The Training Move Up: Dressage

When I first got into eventing, the year was 2002. My ride was a hotter-than-hell Irish Sport Horse mare who was the definition of a fire-breathing-showjumper. Dressage was definitely not her thing, but despite the high (terrible) scores in the sandbox, she was a freak of a jumper, and eventually we faced down our first Training horse trials together at a place called Why Not an American Ark.

Following that, I went to college, the mare was bred; I focused on Ivan who was nowhere enough trustworthy to event, then Foster who was trustworthy but not sound enough to make it past a Training CT, followed by Smitty who only lasted 6 months, and then a certain giant yellow pony came into my life that I hoped would one day carry me around the black numbers again.

Foster schooling a Training cordwood fence, November 2013

I’m lucky enough that I am able to be in a program with Jack where we get consistent lessons and have a trainer (trainers, because dressage) who believes in our ability and helps me make smart decisions about my path forward. Jack is not usually the easiest of horses, increasingly on the ground (OMG bath time UGH) but also in the saddle, so I need every ounce of help I can get before we tackle 3’3” solid fences. But the trainer told us we were ready, and so to Stableview Farm (gorgeous place btw!) we went.

We arrived in time to get out and hack around the dressage court area, and though Jack was tense and tight backed, he mostly settled and we had plenty of nice work that encouraged me for the next day. But it wasn’t meant to be.

That is, we had a beautiful beginning to our warm up. He was a bit tense, but settled, and was giving me really quality work. Then we moved to a different part of the warm up field that was closer to our ring, and that’s when Jack noticed the Prelim horses galloping and jumping just behind the treeline, and promptly lost it.

Now Jack is a spooky horse, but typically not a naughty one. And I don’t think he was being naughty per se, but he was also not listening- his brain was gone with the wind. So I spent the last couple minutes before my test on a horse that was bucking (and he never bucks), trotting sideways, bolting, jigging, and pretty much doing everything but relaxing. I did my best to hold it together in the ring, but I’ve included both my comments and the judge’s in the video below:

Overall the collective marks continued to be a bit of a sh*t show:

Quality gaits but balance not consistant. Willing, but ride a bit hectic. Relax!

And so we finished dressage with our highest dressage score in 2 years, a 37.9. But whatever… on to jumping, right?

2019 in Review

2019 was the year of… everything.

It was amazing. I accomplished things I’d not thought possible. It was hard. Not only did I work my ass off to make it all happen, but my family, both human and hairy, changed more this year than ever before.

It was just a lot.

2019’s mantra

And it culminated in the longest unintentional break from blogging in the 5 years that this blog has existed.

Sorry ‘bout that.

I figure though, that when I look back at this year, there will be a few events that stand out specifically. So here they are, in chronological order.

1. Foster
Early in 2019, I realized something I never thought possible- that Foster would come back into my life in such a big way. It’s been an absolute joy having him around, and seeing him thrive in his non-show-dressage job, even if it’s been hard to reconcile just how fat he has gotten over the years. He’s still the same goofy, cuddly, licking creature he always was, if a little more suspicious than he used to be. It’s been amazing.

Drake and Elliot

2. Elliot.
I get that a lot of people aren’t cat people. And if you never met Elliot, I guess it’s hard to explain- except that his personality was bigger than any cat, or any dog, and that his weirdness made him larger than life. He was my janky, snaggle toothed, scar faced, crazy-ass love of my life. Losing him was a definite low of 2019. The flip side to losing Elliot is that we then adopted a janky Manx cat of a different kind, and Effie has started to help me heal in her own cross eyed, crazy-ass way.

