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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Podcasts
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.

Hay
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!

Show Recap: AEC Conclusion

I know this post has taken me a while to write. As most of you know, moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone so I’ve already even competed again, but that’s a post (or several) for another day.

There were both a lot of emotions at the end of my showjumping round, and few. I honestly think I was just so personally overwhelmed and not sure of how to feel now that it was over. I’d been thinking and planning and fretting about getting to Kentucky for so long, and had basically convinced myself that it wasn’t going to happen, so having completed it was… a shock.

It took me some time then, standing outside the stadium, to process all these things in my head. I was thrilled to have completed, annoyed about that darn rail, even slightly embarrassed by it given that my teammates all went double clear, but still proud of how Jack handled the big arena and sort of just amazed by the fact that I had actually ridden at in the Rolex stadium.

I don’t think life is like a Disney movie, even if I wish it was

So given that, I realize it is ridiculous to lament a rail, though I do… along with that darn break in the free walk in dressage, or my over enthusiasm that resulted in the speed faults XC. My friends are quick to put things in perspective for me though, which I am so appreciative of…

…and they threw me a welcome back party when I arrived, which was pretty freaking awesome.

One of the absolute best things about the AECs was the friends I made through the various teams, and I think it was especially the team experience that made this not-just-another-horse-show. My fellow members of #teamadultbeverages were amazing, including the member from another state who helped me when Jack knocked water all over me before the awards ceremony. Seeing everyone in their #TeamAB gear at home and at the park honestly made my heart swell with happiness, and I’ve even gotten to catch up with everyone after the fact- something that I’m positive will continue for years.

Another #TeamAdultBeverages member and I enjoying the competitors party

Besides that there was the fabulous support of the Area 2 Adult Rider program, including sweet swag that I look forward to repping. You inevitably make friends with your neighbors in the barns as well, and it was great exchanging advice regarding the course, or lending one another a hand or heart congrats when each of us completed another milestone. These are the things that make me love eventing so much.

Hands down, if I were to qualify again, I would go [if I can afford it]. The camaraderie of the people, the beautiful grounds and the chance to experience a competition of that caliber absolutely made the AECs a week I will never forget. And if I had to sum up my feelings now that I’m on the other side of it all, I would say I most identify with this:

Don’t be sad that it’s over. Smile because it happened.

 

 

 

Show Recap: AECs Showjumping

Ah, the epic conclusion.

After coming down from the high that was XC at the Kentucky Horse Park, it was time to focus on the end game. Showjumping in the stunning Rolex Stadium was honestly one of the major reasons I signed up for the AECs in the first place. And it didn’t disappoint.

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Despite the fact that the ring was chock full of fences, only 11 of them were ours to jump. And they were beautifully decorated, as you can see above. But beautiful or not, fence two in particular was causing issues. Even as I was waiting my turn to enter the ring I was hearing stories of people having stops and even getting eliminated by horses not wanting to get near it, which could be understood by the bright blue water, horse-eating wheel at the left standard, and max-height and width of the thing. My own plan was to give Jack a tap with the bat to let him know stopping was not an option, and back up that assertion by keeping him between my hands and legs. The rest of the course, though big and spooky, I felt mostly OK about- Jack was either going to be with it or he wasn’t.

To say I’m proud of how this horse handled the atmosphere would be an understatement. Though (because of my bat) we got a really hollow jump at fence 2, he still went over it, and I was pleased as punch about that. The rail at 6B was frustrating, and still haunts me a bit, but take a second to appreciate how shallow the cups are and how unforgivingly placed (which is fair for a championship, but still):

He probably could have been a bit more careful about his back feet and we would have gone clean, but I’m doing my best to avoid the coulda-woulda-shoulda game. For a spooky horse who couldn’t handle ground poles two years ago, this was absolutely a milestone for us.

Conquered.

That rail dropped us to 7th, which I found out in true nail-biting fashion as they tried to determine if the rider in 6th got time (which would have bumped me up into the cash prizes). So we ended our AECs journey with the biggest most purplest ribbon there ever was. And you know what? Purple and yellow are complimentary colors, so I’m cool with it.

More on the lap of honor, details on how it was run, and more to come!

Show Recap: AEC Cross Country

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I know so many of you have been waiting for this. The AEC XC recap!

Let me start by just saying how in awe of that course I was. It was simply incredible to walk around the grounds, getting up close and personal with the giant log fence, the head of the lake, and the other LRKY features that I see on live stream every year. But despite the excitement, I was also slightly nervous- this was a championship of course, and I think the only fence that wasn’t maxed out was the very last fence (which I didn’t even get a picture of- a small cabin).

