Show Recap: VAHT Showjumping

Finally, we reach our conclusion.

Thanks to the top rider getting time faults on XC, I was sitting in first after cross country. But we all know that SJ is my/Jack’s weakest phase, and you know, that old adage about the only place to go from the top is down.

The showjumping arena at the Virginia Horse Center had lots to look at, including covered bleachers along the far side (where the text Virginia International… is), a beautiful tall carved bear where the bush is on the map, and random fences placed in the ring that we didn’t jump. And, as you can see, they were fairly crammed into the space available. Because of this, I honestly wasn’t sure how Jack would handle it- would he ping pong visually off of all the fences, or would he be ok?

I had asked my normal trainer if there was someone she could recommend to warm me up, and she nominated Bobby Meyerhoff, who very kindly held my hand through the warm up and got me in a better rhythm before heading into the ring. Of course his main comments were a twin to what I typically hear from Holly- that is, package the canter, don’t let it get flat and big. And he had me do both verticals and oxers until we were smooth enough to tackle the last phase.

Jack felt pretty tired in general that morning, which I don’t blame him for one bit, and maybe that helped him settle more than usual in the showjumping. Other than the tap you see to fence 3, I didn’t feel like he needed a ton of extra encouragement to get around despite the brightly colored sticks everywhere. Fence 4 ended up being a self fulfilling prophecy, since I was worried about it- long approaches to a vertical are definitely my bogey fence, and this one got away from me as I did exactly what Bobby/Holly told me not to do- I let the canter get big and then got in to a weak, deep distance and boom, thar she blows.

In complete honesty though, I don’t give a damn about that rail (though I’ll be requesting to work on those lines in lessons). Jack was so phenomenal and attentive and rateable, and I felt like we both had a complete 180 from the round from hell that was the War Horse show.

A toast to meeting life long goals!

I’ll save my continued gushing for another post, but walking away from the ring knowing we had officially qualified for the AECs was quite simply the most amazing feeling.

Show Recap: SPHT Novice Showjumping

Friday night around 4pm, it started raining.

I walked my XC course in a downpour. Poor souls tried to ride their horses or unload their trailers in the wet, and slowly our showgrounds turned into a city of drowned rats. Where there were puddles, lakes appeared, and the only upside was that the water complexes were looking more and more inviting as our horses desensitized themselves to wet toes.

This was all fine for the moment, as I smugly enjoyed hiding under the overhang cleaning tack, having already ridden and unpacked. And then I realized that we were warming up for showjumping on grass that was getting slicker by the minute.

And though the next day it had stopped raining, it didn’t get any dryer. So this is pretty much how the warmup went:

And of course I shared my SJ warmup with a couple of folks riding horses that were hellbent at killing us all. They went sideways, they went up, there was head tossing and rearing and cursing, and it was so slick that I couldn’t turn fast to get out of the way.

Jack handled it amazingly well- but as for me, well:

all while shooting bullets at people with my eyes

The trainer was wondering what the hell was wrong with me, while my brain was quietly cooking inside my head. I was relieved then when it was time to head over to the ring and leave that hot mess behind us.

Despite all that, our course was actually one of our best to date. Jack is really settling into his role as show horse, and bar a dumb spook turning to the final line, was fairly rideable throughout. For myself, I am finally learning to sit up, but still got a little leany about halfway through, causing Jack to pick up the pace and put in less balanced approaches. #mybad

So, coming in almost 10 seconds under, we survived wrapped up showjumping and then sat in second before cross country.

It’s a miracle!

 

Show Recap: Jack’s Novice CT with another pilot

While I was in sunny Florida stalking gorgeous [$$$] ponies, my own pony was trudging through the mud and muck, competing with another rider. Before the show she had taken a jumping lesson on him, and flatted him once on her own. Luckily though, she’s a talented rider (just placed 2nd at Pine Top’s Prelim!) and sensitive enough to absolutely have no problem with my occasionally spastic yellow pony.

Since I wasn’t there, I can’t go into the day in detail, but obviously it didn’t go too shabby. Together they scored a 27.9 in Dressage, which was fourth after a 3-way tie for 1st place (score 27.1 – dang it!). The video shows a test that is accurate with only small moments of tension, and I’m pleased that Jack had a fairly confidence boosting experience.

Then there was showjumping. Jack typically warms up beautifully for showjumping, then goes into the arena and ‘pings’ off all the fences in total sensory overload (the colors! the ferns! the poles! ah!). And you can see that A had a bit of that ride herself, though she implements the gag bit better than I to get his frame in a better shape so we wouldn’t go hollow over the fences.

