Show Recap: May WHES Novice HT

This past weekend is admittedly a bit of a blur. I finally started feeling better late Saturday evening. Our XC school that day had gone pretty well, but Jack was definitely being a bit of a spook- not unusual for him after not jumping for a couple weeks. I was struggling with the sudden ~90* temperatures, particularly after being already dehydrated from several days with a stomach flu.

But the show goes on, and we found ourselves doing a short warmup and heading into the dressage.

All in all I’m happy with our effort. A pair of volunteers that decided my entering the ring was the perfect time to move things behind the judge’s truck are to blame for the distraction down centerline (but what can you do, we’re thankful for volunteers no matter what). He tripped in the transition from trot to medium walk. And our right lead canter transition- well that’s still a work in progress. A score of 28.1 put us in 3rd out of 16 after the dressage, and Jack earned himself a snooze before getting ready for the jumping phases.

The Novice SJ course

After walking the SJ course, and visiting the XC course one more time, it was ready to showjump. And quite frankly, I don’t know what to say about SJ. I know that I panicked. I know that my brain was melting out of my ears, and my horse felt tired. I know that I jumped all the jumps in the correct order. And I know that I got 3 poles down. I couldn’t even tell you where. Totally my fault.

Basically a showjumping lollipop

After coming out of my SJ stupor, I realized I probably couldn’t/shouldn’t ride XC like that. So I gathered up the remnants of my brain, stuffed it back in my head, and went out determined to give him a great ride around a fair course with a lot of terrain questions.

And I remembered my GoPro!

The course was so fun. Jack is feeling like a confident Novice horse, and hunting the jumps. Sure, he’s not point and shoot, but he probably never will be. And yet- those ears tell the whole tale.

In the end, my bowling for rails in SJ denied us a top-2 finish… by a long shot. But he’s getting so much more relaxed in all 3 phases, and didn’t lose his marbles when friends left the stable- huge wins for a horse that was a nervous nelly at the same venue less than a year ago. And really, with all the shite that we had to deal with the last couple weeks, getting out and having a positive experience was the biggest win of all.

Boyd Martin Clinic: Day 1 Recap

If you want to burn off Thanksgiving dinner in a hurry- don’t do what I did (which is A) drink too much wine and B) do a clinic two days later). Do something… more relaxing.

I don’t know what’s going on here but it looks easier.

Boyd started out by discussing the various lengths of stirrup, and so we lengthened our stirrup to a flatwork length and warmed up with an emphasis on dressage- compressing and lengthening, getting the horse soft through the neck, etc. Jack started out fairly tight because of the number of horses and spectators, but finally settled once he understood the job.

We then moved on to building through a gymnastic line. We trotted a circle to get the horse round and soft (something Jack struggled with after standing) and then approaching the line- 1 stride to a 2 stride to a 2 stride. Jack’s stride is really big, and he definitely had a hard time compressing to meet the first two stride question. Each time the emphasis was on keeping the horse straight and landing and cantering in the opposite direction of our approach. We haven’t done so many combinations yet, and at one point in time Jack spooked coming into the sea of rails. But overall he jumped well and Boyd was very complimentary of his abilities.

We next went to doing a figure 8 over the crossed gates you can see in the background of the above video. Boyd cautioned us not to use our torso to get the horse to land on the correct lead. Instead, we needed to keep our upper body straight and not jump ahead, and focus on just using our head and an opening rein to guide the horse. Even though it was a figure 8, he also placed guide rails on the backside of the fence so that we would stay straight for 2 strides after the jump- avoiding the temptation to keep turning in the air instead of giving a straighter approach/away.

From there we started stringing fences together. First with bending lines incorporating the liverpool and big oxer in the corner, and quickly adding on other elements that tested our balance and getting the correct lead.

Since the line, which most horses got in 6 strides, was riding in a forward 5 for Jack, Boyd had me ride very quietly into it and wanted my to end on 6 strides for the day. So we finished by having all the riders go around the outside of the track, and I was challenged to keep Jack steady. Again our greenness with combinations showed through the treble, which was a tight one to a two stride, and we finished by adding on a bending line to another oxer at the end.

Overall, I learned a lot about my horse- that he’s a good jumper, but we have work to do in regards to teaching him that he now has a 3rd gear he can use- and that’s a quieter step that’s still active and balanced. My leg still needs to get tighter, and I learned that I need to not obsess over getting the perfect ride every time. Boyd was positive and encouraging, but definitely rewarded a gritty ride that got the job done. We wrapped up with a drink and some chili and Jack went home for some well deserved mash and a little rest before day 2!

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!

