A Show Recap: Portofino Horse Trials

Hey there.

At this point in time, I will admit that I am a little too brain-dead to go into a full blown diagnosis of our show on Sunday. After an exhausting weekend filled with Michael Buble:

Buble, Box Seats, and Big finales- oh my!

Buble, Box Seats, and Big finales- oh my!

and an engagement shoot for a friend:

A preview from the engagement shoot

A preview from the engagement shoot

by the time Sunday rolled around I was straight up exhausted. So I decided we were just going to have fun and see what happened, with our fingers and hooves crossed that things went well.

Well, we had truck issues getting to the show and a very kind friend ended up bringing the ponies out to Portofino for us. So I went way out of order, but luckily the show management was willing to be flexible and let things happen as they may. Thank goodness. Foster felt super relaxed in our warmup, so I rode around for 20 or so minutes before going in the arena.

I have watched the video plenty of times and hashed it all over in my head, but here’s the short version: In hind sight maybe I should have focused on getting him more in front of my leg, but whatev’s. I see plenty of things to work on (I smacked myself in the head when I saw my reins getting long again, what is WRONG WITH ME?!) and some bracing stuff, so all in all, not our best test, but not our worst. So frustrating that again our walk wasn’t up to par until the last couple strides, but good enough to get a 7.5. I think I was being a bit conservative because of the last show when he broke. Anyways, here’s the video, which speaks for itself.

Show jumping was catching a lot of riders out with refusals and what not, so I just decided to go in relatively aggressively (again, Foster was completely blase’ through our warmup but just in case) and get er’ done. He got in a bit deep in some spots and cross cantered a ton (where did that come from?) but because the footing was a bit deep I knew if we stopped we’d never get going again, so we persevered. Clean and clear, but not pretty. Oh well.

I had a tired, hot horse by the time we got around to cross country (PS what is up with the temperature going up 10 degrees on show days?!?) but felt pretty good about the course. Trotted over fence 1 as per our game plan and attempted to rock and roll, but unfortunately never got up to speed because Foster wanted to look at all the funny terrain questions (oh-mah-gerd what is the patch of sand doing there?! and Oh snap! there’s a pile of junk beside fence 3! ahh!) but was a good boy all in all. He hopped over the Novice sized (oh yes, 2’11” fences on a BN course!) fences easily. Not that he shouldn’t have, but still. Here’s the video of our cross country, in which I yell about a certain ‘outrider’ who was wandering around my fences as I was trying to go go go! So I (IMHO) politely was trying to tell people that she was being a distraction and needed to get out of my way! Sheesh!

We ended up 3rd out of 8th, on a 34-point-something dressage score and 5 time faults. I’m pleased and think we are very close! Entry is sent in for another horse trial at CHP on the 10th of November, where we will do our damnedest to make time on both SJ and XC!

Until next time.. keep kicking!

A show recap: Carolina Horse Park

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Well, if we were searching for redemption, we found it… and then lost it. Lost it in a way I will share in a moment, and in a way I can sum up in one quote:

“The person who knows how to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused.”

But let’s start at the beginning- thanks to Ali, Foster was able to get to the show grounds the day before and we had quite a nice schooling in the dressage arena, although I noticed he was getting a bit tense in his neck and starting to go crooked again. During dressage the next day I continued to feel this, but got on with it, since you can’t fix everything in one day. We put in a decent test, with some tension and crookedness but otherwise pleasant enough. I was a bit disappointed that we broke in our free walk (normally a solid 8) but happy that we received a 7 on our right lead canter depart and circle, which has been our pain point in the past couple tests. After discussing with a few equine people much smarter than myself, I am going to get his left hock injected again and hope that solves the crookedness issues that are starting to creep back into our work.

Right lead canter yay!

Right lead canter yay!

In show jumping I did my best to go in with a get-er’-done approach to the first fence, which he went over quite confidently and then move on with the rest of the course. While he almost jumped me out of the tack over fence 3, he put in a nice round and I am oh-so-proud of my spotted pony. I thought the energy was much better than our last show, and was surprised to hear that we received 19 time penalties. For this level, I thought a forward canter should suffice, barring a few trot strides to allow for simple changes. The time penalty issue seemed to be prevalent for many of the competitors though, so I don’t count it as a loss.

