse.  The price for a truly competitive horse 
is tens of thousands of dollars, often higher.  It's rumored that Totilas, the most extraordinary and talented dressage horse ever produced, fetched twenty million.

       What's wrong with someone buying such a highly-trained horse?  After all, isn't the old adage, "advanced horses for green riders, green horses for advanced riders"?  Yes, the best way to learn dressage is on a horse who already knows the movements.  But a rider must learn the basics as well.  If you see something terribly wrong in a horse's performance in the upper-levels, it's most likely a problem with the basics.  However, if you have a conscientious and talented trainer working with you, this arrangement of a horse more trained than its rider can and does work to the horse--and rider's--benefit.  I saw numerous examples of this at Jane Karol's Bear Spot Farm here in nearby Concord.  The owners would have regular lessons and enter their horses at lower levels.  Jane would continue to ride and sometimes compete these horses herself at higher levels.  I had this experience with my Andalusian gelding Navarro.  I would take lessons with Jane, she would school Navarro, and sometimes we'd go to shows.  It was a happy combination for everyone.

        However, some owners think that because they've bought a horse with all the bells and whistles they can sail right by the basics and get to the good upper-level stuff quickly.  What is at the root of this increasing problem?  Surely, money plays a large part.  The sale of an advanced horse means big bucks, not only to his former owner but also to the buyer's trainer, who often gets a commission.  Sometimes it's just an ego-driven mistake in which both horse and rider lose.  Sometimes an owner will just keep changing trainers until she finds the one who recognizes her "skills" and supports her entering higher tests.  I'm happy to report that one upper-level horse I saw at UNH when ridden poorly voted with his feet.  He simply stopped his test and refused to go forward.  The rider had no choice but to excuse herself and leave the ring.  Good for that horse, I say.  
       What's to be done?  Other than receiving accurately abysmal scores from the judge, which one would hope would inform the rider that she has major problems, not very much.  At one point there was an attempt to compel riders themselves to qualify in order to rise up through the levels, but that sadly fell by the wayside. 

       Which brings me back to my own little training level horse and our own little and not-so-little issues:

        Elementa/ Training Level 3

     Here we are performing our second and last test of the day, Training Level Three, marginally more difficult than Training Level Two.  Where's my jacket, you ask?  Unbeknown to me, earlier in the day jackets had been waived due to the heat but I had mine on in the first test.  My one consolation is this:  had I not had my coat on I wouldn't have had a pocket for that cursed hairnet and bobby pins (see previous blog entry).  Though far more relaxed than earlier that day, Elementa, thought halting at X wasn't the thing to do at the time.  Why should she?  After all, she didn't see any letter 'X' and she was sure I didn't either.  Anyway, her eyes had latched onto the attractive grey in the next ring that she was sure was my Andalusian mare Tica, her pasture mate.  I couldn't get her to stand still so that I could salute the judge.  I finally gave up and saluted anyway.  The judge, this time Cindy Canace, didn't return my salute, hoping I'd get my halt.  Not a chance:  we received a paltry "3" out of "10" for failing to establish the halt.

       Despite that, we managed a 60.6.  As was the case with judge Dee Loveless, Cindy Canace's remarks were informed, helpful, and supportive.  Her "further remarks" read:

       "Elegant horse and balanced rider, but horse must learn to self-reach into the bridle.  Often curls behind the connection to avoid making honest connection."

       Yep, curling and dropping behind the vertical is an evasion that riders of Andalusians, Lusitanos, and Fresians know all too well.  Though she is but half-Andalusian, concerning this behavior Elementa seems to listen exclusively to her Spanish half.  To avoid straightness she evades my influence by curling behind the vertical.  In other words, she drops her chin towards her chest so that I lose rein contact with her mouth.  However, with more strength training for her and clearer signals from me, we're getting better, slowly but surely.

       This season Elementa and I have been to six shows, two recognized and four schooling.  She's getting stronger and more confident with each one.  I entered a total of twelve tests, recognized and schooling, and achieved a score average of 64.8%, so I was happy.  I hope to manage two more shows before Mother Nature closes out the season in the northeast.  I only hope the snow gods will be gentler this year.  Riding through twenty inches of snow is not my idea of a fun equestrian sport.  My horses agree.