Looking ahead: Goals for November War Horse HT

This weekend marks what may be our final competition of the year. I’ve got a recognized event penciled in on the calendar, but I suspect we are not quite ready to make that kind of commitment, though I am sorely tempted.

So, with that in mind, and knowing a bit more about Jack with 3 shows under our belts, I have a few goals in mind for our second Beginner Novice Horse Trials.

  1. End on a number and not a letter.
    This is priority number one. No goofing and getting a technical elimination on my part, no tossing me off into the dirt on Jack’s part. Just stick together and jump all the jumps in the right order.
  2. Score in the low 30s dressage.
    We’re still refining those dressage skillz, but I feel like I should be able to ask more of him than in September. Depending on how tired he is, I may even wear spurs (gasp!) to get a little more oomph. The main goal is not to receive a comment about needing more push from behind.
  3. Double clear SJ and XC
    This is totally doable, and mostly requires me to keep my head in the game and my leg on. For XC, I would really like to get a good momentum going and keep it through the course rather than have the stutter-stop rhythm we had before.
  4. Have Jack be a happier creature in his stall
    I’m going to have some Perfect Prep, and Ulcergard, handy and at the ready for the show. Since we will be sans friends on the trailer, I hope the experience will be a slightly less stressful one for everyone.

Fingers crossed!

 

 

Show Recap: Maiden at Portofino Horse Trials

So Saturday was Jack and I’s first show together. I learned a lot about him, and he learned a lot about life, and I remembered just how many things you need for a horse trial (next time I’ll try to bring them all!).

The venue, Portofino, is a stunning facility just over an hour away, and while somewhat compact, it was well run with lots of supportive volunteers helping things go smoothly. But for Jack, who has little to no previous show experience, it was a lot to take in. There were food trucks, tents, horses and people everywhere, and judges blowing whistles from various directions. Jack’s expression in general was fairly bug eyed at the whole thing.

I managed to get him somewhat settled in the warmup, but when it came to walking around the arena for our dressage test, I knew we were in a bit of trouble. The judge’s stand is a large overhang at the end of the arena, standing at the precipice of a steep slope where horses and goats graze below. For whatever reason, Foster, who was normally brave, did not like this setup, and Jack was convinced it was going to eat him. I somehow managed to get him [unwillingly] down to that end of the arena, but we did not execute any of the movements in trot while down there. I’m fairly sure I laughed through the majority of my test at my giant green bean pony.

Scoring a 42 in dressage (richly deserved, with comments of obvious tension- uh, yes!) meant that the rest of the day was more about schooling and getting a positive experience in than competing. I had signed up for one Beginner Novice schooling round which was 50% acceptable, 50% disastrous, but that allowed me to make a game plan for an extra happy Maiden show jumping round about 30 minutes later. Knowing that he had just spooked hard at the plank fence down the long side, I made a plan to trot it, and use my bat to remind him that forward was the only option. Though it’s not perfect, our maiden showjumping ended up being the highlight of the day.

The Maiden cross country course was interesting, ranging from fair-to-undersized all the way up to BEEFY (if a beefy maiden course is even a thing). Fences 4 and 9 gave me the most pause- 4 being a legit BN sized fence in the shadow of a tree and fence 9 being a tiger-trap leading up to the water.

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My plan was to canter everything except 3 and 9. Fence 3 because it was pretty skinny (for Maiden) and 9 to give him time to read the question. Well, in the end we ended up trotting almost all the fences, since each one was somehow a surprise for Jack, as you’ll see in the video (thanks J for the video of fence 3, and C for every other video present!). But he tried very hard to be a good boy, and came in a hilarious 8 seconds over time but clear.

We amazingly didn’t place last, but definitely at the bottom of the pack, and I couldn’t care less. It was an incredibly fun day, and I feel confident that with more exposure my golden green bean will become a super star event horse.

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.

Let’s Discuss: Would you Event if Eventing were different?

So here I am, getting tucked into bed the evening of my first day at the American Eventing Championships. This is a wholly new experience for me, never having been to a championship event, and a new experience for the US Eventing Association. Not only is this a new, unseasoned eventing venue in general, coming attached to the pursestrings of some much discussed political characters, but it also happens to be a record setting debut- at over 700 competitors, this event marks the biggest in US Eventing history.

Because of all this novelty, both personally and as an organization, it’s a little difficult to compare to AECs of the past. But one thing is exceptionally obvious, and that is that this event is very…. pretty.

