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!!!

Showjumping lesson recap

Tuesday we had our first showjumping lesson post-holidays, which meant about 3 weeks since our previous session. Thankfully there was a break in the frigid temps, and at a balmy 50*, this ended up being a godsend, since Jack came out thinking the devils were lurking in every shadow, pole, and different-colored-dirt-patch.

We’ve come to learn that this horse doesn’t tend to do well coming back from a break. While eventually he settles in, that first ride is a bit of a roller coaster, and it doesn’t take much to convince Jack he’s under duress. Case in point:

Eventually we built up to going between two (gasp) flower boxes to the itty-bitty fence, and once we conquered that we moved on to actual jumping.

YAY JUMPING

My position was definitely a bit weak, and I had trouble getting my heels down and shoulders back. My other go-to moves include A) making a move with my shoulders when I get nervous B) not staying folded long enough on the backside of the fence and C) turning too soon on landing instead of staying straight (which probably also relates to point B).

mental note: shoulders HERE. legs HERE.

We wrapped up with a fairly simple course, staying quiet down the lines and working on the afore mentioned points. The video below is the last of the evening.

My game plan for Saturday’s CT is to trot fences until he settles, stay straight through my landings and keep my shoulders back. We intend to also do a second jumping round as a hopeful confidence boost.

At least that’s the plan!

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: Running Start BN Combined Training

Saturday, Jack and I (with the help of our amazing friend C) headed out to do a quick Combined Training event in Southern Pines. The goal was to get a little more exposure and get a confidence building round. Essentially we were to do our dressage test, go back to the trailer for a tack change, jump, and head home again.

Jack’s dressage test was okay. The next time I take him out I’ll be adding spurs, because I feel as though his tension translates into getting behind my leg, and I definitely was not able to be nearly as quiet as I am at home. Still, the judge liked him well enough, giving him an 8 on the following movements, as well as his gaits:

  • Trot circle right
  • Change rein KXM
  • Trot circle left
  • Change rein HXF
  • Downward transition to trot
  • Free walk
  • Upward trot transition + turn down centerline

We got dinged overall for our hollow moments which was not surprising- again I know that we are going to have hollow canter transitions for some time until we re-wire Jack to use his hind end instead of his massive shoulders to change gait. The test scored a 29 (71%) with plenty of room for improvement.

Our jump warm up was also just okay, and I needed a swift kick in the butt to hold to the base of the fence. Our jumping round was then the total opposite, as each fence impressed Jack more and more and we got ugly chippy distances and even a stop at the swedish oxer (which is fine- that’s a new question to him and no ground line). So after having cowboyed him through the course, I was not satisfied and quickly requested a schooling round, which is what you see below.

It’s amazing what change you can effect when you actually ride. I was really thrilled with the result and felt like Jack would have a very positive note to end on. The pony got lots of pats and stuffed full of treats and we were homeward bound.

Thanks to a brain fart on my part, we likely won’t be competing in October, but definitely lots of lessons and hopefully even a clinic with a certain former trainer of ours. The more miles the better!

Show Recap: September War Horse Jumping

After dressage was settled, the nerves started sinking in. This is my first time doing anything more than maiden since…2015? In any case, I was lucky to have friends there to tell me to take deep breaths. Jack, meanwhile, had finally settled and was miffed that I woke him up from his nap to tack him up. He warmed up feeling like a calm hunter horse, which, though great for the relaxation, needed more push and packaging to get around the course we had ahead of us. We both were tired, and I had to verbally remind myself to dig deep and ride every fence.

Our round wasn’t maybe as smooth as it had been in the schooling the day before, but it was clear. Jack went from tired and strung out to feeling looky and up. The chips we got were a combination of not being quite balanced/forward enough and him being a little more backed off of the fences. There’s still so much to improve, but I was impressed that he stayed rideable and attentive as we navigated the course, even if we didn’t quite make all the turns that we had hoped to accomplish. The clear round moved us up into 1st out of 19 and then it was off to XC! But that’s a tale for tomorrow.

… what face am I making?
PC: High Time Photography

Riley’s warm up for jumping was again short and sweet. Basically W/T/C and do a cross rail a couple times. I had realized that morning that he has schooled stadium fences all of twice in the last 18 months, but figured that since it was small and he is basically a point-and-shoot ride that we’d be fine. And we were.