3. The AECs
After qualifying with my clear XC round at VAHT, most of the summer went towards bubble wrapping Jack and working on our fitness. I obsessed over every detail, without trying to go overboard (fail), bleaching his tail, doing fitness work in 90+ degree heat, practicing every part of Novice B until my brain hurt, and freaking out about the drive to Kentucky. The anxiety that went into the AECs was rewarded though by an amazing experience that ran the gambit of my AMAZING friends buying t-shirts in support, to hearing the cheers of my teammates and husband as I galloped amongst the beautiful oaks of the KY Horse Park, and ending with a big beautiful purple ribbon and taking part in a victory gallop as I thought about all my idols that had done so before me. #Worthit

4. The Burnout
Somewhere in the middle of the spring, as I was working towards qualifying for AECs, I landed a promotion that made me official manager of a team of 6. The growing pains of learning to manage, not only an increased workload with executive exposure for myself, but also for a host of other people, has been an amazing opportunity but also a source of stress over the year. Coupled then with my own equestrian journey towards Kentucky once work was done, I felt like 2019 was a marathon that I never got to finish. I ended September feeling accomplished but absolutely stripped of energy, enthusiasm, and financially broke. Because of this last element, I finished September and threw myself into photography work to make up the difference. You know what doesn’t help burnout? Working more. Basically, this was the year of my attempting to be a machine and failing. Yay 2019.

5. WHES Championships
Because of item #4, I didn’t even finish recapping that show. It was massive, and I hoped desperately to finish in the money ($1000 to first place! at a schooling show!). The downside to it being a schooling show though is that I had to compete against professionals (a rule that is changing next year, since the whole series is really in the spirit of amateur/juniors getting positive experiences). To summarize my non-existent recap, I finished fourth behind 3 pros, and as the highest placed amateur won myself a stack of goodies. I also should have won a bit of money, but I got busy with work/life/photography/burnout and never collected it. I’m an idiot. But yay goodies?!

When dancing is my goals, and the baby is my mental health

That’s my 2019 in review. 2020- I hope for more exciting adventures from you, and a little more self preservation/care for myself.

Show Recap: WHES Novice Championships- Dressage

So, last week was bananas and I’m lucky to find 5 min today to recap part 1 of our second Championship adventure of the year. First, a little background though:

The War Horse Event Series is an amazing competition series that allows competitors to school the day before the show in all three phases, and due to this and it being well run, with beer and wine and snacks available in the hospitality tent throughout the day (even mimosas in the morning!), it’s exceptionally popular.

I often participate in these shows throughout the year, and was excited to not only qualify for the year end championships, but also have a sound horse available to compete in it! The qualifications for the champs were thus:

TO QUALIFY, place 1st – 6th at any of the first five WHES events OR enter all five events OR place 1st – 6th in any of the VA Horse Trials Starter Series events. Riders in these Championship divisions will be competing for $10,000 prize money.

Considering that the WHES is often utilized by the many (*many*) local pros, and divisions tend to have 20+ riders, it was a fair ask to get to the champs, but also it was expected that the championship division would be massive, and likely the biggest show of the year.

….or split Pro vs Ammy divisions

As it turned out, there were over 40 riders in the Novice Championship division, and several professional riders, including Daryl Kinney (former assistant trainer to Denny Emerson, currently competing Advanced) and Bonnie Mosser (former 5* rider and trainer), among others. Add this to the 6 dressage rings being run simultaneously, and a sudden drop in temperature, and you can start to imagine the atmosphere in the dressage.

Actual footage of the warmup ring

Luckily, Jack is somehow pretty good in traffic, though it often frazzles me. We did our pre-ride in the morning and just stretched his legs at the walk for 20 min, so when he came back out he was feeling fairly loose, if just a bit behind my leg. So we followed our usual warm up process- lots and lots of walk, then boring walk/trot trans, then a break, then W/T/C and into the ring. Holly had me focusing on getting his balance up and his haunches stepping under, and cautioned me against letting the tempo get too fast. I tried to keep that feeling going into the ring, and this was the result:

Overall I am pretty happy with the test, though there were a couple bobbles I felt we’d get knocked for. First, I went too deep into the corner at the start of my serpentine. Then Jack was somewhat resistant to picking up the left lead canter (never usually a problem), and I had to goad him at the last second to stay accurate. And lastly, in my attempt to get him uphill in the right canter (where he tends to get low in the poll), I got his neck a bit short. Being no slouch, the judge did pick up on most of this and then some. But hey- we finally got that 9 on the free walk I’ve been chasing all year!