They did get one rail, as you can see- where he got hollow on the approach and took out the back rail of an oxer. But overall, again, a really nice round that looked more settled than normal. Which is all I wanted!

Fake news

They accidentally recorded an extra rail, but Jack would have placed 5th overall. Since it’s a CT, and I wasn’t riding, I could care less, but it was good to see that overall he did fairly well in a course that looked like it caused lots of rails down.

In general, I’m happy with the experience that this rider gave him. I would say I would have preferred myself to be in the tack, but given the weather conditions, I won’t – Florida was glorious and that show looked wet and miserable. #sorrynotsorry

The next time we hit up the horse park it will be for a recognized show- and there’s a lot to prep between now and then! Thanks A for the great ride 🙂

Show Recap: Pipe Opener BN – SJ

So apparently after dressage we were somehow able to hold our heads high. But of course, dressage is my strongest phase and there were plenty of opportunities for gaffs in showjumping – right now Jack and I’s weakest phase.

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Trainer had us start jumping when we were 5 riders out, since there was little point in overjumping him. He felt substantially more relaxed, and when we started jumping we were catching good(ish) distances and clearing the warmup fences with room to spare. The course looked like a good sort for us, lots of changes in direction to keep the yellow pony from gaining too much speed and snowballing as we went along.

gotthis

We didn’t.

Did I mention that the course looked good for us? Well yes, it did. In fact I was feeling pretty confident about it. The fences looked small (hallelujah!), the turns were nice, and the trainer and I were discussing about using this as an opportunity to take tighter turns. I may have taken that slightly too much to heart.

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See the below diagram for my might mistake. The grey dotted line represents the sane, though tight rollback that we were supposed to execute. The purple line… represents my amateur moment. Yes, not even two fences into the course I presented my horse face-first into the wing of a fence, and then decided to ask him to jump it anyways. Which he did. Good lord, I didn’t deserve that but many, many thanks, Jack.oops-01.jpg

Annnnnd after immediately seeing the humor of the situation and vocally apologizing to my coach, I proceeded to allow my brain to melt out of my ears and ride like shite for the rest of the course. Pretty sure there is only one line where we are actually on the correct lead. Because you know, besides eventing, embarrassing myself is like my next best hobby.

So enjoy the below video, where we go double clear despite my obvious attempts to sabotage us from fence 2. Where we solidify our second place finish out of 20 competitors. Where I feel sorry for the people who had to watch us (listen to the audio), and get confused about how they were supposed to go from 1 to 2 (hint: don’t do what I did).

Sorry Jack, I’ll do better next time.

In Which I Piss Off My Horse Mightily

Jack and I had a CTJ lesson last week, and I think he has only now forgiven me since the occasion.

In that lesson, we were finally made to come to terms with his frame before the fence. This issue has come up a lot previously, because it’s Jack’s MO to lift his head and go hollow in front of the fence. As long as he approached the fence in a polite and steady manner, we tended to let it pass. But in coming back from his hiatus, Jack has been less predictable those last couple strides before the jump- either slowing down and losing power or racing towards the fence. And really the only thing consistent about it is his inconsistency. See the video below, where I try to keep him packaged but he runs through my aids as we get close to the jump.

It’s not all about where his head is before the fence, not just about how he looks and whether or not we make a pretty picture. It’s about him dropping his back before the fence when his head pops up, and as a result he can’t bascule over the fence as he should and can. If he can keep his back up all the way to take off, he will have a more effective jump and remain rideable through the entire approach. For these reasons, we need to install this basic concept in Jack – but I can tell it’s going to be hard won.

What’s difficult for me is that he is SO big and strong, and so wiggly. When I try to get him between my hand and legs before the fence, he escapes through a shoulder, or uses his neck against me – and no human is going to be strong enough to overpower and horse using their full strength in opposition.

So our lesson moved away from fences for the most part- instead making him stay low and soft over a ground pole, and let me tell you, this kicked off a battle of wills that Jack and I have not yet experiences with each other. We could be overbent but round and go over the pole, but if we were remotely straight the fight to stay soft became a war. He went sideways, he drew back to a jog, he threw his head from side to side, he tried to canter, or he went even more sideways.

When eventually we were able to ride the pole and stay consistent from front to back side of it, Holly let us try a small fence.

