2019 in Review

2019 was the year of… everything.

It was amazing. I accomplished things I’d not thought possible. It was hard. Not only did I work my ass off to make it all happen, but my family, both human and hairy, changed more this year than ever before.

It was just a lot.

2019’s mantra

And it culminated in the longest unintentional break from blogging in the 5 years that this blog has existed.

Sorry ‘bout that.

I figure though, that when I look back at this year, there will be a few events that stand out specifically. So here they are, in chronological order.

1. Foster
Early in 2019, I realized something I never thought possible- that Foster would come back into my life in such a big way. It’s been an absolute joy having him around, and seeing him thrive in his non-show-dressage job, even if it’s been hard to reconcile just how fat he has gotten over the years. He’s still the same goofy, cuddly, licking creature he always was, if a little more suspicious than he used to be. It’s been amazing.

Drake and Elliot

2. Elliot.
I get that a lot of people aren’t cat people. And if you never met Elliot, I guess it’s hard to explain- except that his personality was bigger than any cat, or any dog, and that his weirdness made him larger than life. He was my janky, snaggle toothed, scar faced, crazy-ass love of my life. Losing him was a definite low of 2019. The flip side to losing Elliot is that we then adopted a janky Manx cat of a different kind, and Effie has started to help me heal in her own cross eyed, crazy-ass way.

3. The AECs
After qualifying with my clear XC round at VAHT, most of the summer went towards bubble wrapping Jack and working on our fitness. I obsessed over every detail, without trying to go overboard (fail), bleaching his tail, doing fitness work in 90+ degree heat, practicing every part of Novice B until my brain hurt, and freaking out about the drive to Kentucky. The anxiety that went into the AECs was rewarded though by an amazing experience that ran the gambit of my AMAZING friends buying t-shirts in support, to hearing the cheers of my teammates and husband as I galloped amongst the beautiful oaks of the KY Horse Park, and ending with a big beautiful purple ribbon and taking part in a victory gallop as I thought about all my idols that had done so before me. #Worthit

4. The Burnout
Somewhere in the middle of the spring, as I was working towards qualifying for AECs, I landed a promotion that made me official manager of a team of 6. The growing pains of learning to manage, not only an increased workload with executive exposure for myself, but also for a host of other people, has been an amazing opportunity but also a source of stress over the year. Coupled then with my own equestrian journey towards Kentucky once work was done, I felt like 2019 was a marathon that I never got to finish. I ended September feeling accomplished but absolutely stripped of energy, enthusiasm, and financially broke. Because of this last element, I finished September and threw myself into photography work to make up the difference. You know what doesn’t help burnout? Working more. Basically, this was the year of my attempting to be a machine and failing. Yay 2019.

5. WHES Championships
Because of item #4, I didn’t even finish recapping that show. It was massive, and I hoped desperately to finish in the money ($1000 to first place! at a schooling show!). The downside to it being a schooling show though is that I had to compete against professionals (a rule that is changing next year, since the whole series is really in the spirit of amateur/juniors getting positive experiences). To summarize my non-existent recap, I finished fourth behind 3 pros, and as the highest placed amateur won myself a stack of goodies. I also should have won a bit of money, but I got busy with work/life/photography/burnout and never collected it. I’m an idiot. But yay goodies?!

When dancing is my goals, and the baby is my mental health

That’s my 2019 in review. 2020- I hope for more exciting adventures from you, and a little more self preservation/care for myself.

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!

Uptown Funk you up

[Thanks Bruno Mars for this song that has been stuck in my head all weekend]

Though the weather has started to warm, and the ice has mostly melted, I find myself having a hard time being cheerful about it. After mentioning my funk to the husband, he observed that this seems to happen around this time every year for as long as he’s known me. Huh. Probably the lack of saddle time combined with minimal sunshine that’s got me down? Really, it’s probably just the lack of saddle time. Damn ice.

Come here human, let me lick you

Come here human, let me lick you

Foster may have been feeling similarly, as we attempted half heartedly with some dressage work last night in the tiny part of the arena that wasn’t beaten to bits by lessons prior. We’re all waiting the time when the footing in the covered arena will be fixed, but right now as it’s the only arena available (the outdoor being under water, basically), they can’t get in to fix it and we’re all having to deal. If you’re lucky enough to get in there just after it’s been dragged it’s great, but if you’re late to the game (as I was both days this weekend), you end up doing 10 meter figure 8’s. Foster was less than pleased.

Wild man (not really) got lunged on Saturday to see how he was feeling. He was feeling like he would prefer to stand.

Wild man (not really) got lunged on Saturday to see how he was feeling. He was feeling like he would prefer to stand.

