Monday, December 5, 2011

Dipping my toe in the big pond.

You know the old saying - big frog in a little pond or a little frog in a big pond - well I have never been one to be OK with staying in the little pond. I may be crazy, or stupid, or a gluten for punishment (or a little bit of all three) but every time I reach a threshold I want to push beyond it rather than staying happy and comfortable with where I am.

Well a few weeks ago, my new horse Uiver and I dipped our toe in the big pond and I would like to say we were little frogs, but when you compete Dressage in Southern California -(land of the former Olympian/world class rider) - I would say that we were more like guppies in the ocean. But non the less we survived our first competition at the first rung of FEI - Prix St. George. For those not familiar with the levels of dressage, Prix St. George is the first of 3 levels in FEI (Federation Equestrian Internationale). Although I don't have any delusions about going to the Olympics or world cup, I have dreamed about making it to FEI for many years now.

This is where I go back to not being satisfied, or smart enough, to stay in the little pond. As some of you might remember, I just bought Uiver this past June and, especially in Dressage, it usually takes a while (generally 6 months to a year) to "click" and form a solid partnership with a new horse. I bought Uiver through a very well respected trainer in San Diego named David Blake. I have known David for several years and was very happy when I saw that he was brokering the horse because I knew that he was honest and ethical which we all know is somewhat rare in the horse world. After buying Uiver I decided to train with David for several reasons. I knew that I would need help getting to know this extremely talented horse as well as further both of ours education and since David had already been training Uiver for the preceding 8 months, and Uiver clearly liked David, it was a logical choice. In addition, the other pluses were that David trains out of a gorgeous facility, Arroyo Del Mar, with great footing, which is also the home of Stephen Peters with whom David trains. I cannot afford to ride with Stephen and am certainly not at a level (yet) that would merit his high level of input, but it is nice to know that although David is very accomplished in his own right, there is also some influence from Stephen (who is indisputably the top U.S. dressage rider) as well.

The other unexpected positive has been that everyone at Arroyo, has been gracious, kind and supportive and make me feel welcome every time I am there for a lesson. There is such a happy, positive vibe to the place it is no wonder that all of the horses seem so happy to work and that the trainers are so successful.

After buying Uiver I started a routine of hauling to David once a week for lessons. Uiver and I clicked and bonded quicker than my wildest dreams and in August David suggested that we go to our first show and try our hand at 3rd and 4th level. Part of me thought David was a little crazy but the other part trusted him and felt confident in Uiver so to the show we went. Well I could not have dreamed a better result and would not even put it in a book because no one would think it plausible. Uiver and I rode 3 classes over 2 days, Third Level Test 3 and Fourth Level Test 1 on 2 different days. We won all 3 classes with scores of 70% at 3rd and a 66 and a 68% at 4th. What all these numbers really mean is that I was walking around the show in shock pinching myself to know that this really was my horse.

Uiver was amazing. As you all know, you never fully know a horse when you buy them and never really know how they will handle the stress of competition until you go. Uiver was a gentlemen in the often hectic warm-up and the minute he realized we were heading to the ring for our test, he puffed himself up even taller, pricked his ears and put on a show. The moment we started down the center line it was as if he said, watch me and my new Mom. The test was not without a few mistakes, they rarely are, but it was one of the best of my career especially considering we had only been a pair for about 2 months.

So, instead of staying comfortably at 4th level for a little while, David thought we should try our hand at Prix St. George just 3 months later. How did we do, you say? Well, it was not perfect by any stretch but we did not make fools out of ourselves either. All in all it was a respectable start but it would have been even better if I could count right. The dreaded "Tempi" change (a series of flying changes on a designated stride count) was my nemesis and as a result we only got a 58% one day but improved to a 64% the second which earned a 5th place in the class. Not horrible but we definitely have room for improvement.

Am I crazy? Should we have stayed comfortable at 4th for a while? Uiver does not seem to care one way or the other. He is happy to work as long as he knows there will be grass pasture time or a chance to play with his pony afterward. Uiver has become very attached to Michele's daughter's pony Monty and they either play or take naps together when they are not being worked or turned out. They are a bit of an odd couple since Uiver is 16.3 hands and Monty is 14.1 but they are happy and that is all that matters.