My biggest concern, however, was the pathfinding from fence 4 through 7.

After fences 3-4 (a bending line of solid, wide blue roll tops), I had a wide drift left to a max table. Then riders could choose left (long route) or right (short route) to a tall coop that required a hard 90* approach, lest you could somehow ride through a hundred year old oak on the direct line. Fence 7 I expected a strong peak at as well, since 2 strides out from the coop, you turned right through some trees and 7 was right on top of you- a large table with cut outs. This definitely did catch us out a bit, but I rode really positively to it and he jumped it fine.

7

Then it was a fun gallop up and over fence 8, a maxed out 3’6″ brush fence, up the bank and a bend left to 10, focus on getting the line to 11 which was another spooky cut out fence, through the water and up to the faux ditch. Fitch?

I won’t lie, whatever you want to call it- it was weird.

12

I fully expected a half coffin on course. In fact, in stalking Novice courses there just months before the AECs I saw half coffins on course- with actual ditches. But at the AEC’s, BN through Training all had these- basically wooden trays filled with gravel, maybe 7″ deep. Surprising, if not strange. In any case, I ended up not giving it much thought because I was having so much fun galloping away from the water. Like, that was a blast and I have no regrets, y’all.

Anyways- from there it was across the road, over a bench and up to the head of the lake- where there was a slatted log thing leading downhill to the water. Jack peeked hard at the water, which is not normal for him but likely a result of the light changing so abruptly from light to dark, coupled with the descent to the water.

At this point in the course, I looked at my watch again. I knew I was ahead of the clock at the ditch, but after going through the water I was WAY ahead of it- like 3 fences to go and 90 seconds to optimum time. So I came back to a showjumping canter as much as possible (the open oxer needed a forward ride, as did the giant fiesta table), but I’d already done the damage by having too much fun out there. We conquered the last max jump out there and then petered in to the finish.

Though I should have slowed up a bit, that course will forever stand out as an absolute blast. Jack was solid in almost every regard, and was running ears pricked around the whole thing. I loved riding knowing I was on a team that was so supportive (woot woot #teamadultbeverages) and was lucky enough that they even got most of the course on video!

Therefore, I leave you with this. Enjoy the commentary and maybe turn the volume down 🙂

Show Recap: AEC Dressage

Holy moly, I have so much to share with you guys!

But first, let me first shout out to the awesome people I have met so far because of this blog- from Hannah the Bates rep, to Hillary and Emily! Hearing that my voice [any voice] is relevant is so uplifting and I love love love the experience of meeting people irl that I know from the inter webs.

Anyways.

Jack was a freaking STAR. With the exception of the night before dressage, in which he was a total idiot, planting his feet and snorting at the horse-eating-hoomans and flipping out about his tail (why is this a thing?), but since his brain was fully in its box when it mattered, I will forgive him these things.

Overall he was much more chill about the whole KY Horse Park atmosphere than I expected, though the hack out to the rings did get increasingly tense as the days passed. But in general, Jack really settled every time I put him to work, even if it was just a long and low walk to stretch his legs- if I asked something of him, his mind was so much more at ease.

So we arrived Monday evening, and by the time we has somewhat unpacked it was too late to do more than a cursory walk around the barns. Therefore Tuesday and Wednesday were our days for exploring, gaining confidence, and trying to navigate the huge horse park. This all well swimmingly until we got to our dressage warm up ring, which was not only somewhat remote and required crossing a very busy street (within the horse park, but still overrun with bikes, golf carts, and people in a hurry), but it was also adjacent to the Egyptian Arabian show that was going on. Jack would start to relax and then we would hear whooping and hollering from inside the indoor ring, or a hotter-than-hell Arab would pop out of the entrance with its tail flagged and screaming its tiny head off. This caused Jack to go into the afore mentioned melt down- not a great premonition for the actual test the next morning.

And yet somehow the eventing gods smiled down on us, and our start time of 9:24am was minutes before the Arabian show started (9:30) so we got to warm up in relative peace and quiet compared to the days before. The other ~4-5 riders in the warm up were polite and everyone was communicating well, basically a rare delight at any show, let alone a championship competition. I went through Jack’s warm up routine as planned- lots and lots of walk, asking him to go forward and back in that gait and adding in halts, then picking up to trot and a little canter before giving him another 5 min walk break. When we had about 5 minutes left, I picked him up and started asking for suppling and forward in the trot, and threw in a couple canter transitions to make sure they were crisp, and we headed up.