On the bright side, J reminded me that it was the one year anniversary of our first Novice outing yesterday. It was a bittersweet show in a way- our most relaxed dressage test, a clear but fractionally wild feeling showjumping round, and then an awesome XC that culminated in me going into cruise control mode and getting a stupid runout, blowing our chances of getting a 2nd place ribbon. Still, I remember being elated that his Novice debut had only suffered due to rider error- a good reminder for how my attitude should be regarding the clinic move up to Training.

Our first Novice

Our first Novice / PC: Brant Gamma

Still, it’s fun to think that a year later, we’re so much improved. The canter has changed immensely, lengthenings are finally coming, and we’re talking about Training with a little less trepidation. Our next attempt is going to come up sooner rather than later, as I’m planning on attending a Combined Training show mid-March. The course should be technically easier than the clinic, although in a smaller arena. My worry is that with all the standing water on the ground, will be get a chance to jump before the show? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.


Show Recap: Running Start Horse Trials

We could rename this blog “Stupid Things Britt Does With a Horse”, and it would be a more descriptive title than the current version.

But let’s start at the beginning. I arrived home from Pittsburgh Friday night about 7:30, convinced the husband to take me straight to the barn where I cleaned the white bits of Foster and packed the last remaining details for the show. Proceeded home about 10:30pm, and unsuccessfully tried to sleep. Got to barn at 5:30 Saturday morning, hooked up and rolled out around 6:20 am. About 15 minutes before arriving at the show, I asked my buddy to look up the test for me so I could go over it once more in my head [most of my test practice had been mental to date, as riding time has been limited by my geographical location and/or weather]. Found out the test I had ridden once physically, and many more times mentally, was the wrong test, and started memorizing the new one.

One thing I love about my horse is that he brings his A game to shows. He tends to get really tense and anxious at home when he sees the trailer, becomes a bit spooky in the cross ties as I put on his shipping boots and fairly prances his way to the trailer. But once he gets to the show, he unloads casually and is always cool as a cucumber. I had the most relaxed horse under me during warm up, and I felt awesome about his dressage test. Beyond coming above the bit in his canter transitions (which we have practiced absolutely nil in the last month), he felt extremely obedient throughout and soft as butter. My hands are a little low, but I allowed his frame to be more Training dressage like, and so since there is a straight elbow-to-bit line, I’m okay with that. When we checked the scoreboard, the placings reflected a strong test- 2nd out of 13!

Screenshot from dressage

Screenshot from dressage

In the showjumping warmup, Foster continued to be really relaxed- almost too relaxed in fact! Julieann acted as my coach and tried to get me into a more forward canter, and while we got it in the end, I was a bit worried that he wouldn’t be able to maintain that pace through the course, but I pledged to try.

Imagine my surprise when Foster came out guns blazing in the arena! I thought the first fence was a bit spooky (and recalling our last horse trail there), decided to ride aggressively with a couple warning taps on the shoulder which may have gotten him a bit revved up. I may have also not held the soft knee I was striving for, and so he sensed my tension and got a bit carried away. Either way, it was a point and shoot kind of round, and he jumped me out of the tack a couple times for sure! But clean and clear and heading to XC!

Overjumping.. just a little!

Overjumping.. just a little!

Cross country was where I of course had the most concerns leading up to the show, because of both technical and fitness related questions. He knocked a pole pretty hard in the warmup and overreacted a little bit (with of course the timers yelling at me to get in the start box), so I chose to approach fence 1 with a more collected canter that I could control. After that he really opened up, and we had a fantastic run all the way through the water fence. After that, I breathed a big sigh of relief and mentally went on cruise control. This was a bit of a mistake.

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I approached the half coffin, cruising along and thinking nothing of it, and Foster saw that there was a second element (it was a jump, 2 strides to a reasonably sized ditch), and hesitated. Had I been thinking at all, I am 100% sure he would have gone straight over it, but that’s just it- I wasn’t thinking. So we had a run out, whereupon I brought him back to it and he went straight over. Over one more fence, and we were done. I pulled him up, told him he was a good good boy, and basked in the knowledge that we finished our first Novice course.

Over fence 2

Over fence 2

Then I realized (by way of whispers), that I hadn’t gone through the finish flags.

Palm to forehead, then hopped into a canter and backtracked to go through the flags. Word of advice- don’t leave your brain at jump 15. Whoops! In any case, Foster behaved better than I could ever have imagined, and  my stupid mistakes cost us a beautiful red ribbon! But in the end though, it wasn’t about the ribbon- it was about getting around and giving Foster a positive experience at the Novice level. I am so proud of him and how he behaved, and can’t wait to take him to the next one!

I do want to take a moment to thank Julieann for coming with me, being a source of positivity that I really needed, and taking the lovely video for us! You’re the best!