Whee! Foster thinks he's ready for 2'11" fences!

Whee! Foster thinks he’s ready for 2’11” fences!

Cross country is where things fell apart a bit. Foster was a total star and went over the first fence quite happily, and I had the most fun on cross country that I have had in a long time, cantering all the fences without hesitation. Maybe I was having a bit too much fun even, because when I landed from fence 9 I started looking for 10 and didn’t see it where I thought it would be! In the 30ish seconds that followed, I brought him back to a walk, and then a trot, wandering around looking for what I thought would be an obvious obstacle in the middle of the woods- it was bright orange for Pete’s sake! In any case, I laughed it off when I spotted it, hopped over it and carried on our merry way! Just a minor pilot error, and one that I will be laughing about for a long time!

(and no, I couldn’t hear her tell me to turn right! oops!)

So while we didn’t finish where we wanted to (a whopping 40+ time penalties will do that I guess!) I am so pleased that Foster put in nice jumping rounds and did his best. I desperately needed a positive experience after being so bummed about the last show, and this competition was just that. Still more to work on, I know, but nonetheless proud of my boy for redeeming himself and not being phased by his passenger’s nonsense from time to time!

On a more serious note, I have several family members who could do with prayers and positive thoughts sent their way. As great as horses are, our loved ones come first! So if you are reading this and have a moment, please send a quick prayer our way. Thanks for your support!

A show recap: First Jump Syndrome

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I’ll start off by being honest- I am a bit dissapointed in the way the show went for us yesterday. However the silver lining to this is that there is plenty of room for improvement, and I am prepared to make changes to our approach and try again next time. Fair warning, this post will be long as I try to recall what happened, and if you don’t want to read look for the pro’s and con’s after each phase.

Dressage
I seem to be in the habit of not leaving myself enough time in dressage warmup. This time that was partly due to the fact that I have a nervous bladder (TMI sorry!) and my constant running to the ladies room ate into my warmup. But my warmup (15 minutes total) also included surveying ring stewards in hope that someone could direct me as to when I was going into the arena, or what horse I was following, and even some confusion over having two #15’s floating around.. crazy. Foster of course also chose this particular show to miss his best friend, and the hollering and distraction were not helping us in the short time we had.

Granted, I thought when we got into the arena (aside from yelling down centerline) that maybe he has found his game face. I felt like I rode a fairly accurate test, but the judge nailed us on several movements in the second half. It is interesting to note that I sat the first half of the test and when I thought he was relaxing a bit I started posting, and the scores went down noticeably. Otherwise, I know that there is some resistance in his right lead canter, but his depart was clean and on target- did that deserve a 4? I don’t know. This was the first time in some while where I got a test back and was surprised by the results, and not for the better. Normally I can pinpoint our weaknesses and have a good idea of how a test went, and see the judge’s comments reflect what I felt. This time though, the tension was obviously more prominent than I thought.

Our test.. off to a good start before falling apart!

Our test.. off to a good start before falling apart!

So from the dressage phase:
Pro’s: 8 on his free walk, which remains consistent, and apparently my sitting trot is passable
Con’s: Too short of a warm-up, tension, and resistance in right canter remains

Showjumping
After dressage was show jumping, which was a good test as it included bending lines, roll backs, and a two stride combination. We had a frantic warm up, not by any fault of our own but apparently by sharing the warm up ring with some crazies. I won’t go into too much detail, but I was the only one yelling inside/outside for passing, and calling my fences, not to mention keeping my horse’s feet on the ground. One woman almost grazed Foster’s flank as she came cantering up behind us, and I has never seen so much bucking, running, and legs flying about as I did in that warm up.

So while Foster behaved (thank goodness) in the warm up, I think I was a bit rattled going into the ring. Enter first-jump syndrome. As soon as I entered the ring I felt the tension in my arms and likewise him become resistant on the bit. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when we had a pretty dirty run out at the first fence. After that though we had a good forward canter through the course. I did get lost from 3 to 4 and lost a bit of momentum, and upon entering 4a and b he ended up chipping in, but I’m not too upset. He left all the poles up and that was that. Here’s the video, which catches us after his run out at fence 1.