Immediately some of the tension returned when Jack saw the cameras, the volunteers, test runners, and what not that hadn’t been there the day before. So I gave him tons of pats and walked him over to the judge, said our hello’s, and got him cantering to loosen his back. Then away we went.

My first centerline isn’t captured in this video, but I did fill out the paperwork to get the official RNS copy. Overall I was trying to go for forward and relaxed, which I think we mostly achieved. Nerves got the better of me with some of our geometry, and then there’s the free walk. The simple truth is, Jack got behind my leg, and when I squeezed with both legs he took it as a cue to trot. Luckily he was obedient in coming back, which one judge gave us kudos for, but that particular part of the test may or may not haunt me from that day.

I think my scores from the 2 judges had the largest spread of the division- a 71.9 and a 65.2. The closest spread between scores was 4 points… so apparently the big yellow pony was somewhat controversial between the judges, and their vantage points.

Still, we were tied for 4th after dressage- but this was no dressage show!

Road to the AECs: Last Preparations

How are we here, in the final days at home? All of the sudden it’s go time for all the last-minute prep stuff that I’ve been waiting to do!

Today I hang up Jack’s inhaler, since albuterol isn’t legal for competition, and start him on a low dose of dex to help keep inflammation down in his lungs. He’s also getting Horse Quencher today so he can acclimate to the idea and hopefully like it enough that he’ll drink on the long haul Monday.

all the things to pack.. and I got distracted before I even finished my list.

He also got new kicks yesterday, so he’s not wearing old shoes at the show. I’ve got the old shoes labeled and ready to be packed as his back-up pair just in case.

Tonight I’m heading out to pack, which includes playing a game of Tetris inside my trailer:

Gotta figure out how to hold all the things

I’m also going to test out a tip that a Pro-groom shared for Jack’s tail – spraying white touch up spray into it and lightly brushing it. I want to see just how messy it might be so I can plan for Thursday… because…

I got my ride times!

A 9:24am dressage time means that I need to get up super early to feed, then pre-ride, then braid, spray his tail, get changed, and warm up. I’m avoiding thinking about how early that means I’ll need to wake up, but it’s sure to still be dark outside.

In addition to this, we’re also doing our own version of a test event at the Carolina Horse Park this weekend. Saturday I intend to do a ride-a-test type school with my trainer, followed by a schooling round in the showjump ring. We’ll then ride as a non-compete pair on Sunday doing the CT with the Novice B test so I can get scores and feedback to make a gameplan for KY. Oh, and I had to specifically ask not to ride in front of a certain judge so I could get actually useful feedback.

An example of NOT helpful feedback

Then Monday, the vet comes to do an IV injection (Legend) and his health certificate… and off we go!

 

 

 

 

Road to the AECs is Lined with Shopping Bags

In just under a week, I will undertake the ~9 hour journey to that place that many eventers considered hallowed grounds- the Kentucky Horse Park.

Knowing the adventure that is just days away, I completely admit that my heart is in my throat, and I find myself constantly swaying between emotional eating (hello, breakroom wheat thins) or retail therapy. Since the latter is more fun and has less consequences for the white breeches I’ll be sporting soon, let’s break down the many purchases I have made of late.

Since conditioning has been the name of the game for a certain large yellow horse with respiratory concerns, Flair nose strips were one of my first purchases. Not only are they actually a lot easier than I imagined to apply, I also don’t have to employ the stealth needed one very desperate night my husband’s snores became too much (sorry honey, I have no idea how that nose strip got there!). The brown is actually rather light and so while I hardly notice it there, I do notice a big difference in Jack’s breathing!

// just breathe //

Similarly in the interest of helping Jack recover, and because so many people recommended it, I also have stocked up on Horse Quencher, or what in my head I have been calling Pony Kool-Aid. I can’t wait to try it out and see if their claim of ‘you bring the horse, we’ll make it drink’ is the real deal.

Of course while working hard, it’s important we look good- so the #BarbieDreamHorse got to complete his set of Kavalcade Wool Open Fronts– because these things are gorgeous and I’m only slightly obsessed with imagining how nice that fluff must feel on his legs.

And since we’re talking Kavalcade and making Jack look #superfly, my pre-AECs shopping also included this beautiful bonnet in our eventing colors. Even if you’re not a color-obsessed eventer, it’s hard to go wrong with navy and burgundy.