       Next season I hope to come out at First Level and to perform a Training Level Musical Freestyle.  I've chosen our music and know the BPMs (beats per minute) of Elementa's gaits.  Now on to choreography! 

       Have You Given Porcupines Much Thought?

       Well, I hadn't, other than to associate them with the poor dogs who had the misfortune to meet them up close and personal, with the resulting agony of having their many quills pulled out, one by one, by their owners or vet.  But we need to get to Lulu by way of this gorgeous fellow.  Meet Samson:

         Samson, Canada Lynx                                            Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

           I met this tufted feline, a Canada Lynx, in my veterinarian's waiting room (our cat in tow for annual shots).  We enjoy a parrot at home, so we need a vet licensed to treat exotics, but until Samson I'd only encountered a variety of parrots at his office.  There Samson was, smack in the middle of the waiting room in the biggest crate I'd ever seen.  His human friends were Ed Laquidara and Brian Miller of Animal Adventures, an educational and exotic rescue center located in Bolton, Massachusetts, just two towns away.  I'd seen their van once or twice but didn't know anything about them.

       Now I can say that I've scratched the head of a lynx.  Being a professional photographer and animal lover, I asked if I could come and take pictures of Samson and any other creatures they'd like.  I wouldn't charge but only ask that I be able to maintain the copyright.  Ed told me they did, indeed, need more pictures of Samson, as well as a few more for some of the other residents, including Lulu, their porcupine.  And so we made arrangements, but before I tell you about my extraordinary visit, a word about the reclusive and elusive Canada Lynx.

       Due primarily to habitat degradation, it's estimated that fewer than one thousand Canada Lynxes survive in the lower forty-eight of United States.   They used to inhabit sixteen of our northern states but now are found in only three.   This is a high altitude creature who thrives in mountains on a diet primarily of snowshoe hares.  A lynx can spot a mouse at 250 feet and has excellent hearing.  Their great, round paws serve as snow shoes.

       They are a threatened species, so you cannot hunt Canada Lynx in the lower forty-eight, but you certainly may in Alaska and Canada.  One lodge in British Columbia charges $6000 to go on a seven-day lynx hunt and, of course, you get the pelt.  You can sign up to get a cougar, but that will cost you $8500.  Additionally, there's a wonderful seven-day trap-line offering that features an ever changing smorgasbord of animals.  You might come up with a lynx, a bobcat, a marten, a beaver or any combination of them.   Ah, the genuine thrill of coming across an animal that died a lingering death because of a metal vice clamped down on one of its legs!  

      But hold on, there might be an even a greater thrill.  The creature--a lynx or bobcat, hopefully--might still be alive, so you can witness its terror and futile, tortured attempts to free itself.   Canadian law requires that trap sets be checked at least once every five days.  So, if you're there at the four or five day mark, you could get to see an animal barely able lift its head, its grand ferocity diminished by four days of hunger, thirst, and the pain of a hideously torn up leg.  Since, you, the paying guest, are the very reason that the animal is languishing before you, think of the rush to which you're entitled.  In the long run it's much cheaper than cocaine or heroin.  As in the case with many serial killers--Jeffrey Dahmer springs to mind--you get to keep a portion of your hunt as a trophy.  This permits you to brag to others, and to re-experience the event time and again.

       What, you say, you are hopelessly urban and drawn only to gentrified metropolitan life?  Well, purveyors of lynx fur have something for you, too.  Wearing a lynx coat is a great statement about who you are and what you value.  On the Internet I found that a new, Dior full-length lynx coat can be had for twelve thousand, a run-of-the mill second hand one goes for a paltry eight thousand.  Take a look on the web and tell me who looks better, the female human stick wearing one, or Samson.  You know who has my vote.

     And then some people like to have lynxes as pets.  A charming little lynx kitten can be had for $1,700.  It's recommended that if you plan on having a dog or cat that they be at your domicile by the time your new kitten arrives, so that they can bond.  Otherwise, you might later kiss that dog and domestic cat au revoir.  I read a number of testimonials by lynx owners and saw many pictures of what seemed true friendship between lynxes, cats, dogs, and humans.  Still, I'm not convinced that it's in the best interest of anyone to have such a large wild creature in a domestic setting.  You'll see what I mean when you watch this YouTube:


Fortunately, there are such educational places as Animal Adventures, where great care is taken to ensure the physical and mental health of animals such as Samson.  Here's a shot of a contemplative "Sammy," as he's known to friends.

