Monday, March 11, 2013

Taking the bad with the good.

By Terri Rocovich

Taking the Bad with the Good

As many of you know, competing with my horse Uiver has taken center stage in my life since I purchased him in June of 2011. Like any horse and rider partnership we have had our ups and downs. At some competitions everything seems to work like clockwork, our timing is on, we are in tune with each other and our dressage tests flow in perfect, or almost perfect, harmony. Other competitions seem to be doomed at every level, bad stalls, things running late, undesirable weather conditions, and Uiver and I clearly not on the same page.

Since the beginning of our competition season last November, Uiver and I have experienced both extremes. As many of you might remember, we culminated our 2012 competition season with a respectable fourth place finish in Prix St. George Open at the USDF Region 7 Dressage Championships which was very sweet icing on the cake of a very fun 2012.

With this success, the trainer I work with, David Blake, decided that Uiver and I should move up a level from Prix St. George to Intermediare 1 (Int.1). So we had our first show at Int.1 in November with only the goal of accomplishing mistake free tests; which is not always easy at this level especially considering tempi changes every 2nd stride, a medium trot to walk transition and full canter pirouettes followed by a flying change. There is a lot to accomplish with movements coming up very fast. Uiver was fabulous at the show and we did better than I could have even dream with scores in the mid to high 60s and winning our classes all three days of the show.

Our next show was in January at the same show facility, a place that Uiver clearly likes, and inspite of cold and windy weather, he was an absolute trooper. The classes were bigger with tougher competition but we still earned a 4th , a 2nd and a 1st in our classes over the 3 day show. David had decided that we needed to start preparations to compete at the CDI level which means you do the first day at Prix St. George (PSG), the second at Intermediare 1 and the third (at the championships) an Intermediare freestyle. This combination of 2 different tests can be tricky if you have a horse that likes to memorize tests, like Uiver does, because the horse can become confused if they anticipate a movement from one test and you are performing the other.

So at the January show, Uiver and I did PSG the first day with one mistake in the tempi changes, but with still a solid score of 66.9. The next day we did Int.1 and had a relatively mistake free test with another score of 66.9. Needless to say I was elated and so was David but the best was yet to come. The judge for my class on the last day was Axel Steiner, a well known and respected “O” judge who has judged at numerous international level competitions. The weather over that weekend had been freakishly cold, especially for southern California, with temps in the high 20s and low 30s. My class on the last day went fairly early with a 9:10 ride time and it was only 32 when we were warming up. Uiver took it all in stride, was as settled as I have ever seen him, and simply went through the practice of our movements like a true professional. The test itself could not have gone better and when we were through David looked at me and said “Wow that was a really nice ride; you better get your FEI Passport in order and time to file a Declaration of Intent.”

“Declaration of Intent?” I asked, not knowing what he was talking about. “Yea, he said, Intent to qualify for the National Championships.” I looked at him dumbfounded and this was all before we even saw what the score was which was even more astonishing! Uiver and I had scored a 71.8, winning the class. The next week in our lesson I asked David if he was serious about us doing a CDI and filing the Declaration of Intent; did he really think that was an even remotely attainable goal, did he think we were ready.

David looked at me and said “You scored a 71 from an Olympic judge at your second show ever at Int. 1.”, “What do you think?”

So I filed all the paperwork, got Uiver’s FEI passport recorded in preparation for entering our first CDI in February at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. A CDI is like PSG and Int.1 on steroids. Test levels of PSG up to Grand Prix fall under the umbrella of the FEI (Federation Equestrian International) but a CDI (Concours Dressage International) is a competition recognized and run under the FEI construct. CDI’s are rated from 1 to 5* and level 1 to 5, depending on the numbers of championships they are qualifiers for and the level of judges used. You have 5 judges of the “I’ or “O” caliber that evaluate your ride with the highest of scrutiny from every possible angle.

Uiver and I jumped into the deep end from the start with our first CDI being a 3*. Being in Southern California, land of the dressage Olympian, I did not have much choice. Most the CDIs in this area are at least 3* and level 5 qualifiers. So with all that comes the big guns of competition like Steffen Peters, Gunther Seidel, Jan Ebeling, Christine Traurig, Kathleen Raine, Sue Blinks and my personal favorite, David Blake – the trainer I work with. I could name many more intimidating names, most of which have competed for years at the national and international level. And then there is little old me, the new kid on the block just trying to not make a fool out of myself or my horse.