For our efforts, we ended up with a 24.1 going into XC. That put us tied for 4th, and I felt like we represented ourselves pretty well for where we’re at. XC post to come tomorrow!

Clinic Recap: Boyd Martin Showjumping

I won’t lie, I had a pretty looming sense of anxiety leading up to the Boyd Martin clinic. Despite only having signed up for showjumping, and Jack jumping great recently, I felt ill prepared and the sense that I was going to be that person at the clinic- the one that fudges up so often that everyone else gets frustrated with not getting their due time. In part this ended up being true, but for the most part the lesson went well and of course the day was all about learning anyways.

After warming up, we started through a grid set up on the diagonal with ground leading poles. The exercise was a one stride to a one stride, and emphasis was put on being smooth and not interfering with the horse as he went through the grid. It gradually got bigger and the poles came up to bring more focus to straightness, and Boyd had us do circles before and after the grid. That, he said, improved rideability by setting expectations that there was more to do than just jump through and be done. He wanted us to hustle to get the correct lead ASAP after the fence, and use the circles to find the horse’s balance.

After that, Boyd immediately jumped (har, har) into coursework. There was no ‘jump 3 jumps and we’ll build on that’. Instead, the courses were what you might expect on a shortish show course. He gave us one random fence to start (saying, rather prophetically, that most of the time the first fence was the worst- and this wasn’t just for me though as you see I dropped my reins rather stupendously over it) then lots of bending lines, roll backs, etc. The strides were all set 1-2′ shorter than at shows- which made things tricky for Jack who has no problem with his 12-14′ stride at shows. It was going well enough until we got to a skinny oxer off a rollback, and I could not see a distance for the life of me. Of course then I threw myself at my horse, who stutter stepped and then went, making for a glorious effort that ended with my losing a stirrup and my dignity.

The nemesis fence

On the re-approach, I thought I would add more canter and maybe get the longer spot I had (maybe/with drunk goggles/imagined) sort of seen, and clearly that was not the recipe for success. As Boyd put it, third time’s a charm, and the final attempt I really went for it and though we got over, it wasn’t exactly the smooth effort Boyd wanted.

The second course then was about refining some of these things and adding in a triple for good measure. Again, it was set a little on the quiet/short side, but Jack was jumping quite well despite all of that. Since we don’t have dependable changes, I thought the triple was a bit choppy, since I didn’t get super organized well enough in advance. Boyd obviously thought the same thing, and made us come through it again.

Overall, the lesson was successful and pushed me to ride harder than I have in a long time. I’ll be posting another post to go over my general thoughts and observations from cross country. But as you can see, we survived! [Barely]

Lessons Learned- Schooling Training Level

First of all, let this post be a secondary declaration of my amateur status, which will not be in question (not that it ever was) after finishing this post.

Also, let this post be a testament to both how difficult Jack can be, and how forgiving. Bless.

After finishing our dressage from the weekend before, we changed tack and headed out to the XC course to get our first miles over solid training fences.

The most amateur of amateur hours

Because he was basically warmed up already, we started by popping over a Novice fence once then coming back at it’s Training brother- a tall roll top in the shade. That went well enough, so we moved on to fences 2-4, which were out on the galloping track and set with lots of running in between. Though Jack peeked hard at 3 and 4 (no pics, but a max table and cabin with interesting cutouts), he obliged with a reminder from Mr. Tappy and went over. This horse has just the BEST gallop, and it’s so fun to let him rip and eat up the turf.

Since we were schooling the course in order, 5AB were next- a 2 stride roll top combination with some terrain in between. These War Horse shows take no prisoners, so of course they were again maxed out. Jack has jumped plenty of two stride combinations in showjumping, but this was his first on the XC, and his first time through he dove right over the B element, jumping it but causing my right foot to take out the flag. On representing, Holly had me create the straightness by being forward, and it made all the difference.

Next up was the coffin complex, which includes a ditch that Jack generally hates, and the feeling is mutual. The questions was a (again, max- just assume everything is maxed) roll top, 2 strides to the ditch, then a short angled one stride to a skinny roll top. This felt a little much for a horse green to the level, so we opted to just school the ditch, which you can see in the video.