I do plan to stay at Prix St. George for most of 2012 and our winter training will focus on getting the count right on Tempi changes and refining everything else. With a little luck I hope to be a little less of a guppie in the ocean and maybe even make it to little frog status. No matter whether the sharks get us or not, I am just happy to be living the dream.


Kelly (ridegroomfeed) said...

Gorgeous photos! He's just gorgeous.

You are not crazy at all, I think you have chosen the best course of action. Go for it.

Dreaming said...

I say, "Go for it!". Why stay where it is easy peasy (yeah, right!) and comfy. Why not push and stretch! I know I get far more satisfaction when I attempt something that is a challenge, even if I don't perform as well as I might at a lower, easier level.

Redneck Geologist said...

Good for you! Reaching that level is quite an accomplishment in itself! Gorgeous horse! Go for it! I think you are a bigger fish than you think!

Francesca Prescott said...

Wow, Terri, that is AMAZING!!! Seriously amazing! I know how hard it is to do what you are doing, and I'm so impressed by what you've achieved in so little time. What a fabulous horse he is. How old is he? He sounds so much like Kwintus, who would also puff himself out and turn into a total show off at competitions. Thank you for the lovely photos, you both look fantastic. I'm envious of you riding in such a gorgeous environment; the centre where you take lessons sounds fabulous, and how cool to be working with someone who works with Stephen Peters! You'll soon nail those tempi changes, I'm sure, and be winning St Georges in 2012. Lots of love from me :)

Terri Rocovich said...

Kelly, Dreaming and Redneck Geologist - THANK YOU so much for the words of encouragement. I have wondered weather I was pushing a little too much so your support is a big boost. I am of the age (soon to be 53 OMG) that I feel that now is the time and maybe my last chance to see how far I can go.

Terri Rocovich said...

Francesca I am so glad you saw my post because I know you understand what is involved in riding at this level. I do think that Uiver sound like Kwintus. Uiver is a 10 year old Dutch Warmblood by Sandro Hit. He is a lot like his father, very sensitive and a little on the hot side but a bigger giver.That is a little bit of the problem with the Tempis because if I don't get the timing right he changes on 3 instead or 4 or 5 if I aid too late. We (or I) just need practice, practice, practice. And I will say that, like your experience with Carl Hester, Stephen Peters is a humble, kind and gracious man inspite of his super star status. I love watching him and David ride; its just magic.

Alison said...

Loved your post, Terri. I visualize you and Uiver in the photos doing your tempe changes while Relish and I are slogging down the muddy path--and you inspire me!

jenj said...

Wow, Uiver is a handsome, handsome boy and you two make a beautiful pair. I'm so glad you're having fun with him, at whatever level is comfortable for you!

I also have to send huge KUDOS for wearing a helmet. I love that you're being such a wonderful role model as an FEI competitor! And I am also SO impressed that Uiver's head is not behind the vertical. It's disappointing to see that even at low-level schooling shows, but the outline that you two demonstrate and his obvious joy and enthusiasm for his work is just lovely. Bravo!

I wish you both much success in 2012!

Laura Crum said...

Terri--Congratulations! Your big bay horse (my favorite color) is beautiful, and I am so impressed with what you have achieved. Thanks for a very inspiring post.

Funder said...

Congratulations! You two look beautiful together and so happy. A great score for your first PSG too!

Terri Rocovich said...


Thank you so much for the compliments. You obviously know dressage and I appreciate that you noticed the little details about Uiver's carriage and his great attitude. I hate it as well when I see horse's heads cranked behind the vertical and I think this whole "rollkur" style of riding is not only crap but also abusive in some cases. Thank also for noticing the helmut. As a Pony Club instructor and examiner I take my position as role model and a mentor very seriously. I have worn a helmut in dressage for years simply because it is the smart thing to do. I know that Uiver would never purposely hurt me but he is 16.3 hands and we all know how dicey the warm-up ring can be. Again, thank you so much for your kind words!

Terri Rocovich said...

Alison, thanks for the comment. Uiver and I worked on Tempis this mroning and the were good. Now we just need to get them in competition. I am sorry for all the icky weather you east coasters are getting. I hope it is no too horrible cold but at least you might have a white christmas!

And Laura I am glad you were inspired. That means a lot from a horse woman with your experience.

And thank you Funder as well. I am hoping for a 65 or higher at our next show in January. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Laura Crum said...

Terri--My experience is nothing compared to yours. But thanks for saying that--makes me feel good.