Uiver and I waiting for our first formal CDI jog/inspection.

Well I would like to say that our CDI debut was a spectacular, fairy tale showing but alas, it was not. Uiver was spooky and distracted in windy conditions and since he has gotten so fit and strong in the last year, he can be hard to control let alone engage for movements when he is in that frame of mind. To make matters worse, in the middle of our PSG test, a spectator walking with the aid of a walker, walked past the arena, moving slowly as would be expected, but it freaked Uiver out and our extended trot became more of an extended bolt across the diagonal to get as far away from the old man with the walker as he possibly could. And the rest of the test proceeded with Uiver being tense and looking for the killer walker. The poor result was a score of 60. Our Int. 1 test the next day was a little bit better, but with a score of 64, nothing of the caliber we had achieved the previous month.
So Uiver and I licked our wounds of defeat and regrouped for the next CDI in Del Mar this past weekend. A better result?? Not so much. The weather gods have not been with us and after a week of gorgeous weather, a storm moved in and stayed for nearly the entire duration of the show. As a result, all of the FEI classes plus the warm-up had to be crammed into the one indoor ring. Uiver is fine with indoor rings but not great in cramped quarters coupled with tons of scary distractions and cold, wet weather. It was all pretty much a recipe for disaster. So the result was a 63 for PSG and a 60 for Int. 1. Again, not quite the performance I was hoping for. All of my fellow competitors and especially David were very encouraging and consoling but I am disappointed none the less. Before our Int.1 test, Steffen was walking next to me on Legolas and he said “I am feeling a 74 for today.” I replied, “For you?” (Which would be a step down since he had gotten a 78 the day before.) “He said, no for you!” and looked at me with a smile. I replied, “Well that sounds good to me, from your mouth to God’s ears.” And we both proceeded with our riding.

Now, let me say that I was not competing against Steffen on Legolas, but he rides Legolas twice on competition days so he was working him in advance of his Grand Prix test later in the day. I do, unfortunately, have to compete against Steffen on another horse named Vaya Con Dios, which is an up and coming star, especially with Steffen on him.

So, with encouragement from the master, I started my warm-up on Uiver and it quickly devolved into him spooking, bolting, spinning and bucking to get away from the many evil goblins that he was sure resided in the warm-up arena. At one point he spun around, spooking at a spectator and nearly ran into Legolas of all horses. Really, Uiver, run over a multi-million dollar world class Grand Prix horse! Steffen just laughed unaffected and said “yehaw” when Uiver bucked after my attempt to correct him. David said I was riding him for everything it was worth, but by the time Uiver was finished with all of his antics in the warm-up had had little left for the show ring so our test lacked engagement and he was a ton of bricks in the contact.

Uiver and I with my neice.

So we ended the weekend licking our wounds of defeat yet again. When I got back to the barn I looked at Uiver and said “I love you but I don’t like you much right now.” Uiver looked at me with a disgusted unapologetic expression probably because he thinks his behavior was fully justified.

 So what is the plan for the future?? Well it is two fold. Number one, I am going to start working out with a personal trainer, because clearly I need to be stronger to deal with my very fit horse and number two; Uiver and I are going to Arroyo for a 4 day boot camp with David before our next CDI the end of this month. Beyond that it is all about mileage and exposure and a healthy dose of patience for both of us.

How about you all? I am sure that many of you have experienced similar scenarios. Any pearls of wisdoms and words of advice??


Unknown said...

My mustang is crazy in new places. You can trail ride her through herds of cows and scary trees and things jumping out of bushes no matter where or what, and she is calm as can be, but put her in a unfamiliar arena and she goes crazy!

Some days she calms down easily and some days its a struggle to get more than two good steps out of her. We only do low level gymkhanas right now, but each time I pretty much go in with the intent to get her calm and responsive, and thats it! I've only been working with her about 6 months, but so far thats been as far as we've gotten, calm and responsive in a new arena and thats good enough for me! It's so frustrating to have them be a completely different horse at times in new places!

Martine said...

I know you have pretty high personal goals, but to me a score of 60% and above is always a good thing, and to score that and more at your very first CDI (and a *** to boot) is something to be proud of.
From the sound of it, things have being going against you, they will only get better... and if Steffan Peters said there's a 74 on the cards for you... WOW (even if he was wrong that day).

jenj said...

