Show Recap: SPHT XC

Sunday morning I did my final walk through of the cross country with the trainer, and got a bit of a knowledge drop on how best to navigate what was a very friendly looking course. We discussed the need to really ride to fence 4, which was giving some people trouble with its spooky grain bags. Likewise to swing wide to fence 7 so the right run-out towards the barns wasn’t so tempting.

Bank to rolltop combination I was worried about

Though we went screaming and prancing all the way out to the course, we actually had a brilliant warmup and I went out to the start box feeling confident that we could execute our plan. Here’s how it went (and please forgive the language about halfway through):

All in all, it was a great run. While he needed a little convincing in the beginning, we eventually found a rhythm. It was a blast letting him go a bit up the big hill after fence 10, and I can feel that Novice speed is going to be nothing for Jack. In fact, we did our course at 375 meters/min which was the marked Novice speed for the event. Hence my wondering about speed faults at the end of our round.

PC: Brant Gamma

Each outing, Jack gets more and more confident, and throwing down a double clear round and became more and more rideable as we went along was an amazing feeling. He still needs support and confidence from me, but we’re feeling more like a team. Because I blazed around the XC, we lost the tie breaker for 2nd, and the yellow pony earned a matching yellow ribbon for his efforts. But to be competitive at his first recognized show is an awesome feeling, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the weekend.

XC and SJ Lesson Recap

Don’t mind me, I’m just over here losing all the things… my ice boots, the $60 I had in my pocket, my mind….

XC schooling over the weekend was pretty mentally exhausting for the golden boy and I. Our focus was on creating a positive experience and getting over some baby ditches/banks- issues that bubbled up at the Boyd Clinic. And it wasn’t resolved without some initial drama.

moment of drama

little more drama with a hint of tail

too. much. drama.

Luckily my trainer has literal balls of steel and she helped Jack make better life choices. And he did. Including going over a baby ditch on the very first try.

We were able to even revisit the first ditch at the end of our schooling, and Jack remembered to move horizontally instead of vertically- wise decision indeed, and a lesson that hopefully he will remember when we get out there again in January.

Not one to let things lie, we then had a jump lesson yesterday. Golden boy’s brain was fully intact, and all the “scary” things were jumped the first time around. My challenge is to ride effectively and not let my defensive habits take over when I get worried. Unfortunately I have no media, but know that despite the scary screenshots from above, the Barbie Dream Horse continues to be in my good books.

XC Schooling Recap

Last week’s revisit to the cross country course was perhaps not as amazing as I had hoped for. I think in general ending on a not-as-great note with our ditch and water-drop issues at the Boyd clinic hurt Jack’s (and probably my) confidence a bit, and a couple exercises that had been easy for him before, like the baby up bank, were a little tougher this time around.

And we definitely ended on a good note this time- stringing together the new-to-us cabin, water, and coop and maintaining a steady rhythm throughout.

Jack continues to make his opinions well known, and I can’t help but giggle every time I see that tail flying high in the videos. So much so that I made a highlight reel of Jack’s latest opinions:

We need a solid outing and some real confidence boosting at our next cross country schooling, which is this weekend. No time like the present to nip some of these issues in the bud!

Boyd Martin Clinic: Day 2 Recap Continued

When we left off yesterday, we had just gone up and down banks, and Jack was having plenty of green moments throughout the day. Well sadly, those green moments only increased from there.

Our next exercise was over ditches. Oh lordy. Jack and I had yet to do a ditch together, and I suspect that the last time he did a ditch was last winter. We warmed up over a tiny (like, green-as-grass) “ditch” and then moved on to the only other ditch on the property- a max-Novice (maybe even Training) ditch.

Boyd schooled us through the introduction first- coming at it with more steam than necessary to just get them over it, and then slow things down on each subsequent approach. We were to have long reins, with our hands essentially in our lap in order to have our crop at a place that we could tap the horse on the ribs if need be. Again, not only am I bad at the whole long reins thing, but I also could not reach Jack’s ribs with my pony bat. After explaining to Boyd that A) I had fat thighs (yes I said this) and B) I had a short bat so C) that wasn’t working for us and D) oh yeah, and I have no idea what this horse is like with ditches, he then made me trade with another for a crop that could actually reach and sent us on our way. Below is the result of that.