    Samson                                                                                    Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       While I'm on the subject of fur as fashion, please meet another cherished resident of Animal Adventures, the beautiful Sheeba:

                        Sheba                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       Sheeba is what's known as a ranch fox.  Does that mean she  was once the esteemed guest of the Ponderosa or King Ranch in Texas?  Nope.  It doesn't even mean that she lives on a ranch filled with many foxes.  What it means is this:  she lived in a crate by herself, or in a pen with three our four other foxes.  Foxes are choosy about their companions, and to make it to first base with one the first requirement is that you be a fox.   Foxes are afraid of humans.  And in these miserable cages there is no place to run and certainly no place to hide.  Many of these foxes go nuts in this artificial and cruel environment.  They often engage in neurotic behaviors, the worst of which is cannibalism.  This becomes a problem for their jailers because a damaged pelt is not the desired end-product.  

       At least ranch foxes don't have to endure this tortured incarceration for long.  At the age of nine months, when their fur is at its most luxurious, and when they are nearly the size of a full-grown adult, a wire is attached to their anus.  And they are electrocuted.  Someone intervened on Sheeba's behalf.  She now resides in a large yard with this gorgeous red fox.  Meet Isaac.

         Red Fox Isaac                                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       Isaac found his way to Animal Adventures by way of a human  who thought keeping him as a pet was a bright idea.  It wasn't.  Foxes mark their territory with urine that smells akin to skunks.  I once went into an empty little cottage where a vixen and her seven kits had set up shop in a crawl space underneath the floor boards.  The stench was horrendous.  Also, foxes are playfully destructive.  If you allow them into your home you can kiss all soft furnishings--mattresses, chairs, sofa cushions, and pillows--good-bye.  A third reason not to have a fox as a pet is that a fox really doesn't want to be your pet.  If you want to enjoy the company of a fox, you should locate a den and spend many hours sitting quietly nearby.   At the very least, the fox will eventually determine that you're a fairly benign part of their landscape, and you will be rewarded. 

       Here's a shot of five of the seven darling, curious, but odiferous critters that lived under the cottage:

   Fox Kits/Tyler Cottage                                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

Looking as if she'd just stepped out of a fairy tale, Mama Vixen appeared just minutes later:

            Mystical MV                                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       A gaggle of geese, a murder of crows, an exhilaration of larks, a herd of horses, a pride of lions, a colony of ants, a court of kangaroos--those are the group names of the aforementioned.  What are foxes called?  A skulk.  That's neither nice nor accurate.  Skulk implies that a certain hunting behavior is evil or cowardly.  The playful little kits didn't skulk and neither did their hard-working mother.  She hunted but she did not skulk.  A farmer may project evil intent on an animal that can quickly decimate livestock, but a fox doesn't think its hunting behaviors are evil.  They are just doing their best for themselves and their family.  So how about a fiesta of foxes?  That's what you'll see when you encounter a family of foxes that either doesn't know or doesn't mind that you're watching.

              Isaac/Red Fox                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       Poor Isaac didn't want to be someone's pet, but I don't know his whole story.  No doubt his life was saved.  If he could communicate and understand what had happened to him--and what could have happened--would he have chosen his current situation?  I don't know, of course.  He's much shyer and wilder than Sheeba, who let me scratch her ears and took an egg, kindly supplied by Brian, from my hand.  Isaac came out of his den only to see what I was up to, and I was sure he wanted me gone.   I did manage to use my telephoto to get a few decent shots, but Isaac didn't like the click of my camera, and I was sorry to have caused him stress.