I'm pretty sure that after Steffan Peters talked to me, I would have been completely dumbfounded and unable to do much at all. Wow, the circles you ride in!

I have been very lucky in that my horses are all pretty cool cucumbers in new places. I think it's because they've been exposed to so much crazy stuff, a show ring is just boring. My old eventer used to have a meltdown about going INTO the arena, because he KNEW we were performing and got nervous. I had to ride him really carefully around the outside before going in and not change a thing - basically never let him know when the judging started. We had some wicked good scores against much nicer warmbloods because he'd put in a very precise, obedient test, but we only ever showed 2nd level.

We'll see how my new guy is though. That will probably be a whole new ballgame!

Laura Crum said...

Terri--I had SO much trouble getting my old cutting horse shown. I will never forget hauling him all the way to Washington state for a big event, and practicing the evening before. All the toughs were at the practice and I overheard a few comments--"Wow--where did THAT horse come from?" Gunner was just awesome. And at the competition the next day? Yeah, distracted and spooky, and not paying attention. We placed, but only because a few others messed up, too. It was so darn frustrating. But I am not and never have been a good showman. While you have clearly proven that you can do it. I'm betting your next event will go MUCH better. And the weather is almost certain to improve. Cheering you on.

BetC in WI said...


I SO look forward to your blog entries! As a lowly First level rider (on a good day), I love hearing about your brushes with greatness. And a 60 score is not that bad, under the circumstances. I mean, you completed the test, he didn't leave the arena, and it wasn't, oh, a 42. You know you and Uiver CAN do it, but you really haven't had a chance yet to prove it. That will happen. And make sure we get pictures and a post when it does!

Terri Rocovich said...

Marissa Rose - I have heard that mustangs can be that way because of their wild horse instincts. That does not give Uiver an excuse since as a warmblood his lines has been domesticated for hundreds of years. And cows would truly cause him to have a nervous breakdown!

You are so right. Sometimes I am my own worst enemy with my "type A" goals. Thanks for helping me to see the silver lining.

Jenj; a consistent steady test was my primary goal with Uiver as well. I have no delusions about beating the likes of Steffen, Gunther or Jan, but with him being so spooky and steady test was an impossible feat. Here's hoping that time and exposure will settle him.

Terri Rocovich said...


Thank you for your encouragement. It is so frustrating when you horse is possessed by a lesser being on show day. Our next show if the end of March which should spell better weather and it is an outdoor areana so keep fingers crossed.


Thank you so much for your kind words and there is nothing lowly about first level. We both know how tough dressage can be at any level, it is truly a sport for the masochist. There was one moment when Uiver was bolting across the arena at the L.A. CDI, when I wondered if we were going to stay in the arena.

I promise more pictures next time. There were actually some great ones taken from Uiver's 71 at Int.1test at Thermal but I have not had a chance to order them from the photographer. I will get that done for my next post.

Unknown said...

Ah, Terri, the tales I could tell.. and I show AQHA trail! One day, Snoopy and I are spot-on and get 1st under both judges. The next day, he swaps leads on me over a pole, then tries to grab a mouthful of the ornamental plants on his way over the bridge.

Our last show was a 1-day haul-in. Snoopy was so excited to be there, he could barely pay attention to the course because he was so busy saying hello to everyone.

The fun and irritating thing about our horses are that they are not push-button machines. They're always capable of surprising us.

RiderWriter said...

Well - I, for one, am just astounded that YOU are willing and able to even function in a show situation like you have participating in. I would have to be on prescription medication! Chatting with Steffan in the warm-up ring?? Gadzooks. I don't do well trying to talk to a run-of-the-mill trainer nobody's ever heard of... :-) Seriously, I am extremely impressed that you are giving this a go. More power to you, and congratulations!!!

I'm sure Uiver will be a star when the environment is more to his liking. What a talented and wonderful horse you have. I am REALLY looking forward to hearing more about this season!

Alison said...

I'm late commenting, but I love your story of your quite human horse! If anyone says that horses don't have emotions, they simply need to read your blogs. Uiver is clearly as opinionated as anyone I know with two legs.

Good luck with your handsome and strong horse.