Pro’s: Mostly forward canter, clear round that improved as it went on, my leg position and staying up through landing
Con’s: Dirty run-out and allowing my nerves to get the best of me

Cross Country
Thank goodness our cross country warm up was nice. I kept it brief, but took advantage of the quiet and jumped a vertical that had feed bags under it, which we would see on course. He went over everything and we headed to the start box. Out of the start box we had a quiet canter, as I was debating trotting him into the first fence. Because he wasn’t rushing I decided to try cantering it, which ended up being a mistake. Enter more first-jump-syndrome. Another dirty run out left, and we circled back and trotted the fence and went on our way. I brought him back to a trot a couple more times, but he cleared everything just fine. We had a great time on some of the longer canter stretches, and I was able to ask him to move out a bit. I’m not sure that he figured out how to really canter on, or if he just didn’t have gas in his tank, but it was fun anyways.

So we came in with another 20 points for the refusal and 29 time penalties that came from the refusal and trotting some of the fences, but all in all I am OK with his performance on again, a tougher course for the level with several technical and terrain questions.

Pro’s: Improving as the course went on, Making better decisions after fence 1
Con’s: Another dirty run-out, trotting fences and therefore not making time, or even close to it!

So again, it was not quite the weekend I wanted it to be but it was a great lesson in how to approach the next show. I will be sure to give myself more time to warm up for dressage, and trot into the first fences confidently (and with bat in hand) and attempt to nip first-jump-syndrome in the butt! And as always, continue to work on our ‘zen’ and battle tension wherever we can!

Video Critique: Dressage

Over the weekend Ali kindly videoed me in lieu of having a lesson. While there is nothing that can take the place of professional advice, it was extremely helpful to have a visual on what our flatwork looks like. The video mostly speaks for itself, but here is a partial critique of myself anyways.

I found watching the video that I was surprised- a few things looked better that they felt, and others the opposite.

Our canter lengthenings leave me with the most frustration. If I feel him coming apart I tend to lower my hands, and I let my reins get long (something that seems to happen throughout the ride). I would also like to see a more precise transition from working to lengthened canter. In the future I think I will practice these after the lateral work to help him swing through his back and get the engine going.

Reins getting a little long in the trot, but happier here with my leg-hip-shoulder alignment

Reins getting a little long in the trot, but happy here with my leg-hip-shoulder alignment

This is better

This is better

The lateral work is better than I expected, though the challenge to keep him supple and maintain energy throughout the movements still remains. I am however very pleased to see on video how straight he is moving! Also with my position, my hands tend to be better at the trot but I think I could benefit from a more flexible elbow, shorter reins and lifting my hands slightly to maintain the bit-to-elbow connection. I left out the shoulder-in left in the main video, here it is below:

Leg Yield: Foster is mostly straight, me, not so much

Leg Yield: Foster is mostly straight, me, not so much

Stepping under in the Shoulder In

Stepping under in the Shoulder In

In general I will be focusing more on my elbows and trying to wrap my leg around his barrel more. Watching this also really makes me want to pursue getting my knee blocks adjusted to help me keep a longer leg without getting into a chair-seat. Plenty to work on, for Foster and myself!

Compare this to when I first got him- he’s growing up!

Up on the Soapbox: The Racing Industry

Every May, I get jazzed up about the Kentucky Derby. I watch it religiously every year, and for myself and my family, it’s the equivalent of the Super Bowl. Bets are placed, smack is talked, and we all pine for the day when we will get to Churchill Downs to watch it in person.

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But there is an ugly truth behind thoroughbred racing. The truth behind the mint juleps and the colorful silks and big hats. It’s an industry that celebrates speed over durability, and money over morals. (Yes, that may be a sweeping generalization, my bad). The stunning equine athletes that we love to root for in their 2 minutes of fame are victims to these truths, as thoroughbred breeders care more about their pocketbooks than the integrity of the breed. Eight Belles and Barbaro were just two of these victims.

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The horses that often make it to the big races look like greyhounds- long, sleek, and standing on spindly legs. Gone is the bone you see in the racehorses of yesteryear, the strong legs to carry them the distance needed to compete in the Triple Crown. I will never forget seeing Big Brown come onto the track. He looked like a winner, a lion amongst cats, but even he was unsuccessful, this time to the practice of trading medication for soundness.