We then made our way up the hill to another combination on course, yet another skinny followed by a left hand turn back to a brush fence. This ended up riding beautifully, and was a real confidence builder for me.

Thankfully we had had a good schooling up until then, because from here on out our greenness at the level was glaringly obvious. We got to the water, which included a log pile in that went between 2 pine trees (I admit I GOOFED this line the first time because I couldn’t tell which trees to go between!), through the water then up a bank, 2 strides to a roll top. We had a real stop and start rhthym at the point, not only because of my issues reading the lines but also because of interruptions from other groups schooling and being a bit oblivious to the other riders there. I don’t know if it was this that got Jack all jazzed, or my own anxiety rising, but homeboy got strong all of the sudden, and somewhat difficult to manage. That made me think I had to ride backwards to get over the log pile… and as you’ll see in the video. It’s not pretty. So despite that taking some time to figure out, he did make the bank-rolltop seem quite easy, so I’ll take the small victories where I can.

Issues with the ‘in’ element continued with the next combination (seriously, there were very few single fences on this course), a cabin-to-cabin situation on a hard bending 6 left. Since Jack has always bulged through his right shoulder, we absolutely blew by the 2nd fence on the first attempt, and it took me putting both hands on the left rein to correct our steering. So the second time through I tried to fix that by jumping in a bit weaker (read: not the right decision) over the A element, which allowed us to hit the B element but still not as tidy as I’d have liked.

Out over the B

Luckily we were able to get some mojo back over a large corner and skinny-to-skinny combo that was near the end of the course. Despite being wiggly (and still strong), Jack took it the first time without a whole lot of issue, but we were encourage to really get to it in a super forward canter. I also lengthened my reins and got a little behind him as instructed, which made the whole thing ride beautifully, and I was just effing thrilled to be done and have survived. You couldn’t have wiped the grin off my face if you’d tried.

To say I learned a lot that day is an understatement. I learned that Jack absolutely has this in him, and there are pieces that feel fairly easy (skinnies) and plenty to work on (ditches, turning, straightness). The biggest difference for me is knowing how he needs to jump over these wider, larger XC fences, and how I need to ride differently to accommodate that. Mainly, I need to ride with longer reins than I do in showjumping, and get a little more into chair seat on the approach. I also need to get more comfortable with really traveling to the fences to create the straightness, and trust that he’s going to jump- some of my holding and therefore hollow jumps are from trying to maintain the control that I have in SJ, and it’s just a different animal at this level compared to Novice.

All in all though, despite our mutual mistakes, I am so thrilled with Jack and trying to be forgiving of my own mistakes. Mostly, it just makes me want to get out there and try again now that I’ve learned so much. Hopefully some of this will translate into our Boyd clinic this weekend, but I’m just grateful to say that we survived our first real foray into Training land!

The Training Moveup

My absence recently hasn’t been due to lack of riding, I can tell you guys that! And since this last weekend included our [soft] move up to Training level, I figured that would be more interesting to capture than the XC at BRHT (though maybe I’ll get back to that).

We signed up for the Training CT at the October War Horse, with the plan of schooling the Training cross country course since Jack hasn’t seen some of the questions that are now at this level. My goal for this weekend wasn’t necessarily to be competitive, but more to focus on building confidence over larger fences and different combinations.

Because of my habit of running around like an idiot these days, I didn’t get to put the time into the dressage preparation that I normally would. There were a few things that were somewhat tricky for Jack, including the 10m circles from B to X and X to E. I wasn’t sure how well we would execute the canter lengthening on the circle, nor the trot lengthening, which would likely be dependent on how loose his back was.

As it turned out, the judge has a bit of yellow fever (is that funny? Probably not) and scored us much better than expected. Though our class was small, our 31.4 landed us in 2nd behind Becky Holder, a longtime idol of mine. [photo of test to come!]