       Finally, here is the enchanting and winsome Lulu:

              Lulu                                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       Not until I met Lulu did I understand how adorable porcupines are.  Of course, to get to know them you require a pair of good, thick gloves.  Here is Lulu enjoying a grape supplied by her handler and friend Calvin:

           Lulu eating a grape                                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       Requesting yet another:

               Lulu wants another grape                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

With friend Calvin: 

                           Lulu and Calvin                                    Ainslie  Sheridan copyright 2013

       Such still shots can give you only some idea of these wonderful rodents and the true affection Lulu expressed in Calvin's arms.  So, I found this YouTube for you:

   Here are a few miscellaneous facts about porcupines you might find interesting.   It was long thought that porcupines had cornered the market on rodent longevity.  In zoos some have made it to twenty.  However, it was recently discovered that the naked vole rat takes the title with an ability to live thirty years.

       Baby porcupines are called porcupettes .  A group of porcupines is called a prickle.

       There are numerous other wonderful animals at Animal Adventures, so if you find yourself in the Boston area have a visit.
If you live in the Boston area have them to your school.  They'll bring all sorts of reptiles that kids just love.

       In a few days I'm off to Montana with my husband to visit my son Alec, his terrific dog Digby, a Staffordshire terrier and former resident of Yonkers Animal Shelter in New York.  I'm taking my camera and will be on the lookout for another elusive creature, a wild mustang.  That will take a lot of luck.

       Talk with you soon, and thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly:








Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Young Horse Elementa And Her First Recognized Dressage Competition

                            Seven-month-old Elementa          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

Elementa Grows Up--Finally!
     Here is Elementa the day after she arrived at Windflower from Florida four plus years ago.  Quite a winter shock for this seven-month-old filly.  Elementa was her dam's first foal, and as many horse people know, the first foal is often smaller than either parent.  Her sire was 16.3 and her dam 16.2.  (As a reminder, a hand is four inches, and a horse's height is measured from the withers, or shoulder, to the ground.)  About fifteen years ago I had a remarkable little show jumper whose parents were 16.2 and 15.3.   By the time that mare was four she had filled out, but not up, topping off only at 15.2.  Elementa's body by the same age, however, seemed more akin to that of an angel fish, almost two-dimensional.  Time in the Sunshine state of Disney had to have been responsible for her Peter Pan Syndrome.  She just wouldn't grow up.

      It took five years for her to develop enough strength and stature to train in earnest.  Elementa is half-Andalusian, half American Saddlebred.  While some horses compete in dressage at the age of three (too young, I think) or four, I decided to wait an extra year.  Even now she is of delicate build and at 15.2+ in the dressage world is considered a pipsqueak.  (Yet, afficionados of western riding seem untroubled by a two hundred pound man doing sliding stops, rollbacks, and spins on a fifteen-hand Quarter horse.)  But in dressage someone like me who is  5'7" and weighs 148 is an aesthetic problem.  I've been on the "Elementa Diet" for almost a year now and have lost nearly twenty pounds.  Ten or so more to go.  There's not much to be done about my height courtesy of Father Time's invidious aging process.  I used to be 5'8" but have lost an inch due to all those little spinal micro-fractures.  In the case of both Elementa and our rescue Dolly, who is even smaller at 14.3, it would be nice to be shorter but I'm not about to give up my calcium pills and Stonyfield yogurt.

Baby Elementa
        Baby Elementa's First Snow                                             Anne Dykiel copyright 2013

       Another baby shot:

            Elementa at 6 months                                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

        At one and a half:

     Elementa age one and a half                                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       At three and a half:

     Elementa age three and a half                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

    Four and a half:

    Elementa at four and a half                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

    Elementa Fall 2012                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013


        And just yesterday taking a nap with her companeros Dolly and Logan:

    Elementa, Dolly, and Logan                                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       And in case  you didn't notice that Dolly is using Elementa
as a support for her head, here is close up:

          Dolly resting on Elementa's rump                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       Between the annoying clicks of my camera and serving as 
a pillow for Dolly, Elementa begins to think about getting out 
of bed:


        Decision made:

      Because Elementa whacked her with her tail upon her ascension, Dolly considered putting thoughts of an unmolested 
nap behind her:

         Dolly 17 Sep 14                                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       But not before a nice back scratch from Mother Earth:

   Dolly 17 Sep 13                                                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       As the years passed, I began to wonder if Elementa had been a twin.  Horse twins are rare, and horse twins that survive gestation even rarer.   The odds of both surviving are one in ten thousand.  And if they do survive, one or both will tend to be on the runty side. 