Given that his fitness is still a work in progress, I determined that I would simply feel it out in regards to cantering vs trotting the course. It’s therefore pretty unremarkable, but since we went around clear Riley earned a lovely blue ribbon and lots of pats for being the best boy ever.

Tomorrow, XC recap for Jack!

Lesson Recap: Installing Rideability over Fences

As I mentioned last week, one of the main differences between foxhunters and eventers is the expectation of rideability, or being able to rate the horse between fences. It was fully disclosed to me that this was therefore a work in progress with Jack- that his whole life he has either trotted or galloped fences, and so the idea of a showjumping canter was still being installed. [For comparison, here’s our lesson from 3 weeks ago:]

Last week I had a lesson where Jack was in full-fledged foxhunting mode. He warmed up beautifully on the flat, but fences, even teeny tiny ones, were way more exciting than necessary, and half halts were completely ignored. So I went home and worked on cantering him over poles, where he was still tense/stiff but maybe not fully running as he had been previously. The plan was made that for our next lesson I would warm him up and the trainer would get on him for a training ride to feel out the situation.

As you can see, I ended up riding him the whole time. After warming him up and feeling like I had a buttery hunter in my hands, I cantered him back and forth over a pole like it was the easiest thing in the world. So we continued on, and if the running came back then we would swap riders. It didn’t, and I had a lovely and rateable horse throughout the schooling. It was such pleasure to be able to work with a light contact and feel him respond to my half halts. We kept all the fences small so we could focus on other things, and just in case he was a bit sore from his increase in work. But even when he got a bit tired at the end of the lesson, Jack was still the perfect gentleman, and we finished with a huge smile on my face and lots of treats for the palomino pony.

Our entry went off today for our first show together- a schooling Horse Trials about an hour away. We’ll just be doing Maiden, but this lesson gave me hope that it will be a great confidence building outing for us both!

Lesson Notes 7-22

Somehow I survived my two lessons on Saturday, and both horses lived to tell the tale as well. And considering whatever the heat did to potentially addle my brain, in addition to my head already spinning with deadlines and the impending show this weekend, I find that I need to jot down the things I learned from those lessons while I still remember.

TC’s Dressage Lesson:

  • Conservative and correct is better than up tempo and tense
  • Sit into the canter transition (and keep mentally reminding myself to push him off the right leg from time to time)
  • Keep my elbows heavy and hands low
    • TC can be a head wagger occasionally- keeping my hands low and together (thinking about having a low center of gravity) stops his mouth from taking on any movement that happens as a result of posting with my elbows up high
  • Think about 10 meter circles as 2 halves
  • Prepare early for transitions- TC needs more time to process than I realize
  • Look out on the stretchy circle to maximize the number of steps available
  • Think about walk in the transition from lengthening trot to working trot- show off the “coming back”

Jack’s Jumping Lesson:
I had a very different horse under me for this jump lesson, despite the near three-digit temperature. Jack came out and was much stronger than I was used to, which is a result of his getting fit and building confidence. It’s also a direct reflection of his time as a foxhunter, where I was told that he was taught to either trot fences or gallop them. While we worked on managing his stride in front of the fence, trainer had some words of wisdom:

I’m going to take the suspense out of the situation for you. You’re going to have some ugly jumps for a while.

And well, as you’ll see in the video, she ain’t wrong. Here are the other tidbits that I need to stick in my skull moving forward:

  • Our flatwork is coming together (yay!) but I need to remember to not camp my legs out in front of me
  • As he gets stronger/fitter, I shouldn’t be surprised about his wanting to take the bit
    • Add a running martingale to allow for more control
      • Keep my hands up and reins short for same
  • Do not lean for the lead
  • Hold to the fence, then be sure to release as his front legs lift off

Between fences, we also chatted about goals. I would like to do a recognized show by the end of the year, and we decided to aim for Stable View at the end of September as a result. Even if showjumping looks a bit ugly, we should be able to get around a Beginner Novice course by then as long as I stick with the program. And with lots of schooling options between now and then, including a clinic in a few weeks, we should have a lot more experience under our belts as a pair before taking on Aiken!