Well, we did it! We confidently rode down centerline in our best collected trot, performed a respectable Second Level test, and then collapsed with exhaustion after the final halt and salute. We can now officially say that we have entered the ranks of Second Level horses and riders, right?
The test was not bobble free, but the judge commented that we did a fine job for our debut and that we are on the right track with our training.
It has taken me a few days of reflection to come up with the most important “take aways” from this ride:
1) Second Level is much harder than Training or First Levels. It is much more mentally and physically challenging for horse and rider… at least it is for this rider. Having ridden my First Level test only 15 minutes before my Second Level one was probably not the wisest move at this point. Until we build up more strength and stamina for the collected work, I will need to be wiser in my warm up and riding before my Second Level rides. We need to conserve as much energy as we can to get the most out of our ride. (I honestly did not know if Ike and I were going to make it to X for our final halt.)
2) With a few tweaks, we can easily boost our score another 3-4%. Of course, those tweaks aren’t overnight fixes. We need a better medium trot and medium canter. We need to show a better change on our comebacks from the medium gaits. We need to eliminate the trot steps into and out of our simple changes. The judge was kind enough to offer some training exercises to help us with each of these. Smaller canter loops and circles will help maintain engagement to teach the simple changes. Train the medium gaits using shorter distances. We’d better get busy since we are going to try this test again in June.
3) Breathing is very important. I am pretty sure that I did take a breath or two during this ride, but I really need to practice my yoga breathing while in sitting trot. I also need to remember to relax my arms and shoulders. Much like the simple tweaks in our work, it is easier said than done. I’m hoping that it will get better with my next Second Level ride since I’ve now got my initial fears behind me (LOL).
4) The new saddle was a good, albeit expensive, investment. The hybrid foam/wool flocking innards and design of the saddle make sitting Ike’s trot much easier for me. Even more importantly, Ike is more relaxed over his topline with the new saddle. I am still hyperventilating over the cost and hope that I can get 9-10 years out of this one like I did for my last saddle.
In case you are wondering, the judge gave us a 64.545% for that test, and I have never been so excited to get back a score sheet. I rarely save my dressage tests once the competition year is over, but I do secretly hoard the ones that have the most meaning to me. I do believe I will be saving this one.