Monday, September 17, 2012

So You Think You Can Dressage Part II

As promised, here is Part II of the "So You Think You Can Dressage" Saga. :)

The first order of business is to welcome Hastilow Competition Saddlery as my first official sponsor! They've helped me to trick out my ride with a Hastilow Adjustable Concept Dressage Elevation Saddle
I am super excited about this (I mean who isn't excited about a new saddle!) The Elevation is built to be completely adjustable, which will be great as Bastian continues to change through his back and develop more and more topline. Its built on a Bio-Kinetic Tree that employs Simatree technology, this means the tree is laterally flexible providing more comfort for both the horse and rider. It also features 3 different panel types based on your horses build as well as an adjustable gullet, ergonomic knee block, a deep seat and is wool flocked. If I haven't convinced you yet, head over to their website to check out more information and to look at the other high quality saddles they offer. They are also providing me with a lovely new bridle. Thank you Hastilow Saddlery!!

I haven't owned a Hastilow in several years, but I had both a dressage and jumping saddle when I was in College and loved riding in them both. Bastian was measures for his new equipment and now we are just anxiously awaiting their arrival. He doesn't even know how much more awesome its going to be. The saddle I currently ride in is okay, it doesn't fit him poorly, but it doesn't fit him well either. It gets the job done. I can't wait to feel how much better he'll go in his new saddle.

I'm still in need of sponsors and help! This is only the beginning of the journey ;P I am selling polo shirts and saddle pads, please contact me ( if you are interested in ordering anything! I will have photos soon...just ordered a proto-type the other day. I'm hoping to begin riding with Missy Ransehousen in October and begin full time training with Kristin in either December or January so that we are ready to rock the Para-Dressage world in 2013!!!

So, you're probably asking yourself, how did an crazy eventer type like me end up riding Para-Dressage? Well, here's our story....

This picture is the from the day I bought Bastian. Ain't he a cutie!

In May of 2007 I was riding a very green gelding, he only had a handful of rides on him. We had successfully walked and trotted on the lunge line and I went to dismount. While dismounting, he spooked, I grabbed onto the saddle to stick with him which spooked him more, he bucked and threw me over top of his back up into the air and I came down like an arrow right on my head(yes, I was wearing my helmet-I honestly believe it saved my life that day!), I was instantly numb from the waist down. I wasn't in a lot of pain, and I tried to keep myself calm by repeating "its only a pinched nerve" inside my head. 911 was called and then the Life Flight Hellicopter.

They flew me to the hospital where the doctors quickly assessed my condition, took x-rays and I was rushed into surgery. The first surgery was to alleviate the swelling and insert pins into my spine-I had a burst fracture of my first lumbar vertabra. 24 hours later I was back into surgery, this time to insert a metal cage around my spinal cord where all of the bone fragments were placed to "re-create" my vertabra. I don't remember much of that week in intensive care other than how stressed out my parents were and not knowing what feeling or use of my legs I would actually regain. I couldn't move anything on my left side and only slightly better on my right.

From there I spent just over a month in the hospital, going to physicial therapy everyday and working to relearn how to walk and move again. Finally I was released to go home, there was a lot of adjusting to do, I had always been active and independent and know I was relying on so many people for basic aspects of living. Also at the back of my mind was the big question of "When was I going to ride again?"

Not riding again had never crossed my mind. I was going to get back in the saddle, I wasn't sure how well I would be able to ride and what I would be capable of, but I always knew for sure that I would get back on. I was banned from riding for 9 months by my doctor. At 7 months, I started "riding" again and by riding I mean I tacked up my 26 year old pony and sat on her. We didn't actually go anywhere, I just sat on her while she munched on hay. It was a glorious feeling to be back on a horse. At 9 months I started actually riding again, nothing like a 26 year old pony to restore your faith in the equine world!

Throughout this time, Bastian was also constantly lurking on the edge of my mind. I had bought him as an untouched 3 year old directly from his breeder just two weeks before my accident. I had bought him as my event horse prospect and had been looking forward to starting him myself and storming the event world... now I wasn't going to be physically able to do that. Bastian is quite the level headed guy, always has been, but he was also a baby thoroughbred and he may be level headed, but damn is he athletic! Watching him play in the paddock is amazing, he can do some pretty cool tricks! So I was constantly struggling with what to do with him. I was already in love with his personality, he let me in his stall with my walker to groom him and love on him and he never snorted the wrong way or gave me the wonky eye, that's pretty good for any 3 year old, much less a thoroughbred ;P

Our very first dressage show at Grand Haven together. We showed in an Intro Class. He was very good!

Luckily I had some excellent people to work with and in the Spring Bastian was officially started under saddle. Bastian went through his own trials and tribulations before he started his real training. In the fall of 2007, he was diagnosed with EPM. With proper medical attention, he was able to make a full recovery, but he has a permanent memory of his disease. When you view him from the back, you can see that his left side has much less muscle development than his right and for almost two years after his recovery he was always a little uneven. Through a lot of hard work and careful development, he now tracks up evenly. You would never know unless you stand behind him that he has difference between his right and left side.