I’d like to encompass all of my learnings from the cross country in a separate post, so I’ll focus on just the CT for now. But let’s just summarize by saying that the dressage seemed somewhat lackluster, but the jumping made up for it all.

The course was actually somewhat tricky in my opinion, with the only straight line being from 3 to 4. All was maxed out in typical War Horse fashion.

I wasn’t sure if the warmup would change as a result of moving up a level, but it didn’t, which ended up being reassuring. Essentially we started over an x, went to a vertical, then an over, and built it up until we were set to go in.

I think this was one of those courses where I found myself actually riding the course, focusing on the balance of his canter while making sure he jumped all the things, because as you’ll see in the video- he wasn’t keen on the mini gates filling the rainbow color fences, and took a hard peek at the liverpool as well.

In the end, our one rail down didn’t change our position in the line up, since everyone had at least one rail in our division. But Jack successfully finished his first Training course, and we are on our way towards really considering ourselves a Training level pair, which is the goal!

Show Recap: BRHT Showjumping

Showjumping followed pretty darn close to dressage, and basically I had just enough time to wander into the showjumping ring and look vaguely around before having to go tack up again. If it’s one thing I hate, it’s not being able to walk my SJ course. But somehow I have the worst luck when it comes to walking, and the announcer was chivying everyone out of the ring even as I was frantically learning my course at a distance.

What was cool though, was that the showjumping was in the same fancy arena that the dressage at WEG had been in. It was a fairly huge arena, one that could easily house at least 4 dressage courts at any given show, if not more. And the course, though fairly inviting, didn’t let up at any point. It pretty much only consisted of rollbacks and bending lines, and I admit I wondered what Jack would feel like in this different venue.

This ring!

As it turned out, despite not having actually walked the course, it rode quite well. Thinking about the rail we had down at AECs had me really focusing on getting him up a hill and balanced for the two stride combination (which is where the video starts- they missed the first several fences, oops). If only I had focused that hard on the long (12 stride!) approach to the vertical- my bogey fence from Virginia.

Unfortunately, that was my bogey fence again. Of course the trainer who had worked with me at Virginia also got to see me repeat my mistake here as he was waiting at the in gate with his own student. Cue a reminder on leaving to play with the canter more in that long approach so he doesn’t get flat. Oi. Fair, but it stings- why can’t I get that long approach down?

As I entered the ring, the announcer had said that I was tied for first with that 17.9 dressage score, and I heard it and thought that had to be wrong- like, what? There’s no way. But of course my 1 down cost me my lead, despite feeling like I had a fairly decent round in a new atmosphere and venue.

Show Recap: Blue Ridge Horse Trials Dressage

The Blue Ridge Horse Trials were the second recognized horse trials to go on the calendar at Tryon, and it was exciting to not only have a new local fall recognized horse trial, since the Five Points stopped offering a full HT below Prelim for the last few years.

I signed up for the BRHT mostly because A) they advertised said horse trial as having the XC on the WEG course and B) they were discounting the stabling by $100. The fact that I have yet to be refunded said $100 is… annoying. And we’ll see- if they don’t pay me back be sure I will pitch an absolute fit. Ahem, anyways.

But really.

We arrived the day before the competition, and after the more recent memories of the too-small stalls at KYHP, it was pretty much amazing to find that Jack looked normal sized in the stalls at TIEC. And not only that, but there were ample (read: more than I could use) hooks on the walls for the various accruements that come with traveling and horses- I was easily able to set up my water buckets, hay net, and stall guard without pulling out any of the normal Tom-foolery (aka double sided hooks and the like). Not only that, but each stall already had a fan built in (though I added my own since the temps were/are still in the 90s) but that was a wonderful and unexpected bonus.

Handsome bathorse in his spacious batcave

I walked Jack around the grounds to show him the way of things, since we don’t typically see such venues like Tryon, and he seemed to take it all in hand. The thing we seemed to dislike most was getting near the [previously named George Morris] Tryon Stadium, which has a pagoda for the humans, and high walls surrounding the warm up ring, as well as all sorts of jump standards being stored and trucks parked and in general, just lots to look at. Luckily the event was cornered off to one end of the facility, so this was not of consequence, but still got Jack a bit riled nonetheless.

