05/29/16 Burgundy Hollow Horse Trials – Recap

If you hadn’t noticed, I didn’t post goals for this show. Mostly because they didn’t change. I still wanted a low 30’s score in Dressage. Again, this show was on grass. It’s a bit hard to get May to show off her trot work on grass because, if she slips, she gets quite disgruntled. I still wanted a clear SJ round, but this goal did get tweaked a bit. I wanted to ride forward, even if it meant we got a rail. Finally for XC, I still wanted to go clear. This show had a flagged water complex, a slightly skinny bank, and a true ditch, so even though some of the jumps were undersized, I knew I had to really ride for these obstacles.

 

Our official Dressage time was 11:24AM. We got ready with the other members of our team who had slightly later times and wandered over to the warmup area. We walked around a bit, and I checked in with the ring steward. (do they have different names in eventing? I honestly have no idea). She told me that they were giving some people time where they needed it, but they were running ahead of schedule and I could go in when I was ready. Perfect.

  May doesn’t need a lot of work to go into the Dressage ring, and it was hot (about 90 degrees and humid). In an effort to keep the riding to a minimum, I waved over the fiance, who waved over my trainer, and we got warmed up. We did maybe three circles in each directly. May was moving off my leg, but was having some problems falling on her forehand at the canter. This is something we are working on and not something that was going to be fixed in the warmup ring. So with that, we headed in!

 

This show gives you the option of choosing which test to do. While May rides better in BN B, I thought it would be good to switch up the test on her and do A. Of course this meant that as I trotted down centerline, I was seriously debating with myself it it was a right turn or a left turn. I decided it must be left, and it worked out!

Our beginning few moves were really nice, and I have to say I am happy with them. The left is where she likes to ignore my inside leg and get stiff, so I am happy with the amount of bend I got through the circle. The canter transition wasn’t great. It was going downhill, and she seemed to disagree with me as I tried to explain that she could pick up an uphill canter while going downhill. She also slipped a bit in the corner, but I do really like the second half of that circle.

The walk work was… meh. She got a bit distracted at the beginning of it and never really stretched. The right trot work was solid and about where I can expect it. I can’t let her bend as much in this direction or I lose her shoulder. I managed not to lose her shoulder, but I did have to remind her to come off her forehand.
The last canter transition was meh. She again didn’t believe that she could canter uphill while going downhill and was still cautious from slipping on the grass, but we got it done and it was fine. The judge had some nice comments (calling it a very determined test immediately after my salute), and we came in 2nd in the Dressage:

“Fairly correct test effort. Great Pair 🙂 Work to maintain steady balance through test.”


Now, I do think the judge was a touch generous with the scores. It was a solid test, but I don’t think it was 6 points better than last week. (although, feel free to correct me if I am wrong!)

We then had a good amount of time until show jumping, so May go completely untacked and got to hang out and eat grass and hay. I hid in the shade and tried to stay cool, calm and composed. This was my downfall last weekend, sitting and waiting for show jumping.. and thinking. WAY too much thinking. So this time I did every reasonable thing I could think of to avoid thinking about it.

Then, it was time to get ready for show jumping and XC. At this show XC would run immediately after the SJ, so we just got ready for both. One of my favorite parts of this show probably makes no sense to any hunter/jumper types out there. The warm up jumps are set on a hill. A steep hill, about halfway up. The great thing about this? I have to kick to get up the hill, so I end up kicking the whole way to the base of the jump. It’s like magic!

When we originally walked down to the SJ field, I remember thinking that the jumps looked tiny. And they were, they were set for starter. (damn!) We wandered around a bit as they finished that division and then they put the jumps up. And I remember thinking they still looked small (yay!). They were undersized for BN, but that was exactly what I needed.

 

Overall, the round was good. I was able to have some influence on the spots we took, and we mostly kept a steady, forward pace. I should’ve fixed the lead to the jump on the far side of the ring, but again, my goal was forward. I am ok with the rail. It wasn’t clear, but it was a MUCH better ride than I gave May last week. At this point, I am thrilled with that!