      Finally last spring Elementa began to muscle up.  I had a trainer jump her to help develop her back muscles so she could bear weight more easily.  Here she is at age four being ridden by Triston at Cornerstone Farm in New Hampshire:

   Elementa at Cornerstone Farm                                                    Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       The etymological origin of "dressage" is found in the French word "dresseur," which, simply translated, means "training."  But it is ever so much more than that.  Dressage is the highest expression of  training in which horse and rider perform a series of predetermined and often balletic movements. 

       The University of New Hampshire Dressage Show this past July was Elementa's first recognized show.   Whatever her scores, good, bad, or indifferent, they would be recorded by the United States Dressage Federation and accessible to anyone who went online.  This is particularly important if a horse is ever put up for sale.

       However, that day Elementa nearly failed to get a single hoof in the arena.  Located in Durham, New Hampshire, UNH is normally an hour and twenty minutes drive for me, but I ran into a hideous traffic jam due to highway construction.  It took nearly forty-five minutes to go ten miles.  When going to shows I  always allow an extra hour of travel time for exactly this reason.  I did have just under an hour to get ready so I was still okay time-wise.

        As soon as I parked the trailer  I let down the windows so Elementa could see where she was, as well as get some fresh air.  It was in the high 80s and humid.  I then walked over to check-in to get our number, which you see in the photo.   However, after much thumbing through by one of the volunteers, she declared there was no envelope for me.   I was sent to the other side of the tent to another volunteer with another box, which contained the "naughty riders" incomplete entries.  

        I was certain I'd sent in all that was required--Elementa's and my Dressage Federation and United States Equestrian Federation numbers and signed the entry form in all the right places, as well as enclosed a copy of her Coggins Report, which states she was tested for and found free of Equine Infectious Anemia.  This blood test must be taken annually and is required of every horse in the United States who leaves its respective properties.  The volunteer, however, informed me that I had not sent in my Coggins.

       Uh-oh!  You cannot compete in any show, recognized or unrecognized, without a Coggins Report.  I usually keep copies of all my horses' Coggins in my truck.  If you get stopped on the road (very rare) and don't have one, you're in a lot of trouble.  This was my first show of the year, and I was sure I hadn't remembered to put copies in my truck.  I anxiously asked if there was anything I could do.  The volunteer said I'd have to talk to the Show Secretary.  She pointed to a woman  earnestly engaged in conversation with one of the judges.

      I glanced down at my watch.  Tick-tock, tick tock!  I now had only forty minutes to get myself dressed, Elementa tacked up, used to the show grounds, and schooled in the warm-up ring.  Not enough time.  I hadn't yet competed enough in the season to have a handle on my own show nerves, now significantly escalating.  Coupled with Elementa's own lack of show experience this did not bode well. 

       While I stood waiting, the volunteer glanced down at my inadequate folder.

       "Are you the Ainslie Sheridan who wrote Trophies ?"
       "Why, yes I am." The thinnest of  silver linings appeared on the fringes of my darkening show cloud.

       "My mom gave it to me for Christmas when I was fifteen years old."

       "Really?"  This lady was well into her thirties so I was pleased she remembered  it.  Silver lining slightly bigger.
       "Yep.   She read it first though and marked out tons of paragraphs with a black magic marker, you know, that sex stuff.  I tried to make the words out by holding a few of the pages under a lamp but that didn't work.  Anyway, that's why I remember your book."

       Adios silver lining. 

       Five more minutes elapsed with no sign of the Secretary ending her conversation, so I decided to run back to my trailer. Maybe, just maybe, in a fit of uncharacteristic planning and foresight, I had put a copy of Elementa's Coggins in my truck.  And wouldn't you know it, I had!  I flew back to that "naughty rider" section and claimed my packet.

         After unpacking the trailer, I unloaded Elementa, offered her a drink of water, then tacked her up.  Only eighteen minutes before my test.  I chucked off my sneakers and pulled on my boots.  However as soon as I got the zipper of one halfway the lower half opened up.  I started again but the same thing happened.  The teeth of the zipper would not stay together.  I could  button the snap at the top but there was a three-inch gap that would give the judge, and anyone else who happened to be watching, a good look at a purple sock sporting a pattern of little pink, yellow and blue horses.  Miraculously, I had a roll of duct tape in the dressing room.  I wrapped enough to close my boot but the judge would still get a glimpse of my taste in socks.