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Big Brown

For some racehorses, if they are lucky, they will be too slow to race competitively and after a few starts (or none) be ‘retired’ to live happy lives as sport horses in various other disciplines. Thank goodness the adoption of ex-racers has become popular, and that the burgeoning OTTB community is there to promote these athletes in their new homes. Those individuals are to be applauded for taking the time to rehabilitate those animals, and invest their time, money, and effort into making them successful again. Because the not so lucky ones will end their careers as a bad statistic, a brilliant flash of talent that their bodies could not keep up with.

So as much as I love watching the Triple Crown every year, a part of me hates it. For 2 minutes, I force myself to tune out what I know about breeding and everything else about horses. I try to enjoy this traditional American pastime as any other non-equestrian views it, with a mint julep in my hand, and a bet in the back of my mind.

If you are interested in reading more about bloodlines and soundness in thoroughbred racing, read here

On the Glories of “Coaching”

I have always loved teaching. Part of this is what led me to tutoring for 5 years, one of my many jobs to sustain the horse habit in college. And then while on the university’s dressage team, I had a few opportunities to coach at shows when our real coach was unavailable. While I cannot take much credit for my teammates’ successes, I found it truly rewarding to be able to help in those stressful 10 minutes before a test and was always super proud when they did well.

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Representing NC State at Nationals with the Intercollegiate Dressage Association

Since college I have had few chances to ‘teach’ beyond giving my sister lessons when I return home, and a brief stint of giving lessons to a fellow-boarder before she officially retired her old gelding.

Saturday though I had a chance to not coach, but support Ali as she battled her dressage demons. It was a showdown in the little white box, and I was there to give a few words of advice, but mostly encouragement as she and Baron faced their fears. Ali is a beautiful rider and Baron, a very good boy, so it was no wonder that they brought home a blue and a red ribbon and some amazing scores! 28.2 and a 31- not bad for someone who refers to dressage as ‘the sand box’! I haven’t seen that many 8’s in a long time!

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Ali and Baron- a great pair!

While again I make no claim to their victories, it reminded me how extremely rewarding it is to help someone succeed in this sport. Every horse person deals with trials and tribulations from time to time and it is important to lift someone up whenever possible. Since we are normally competing in the same division, our opportunities to help each other at shows are slim to null, so it was great to cheer them on from the sidelines. Go Ali and Baron!

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Showing off his acheivments!

Bachelorette Weekend and XC Schooling

Wow, what a whirlwind weekend. A friend of mine celebrated her bachelorette weekend by staying in town, and a huge group of girls participated in all sorts of Disney princess themed fun and frolic. We bounced on trampolines, pampered ourselves with mani/pedis, and completed the most intense scavenger hunt ever! Even rode in my first rickshaw! And I am proud to say that I took the individual scavenger hunt challenge uber seriously and won myself a brand new fairy-princess-wand (because who doesn’t need one of those!) and was on the winning team! Go team Ariel! Can’t wait to attend what will surely be a beautiful wedding in a few weeks! PS follow me on instagram!

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Bachelorette Weekend Fun!

Unfortunately I was not able to stay for the last couple activities, as I had to get up bright and early ( a 5:35 am alarm is not so easy after a day of running around! ) to go XC Schooling in Southern Pines. The farm we went to has one of my favorite cross country courses, simply because the number of combinations and vast array of fences to jump is incredible!

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Getting up with the sun!

This was the first time in a long while that Foster and I schooled with a group lesson, which consisted of two rock star high schoolers on the brink of Novice/Training, and Ali and I with our boys at Beginner Novice/Novice. There were many questions thrown at us that we had never done before, such as jumping downhill, jumping out of water, and plenty of combinations. One such combination was an upbank, three strides to a hanging log which we went over and then came back to the other way (jump to a down bank). Foster handled this, the water questions, and the ditches with great confidence and enthusiasm. We did have a couple tricky moments at two jumps at the beginning of the venture, where he decided to take advantage of my open left rein instead of the fence, but after I focused on riding him straight everything went more smoothly than I could have hoped for.

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Our group getting their feet wet.. and me desperately trying to not let Foster roll! He LOVES the water!

Overall the main lesson was to continue to ride him straight through his shoulders, and once again, to allow him to open up his stride and not hold him together so much. Once I gained confidence in him it was so much fun to let him go a bit! While we didn’t get to tackle any serious Novice questions, we accomplished so much and it was a great learning experience. I am excited to take him back in a couple weeks for a horse trials!