Then it was off to XC! Sorry there aren’t pictures of almost every fence like last time. The first fence was a coop a few strides from the start gate. Then up a hill (Burgundy Hollow is basically on one big hill) to a half roll top, then a small gate at the top of the hill. May pretty much jumped me out of the tack over all three of these. She is really getting the hang of her job!


I recently read somewhere (sorry I can’t remember where) that you are most-likely to have problems at the fifth jump because that is where you start to feel comfortable. We had problems at the 4th jump. It was a well undersized (maybe 2’3″) vertical brush fence. But it was under a line of trees and faced directly into the field where all the trailers were parked. May backed off a bit, but I balanced her up and put my leg on and we were over it…

And towards one of the larger jumps on the course. A red table on a downward sloping hill. May wanted to look at it so bad that she ended up sneaking it another stride right before it, but she was honest and jumped it. Then down the hill and across the dirt road to the ditch and another up hill. May leaped across the ditch, and we charged up the hill as fast as her corgi legs could take us!


Up the hill was a small log and a standard sized bank. The face of the bank was narrow, so we had to steer a bit. May seems to really like banks, so it wasn’t an issue. I just had to make sure she locked onto the right section!


There was a hanging log at the top of the hill. Then we started to go down the hill and over a large rolltop. At this jump you started turning back towards all the trailers and other horses, and you were kind of overlooking them from the top of the hill. May got a big wiggly and distracted, but I rode to the base and she jumped.

The rest I mostly have video of!

She was not coming back like I was asking coming down the hill, so we got an awkward jump over the log. She sucked back going into the water, but did it. Then I had to give her a tap with the stick to get her refocused for number 13. Then we had a drunken gallop to number 14 where she was totally distracted, but honest.

So where did that leave us?

In Third!

And our barn’s team ended up winning, so we got some great “team champ” hats!

My friend also got 5th in her division, so we got to take pictures with satin that wasn’t even ours!


Thanks to Mark Hirschfeld Lewis for the Picture!

Overall, it was a really fun day where we accomplished our goals. We don’t have another show planned until the fall, as my trainer is having a baby, but we have plenty to work on at home, so stay tuned!

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05/22/16 Kent School Horse Trials – Recap

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

I apologize for the fact that it has taken me so long to write a recap of this one. The show itself was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and my feelings about it are following the same trend. First though, the logistics of the day!

3:00AM – Wake up

3:30AM – Leave House

5:00AM – Leave Barn

7:15AM – Arrive at Kent

9:00AM – Friend’s Dressage Ride Time (and the reason we were up before dawn)

11:20AM – My Dressage Ride Time

2:00PM – My SJ Time

2:30PM – My XC Time

3:00PM – Done showing, horses back on trailer

4:15PM – Ribbons released

6:30PM – Arrive back at Barn

7:30PM – Arrive Home

So in short, LONG DAY!

We actually braided for this show, and I was very impressed with how well May’s braids stayed in, especially considering how unamused she was by them.

 

After convincing her to get on the trailer in the dark, which she was convinced she would never fit in, we were on our way! The morning started out damn and cool, but the forecast promised better weather once we got to the show. For the next three hours, we just hung out. I got to watch my friend ride Dressage and some of the Training level riders jump their SJ. May got to eat lots of hay, which she appreciated.

Then, it was time to get ready for Dressage! May stood like a superstar, and I got to wear my new show coat and stock tie! (pre-tied, because ex-hunter-princesses don’t know how to tie a stock tie) I also actually busted out my Dressage saddle and a brand new white pad. Overall, we looked pretty legit.

Dres2.jpg

May was great wandering away from the trailer… but then our friend started screaming. May’s response was to scream back and prance up and down the hill by the stadium ring. My response? Sit like a ton of bricks. Fighting with her face was just going to get her more agitated and convince her that this whole thing was a bad idea. So I just sat there and made her go up hill when she wanted to jig.

The result? She stood quietly next to the stadium ring after about 10 minutes. I also got to meet Amelia Pitts from Dark Jewel Designs Browbands (check out her awesome stuff here). May is definitely getting one of these once I am less poor!

