The answer to Life, the Universe, Everything… Minus 10

WHEW.

I’ve been running around like an idiot (emphasis on idiot) but I wanted to capture a few of the learnings from the last couple weeks so that my silly brain doesn’t lose them.

Last night I had a dressage lesson where we worked on some big-kid stuff, namely canter half pass. Jack has a good concept of haunches in on a circle, so mostly this involved trying to get the haunches in as we travel on a short diagonal. In theory, this should set us up for success once we get to learning flying changes, as we can use the lateral movement to help him think about sitting versus exploding through his shoulders (which is his MO in general).

The exercise

The way we introduced this concept to him was by trying what E called ‘the paperclip’, that is getting his haunches in and him sitting, then trying to bring that across a short diagonal before turning and trying again. To really get him to step sideways she had me leaning into the direction to show him more clearly which way we were going. Apparently Carl Hester has some students lean so far as to look at the inside hind as they ride it, but luckily I wasn’t asked to do that!

I have been feeling rather crooked recently, and so we also worked on an exercise to see where I am sitting in the saddle. This involved thinking of the seat of the saddle as a clock face, and I tried to land my seat at 3 and 9 when posting, then 12 and 6, then post around the clock backwards and forwards. It was definitely an interesting feeling and gave me a better feel of where I was in the saddle, so I’ll be playing around with that in my warm up whenever I feel super crooked.

mind numbing

In case you are simply burning with desire to see part of our lesson, a lovely friend took some video for me. You can see a bit of our warm up here, which includes references to the clock idea, and also some canter where we do micromovements- pushing his haunches in and out, flexing him right and left, and moving his shoulders around.

 

The Big Deal part of VAHT

We all know Jack is an interesting duck. Not only is he basically the bubble boy (or needs to be at least) and spooky, but he also becomes terribly unconfident at shows. At the Carolina Horse Park, I have now basically ostracized myself from the trainer’s group, because Jack needs as few friends as possible (aka end stall) and definitely no mare friends (because apparently mares are more interesting at shows), lest he melt into a screaming puddle any time one of his buddies leaves.

At the Virginia Horse Park, not having been there before, (I didn’t realize the walls were concrete) I put down similar requests for our stabling. So Jack didn’t have a neighbor, but he did have a full view of Lainey Ashker’s beautiful group of horses that shared the aisle with us. And I don’t know if it was that, or the venue, or what, but the biggest highlight of the weekend was this:

Jack hung his head out the stall.

And not only did he do this, he also didn’t A) run his teeth up and down the walls (his anxious tick), B) scream when horses left, or C) keep his head in the far corner ignoring the world.

AND he ate! Like, every meal. All the hay.

It’s a freaking miracle.

Seriously though, having a relaxed horse that actually seemed to enjoy himself, doing normal horse things, and wanting to be engaged in the outside world (even though it meant he chewed my Lund Saddlery reins :<) was absolutely the highlight of the weekend.

To top it all off, he was a total pleasure to walk around the property when stretching his legs- I almost didn’t think I needed the rope halter- and was a pretty cool customer in the warmups and hacking up the hill to XC.

It’s these things that make that measly rail a blip on the radar. His attitude was every bit as victorious as a blue ribbon.

The test will be to see if the same chill version of Jack shows up at the next War Horse show. I sure hope so, he’s a cool guy.

Show Recap: VAHT Showjumping

Finally, we reach our conclusion.

Thanks to the top rider getting time faults on XC, I was sitting in first after cross country. But we all know that SJ is my/Jack’s weakest phase, and you know, that old adage about the only place to go from the top is down.

The showjumping arena at the Virginia Horse Center had lots to look at, including covered bleachers along the far side (where the text Virginia International… is), a beautiful tall carved bear where the bush is on the map, and random fences placed in the ring that we didn’t jump. And, as you can see, they were fairly crammed into the space available. Because of this, I honestly wasn’t sure how Jack would handle it- would he ping pong visually off of all the fences, or would he be ok?