And yup, I nearly ran Boyd over. Multiple times. But we finally got over it, and Jack Jack got lots of pats for being a brave ponykins. You can see that we got over it a couple more times, and then we had to move on to the next thing. We have a schooling planned for a different venue in a couple weeks that has different levels of ditches, and this is definitely one of the goals for that session. Get ready for moar ditches, Jack!

At that point, I won’t lie, I was a little brain dead. But we kept rolling, and next on the agenda was the bowl. We were told to keep an up hill, showjumping canter through the base of the bowl, and once we got to the sharp hill (with a small fence at the top), we were to accelerate and not pick to any kind of spot. Then the task was to roll back to a small log going back down the hill, and then reverse the order. Welp, you can see how that went for us.

I should have fought for it more, in truth. He tried spooking at the hanging log on the way back down as well, but I got him over it the first time. Pony- stop being such a spaz!

We wrapped up the day at the water complex. Going through at trot to get their toes wet, and then trotting up and out up a bank to a small log, which happily rode really well for the golden boy. Doing that in reverse… well, not so good. Again we got in a pickle of there not being a baby-version of the drop into water to work with, and despite trying a leader and lots of encouragement, Boyd suggested I come back and school that another time. We finished by cantering through in order to end on a good note.

Overall I found Boyd to be a very positive instructor, whose knowledge and experience really shine in showing how to approach different fences based on the type of horse you are riding. He definitely showed us where there are holes in our training, particularly on cross country, and I now have a plan on how to fill those holes and prepare for competition settings. Thanks to all the folks who came out to audit and take the video/media you see on the blog this week, and thanks to Boyd for kicking our butts and still giving us hope!

Boyd Martin Clinic: Day 2 Recap

Day 2 of the Boyd Clinic was cross country- which I admit is probably my weakest phase. Probably because my education in the 3 phases is balanced like this:

And even that may be generous for XC

So I was a bit nervous going into XC with Boyd. My goal was to do my best, given that I had schooled Jack XC exactly 3 times, and try not to run over Boyd Martin.

We started out looking at our galloping position, with Boyd describing how on cross country it’s better to keep a longer rein throughout the course rather than be constantly adjusting, and how to plant our hands at our horses withers so that we had 4 points of balance (2 hands, 2 legs) while galloping along. I will be the first to say I am bad at this, and throughout these videos you’ll hear Boyd yell at me to lengthen my reins.

We then moved on to some small fences. Jack decided XC day would be the day to bring out his spook, and we had quite a few of them- at jumps, shadows, even different colored grass. Granted we had never jumped the tires before, but it was a little annoying to be that person after feeling so good the day before. But that’s why we train, and it was all a learning opportunity!

After that we strung together even more fences, practicing our gallop between the log and the coop. He’s subtle about it, but Jack continued to be a bit of a looker through this and the rest of the day as well. After thinking about stopping to the final fence (which looks so much smaller in the video than in person!), I asked to come again. Like I said yesterday, Boyd doesn’t seem to mind if a pair isn’t picture perfect- the goal is more about being effective, fair, and getting the job done. But he allowed me to do the last two fences again and suggested trying to take out a stride between the two. I got corrected on how I “perch” a little forward in my gallop position, and I need to sit up and shoulder back on XC. I think I improved on this throughout the day, and a lot of it I’m sure is being weak in my core and legs- lots to work on!

Banks came next, and he had us focus on getting a deep spot to the up-bank out of stride, and anchoring our hands up the horse’s neck, almost getting ahead of the motion for this one type of fence. Then Boyd talked us through 2 approaches to going down a drop. One being leaning forward slightly and going with the horse down the drop, and the second, which we practiced, was leaning back, with long reins and getting behind the motion of the horse.

I’ll save the rest of XC day for tomorrow’s post, which will include the infamous ditch video you may have seen on instagram, and describe in detail how I almost did fail my goal of not running over an Olympian. Until then!

Show Recap: November War Horse BN XC

Having walked my course three times I felt confident that THIS time, I had no excuse for any kind of amateur moment. I knew that thing backwards and forwards, and though my feet hated me, I was sure I would remember my way around all 17 obstacles.