The new lens was a great big fail. Here's Karen and Mr. Medicott again, Rolex 2012

Karen and Mr. Medicott, Rolex 2012

Don’t get me wrong, pretty is nice. Dressage is pretty. Hunters are pretty. But something about seeing an event be so gosh-darned-beautiful is just… odd. The fences are beautiful works of art, the lawns manicured to the nth degree. The water complex sports a jumbotron as its centerpiece. Hell, they served baked brie and beef wellington at the welcome party.

Rolex XC shot

Rolex 2012

But when I think of this sport, I tend to think of the grit, and the sweat, and the tears, and the adrenaline of two hearts pumping as they race across the country. I think eventers are known for embracing a Get ‘Er Done attitude that sometimes doesn’t come across with the grace the other disciplines so easily assume.

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive, Rolex 2012

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive, Rolex 2012

Does this AEC version of eventing still jive with the “eventing culture” (described from my own biased view)? Can eventing be made pretty like some of the more popular [sponsored] disciplines and still retain its heart and soul? For those non-eventers, would you consider eventing if it more resembled the format (cross country derby style) presented in the Wellington eventing showcase? For the eventers out there- would you stay if cross country took on a slightly more technical, and less sprawling and terrain inspired approach? Weigh in!

 

 

 

Let’s Discuss: Olympic Eventing

In the face of those that doubt Eventing’s place in the Olympics, that say it doesn’t require skill or strength or whatever that X factor is that apparently makes you worthy of being deemed an Olympic athlete… I say watch this.

http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/ever-wonder-which-summer-olympic-sport-most-dangerous

No one enjoys watching falls, and I admit my stomach lurched multiple times watching this video. But the fact of the matter is that eventers lay everything on the line when they leave the start box, every time. It boggles the mind to try and understand how every 4 years we have to defend ourselves on two different fronts to the “unhorsey” public.

The first front being that we find ourselves insisting it’s not easy to be a 4* eventer, which is most easily demonstrated by showing those naysayers how quickly things go wrong if you are not at the top of your game. The second front being the constant battle to make our sport safer and yet still retain the essence of what it means to run across the country.

The eventing community itself has been having a lot of internal dialogue about our place in the Olympics. Does the IOC’s dictates hurt our sport? Do they neuter our ability to keep the essence of the sport alive? Some would say yes, and that the final castration came in the adoption of the short format several years ago. From the other side of the coin, does our place in the Olympics offer us a platform for public viewing that gives us an opportunity we so desperately need- to get financial and other support from those not in the trenches of the sport- and does that make some of the IOC’s constraints worthwhile?

I certainly don’t have the answer, but would love to hear your opinion- what do you think? Is the Olympics the right venue as the pinnacle of International Eventing? If so, how do we use that opportunity to garner public support for the sport? If you think we should abandon our tenuous position in the Olympics, what do you think the sport would gain from being free of the IOC’s constraints and rules?

Drawing the Bigger Picture: Part I

3 trainers, 8 days. Information overload? Just a little.

venndiagram

In many ways though, the lessons do overlap, even though each trainer had different ways of communicating the same things. Here are some of the theories that I’ve noticed transcend two or more of the lessons in just a short time period.

Response to the Aids
Foster should always be listening (ideally), and always waiting for the next cue. We’ve been together so long that sometimes I fall into being repetitive or allowing him to be ho-hum, which makes communication when I really need him a challenge. In our June jump lesson, the trainer had us do canter walk or canter halt transitions and incorporate turn on the haunches or turn on the forehand to keep him thinking about balance and reactiveness. In Bobby’s showjumping lesson, we focused on halting after fences or a line, to keep him coming back to me as the source of instruction. Both accomplish a horse that is listening and reacting quickly to my aids.

My [mental] picture of the right canter

My [mental] picture of the right canter

Focus on the Canter
The quality of the canter in showjumping is everything, and Bobby stressed that he be balanced and active when approaching fences. Similarly, in our dressage lessons we have been working on increasing the activity of the canter, which teaches Foster to sit while engaging his hind legs. Even though the truly collected canter is not a gait that you would use through a showjumping course, the idea of increasing engagement certainly translates.

[From the Clinic] Bobby Costello shows us how to use both hands and outside aids to make a turn to 9

[From the Clinic] Bobby Costello shows us how to use both hands and outside aids to make a turn to 9

Following with the Hands
All three instructors have now said something to this effect, which is saying something. In my June jump lesson, she reverberated pretty much word for word what BC said in the February clinic– push your elbows to the fence. With dressage, this really comes into getting the most out of the free walk by actively following the bit with my hands- even if there is slack in the reins, the horse can feel it and likely take that room to stretch down. With the collected canter, this comes as making sure that I am not constantly holding, which would make him heavier and heavier in my hands.

 

Tomorrow- 3 more things that have been beaten into me this week…