Dressage warmup was a bit tough, as there were probably ~20 horses at any given time also trying to warm up. The hill and slick grass were also a challenge, but May handled the atmosphere well. Our timing got pushed back a bit, so she stood longer than I had planned. Unfortunately, that meant we did lose a bit of focus.

I managed to get it back as we trotted over to the ring we would be showing in from the warmup ring… I then waiting 3 minutes for the girl in front of me to finish her salute. So there went that round of attention-getting. After she exited the arena, we did another quick warmup, and May felt really good and on my aids. She wasn’t looking at the busy warm up ring, or the judges cars, or the road right through the trees next to the ring.

Overall, the test was really good. Given the slick grass and slight hill, I couldn’t open up her step as much as I wanted to, so our scores suffered a bit. She slipped at the canter, which left her tense through the end of the test, which showed up in our walk. Overall, I was very happy, and we scored a 34, putting us in 2nd place! (For the record, I stopped trotting too soon at the end of the test, so walked a few steps to try and get as close as I could to x without looking obvious)
We then had about 3 hours before stadium. So May went back in the trailer, and we all ate and hung out for a while. My friend went before me in stadium and had a great, clear round! I, however, was starting to think too much. I started to feel pretty nauseous, but I tried to convince myself that it was the hotdog and heat and not the high jumps stuffed very close together in the stadium ring.
SJs

See, when I was younger, I had a very bad habit of “blacking out” during my jumping rounds. I didn’t pass out, but I would hold my breath and wouldn’t be able to remember anything about my courses after I rode them. I was starting to feel like that. Maybe it was the fatigue from the early morning wake up and sitting around for a long time or the pressure of being at our first recognized event around all these people I didn’t know on a horse that stands out quite a bit, but I was really too far into my own head. This is me too far in my own head, and my fiance being supportive. We are not nearly as judgy as we look in this picture…
Judgey

We got May ready (she looked fantastic with curly hair), and we headed down to the warmup ring. Also with 20 horses in it. It was chaos. They were running 25 – 30 minutes behind schedule, so there were horses there waiting for their rounds and horses that thought they were riding soon but were really really early.

We warmed up on the flat, and we jumped some jumps. She moved up to the jumps when I asked, and took the long spots when I asked, but she wasn’t really hunting the jumps like she usually does. She wasn’t taking me and letting me sit and regulate the rhythm. As a result, I was having to create the rhythm, keep the energy moving forward, hold her balance together, try to find distances, and avoid other horses. It was a good warmup, but she just didn’t feel like she was into it.

Then we had to go stand. At the in gate. Even writing this now, I feel that blackout kind of felling washing over me again. Not good. May got fidgety, but not in an excited way. I could tell she was feeding off of me a bit.

Finally, it was our turn to go in. First, the below is how it went:

The photographer got a full series of pictures at fence 3. They were not pretty, and the photos are public. Oh well.

We trotted into the arena in a bold, confident way. And then May saw all the people standing on the hill above us, and she didn’t take a look at the combination I had us trot through. She got tense and I, like a nervous genius, took my leg off. We got over the first to fences fine, and I started to feel like myself in the tack again. Then, we just missed to the third jump. Everyone was missing it all day, so I knew it would likely be an issue. May dropped behind my leg, and I jumped up her neck. It was ugly and unfair to my horse, and I felt her confidence drop. Of course, the next jump was a big square oxer off a short approach. I got nervous and chased her.

SJ1.jpg

She was a good girl and jumped it. We then came around to the combination, and she just sucked back. I tried to kick her through the line, but her balance had already fallen forward and we got 2 and an eighth strides (calling it a quarter or a half a stride would be too generous). By this point, May’s confidence was pretty shot (as was my own). My turn was bad to jump 6, and she decided she didn’t want to jump it. I don’t blame her, by this point, I didn’t really want to jump it either.