Jack in a less riled state

The day of dressage (and showjumping, but that’s another post), I took him into a “temporary” tent ring to do our pre-ride, though much of this included watching a rather feral horse being lunged at one end. Once that horse left, I was less distracted and Jack gave me some really nice work (it’s occasionally my fault for being ADD/spooky, and I’ll own it in this case). Then a couple hours later I went out for my actual warm up for the test, giving ourselves 20 min to just refresh some of the things we’d been working on- namely the free walk, and transitions from walk-trot and trot-canter.

If I had to judge my test just as I finished it, I would have put it at a 27. And this is only based on the scores that I’ve had before- but I was really happy with the balance and the straightness, both things I have been working hard on at home. I decided to forego some of the ‘forward’ that I had in my AEC test because I felt like at times I was running him off his feet, and focused on using bend and geometry to put together the best test that had the most relaxation (or at least what was possible given the environment). So while I felt like it was good, I did not in any way expect that judge to like us quite as much as she did.

A 17.9, then, put us tied for 1st. As it happened, our partner in the tie was a familiar pair- they had schooled with us the day that I fell off the second time at Will Faudree’s amazing facility. Considering he’s gone intermediate, I am pretty okay with that!






Photography Friday: AEC Show Pictures

This week has been… busy. So while I want to get started on the next show recap, I’d much rather share a bunch of pretty [ish] photos with you all.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With over 1,000 riders at the AECs, it was no small wonder that it took so long to deliver all the images, but they are finally here!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These are just my favorites, since thankfully the photographer (Shannon Brinkman) was able to capture everything, which was phenomenal and will make for such wonderful memories that I am beyond grateful.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Happy Friday y’all!

Trailering to Kentucky: What Worked and What Didn’t

Probably the thing that stressed me out the most about my trip to Kentucky was the trailer ride. It was 8.5 hours through lots of twisty mountain highways, and I was worried about both my ability to stay awake/focused and poor Jack standing in the trailer for that long without incident. You guys were super helpful in giving me lots of tips and tricks, so I want to share how the ride actually went.

These were the biggest winner of the day. I downloaded a whole bunch of them, and loved listening to the Schramm fam’s interview with Practical Horseman and Lynn Symansky’s chat with Major League Eventing, but then had to switch to something more distracting. The Shrink Next Door ended up being what hooked me for the majority of the ride there, and it helped me out on the way back as well. Highly recommend.

Horse Quencher
I asked the barn staff to put Horse Quencher in one of Jack’s buckets 2 days before we left, so he could get used to it and hopefully figure out how tasty it was before seeing it on the trailer. And while he absolutely sucked it down (like really- licked his bucket dry) in the stall, this ended up being a failed experiment in the trailer. Sadly, he didn’t touch it during the entire drive to KY. But, when I transferred the contents into a bucket in his stall, he immediately drank half the bucket. Going forward I will be giving him horse quencher the night before we drive a long way and hope that at least gets him moderately hydrated.

My trailer comes with removable canvas mangers, but in order to accommodate the water bucket so Jack could reach it, I took those out and used a hanging hay net instead. This also ended up being somewhat useless. Jack doesn’t normally eat hay on the trailer, but I had hoped that with the many hours of staring face to face with munchies would tempt him. Nope, apparently not. I know that I can get him to eat with fancy hay (aka alfalfa, either straight or chopped/mixed) but that doesn’t do well in a hay net (read: it falls out/goes everywhere), so on my trip to Tryon last weekend I opted to go back to mangers with a chopped Alfalfa mix in them- sure enough, Jack ate a good bit of it. So I’ll be going back to the bucketless manger set up with his favorite treats for long trips.

Fescue is so beneath him

To break up the drive I made sure to stop every 2 hours at a gas station, so I could top off the gas and give him a short break from the rumbling effects of travel. Despite unloading in a hurry, he seemed to handle the long trip rather well, but I definitely learned a bit more about my horse and his preferences as a result of our adventure!