I had asked my normal trainer if there was someone she could recommend to warm me up, and she nominated Bobby Meyerhoff, who very kindly held my hand through the warm up and got me in a better rhythm before heading into the ring. Of course his main comments were a twin to what I typically hear from Holly- that is, package the canter, don’t let it get flat and big. And he had me do both verticals and oxers until we were smooth enough to tackle the last phase.

Jack felt pretty tired in general that morning, which I don’t blame him for one bit, and maybe that helped him settle more than usual in the showjumping. Other than the tap you see to fence 3, I didn’t feel like he needed a ton of extra encouragement to get around despite the brightly colored sticks everywhere. Fence 4 ended up being a self fulfilling prophecy, since I was worried about it- long approaches to a vertical are definitely my bogey fence, and this one got away from me as I did exactly what Bobby/Holly told me not to do- I let the canter get big and then got in to a weak, deep distance and boom, thar she blows.

In complete honesty though, I don’t give a damn about that rail (though I’ll be requesting to work on those lines in lessons). Jack was so phenomenal and attentive and rateable, and I felt like we both had a complete 180 from the round from hell that was the War Horse show.

A toast to meeting life long goals!

I’ll save my continued gushing for another post, but walking away from the ring knowing we had officially qualified for the AECs was quite simply the most amazing feeling.

Show Recap: VAHT XC

The XC at Virginia has always intimidated me, thanks to countless stories from friends about it being max, on the side of a mountain, omg the ditch, etc etc.

They definitely weren’t lying about the side of a mountain thing (holy cow I burned so many calories hustling up and down those hills walking my course) but max, it was not. Fences 1-3 set a really positive tone, and 4-5 were numbered separately but rode like a combination on a right hand turn. There were plenty of ‘funny looking’ fences- more traditional open airy jumps that we don’t see at the Carolina Horse Park.

We also had our first corner, which was part of a combination midway through the course.I took this photo slightly from above so you can see the shape, but don’t be fooled- this was max height, though it rode really well and Jack took it like a champ.

From there, we had a run up a hill then down, where it leveled out to a big ol’ hammock that I somehow didn’t take a picture of. Then up another hill to a faux ditch and wall and up to a half coffin set on a bending downhill line. This combination was by far the most influential on course, as well as the time, which a lot of folks didn’t make.

The half coffin as seen from the backside

Jack has finally started taking ditches like the event horse he is, like several days before this show, and the ditch we had schooled was the same size as the one on course, so I actually felt pretty confident going into the start box but wasn’t going to take the ditch for granted nonetheless.

As you can see, Jack was a fucking star. We came in 20 seconds under time, and you couldn’t wipe the grin off my face from how confident he felt. We moved up to 1st following the run. More about the conclusion to my fabulous yellow pony’s adventure tomorrow!

Show Recap: VAHT Dressage

I haven’t been to a show outside of North Carolina since high school. And I haven’t competed at a recognized event besides the Carolina Horse Park or FENCE in just as long (let’s just put the number at well over a decade). The Virginia Horse Center had always intimidated me- mostly because my friends had bigged up how horrible the drive was, how scary the coliseum, and how gnarly the hill was on XC. All these things, plus the 4 hour drive to get there, left me less than enthused about making the trip.

Now in hindsight, I won’t say they were wrong (the drive definitely requires attention, even on the easier approach), but I’m so glad I went.

I got there mid-afternoon on Friday, and after settling Jack in discovered that they were allowing people to school in the coliseum, which was where our dressage was to be. So I took Jack for a hand walk inside, then did our normal lonnnnnng walk warm up before running through a 20 minute flat school. Despite the scary noises- people walking above, doors opening and closing, the buzz of the electric lights- Jack took it all in beautifully given that this was his first time encountering such a place.