        Other boot on as well, I grabbed my helmet, threw on my coat, and rushed to the warm-up arena where they had a nice little mounting block.  I put my foot in the stirrup and was on.  Elementa's ears were pricked forward, alert eyes taking in an event and venue she'd never seen before.  I asked her to walk on loose reins so she could begin to relax.

       She was quite calm on one side of the arena but voted with now fixed hooves that we should not venture over to the side which bordered a forest.  Her DNA had informed her that her kind was safe on wide open plains.  There horses could see predators well in the distance.  But dense tree growth was another matter.  There horses expect such dark places to harbor all manner of sharped-toothed carnivores--wolves, coyotes, feral dog packs, dragons,  velociraptors-- you name it, they think it's in there.  However,  Elementa allowed the good behavior of the more veteran horses to influence her.  Together with some familiar trot work, she gradually began to loosen up and calm down. 

     Not poor me, however!  My problems weren't potential predators but actual and ongoing wardrobe malfunctions.  My hair--nicely tied up in a bun, and secured in a classy little black net--prevented my helmet from fitting properly.  Pushed forward and down, the visor pressed on my sunglasses and hurt my nose as well as hampering my eyesight.  I tugged down on the bun.  The helmet sat better, my nose was no longer in pain, and I could now see.  But the net I was wearing got caught in the velcro closure of my stock tie.  At that point my only alternative was to pull the bun out and shove all my now untethered hair into the helmet.  Since Elementa was too excited to stand still, I asked one of the onlookers to hold the reins for me.  All my horses are trained to stand quietly once there is a hand on their reins.  The reins are kept loose so the horse feels no pressure.  But this well-meaning woman thought the best way to control my edgy mount was to keep a death-grip, not only on the reins, but on the cheek piece of her bridle as well.  Since horses learn from the release of pressure, Elementa expected a loose hold on her reins in exchange for her good behavior.  When she failed to get this she pulled back from the offending hands, reared up, and spun.  I was unseated but managed to stay on.  

      With a thank-you I gave up on my assistant.  With Elementa now free to take an unguided tour of the warm-up ring, I finally managed to get my hair out of the bun.  But the dominoes continued to fall, or rather my stock tie did.  When I tugged on the hair net to separate it from my tie its velcro closure opened and, together with its beautiful art deco 1930s horse pin and the offending hairnet, fell to the ground.  Seeing my plight, a ring steward ran, picked up my tie, and held Elementa--gently and correctly--allowing me to flip my hair under my helmet then stick the offending hair net and bobby pins (why did I need to use so many?) into my pocket.  I then got the stock tie back in its original but now unthreatened position.

      "Number 72 you're next!" another ring steward called.

       A glance at my watch told me I still had eight minutes before the official time of my test.

       "We're running early."

         Sometimes, often due to one or more competitors scratching or simply not showing up, the judge is ready earlier, but if the rider has not yet finished warming up there's no obligation to go in.  

       "I'm not ready."

       "Okay, you've got seven minutes."

       Only seven minutes?!   I hadn't even cantered yet, much less practiced halts.  And as soon as I asked Elementa to canter, my sunglasses began to slip  down my sweaty nose!  I had to get rid of them.  My coat pocket already bulged with hair net and bobby pins so I decided to pitch the glasses into the edge of the woods.  I didn't have time to trot to the bleachers and beg someone to hold them. 

       Not wanting to startle Elementa  (she had accepted the woods  but I didn't want to push my luck),  I leaned over her shoulder as far as I could so I could lightly toss my glasses down into the branches of a bush.  Not a good idea.  The glasses hit the top of the bush then slowly, erratically, and noisily made their way down to the ground.  Elementa did not react favorably.  She reared up, and because I had been leaning forward, her neck slammed into my face.  Ouch!

      When you are in pain and feeling dizzy it is not a great idea to  canter, but canter we did.  In the two remaining minutes wee did as many trot-walk transitions as we could.

       "Seventy-two, you're on deck."

