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.

Show Recap: Longleaf HT Novice Showjumping

So if you’ve been following my sporadic updates thus far, you’ll know that I went into showjumping on Sunday in the lead, and I had on repeat in my head that it was mine to lose- I am classic when it comes to effing things up in the last moment.

I always felt like showjumping was my weakest phase, as well as Jack’s. He doesn’t exactly jump in the most excellent form, is spooky and gets flat and fast when worried (and I take lots of rider fault for that- I let the squirrels in my head run away with me too when things come up so fast).

 

But the course looked like it would favor us- meaning it was very twisty-turny with only a couple long approaches. I hate long approaches. Therefore I was most concerned about fence 5, which would totally trick me into getting that flat, fast canter that I’m (he’s) so good at.

My plan going in, was to dip between the timers and fence 8, so I could get him close to the fences and also keep my turn to fence 1 short and bending. This would allow me to keep both of us balanced. So despite it looking a little rough, we executed the plan and I’m happy with the result.

In the end, I’m okay with my round, though I definitely know my weak points- as predicted those longer approaches- 5 and 8. Fence 5 was totally on me- I just got to the fence in a weird spot, and probably if I would have kept my leg on I would have gotten a flyer, or I could have held for a deep spot. As it was I panicked at the last second, and in order to pick up the pieces Jack saved my rear by scrambling and then popping over it. Fence 8 we just ran up under. Oh well.

Somehow we were able to make it around clear and secure the win, and all I can say is thank goodness style is not a requirement in showjumping. I don’t think I breathed the whole time- and I normally do get nervous about showjumping, but I fully admit that this was on another level, and while I did my best to execute on the plan I had made with the trainer, my nerves definitely got the better of me (hello, fence 5) – I need to do better to not put Jack in those places where he has to save the day.

I have never led a victory gallop. Good lord it was fun. I still don’t know that it’s sunk in that the win even happened, but I won’t lie- that blue ribbon is extra pretty. And jack didn’t even spook at it as we ran around the arena!

 

 

Show Recap: Longleaf HT Novice XC

Obviously, I told a major porky pie when I said I would get to the cross country part of my recap on Wednesday. Instead, Thursday morning I was emitting many four letter words in attempts to get the actual live feed of LRKY on USEF.org…. Instead, I could only access Sparrow Nio’s dressage test on repeat. It was rather distracting, and left no brain cells left for writing about cross country.

Now that my apology is out of the way, onto XC.

In all honesty, the course was not a difficult one in terms of size or complexity, unless your horse was spooky. What made that the difference were the multiple approaches to fences that required skimming other fences, landscaping, or even maneuvering between other level’s combinations in order to get in a decent jump. But the jumps themselves were fair and if anything, on the smaller side.

What I didn’t realize is that apparently folks were having trouble in between fences from 2-3, which required you to ride from the infield to outside the steeplechase course. This path was lined with white fencing (the kind you see on the perimeter of a steeplechase racetrack), and apparently the wind blowing plants behind it was crushing major problems. Two people got ejected before making it to fence 3.

Jack, for his part, somehow didn’t see what the fuss was about- at least not there. Fences 1-4 rode just fine. 5AB was a nice bending line combination over two log stacks, and while our in was beautiful, we got to the B element on a half stride, and as the photos show, the out was hella ugly. The funky lines for us really started at fence 10, which required getting really close to a training fence on our left in order to line up to a roll top with a downhill descent. Jack did not care for getting up close and personal to the other fence, was distracted by the flowers for it, and was a bit surprised when we got to our allotted obstacle.

 

11 was another tricky place, having to literally weave through an angled training combination to reach it, and 12 was a max skinny that required getting right on top of another fence to get the line correct. I won’t say those were particularly pretty fences either, but we got it done.

 

We got rolling up the hill and had a lovely jump over the max yellow house, up the tiny bank and out over the B element, and then I overshot our line to the boat before the water, but we jumped it and went into the water as planned.

The jump coming out was small, but had a terrifying bush positioned in the center of it that required the rider to choose a side a la a skinny. Jack saw the bush, spooked, then flailed over the center of it anyways. You’ll hear in the video my laughing- he tries, bless his heart, but lord smooth sailing is NOT our MO.

With one more fence on course, we ran through the finish flags more than 30 seconds under time. It was my first time in almost two decades using studs, and I was really pleased with how Jack felt- he wasn’t nearly as out of breath as I had expected, he felt confident and happy despite being spastic just moments before.

Of course the tough part about being first going into showjumping is that it’s yours to lose. I promise not to be so derelict in writing that up soon!

Show Recap: Longleaf HT Novice Dressage

By now I feel fairly confident in Jack’s show routine, and he’s starting to feel a little more confident in it too.

He needs time to get to the venue and take it all in, so Friday we got there nice and early (before the potentially-tornado-holding-storms arrived) and went on a long flat ride. I made myself do a full 20 minutes of work at the walk- which normally means lateral work (shoulder-in, haunches-in, leg yield, walk half pass in each direction) until he settles, and then work on stretchy walk and medium walk transitions. When he feels loose, we start doing a baby trot and working in almost-walk and actual walk transitions to get him listening to my half halts. This also so far is exactly what my ‘pre-ride’ looks like the next day.

Eventually I’ll start doing canter transitions and work through a few elements of my test before finding a quiet calm note to end on. Jack was really good and relaxed Friday, and came back mentally very quickly despite the fact that the tent catching the wind like a sail occasionally caused a spook or two.