Saturday we did our pre-ride around 10am, and I kept the actual work part very short so as to save him for later. Even still, when I got back on 30 minutes before our test, he felt a little sluggish. I don’t normally carry my whip for the actual test, but I kept it on me and spent a lot of time working to get him to unlock his back and stay in front of my leg. A few transitions and I headed into the coliseum.

As expected, Jack got a little tense being alone in there with the scary hoomans now sitting at the table. I tried to let him get a good look at the judges up close, but it wasn’t long before the bell rang for us to begin. Because there was space and to try to get his back unlocked again, I quickly threw in a canter circle and headed down centerline.

The tension approaching the judges was obvious and less than desirable, but I’m pretty proud of the test we put in despite that.

I thought the judge was fair, and she definitely picked up on our weaker right lead canter. Her overall comments are spot on- it is a risk right now with Jack to ask for more, and we’re slowly developing more relaxation in the ring so that I can try for a bigger trot without tension marring his gaits and suppleness. I was able to try for it in a few places in our test, like the circles and the trot diagonal, but it’s not consistent throughout the test.

Overall this was a huge learning moment for us, and to say I am proud of how Jack handled it would be a vast understatement- I am thrilled with him despite the scary judges for how mature he was in that environment. We ended up with a 26 which put us in 2nd out of 18, and well placed to tackle the big cross country!

Show Recap: May War Horse Cross Country

After my showjumping round from hell, I dejectedly made my way over to the cross country field. I won’t lie, I was seriously pondering if I should just focus on dressage after embarrassing myself so badly. But putting my pity party aside, I was still going to go run that course- because shamefaced or not, I was not going to give up when I was literally there.

The trainer had told me I needed to put my hands down and get him in front of my leg, even if it meant taking a couple galloping fences in the warm up to get it. So I did- attacking the tiny log in warm up like a dog attacks a bee (that is to say, erratically and awkward to watch) until we were jumping out of stride, he wasn’t getting hollow and he wasn’t tearing away from the fence like an idiot.

A few more efforts in the warmup to confirm that it wasn’t a fluke and we headed out on course. Below is a video of the first 4 fences, and the last 3.

Fence 1 was a max ramp that several folks fell at the show before, which lets you know that the course designer was taking no prisoners today. A little tap from my bat and over he went, before a dog leg turn away from home to 2, wonky bend to 3 and rolling over to 4 which had a downhill descent away from the fence.

Fence 5 was at the base of the hill, then it was a long hill up to 6AB, a pair of stacked log fences on a right angle to each other. Jack was booking it up the hill, and so we didn’t have quite the smaller canter I needed to make the turn well, but thankfully he was honest and though we sliced the hell out of the B element, we made it over.

I had hoped in general that the course would be a more confidence boosting type, but I found myself using my stick more than I’d hoped. In a couple cases he was spooking at insignificant things not related to a fence- a puddle next to fence 10, and ant hill after the last fence, that sort of thing.

Spooking at things mid-gallop is his forte

I ended up through the finish flags having gone clear, but probably not as fast as we normally do thanks to the extra time eyeballing all the things.

Despite all the ugliness and my efforts to sabotage us with shit riding, we finished 2nd out of 13. Since then I’ve had a couple CTJ lessons that have been really helpful- but that’s for another post!

Show Recap: May War Horse Showjumping

I have been absolutely loathing writing this post.

The imposter syndrome is in full swing. Because after dressage, I went into the showjumping ring feeling okay and left feeling like a proper fuck-up.

I did not deserve a clear round. I rode backwards, panicked, with shit distances and rode worse than a monkey strapped to the saddle.

The course wasn’t particularly tough, either. Plenty of people had nice rounds. But Jack went in, spooked hard at fence 1, where I got in his face, and it all unraveled from there.

Fence 2 and 3 were so/so, a basic 3 stride line up the diagonal. 4 to 5 was another diagonal line, and while 4 rode perfect, I have no effing idea what happened at 5. Watching the video (which I’m not sharing- sorry, I do have a little pride) it looks like a total miscommunication on my part. We stuffed a third stride in the 2 stride combo- MY HORSE THE GIANT PUT IN AN EXTRA STRIDE. Because again, idiot pilot aboard, riding backwards at your service.