The course was nice in that it built in difficulty as it went along. Fences 1-4 were really straight forward, with the first question being a log pile on a slanted hill at fence 5. From there you went through the water and out over an inviting roll top, straight on to the world’s widest BN fence, and then a nice gallop up and down terrain to some combinations.

The second combination was what I was most unsure about- a log pile, followed by a U-turn left to a down bank and then slight bending line to a roll top. The only time I had ever done a bank with Jack was during the trial period, and that was only once down a baby (18″) bank. But I figured if I kicked on we would be fine.

One thing I noticed he struggled with at the last show was cantering down hills- Jack wants to come back to a trot immediately- so I decided this was an excellent thing we could practice to stay in rhythm through this course.

We had a bee-yutiful warm up and we felt really synced as I left the start box, and from there you can ride along with us:

My constant nattering will tune you in to where he shined, though it’s hard to tell from this vantage point where I felt him backing off or losing straightness as he made his way around the course. Fence 4 may have been “not cute” because we both got distracted by a person walking behind it, and a car driving behind it that you can’t see on video. The bank was a little bit of a scramble as well.

All in all I was beyond thrilled with how he built confidence through the course, and I admit I’m proud of myself for kicking on, even if I wish I was a little less talkative on course.

Our double clear round helped us stay in 3rd place- just .5 points out of contention for the bottle of wine that was 2nd place’s prize, and a healthy 10 points behind 1st- but considering Bobby Meyerhoff ran Rolex this year, I’m OK with that.

The show was a great way to end our short little season, and I have to say- I’m becoming a heck of a fan of the big banana boat!

Show Recap: September War Horse Cross Country

So after showjumping, somehow Jack was leading a large division of horses. The opportunities for messing that up were endless, and well, it only took one.

Unfortunately there is no GoPro video of the incident, so you’ll just have to trust my version of events. I won’t say that it was the absolute smoothest cross country run there ever was, but then again, I don’t think anyone expected it to be. We had a nice jump over 1, a long spot to the scary bright feeder at 2, and then I hemmed-and-hawed over trotting 3, which was a fence with a downhill away that Jack had worried about the footing for the day prior.

Fence 2

Fence 4 was a max (if not Novice sized) coop at the bottom of the hill, and from there we got in somewhat of a groove through fence 8. And then fence 9AB. Ughhh this combination. What the course designer was trying to accomplish, I have no idea. It couldn’t ride as an angled line because you would land in the trees, and it wasn’t set as a bending line either. Instead, it was a rolltop then a squiggly line to a small cabin, going downhill. The footing was already getting churned on the schooling day, and Jack would land and attempt to lurch into the trees where the footing was better. In any case, trainer agreed that trotting was the best idea for this solution, and so when I landed from fence 8 I cantered on and then slowed to the trot.

And proceeded to trot right past it.

For whatever reason, I had thought the combination existed in the second trail head, not the first. So when it caught my left eye I cursed myself and looped back around to the combination. Of course, making a somewhat big loop like this at the trot is bound to incur time faults, and our 8 time penalties moved us from 1st to 10th.

Still, the rest of the course rode just fine. Jack braved the water that Foster always found terrifying without question, and jumped the last 3 fences with confidence. I came through the finish flags with a huge smile on my face and having learned a ton about my horse and excited for our next outing. But more reflections for tomorrow!

Cross Country Schooling at the Horse Park

This weekend, Jack and I made our first ‘big’ outing together, heading all the way to the Carolina Horse Park to school the cross country course ahead of their War Horse Show. While we’ve been off property quite a bit at this point, we haven’t been anywhere that would have a show-like atmosphere. Schooling at the horse park allowed me to see how Jack would be in a place with lots of other horses [literally] running around, trailers, tents, flowers, etc. And I was so impressed!