And guys, I have NEVER felt that before – he actually stayed soft right up until takeoff, and the bascule I felt under me was enlightening. I promptly dropped my reins and gave him all the pats and praises. And was just as promptly reminded to keep riding.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t repeat that success.

We spent the rest of the lesson riding the above pattern, and it was brutal. The fence was an 18″ crossrail, but you would have thought it was a Puissance fence the way he wanted to approach it. Let me tell you, my triceps were in agony by the end of the ride. We found an OK-ish place to stop and proceeded to have a long chat about next steps, all the while Jack standing with his head looking back at me with the biggest Fuck-you side eye I have ever seen from any horse. Even the carrot I gave him afterwards was eaten in ‘I wish this was your face’ stabbing angry bites. Ouch.

As it turns out, the above bit is our next step in the process. While I don’t like to rely on gadgets, I am simply not strong enough to ride through this. The hope is the gag action will stop him bracing against my hands, but we’ll still have the soft snaffle mouthpiece for all the moments when he’s a good boy.

Our next lesson is this weekend, so we’ll see how it goes!

 

First Jump Lesson Back!

Just so you know, I seriously contemplated calling this post “On Cloud 9 with a Turd Sandwich“. But that’s probably not the best SEO strategy in the world.

Thursday Jack and I headed over to the trainer’s, to finally jump some colored sticks after 6 months of being completely earthbound.

I expected the golden boy to come out in full spooky fashion, seeing as he hasn’t seen his shadow under lights in a long time, and you know, his tail is occasionally terrifying. But he wasn’t. Color me gobsmacked.

He was actually jumping so well, in fact that we moved past trotting 18″ and actually cantered fences and everything. See the below compilation of some of our finer moments:

And then the train started to come off the tracks. Jack got a little overambitious, dragging me to fences, one of which I wasn’t intending to jump. So, there’s that.

It took us some time to install brakes again and approach fences in a reasonable fashion, but luckily the video kept going:

We finished on a good note (not captured here as our videographer was cold and deserved to go home), and despite the naughtiness, I have to say:

I AM SO STUPID HAPPY.

It’s so nice to be back.

Show Recap: Longleaf Horse Trials SJ

Having won the tie for third place in the XC phase, I was fairly nervous that I was going to screw things up in the showjumping. Jack came out and warmed up beautifully, and somehow the gears in my head were still working enough to tell me to stay quiet and keep my shoulders back, despite my inner voice screaming “lean at it! Go go go!”.

Our tie-partner went into the ring before us, and I watched them put in a beautiful double clear round. Alright, so the pressure was really on now.

Then Jack and I got on course. We circled an oxer towards the middle of the arena, and after a few steps of his typical “holy sh*t, where am I?!” nonsense, he actually settled and started listening to me.

Fence 1 felt great, but as I got him straight into the approach to an oxer-to-oxer line he started snowballing into the first fence. A hard half halt to remind him that we don’t do that sort of thing and he came back enough for the third fence on course.

Fence 3

Fences 4 and 5 came up fine, and though we were booking we somehow made the rollback turn back to 6. This is where I went wrong- I let the canter get too strung out, and as a result he took out the top rail with his knees. I can tell you, there were a number of four letter words rolling through my head at that point, and after watching the video I’m glad that I didn’t actually say them out loud.

Fence 7B out of the 2 stride combo

The rest of the course rode beautifully, but our unfortunate rail cost us 2 places. Still, as seemed the trend for the rest of the show up to that point, I was just thrilled that Jack felt more relaxed and rideable than he had before. And Novice didn’t feel so big as it seemed back in February at the schooling day.

Fence 8 and a happy poneh

I’m also starting to learn to think and ride in showjumping, which is a big win for me- normally I’m so focused on the order of the fences there’s little room for anything else. We may have wrapped up the weekend a little lower in the standings that I had hoped (my yellow ribbon collection was coming along so nicely), but all in all it was a super debut at a new level for Jack, and he came back a little wiser and a little more confident as a result. For that I’m incredibly thankful.

Show Recap: SPHT Stadium

After learning that we were at the top of the charts after dressage, that really put the pressure on to go clear in the jumping phases. And you know what they say… when you’re at the top, the only way to go is down. And you know what comes down? Brightly colored sticks.

The showjumping course- very friendly overall

Our warm up went pretty well, but as we now know, that doesn’t mean that Jack will go in the ring all calm and collected-like. So the plan was to go in the ring and go– forward and packaged and get him thinking straight where possible. We expected 4 to be a little sticky because it was an oxer that appeared to be jumping into the stands, and 9a-9b was giving folks trouble all day because of the astroturf filler, but otherwise thinking positive and moving seemed to provide rewarding rides.