I got my shit back together for fence 7, only to royally miss at fence 8 and 9. And then leave the arena with my head held in shame.

And I wasn’t the only one embarrassed. My trainer met me at the gate and we discussed battle plans for fixing the wreck that was my jumping. And then told me what I needed to do to fix myself enough to go XC. Which I did.

More on that later.

 

Show Recap: May War Horse Novice Dressage

Lucky me, I was the first ride of the day at 8 am on Sunday, and so didn’t have time to do my typical pre-ride (read: was not willing to wake up even earlier to go ride in the dark), but figured we’d give it our best shot with a slightly longer warm up than usual, and incorporate my 20 min of walk work there.

Honestly, I felt like we won the warm up. He was forward, relaxed, listening, getting beautiful departs in the canter- I was thrilled. But when we walked over to the dressage court, I felt a bit of tension building in Jack. Of course he hadn’t seen the white fencing up close for a while, and though I tried to give him all the pats and options to see it, the judge rang us in before he truly settled.

The first half of the test felt a little electric as a result, and you can see where he gets a bit hollow and against my hand at times. My geometry was also not at its best- one of the faults to being the first rider in is that there are no tracks to go by, and I didn’t realize how much I rely on this at a show (whereas at home I do make myself think about it- will definitely pay attention going forward!).

I don’t think it was our best test ever- in general I like him to be a little more relaxed and swinging through his back, but opted for forward in this test instead. So while the judge was fair and marked us down where appropriate, we apparently still made enough of an impression that we sat just behind Andrew McConnon for 2nd place after the dancing was done.

Lots to improve on, but a decent way to start the day!

Let’s Discuss: Use of the whip in KY Derby

Today, after watching a head on view of the controversial Kentucky Derby, besides scratching my head over the many many emotions represented in the comment section, I noticed something else.

Whips. A lot of them.

To me, the sticks held in the air distracts me more from this angle than even the horses.

And I can’t help but wonder about how hard they are hitting the horses. I know there is a rule regarding how many times the jockey can hit the horse over a certain distance (anyone know the actual rule firsthand?), but is there anything about excessive force? Truthfully, I am trying to image what those whips could be made out of that they might not leave bruises, the way some of the jockeys wail on their mounts.

I admit I am no expert in horse racing, far from it. But I know that if an event rider even appeared to use his whip in a similar manner, the keyboard warriors would be astonished.

What do you think? I’m available for educating!

Show Photos from Longleaf

… an alternate title for this post could be “Why I should be a Dressage Rider”. Because despite this:

I am great at proving how much of an amateur I am. It’s a talent that gets feature a lot on this blog.

My expression here is hilarious

But already laughing at how not-cool we are

And the show photos from Longleaf show just how squirrelly things can get sometimes.

LOLZ

I’m having this printed.

I already discussed just how spooky the XC was, causing more than one rider to be ejected before even making it to fence 4. For an already spooky horse like Jack, it made for some gritty riding and hollow fences. And a lot of reminders that over/under/through are his only options thanks to Mr. Tappy. (No yellow horses were abused that day, despite the ugliness)

If you were looking for photos of bascule, this ain’t it.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad though, and actually a few parts of the course rode quite well:

Oh look, we jumped in almost looking relaxed, until the B element pictured above

But, lest anyone think that XC is the only place where half-strides and hollow jumps exist, there’s always showjumping.

Beautimous

Oh gawd

WT actual F

I should do some math on my ratio of shit spots vs looking like we have our ish together.

Good lord look how terrified I am, even over the last fence

It just goes to show you that it’s easy to pick and choose what you show on the internet. But to every perfect jump round, a lot of crappy efforts were made along the way. One day we’ll get there.