Then there’s the retail therapy just for me, and let’s be honest, I am not a tall, beautiful blond with legs for days (that would be the horse) and therefore I need a lot more help. So to control the curves, I invested in some equestrian spanx FITS Wunder Breech Underwear, because white breeches are not my go-to wardrobe choice… ever.

my hero. no shame

While I was appeasing my vanity I also picked up some new no-knot hairnets, since those things are the bomb and my current hair net says more ‘lunch lady past her prime’ than ‘born to shine on the centerline’. And you know, casually decided to take advantage of an awesome sale RW was having and picked up a pair of dark brown Mountain Horse Sovereign boots to match my brunette hairnet. Just kidding- I have been coveting those beauties forever and they are just as gorgeous in person.

Now feeling totally wild and reckless, I rounded out my order with a bag of Jack’s favorite Low-sugar Horse treat in Apple flavor to seal the deal (and hopefully win me brownie points with my mount- can’t hurt can it?).

There, now you can see the evidence of my retail therapy plunder, which I regret not one bit. While it may have caused some angst with the afore-mentioned husband (also wondering where all those boxes on the front step are coming from), it’s worth it in the end. Because once I get to Kentucky, I’ll know that I will do my best, or at worst, look good trying.

Jack the Jumping Bean: XC lesson

Sunday was our cross country school, and we had a lesson on what our is our home turf these days. It was myself and one of my #TeamAdultBeverages team members in the lesson- just two yellow ponies doing what they love.

I won’t lie, I came out fairly groggy that morning, despite having gouged 1.5 Matis (seriously- are these available outside of NC? Because if not y’all are missing out!). It took me a little bit to wake up and get my act together, and I felt bad that I was giving my horse such a lackadaisical ride despite jumping over solid fences.

I woke up when my trainer called me out on my loose leg. I have a slightly different feeling in the irons after using the TSR stirrup leathers- but more on that in a different post.

We warmed up over a small series of fences, stringing obstacles together 4-5 at a time. We did finally get to do the training roll top, and a couple other fences we hadn’t done before, but the trainer likes to keep the fences at the level before a big show (which I agree is the best game plan- no need to knock confidence by making things difficult!).

I was glad that we were able to incorporate the half coffin into our XC school, even more so because it showed me the same weakness that had cropped up the day before- running through the right shoulder.

I didn’t have the shoulder, so didn’t have the straightness, and in one attempt completely blew by the ditch because he wasn’t appreciating my ‘somewhat-there’ right rein aid. Telling? Yes, a bit. We also had a super wonky line the day before when he bulged through my right rein and got really crooked into a fence- so this is obviously something I need to work on.

Otherwise, I am mostly disappointed in how active my hands were and how rushed my upper body was. I don’t know why these couple habits have decided to reintroduce themselves- I can only guess that with my rising anxiety of the AECs that my stress is bringing to surface my bad habits. Thus, I have a casual XC schooling planned where we will just do XC elements- ditches, water, banks- to try and calm both Jack and (mostly) my nerves. I’m especially hoping to make ditches less sticky and way more boring. Nothing like putting a ditch on a circle to accomplish that!

Overall though I feel fairly confident in the XC portion of Novice level questions. Time will tell what Kentucky has to offer!

Jack the Jumping Bean: SJ lesson

Jack had back to back jump lessons this weekend, which means there’s a lot to cover if I’m going to do both justice here, but dang it I’m going to try to remember everything! Today I’ll recap our showjumping lesson.

Saturday was showjumping in Southern Pines with BC who generally takes no prisoners in his lessons- do or die baby! Our warm up typically includes an exercise of achieving various canters within a set distance- a favorite amongst eventing riders, I’ve noticed. Compressing Jack’s canter though is one of the hardest things to do, and I really have to fight for it and keep my upper body back to make the smaller steps happen. Here’s a video of us putting in 5 and then 6 strides in a 67′ line of cavalettis:

Then we moved on to a one stride combination- starting by just angling the out vertical so he saw something bigger than cavaletti and quickly moving to going through the exercise. It was again my job to make sure the canter stayed compressed to a 12′ stride, but active- too flat and long and we wouldn’t make the 1 stride, but if I had a smaller canter without activity we would just eat it over the large oxer- which happened once, though luckily before it got to training height.

We then moved on to course work, stringing lots of things together and making sure I didn’t let the canter get long (which I do). I don’t know why I was getting a bit busy with my hands around the course, but I support I’ll have to think on that.

Eventually we put all the things together, and as you can see I was definitely struggling to keep the canter contained. Jack was really fighting me, tilting his head and pulling and making me work was harder than I should. There’s plenty to figure out between keeping the canter small, keeping the shape of his body, and getting him sharper to my cues and not just blowing me off when I ask for a change (simple or otherwise).

LOTS and LOTS of homework here- just wonder if I can fit it all in!