    As soon as the preceding rider indicates by a final halt and salute that her test is finished and begins to exit the arena the on-deck horse and rider may warm-up along the perimeter just outside the actual arena.  A bell, a whistle, or a horn from the judge signals that you have forty-five seconds to begin your test

       Yet another wardrobe malfunction.  Wiping the sweat off my forehead as I began to exit the warm-up ring, I felt spikes of hair sticking out from the front of my helmet.  Scores of split ends from my flipped up hair had escaped making me look like an aged punk rock star who'd decided to dress up for Halloween as a dressage rider.  Fortunately, with a couple of clumsy pokes of my now-gloved fingers, split ends returned to their place of hiding.

       Two of the three dressage rings were sand, one grass.  Our first test of the day was on grass.  I had never schooled Elementa on grass so I was a bit concerned.  However, my problems with grass started earlier just as we exited the sand warm-up ring and headed toward our designated arena.  Elementa determined that New Hampshire grass, in all likelihood, was evil and needed to be approached with great caution.  Translated:  at numerous points she refused to go forward, backed up, spun around, and snorted.  

       We did, however, make it to the arena but that's where Elementa laid down the law, or at least her version of it.  The grass at the entrance to the arena had been worn away by earlier rides and it had just been watered, leaving a few puddles.  The earth was now a color my trusty steed had never seen--gray.  It was stone dust often used underneath arena footings to help with drainage.   It's underneath my sand and shaving arena but quite invisible. 

       As far as Elementa was concerned this slippery gray stuff might suck her into oblivion.  Despite a variety of entreaties from me--soft voice, loving strokes, an insistent leg and gentle taps from my dressage whip--she absolutely and literally put her hooves down.  She was not going in.  

       Fortunately, a nice bystander offered to lead me past this natural obstacle.  Other than excusing myself from the test,  I had no other option.   Remarkably, Elementa responded to her calming leadership and, though she leapt over the tiny puddles, we were in.  We trotted around the outskirts of the arena but walked when we came near the judge, Dee Loveless, seated in a small wooden booth.  Elementa needed to take a long slow look at this contraption. Otherwise she might think she was about to be attacked by a humongous jack-in-the-box.  The judge and scribe (a scribe records the judge's comments and scores) greeted us, conveying sufficient lack of predatory intent to Elementa, who remained as she had been, wary but obedient.

       The bell rang and Elementa and I trotted in.  Remarkably, the test went better than I expected.  Translated:  we finished with both of us intact, physically and psychologically.  And there were no more moments of high drama.  Our final score was 62.69, so I was more than pleased.  The scores and comments were truthful, helpful, and supportive.  "Further remarks" at the bottom of the test read:

       "Horse has potential for higher scores.  Tension causing problems today.  Some good moments.  Nice canter."

       We came in second, which I'd hardly expected.  A red ribbon is lovely but the judge's scores and comments are what really interest dressage riders.  In jumping neither your riding nor your horse is assessed in such detail.  If you knock down a pole it's four faults, a refusal four faults, on the second refusal an additional eight, and at the third you're out.  In equitation and hunter classes you need to rely on yourself and your coach to figure out why you did or did not do well.  But in dressage it's all spelled out loud and clear in multiple numerical components and written comments.  I could read this test,  see what I could have done that day to get a few more points, and what needs work in the long run.  Even if you know what needs to be improved upon, a judge's confirmation that you are on the right track is great to have.

       In the photo below, Elementa and I are about to execute a transition from canter to trot in a Training Level Test.  This is the lowest level of dressage, and dressage is the highest expression of equine training:

       Back at the trailer I chucked off my wet dressage coat, tossed my helmet, and un-duct-taped myself from my boot.  I stripped off Elementa's tack, sponged her off, and let her sip water.  I then grabbed a big bottle of Gatorade and took Elementa into a nearby field so she could graze.  What a day it had been so far!  We still had one more test--slightly more complex--but not for three hours.  I could set Elementa up in the trailer with her hay and a battery-powered fan.  (Horses have big bodies and so let off a lot of heat, and on warm days trailers can get uncomfortable.)   Then I could have lunch and regroup.

         Next week I'll continue our day at  Elementa's first recognized show as well as introduce you to a charming lady named Lulu who just happens to be a porcupine.

       See you then.  Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly--


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