SJ7

We circled back, and I was determined to ride forward. And I did. By the last 3 jumps, May was back to being May. She jumped great down the long diagonal like, and did well around the last turn to the bright vertical. She even balance up enough to correct the cross canter landing off of jump 10. We trotted boldly out of the arena.

For those who are curious, we kept the right lead from 6 to 7 for two reasons: 1. Forward and rhythm were the most important things I needed at that moment, and breaking to the trot accomplished neither of these. 2. May has a habit of throwing her right shoulder through me as an evasion. It is much more difficult for her to do that in a counter canter. It got her off my right leg for the turn to the diagonal line and helped keep her from falling in before the last jump.

SJ8

I will be honest here. I felt pretty defeated walking out of stadium. Before showing up at Kent, I had felt like our stadium is where we had made the most progress in the last month. May was learning to balance herself differently, and I was figuring out how to help her with that balance. So to have it all come crashing down at fence 3 (pretty much literally) was very disappointing. I have a really good horse, and I got that distinct, crushing feeling that I was ruining her. I think all riders (and especially Adult Amateurs) have this feeling at one point or another and having it at a show was not conducive to success on XC.

I pulled off my coat while listening to my trainer tell me that the refusal was due to her loss of confidence after fences 3, 4, 5a, and 5b. As a true AA, all I heard was, “the stop was all your fault for riding so badly and you’re ruining your horse.”

We swapped out my nubblet spurs for larger ones (but still soft touch ones because the princess doesn’t like getting jabbed), and I traded in my jacket for my XC vest. My friend was back at the trailer after a good XC round on her horse. She said it was really fun and not too difficult. All I heard was “the course is really easy, and if you mess up, you’re going to be screwing up your horse even more.”

Here’s the thing: this course had a (very small) down back, an up bank, related distances, an unflagged water crossing and a half ditch. The water has not gone well for us this year, and we haven’t done ditches/banks since the one time we schooled them last year. This, along with our less than confident SJ round, was not making me feel like we were set up for success. The course was long, and I knew my corgi would tire out.

To put it bluntly, I was near tears. My trainer (at about 7 months pregnant) waddled up to me and asked if I was good. I shook my head and had trouble speaking. I told her about my concerns with the terrain questions and the length of the course. She told me that she can’t school me anymore. The only way to get the experience I need at this point is to go out and do it. She coached me on how to get May’s head in the game as they counted me down and off we went.

The first jump was a blue house off of a turn. My trainer got a shot of it with her camera, but I apologize for the poor quality.

XC1.jpg
Then we had a short gallop to a VERY steep hill. The hill had to be walked down, and May took her sweet time walking it. At the bottom of the hill was a few trot steps and the world’s smallest downbank. We cleared it without an issue then had a long canter stretch to the third jump. I realized that, with the time lost on the ditch, we kind of needed to boogie a bit. I let May pick up the pace, and just set her up a few strides before the third jump.

Redxc

The rest of the course went similarly. Set her up, jump the jump, make her go forward.

XCG

The fourth and fifth jumps were a related distance of a narrow(er) log to a stone wall. May was a bit impressed by the log:

Log

5

The sixth jump was a red roll top that we shared with Novice. We had no issues with it and made the turn toward the up bank at a trot. May locked onto the blue log behind it and took me over the ditch and the log. We were going at a really good click as we approached jump 9, a hanging log with some brush over it that was about 5 strides from a stone wall. We jumped 9 and she fell through my left leg. I steered back to 10 and we took it at a bit of an angle, but it was clear.

Jump 11 was a gray house before the woods.

HOuse XCThen a few strides to a hedge jump (something we’ve never done), then a few more strides to a log-type jump. (Jump descriptions at BN are super boring) She sucked back at 11, so I rode her super forward to 12, giving up a good distance for a closer one because I didn’t trust her not to fall behind me leg if I used my hand at all.

Hedge xc

Jump 13 came up ok, but my mind was already on jump 14: the ditch. There were no less than 4 people sitting along the ditch jump.

 

brushxc

I trotted around the corner to make sure we were straight, but I didn’t need to worry. May saw the groundline and locked right onto the jump. She even locked on to the raised log after it.