Jack is officially self-loading at this point, and hopped on the trailer for the 2 hour trek to the horse park. I loved that he actually was eating his hay on the way down, something he hasn’t done so far on shorter jaunts. Since we were running late we tacked up in a hurry and got out to the cross country field where we got straight to work, trotting around and hopping over a green-as-grass jump. Jack was super in listening to me and focusing on the tack at hand, but for the first several jumps (green-as-grass followed by Maiden questions alternately) he would give the fence a hard look before lift-off. There was never a thought of refusing, more just a lack of confidence that slowly disappeared as the schooling continued. Eventually we started introducing cantering the fences and wrapped up the cross country with a Beginner Novice fence that felt so great we did it twice!

Since the horse under me after cross country had lots of gas left in the tank, we then moseyed over to the showjumping, where we walked the maiden course in the tack, then proceeded to do two schooling rounds. For the first we just trotted all the fences, knowing that Jack is more likely to look at showjumping filler than natural fences. Then we picked up the canter and did the course properly.

To say I’m happy with how it went is an understatement, even though I see so many things that need fixing on my part. I now have the confidence in my new pony to go out and do all the things, knowing that he can handle the atmosphere as long as I am there to give him a positive ride. Next time we’ll be schooling beginner novice fences instead of maiden, and that vote of confidence from the trainer feels like a feather in the cap after feeling out of the game for so long. Barbie dream horse indeed!

The Rotational Fall at the Eventing Showcase

They say that money is the root of all evil. But in equestrian sport, money is essential to funding the endless supply of bills that go hand-in-hand with horses- vet bills, shipping, show fees, and of course the everyday costs of simply owning a horse.

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So in theory, something like the Wellington Eventing Showcase provides a rare opportunity to put our sport in front of an audience that is well known to shell out dollars for equestrianism. It’s been discussed many a time how we need to be able to educate future fans, inspire potential patrons, and draw new upper-level owners to eventing, and the showcase’s intention seems to be just that.

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But there are some differences between the polish and ponce of the Wellington event and your typical event. Instead of thousands of people lining the gallop lanes at Rolex, instead there was a sparsely populated hillock lining one of the sides of the derby field. And there were other differences, too. What I want to discuss today is the falls and near-falls of the cross country field.

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Watching the cross country, it was clear that the bogey fences were not the gimmicky, entertaining obstacles like the tent jump, or the fence at the top of the Land Rover embankment. Instead it was a massive corner coming out of the water combination, a skinny at the base of a hill, and a pair of brush fences that could either be angled or, being numbered separately, could include a circle in between to allow for a straight approach to the second element. There were some run outs, to be expected for a course of this level, and that was okay.

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What was strange to me was the difference in the way the couple falls were treated after the fact. I include the above fall sequence only as a result of both horse and rider walking away fine. The miraculous recovery of Woodge Fulton garnered the cheering and applause of a typical eventing audience. But the rotational fall of Marilyn Little and RF Demeter has been oddly swept under the rug from a media standpoint.

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The pair jumped beautifully over the cabin in front of us, out and over the water combination with the corner, and then proceeded to the angled brushes like a bat out of hell- I mean this lady was hell-bent for leather on making time, and was easily moving faster than anyone else was at that stage on course. I cannot say for sure what happened at that next combination, as it was at the opposite end of the course from me, but there was no denying seeing 4 legs in the air and a definite rotational fall. Luckily Demeter trotted away, and an ambulance came over for Marilyn, who we could see was having trouble sitting up. In the end she opted for a ride on a golf cart rather than the ambulance, all the while the announcer attempted to assure the spectators that all was well between awkward pauses.

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Trying to understand exactly what happened, my friends and I scoured the internet looking for some mention of the fall. And, nothing. The impression to us was that the fall was a stain on the showcase, and so nary to be mentioned, nor discussed, in public. The only mention I’ve seen so far of the fall has been in this article by the COTH.

There is no explanation of what happened, no mentioning that the horse went ass over teacups and landed on its human rider, who fortunately seems unscathed by the accident. Just a casual shout-out to sponsors, a week off in a paddock, and a lamentation of not being able to run the other horse.

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While I am not trying to point fingers, I must admit that for me, the whole situation leaves me wanting. Wanting to be able to understand why something as scary and dangerous to both horse and human life as a rotational fall happened at a showcase event, with one of our top riders. Wanting to be able to learn from the scenario so that the sport is made a safer discipline for future generations. And wanting to be left feeling like the showcase really is a great way to bring in the support that the sport so desperately needs.