Saturday, I got him out of his stall and went for a walk around the grounds before tacking him up and doing said pre-ride. We stopped after one canter depart in each direction and a centerline, so that he still had plenty of gas in the tank for our dressage test later.

So by the time we got to our actual dressage warm-up, Jack had seen the rings from a riding point of view twice. He felt relaxed, even a tish lazy, so I was careful not to go too crazy getting him really forward in the warmup and leave nothing for us in the dressage court. A quick glance from the coach to make sure we didn’t look terrible, and we went over to the ring.

Jack being a spooky guy, I made sure to walk him around the perimeter of the arena a couple times and give him lots of scratches next to the judge. I felt pretty confident going down centerline, and was disappointed when we had 2 decent sized spooks mar our test.

The judge practically had to score us down for the one approaching E since it was so obvious, which was unfortunate. Otherwise the test felt obedient and I made sure to show good geometry as much as possible.

I knew I didn’t have the free walk I really wanted, but didn’t want to put too much leg on and break gait, so subsided with getting the reach and swing without having the forward I would have liked. I also overshot centerline slightly, but overall was happy with the quality of the test, despite the couple bobbles.

The judge rewarded us with a 26.4, putting us at the top of the leaderboard going into cross country.

But more on cross country tomorrow!

Shoe Woes

Jack is notoriously high-maintenance. He’s the horse that my vet suggested could actually benefit from individual turnout, because as much as we can possibly bubble wrap him, the better off we are. It’s… time consuming to think about.

So when we recently moved out of the hella-expensive aluminum shoes to a steel alternative, my whole team of pros (vet, farrier, trainers) were watching to see if he could handle the change. It looked like while he was a little more on the forehand (read: less up), he also was moving fairly well.

But this week, both those expensive pour-in pads he had decided to head off to the land of lost things. And all of the sudden Jack is walking much slower down the concrete aisle, and feeling a little short in harder footing. I stuffed his feet full of Magic Cushion and wrapped those babies within an inch of their life, but I’m a bit lost myself. At 4 weeks into his shoe cycle, and with a show in 3 days, what do we do now?

I’m waiting for my farrier to give me a call, and try to make a game plan, but in the meantime, enjoy this pity-party post!

Lesson Learnings

This weekend is the Longleaf HT, our second recognized show this year, and I am keen to do well! (Or ya know, die trying)

So I’ve had a few lessons leading up to this point that I haven’t blogged about (actually I guess I haven’t blogged about lessons in a long time.. *shrug*), but there’s been enough major knowledge drops that I feel a post is warranted.

Dressage
We’re starting to turn up the volume a bit when it comes to the sandbox. A couple weeks ago it was moving the haunches in and out at the canter on a 20m circle. Last week we started playing with canter half pass, which damn-near melted my brain at times. Since his left lead is stronger, that exercise is significantly easier in that direction. To the right, I really need to make sure my left leg (from foot to hip) stays connected and down, keeping both sitz bones equally plugged into the saddle. This helps counteract my left hand creeping higher and higher. Just like on the 20m circle, I shouldn’t overdo this exercise- coming to not quite the quarterline is enough to school. We also talked about starting canter-halts, but I don’t presonally feel confident enough in myself to make that happen yet!

no new media, so here’s the current (IMO) queen of dressage

Though simple enough in theory, we’ve also been continuing the work on our downward transitions- trot/walk and trot/halt- and back to trot. For Jack, he’s amazingly sensitive in that if I ask abruptly, he will land rather dramatically into the downward transition. Instead, for walk/trot/walk, I have to think about drawing out the transitions in order to keep the energy from crashing out from underneath us. For trot/halt/trot, it’s a much more precise half halt, but the only way I can refrain from having walk steps is if I thinking forward into the halt. Then the energy is there to land lightly into halt, and allow us (like a hovercraft in E’s words) to pick up again in the trot again.

Jumping
Straightness is the name of the game here, and the name of the game is straightness. In our last cross country school Thursday, I realized I hadn’t fully learned my lesson from our time at Bobby’s, as Jack tried a half-hearted version of his last-second-flail-right thing that got me off a month ago. Not cool Jack, not cool. He wants to lean through the right shoulder (which also makes sense as to why the right lead half pass is harder!) and it’s my job to get him straight as an arrow to the middle of the fence. No taking that last step for granted- no sir!

Yellow dragon likes to flail

I’ve also improved some with my upper body, and I’m learning to be patient even in the not-perfect spots. That’s the hardest, because every fiber of my being feels like it needs to jump for him when we come up to a cruddy distance. Eventually (I hope) I’ll curb that instinct, but you know how bad habits like to linger…

To help myself sit up and keep my shoulders back, I have gathered a plethora of mental pictures that I keep on constant repeat:

Shoulders over Hips (BC)

Shoulders away from the fence (HH)

Chin Up and Away all the way TO and OVER the fence (AC)

Add to this, that I make a habit of standing in my stirrups at the start of a ride to find my base of support- and if I feel my heels creep up I do it again – this tidbit from Mr. Boyd Martin.

And then in general, I have to think about my weak lumber as the base of support for my upper body- so I constantly remind myself to rotate my hips under and think about having my hips in front of my shoulders (which is not the same as BC’s above advice- but NEVER shoulders in front of hips) as I stay out of the saddle. This engages my weak lower back and helps stabilize my whole upper body.

In Sum
In general, keeping him between my hand and legs on both sides of his body is crucial. As the stakes get higher, and the movements and questions tougher, I need to get straighter and stronger to help him do the same. So I’ll leave with this thought:

“Dressage [RIDING] is the art of putting one crooked body on top of another crooked body and making them both straight.” ~Richard Weis.