Even though we had a rail down (dammmmmmit), this was still our best round to date in terms of how obedient and relaxed Jack was once we found a rhythm. I did have to growl at him approaching 5 when I felt him back off a bit, but that’s just kind of how Jack is at the moment so I won’t fault him for that.

Our rail bumped us from 1st to tied for 2nd- still in the ribbons heading to XC and a fun course there awaiting us as well! Tomorrow we wrap it up!

Winter Schooling Day Recap

This weekend, the Carolina Horse Park put on the most amazing schooling day, giving Jack and I the opportunity to get in and out of the showjumping ring over and over with absolutely no pressure to perform. We paid for unlimited rounds, and with a prepared course got to go in at a roughly allotted time and get ringside assistance from the trainer- all good things for us!

Round one was at 2’6″, and for me I attempted to micromanage Jack’s anxiety that comes with this ring (meanwhile warmup continues to be a relaxing snoozefest). I had to use my bat to get him down the final outside line since the stack of poles just outside the ring was terrifying to the BDH, but overall it was a better round still than what we’ve had before. We decided to go back in for another round and work out the kinks, and Holly wanted me to get a straighter, more forward ride out of the blonde beastie.

What resulted ended up being our best round to date. It’s amazing what can happen when you sit up, think, and ride. Could he be softer through his outline? Totally. And ya know, he basically canters some of these fences instead of jumping, but whatever. I was thrilled coming off of this ride, and we decided to wait around for the 3′ course and school at that height as well.

It’s a little sticky, as you can see. I think at this point we were both a bit tired, and I needed a lot more of a forward ride. I’m not used to jumping the max width of some of these oxers, and so I need to adjust my position to stay with him when he puts in a bigger effort. And I’m so annoyed about that last distance, and was tempted to circle back to it had the next rider not entered the ring. But I was told to shrug it off and be pleased with our first full course at this height.

Overall it was a great day. My friend A was then able to do a cool down flat in the dressage ring and Jack got to also learn that there’s nothing scary about the sandbox. They ended with a super stretchy session that had to feel good after all the waiting around of the day.

When you consider that the video below is where we were just 5 months ago, it’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come. My trainer and friends keep reminding me of that, but I need to keep it in perspective. And really, it makes me even more excited for what’s to come!

 

Pipe Opener Recap: Jumping

Expanding on yesterday’s dressage recap, after dressage I was slightly meh about my test, but determined to still give a good go of the showjumping. I paid in advance for an extra round, with the expectation that he would be his normally spooky self in the show arena (which he was) and give him a more confidence building experience the second time round.

Since Jack started out being looky at the lakes puddles that dominated the facility that day, I purposely got his feet wet over and over again in the warmup ring- not hard to do when the “puddles” are almost 20′ wide. This gave me hope that I wouldn’t be swimming once we got into the arena proper, since there was literally no approach from 6B to fence 7 that avoided a splash zone.

After confidently navigating the water, we had a beautiful warmup, thanks to friend C channeling the trainer’s words from Tuesday’s lesson. I actually felt like my leg was under me, and for the most part that my shoulders were back, and Jack felt lovely and supple and relaxed. Where is that horse for dressage??

She helps me tack, warm up, and video- also her hair is fabulous!

But all that relaxation went away as predicted the moment we stepped into the competition ring. Just like all the previous times, he would basically ping off of all the fences while I tried to assure him these were fences of the non-horse-eating variety. Enter again lots of verbal praise to calm the big weenie.

Accurate representation of Jack on course

Beyond that, we had a decent go.

Except for this. Right here. On the last fence, and the last foot over- cost us a rail that moved us from a potential 3rd place to tied for 7th.

Oh well.

We sat around for 20 minutes and came back in for our schooling round, and I was shocked to find Jack more spooky on re-entry than before. I can only figure that he was tired at this point and backed off. So we really didn’t get to smooth anything out until after fence 4. You’ll see in the video that he comes back to a trot, and I think the adrenaline wore off and I actually was able to give him more of a decent ride than before.

Overall, I’m really happy with the big blondie. We got all our leads, and even though we got a couple wonky spots (including a deep one I asked him for- sorry buddy but waiting is a thing), in general it felt way smoother than our last time there in November.

I believe the plan is to shoot for Novice height at the next SJ outing at the end of January. We’ve also got a cross country schooling this weekend if the weather cooperates! All the things!!!