Dressage competitions are comprised of a series of levels, and tests within each level increase in complexity. The "official" starting level (in the U.S.) is Training Level, though there is an "unofficial" Introductory Level for those who want to get their feet wet with a simpler test, without cantering. After Training Level comes First Level, and this is the earliest stage at which you can qualify to perform Musical Freestyle. Let me get one thing clear: I have no illusions about my abilities, or about the potential of my horse, to aspire to anything beyond First or Second Level. But with a horse named after a latin dance, I feel somehow destined to choreograph at least one freestyle routine. I really want to dance with Samba.

In my last post, I highlighted some of the obstacles in our path that existed at Clancy's. I had to stop fooling myself. There was no way I would ever be able to show Samba, let alone start moving up the levels, if I didn't get us the heck out of there. So I began looking for other options. I already knew that the two public boarding facilities in my town were a no-go. One was getting run down and unsafe, and the other was inflexible about both feed and training. They didn't have a dressage trainer, and would not let Lisa come train me there. Can you imagine me trying to go it alone with Sammie? Uh...no. The next nearest facility with a dressage trainer was a short 10 mile hop down the freeway. Unfortunately, I already knew that I would not enjoy training there. The trainer was not-too-affectionately referred to as the Dressage Nazi, and was rumored to be a screamer. I don't know about you, but being screamed at in a lesson would tend to seriously diminish any value in the instruction.

In the end, it came down to two options. I could board at the barn where Lisa kept her horses. Sammie would be loved and well taken care of there, and I would be able to continue training with Lisa. The barn was 18 miles from home, but down a freeway known for heavy traffic. It often took 45 minutes to get there. The footing in the arena was good, but not spectacular. And there was no covered arena, so with predictions of an El Nino winter, I wondered how much training time we would lose.

The second option involved moving Sammie 25 miles from home, but down a freeway with almost no traffic, so on any given day, I could get there in 1/2 hour. Less, if I wanted to risk a meet-up with Johnny Law. If Clancy's backyard was Purgatory, then this barn surely was Heaven. I actually found the barn when my friend Kristin was riding there in a clinic in April, and I went to watch her. The instant I drove through the gates, it was as if my blood pressure dropped 10 points. This place is literally an oasis. I soon learned that Heaven fed the type of hay I wanted, had a full dressage court in a covered arena, a large outdoor arena, and a round pen. The footing was perfection. They dragged all the arenas (including the round pen!) daily. And if that wasn't enough, the owner/trainer and her assistant trainer are both accomplished competitors...and really nice people. This was a serious dressage barn, but it lacked the drama normally associated with such. Nary a DQ (that's Dressage Queen, for those of you new to dressage...and it's not intended as a complementary term!) in sight. There was but one downside to Heaven. No Lisa.

I tossed and turned for two weeks, trying to figure out the best thing to do. In the end, I realized that Heaven couldn't wait. As hard as it was going to be to say goodbye to Lisa, I knew it was the right thing for Sammie and I. Meg, the assistant trainer, would be good for us, and I decided to put Sammie in half-training with Meg. This meant that Meg would work with Sammie and I three days a week. This might mean all three days of training, or it could be any combination of training and lesson days. Initially, I opted for two training days and one lesson day, so that I could take two days a week off. When I had my first horse, I was there every day. I dreaded not seeing Sammie daily, but the 50 mile round trip would take too great a toll if I did it 7 days a week.

The night before I told Lisa of my decision was horrible. I couldn't fall asleep for hours, and when sleep finally came, it was fitful and full of bad dreams. The next day, during our lesson, I mustered the courage to lay it all out. I was ready to cry, but Lisa showed her true colors:
You had me at covered barn.
I should've known...Lisa was more than just our trainer. She was our friend, and she wanted the best for us both. Moving day was July 1st, and Lisa agreed to haul Sammie over, and help her get settled in. I knew it would be hard saying goodbye to Lisa as a trainer, but was so relieved to know that I would always be able to count her among my (short) list of true friends.

From my blog: Green on Green

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Comment by Kinni P on October 28, 2009 at 9:33am
I love a happy ending!
Comment by saddlebroke on October 25, 2009 at 7:56pm
Thanks, Ferrous! The only thing missing from Heaven is turn-out, but between my trainer and I, we get her out daily.
Comment by Ferrous on October 25, 2009 at 6:31pm
Thanks for another great blog post. I also have a horse named for a dance (though I hope that he doesn't do his namesake dance!). I want to someday "dance" a freestyle with my horse too (though we still have to get to step one... being backed!).

Congratulations on making it to Heaven. I hope that my boy and I also find Heaven someday. It's funny how hard it is to find the things that we consider "basic": good fencing, arena with good footing, adequate turn-out, quality hay, being able to decide on feed... and most elusive of all, a kind (and non-screaming) dressage coach.

Best wishes to you and your dance partner... may you have many great dances together. :)

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