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Jumping out of the water!

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Ali and Baron warming up!

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Ali and Baron out of the water! Whee!

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Leg is getting tighter! Hooray!

Photos are compliments of one of the sweet moms watching our group school! Looking forward to seeing them again soon!

Fly Sprays: Canned Cancer vs Essential Oils

Fly Sprays: Canned Cancer vs Essential Oils

For all of us equestrians out there, fly spray is a summer staple in your grooming kit. Every year as the temperatures rise, we shell out the dollars hoping those pesky flies, and more villainous horse flies, will give us enough peace to enjoy our rides.

I stumbled upon this link from EventingNation’s blog, and was surprised to see some of the information linking fly spray chemicals to cancer. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, as it seems most chemicals these days are at least slightly carcinogenic. But as my husband and I both have close family members with cancer histories, this article has made me think twice about the brand I use.

Passing along to other equestrians, as it is a well-written article and might make you think twice, too! If you have any good experiences with ‘essential oil’ based fly sprays, or other bug-repellent techniques (such as supplements), please share below!

Jumped the brick wall!

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Last night a barn friend and I attempted a little photo session. She is thinking about selling her horse and I offered to take some photos of him over fences. So we set the fences up to some decent heights (3′ to 3’6″) and got going.

I warmed up Foster and popped him over a few fences and he was going well. We hadn’t been over the brick wall yet, which had a back rail set to 3’6″, but he was going so well and she was egging me on so we took it! No hesitations whatsoever, which was great because I was thinking I might be eating dirt. He did however almost jump me out of the tack going over it! After that we took some photos of her before I hopped back on a rode it again, this time without the back rail (no need to be an overacheiver!) So here is proof that my pony can tackle scary brick walls:

Over the wall we go! Cropping so you don't have to witness my defensive position!

Over the wall we go! Cropping so you don’t have to witness my icky equitation!

We got a few more photos and I seriously need to get it into my head to stay up when we lands! It was killing me to see some of them afterwards *cringe*. But that’s why these things are so helpful! I want to school some jumps again a little later in the week so I get a good feel before the cross-country schooling over the weekend.

And in the land of dressage, Foster has been making some serious progress with his lateral work. We’re starting to stay soft through the leg yields, and our shoulder-in’s are not as heinous sticky as they used to be. Still need to work on lengthenings and getting clear transitions between the working and lengthened gaits. Otherwise no complaints at the moment!

Onward and upward we go!

Showjumping Lesson Recap

Foster after lesson

Foster was a tired boy after our lesson!

So we finally got a lesson in! I trailered over to Equiventure this morning, where Holly trains, so it was even more meaningful because we were able to get off property. Foster tends to travel really well, and was much more interested in eating grass than looking about. But when we got to the arena he found another gear that I haven’t felt in some time!

While I won’t bore you with all the details, I did have some great take-aways:

  • I have a tendency to bend him to the left over fences, as well as turn my head to the left, which causes him to travel through his right shoulder and occasionally jump over the shoulder. I need to focus on riding him straight through his neck and body and look straight ahead!!
  • It is okay to let Foster move out a bit. More forward and more energy is not something I should be afraid of!
  • Don’t hit him with my butt! This one I was somewhat aware of going into it, as I’ve seen it on some of the videos taken of us recently. I need to stay in the air just a beat longer so I don’t punish him by ‘landing’ before he does.
  • For practicing at home we are going to take 3′ off of the distances, but know and be prepared for shows setting up strides different ways. Even if they use the 12′ stride + 6′ takeoff/landing, the adrenaline should get us moving through it fine.
  • For combinations, land, sit up, stay quiet, and let the fence come to you

There’s definitely a few other pointers I picked up but these are the highlights! Overall I think I have plenty to work on, and am really proud of my boy for being so workmanlike. We both had a great time; I knew Foster was having fun because he was giving me great walk/canter transitions with a little fun head toss every once in a while.

Dirty girth

It was also a great opportunity to school in some wetter footing!
Tomorrow’s a tack cleaning day for sure…

Next week is our XC schooling at a huge farm in Southern Pines. So stay posted for that and maybe even a jumping photoshoot at home this weekend!