In 2009 I moved to Hermitage, PA and started riding with Kristin Stein ( Through her instruction and training Bastian and I began to excel and find our place in the dressage world. I showed all year at recognized Dressage Competitions without being a Graded Para-Equestrian and while we managed to get our qualifying scores at Training level, I was always getting comments on my test about how I had a kind horse and I needed to stop my "excessive" kicking. Finally before Regionals that year, I was classified as a Grade III Para-Equestrian. The main compensations that I use are carrying two whips and securing my feet into the stirrups via velcro. I'm also allowed to carry my whips during Championship Classes.

So began my career as a Para-Equestrian. This year I had the pleasure of riding under the wonderful eye of Kristi Wysocki, an FEI*** Para Equestrian judge who was impressed by Bastian and I's performance and pulled us aside to encourage us to pursue getting my FEI Para-card and working towards making the selection trials for the 2014 WEG. You can read the whole blog about that show here:

So that is how we came to be. This year has been an amazing year so far for Bastian and I, not only have we made huge strides in our dressage work, but we successfully completed 3 recognized events, 2 at the starter level and one BN. Eventing does not recognize my para-equestrian status so I competed in those events without any of my normal compensations. Bastian LOVES to jump and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Para-Equestrian jumping makes it way to this side of the pond soon, Bastian would rock it. Still to come this year is our Regional Championship Show at the Kentucky Horse Park in October. Bastian and I are showing in both the Training Level and First Level AA Championships. This is our last time showing Training Level, a bittersweet parting, but we're ready to move onward and upward. Watch out Second Level, we've dipped our toes into the deep end of dressage and we're ready to dive in head first!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

So You Think You Can Dressage Part I

Bastian and I have begun a a brand new chapter of our Dressage career. We are officially Second Level competitors. It was far from the illustrious beginning that I hoped for, but it was all rider error and errors I don't intend to make next time. Our final score was a 51% I went off course twice during the canter work in the test, I made a poor choice about missing our right lead depart which led to me becoming quite frazzled and then botching the remainder of the test, I wasn't able to recollect ourselves to the needed level, we recollected to Training Level horse instead of Second Level horse. So after the 2 for our right lead canter depart and the 2 for our 10 meter circle at S, we scored some 4's and some 5s. The 2's given for the depart and the circle were generous as there was never a canter depart and we "walked" our circle. So thank you Ms. Freeman for your kind 2s! lol

I would like to add that Margaret Freeman is an excellent judge, she nailed us on all sorts of things, but they were all correct. It was a bit tough to stomach when I read my first test (First 1) but by my second level test I knew that it was simply fact and each and every comment was true. It was odd having all three of my tests judged by the same judge all weekend, but it was also nice to have one person's opinion three times and to try and improve on that one person's comments. I know because I've done it and because I have seen other people do it, we read the judges comments and we wonder how much brandy they added to their coffee that morning because we just can't see how our little Muffin didn't score better because that was the best 20 meter stretchy circle EVER.

Competition in Kentucy was tough. And amazing. I got to ride at THE Kentucky Horse Park. My little champion was stabled just outside of the "Big Barn" and its Aisle of Champions. He was a bit looky on Thursday, just taking everything in, but he handled it all so well! There is so much going on and to take in, he's never been in such a busy environment. I put our spring eventing training into action and whenever I got nervous because I thought Bastian might look at something or spook I put my leg on and imagined galloping cross country at Stonegate and Erie Hunt and Saddle Club. This really helped at the canter because he wanted to get stuck behind my leg a few times.

The weather was horrid on Saturday, cold and rainy. They ended up delaying the start of the show for an hour, so my ride times got bumped from 8:56 and 5:34 to 9:56 and 6:34. It was one looooong day! My first test went well, I scored a 65% and took first, later in the day I had Bastian more collected, but we ended up behind the vertical one too many times and came away with a 62% and third place. Our First Place Prize:

Kristin and Zoe scored a brilliant 73% in their Third Level 3 class on Friday, smoking the competition. Unfortunately, they didn't count Friday's scores in the tally for High-Point. Shari and Isaac had a rough weekend too, but came out on top by earning a 66% and their final qualifying score for First Level. Unfortunately, Bastian's partner in Chestnut Dressage Crime couldn't make it to the show do to a mild leg injury, Bastian is definitely looking forward to hanging out with Leo at Regionals and I am looking forward to hanging out with Shannon, so fingers are crossed that everything is better on their end!

Its just 3 and 1/2 weeks until we return for Regionals. I am very excited about going and am working very hard to give Bastian the best ride that I can. This is our moment to shine and I want all the focus to be on him, the phenomenal, awesomest, most fantastical horse in the world!

Well, this wraps up So You Think You Can Dressage Part I. Part II will follow shortly and involves the announcement of my first Major sponsor, a look back at how Bastian and I came to be and information on how you can help to make my goal of becoming selected for the 2014 WEG Para-Equestrian team a reality.