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!

Show Recap: July War Horse XC

I’m somewhat annoyed right now at how dressage went for our show yesterday, so I’m going to skip right ahead to the cross country element of the July Horse Trials we did yesterday.

The XC was soft, like, uncharacteristically soft for a War Horse show- normally it feels like they are out for blood with the course design, and while Training was super technical (2 full coffins for example), Novice was easy as pie. In fact, it was shorter than the Beginner Novice course.

The course itself was simple too- we had two separate 2 stride combinations, and a sunken road.

My only concern was really regarding the heat, and how Jack would recover. So I used his inhaler before heading out to jump (since it’s a schooling show), and added the Flair Nose Strip (thank you all for your suggestions- I read through the instructions several times and was able to figure it out!). Long story short, he came in feeling great. Puffing, but not heaving, despite the temps being in the 90s.

I finally brought out the GoPro again, so here’s your bird’s eye view of our short, easy, Novice outing.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll have the energy to bitch about the dressage. Stay tuned.

June War Horse: Novice Dressage A

I guess I’ve been long overdue for a great big WTF moment in dressage, but I sure got it this weekend.

I thought we put in a pretty respectable test. Sure, he came above the bit in a couple transitions, but I thought our geometry was good, his balance was up, and I was really focusing on my position.

Apparently the judge didn’t agree. I got my first 6.5 on rider score, and my mind is still blown by that 6.5 on the free walk. Also, her overall comment wants more bend through his ribcage, but wants him straighter in the canter transition on the circle? Any DQ’s out there that want to explain to me? I’m all ears.

In any case, that was a bit disappointing but I’m going to try to learn from it and move on. I’ll recap SJ and XC this week!

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 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!

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.