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!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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!