May did stop at the water, so I will have to devote some time to puddles in the near future. The last jump was a very plain, slightly raised log, that we barely even paused at. Overall, we came in 9 seconds under time with a clear round. I was so happy with her and so proud of myself for going through with it.

At the end of the day, my friend and I exchanged the world’s most awkward congratulatory hug, and May and I finished in 7th out of 10. Without the penalties in Stadium, we would have been 2nd, which would have been really cool.

As I reflected on the day with my fiance, I brought up how guilty I feel about the amount of time and money I spend on this sport when I get so upset about it, and I questioned why I do it. He reminded me of two things: 1. I love this sport. That includes my horse, the challenges, my friends, horse shows, late night rides, early rides, galloping, XC, and even Dressage. 2. My first lesson with May was a year ago, and she tried to run out of the arena with me.

So what does it all mean? It means that on Sunday we have our next BN horse trial (and the last for a while) at Burgundy Hollow! (And then I am spending Memorial Day in bed).

~ Special shout out to Matt, Sarah, Ashley and Cole for the pictures/video/support/psychotherapy/awkward hugs ~

Show Prep and Show Goals

I am one of those people that uses my show prep time as a time to get myself feeling prepared, motivated, and competent. May and I will be facing our first recognized horse trial this Sunday at Kent School in CT. To be honest, this really shouldn’t be a significant step up from our last event, as the omnibus is listed as such:

“All courses: Inviting, for horses with some experience at each levels or as a first event at a move up level.”

And I have heard from a variety of sources that this holds true. That being said, I didn’t get to do all the things I wanted to between the last show and this one. Namely – I didn’t get to go XC schooling to tackle our water issues. However, there were a lot of things I did do.

We put some pretty serious work into our canter transitions and our bending, and I have to say they have made great improvements. We have also found a lot of balance when jumping that should help us approach stadium and XC in a more confident manner. It’s even becoming very consistent! I even have proof!

 

The goal of my lesson last night was to warm up over only the far outside line and then put a full course together without piecing it together. We were then going to go back and correct the tricky parts. The problem with that plan? Our first attempt ended up being strong enough that both my trainer and I thought those should be our last jumps before the show! So without further ado, show goals:

Dressage: Score in the low 30s. I know I know, I scored a 30.3 last time out and I said we were improving. I did and we are, but this is our first recognized event and I would rather put in a relaxed, consistent test than try to push and end up with a tense test. Without pushing May, we likely won’t score in the 20s.

Show Jumping: Jump a clear round. Notice what you didn’t see above? You didn’t see any poles come down or any super close distances. May has been jumping better and rounder than ever before, and I just don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t ride to go clear.

Cross Country: I want to go clear. It doesn’t need to be perfect or smooth or inside the time, but I would like to ride every jump for a clear.

Attitude: Stay positive! This has been the biggest influence on my riding recently. I have implemented visualizing my courses, and I keep running through them until my mind doesn’t picture any mishaps. I have more than enough time for this on Sunday.

Seat & Leg

I have a confession to make… I, like many amateur riders, use my hands way too much. I like to lift them, open them, close them, lower them, wiggle them, tilt them, and sometimes even drop them. What do I like to do with seat and legs? Hover them uselessly somewhere near my horse/saddle/air. This is a problem, especially since communicating with your horse should really be centered around the use of your legs and seat.

 

Therefore, my trainer has been putting in a lot of work getting me to keep my hands steady and engaging my seat and legs more. Of course, when we started his discussion, I was in the lovely habit of leaning off the side of my saddle going around turns. Why? Because I had decided that instead of teaching my horse to move off my inside leg into my outside hand, I would just lean and pull her over with my body.

 

Perhaps this strategy works for those with thoroughbreds with withers. It does not work on my Corgi… instead, the saddle would just slip around her side… lovely. This was especially embarrassing at the clinic I did in February with Marilyn Payne… who kept trying to tighten my girth and couldn’t believe it kept slipping.

 


While a lot of my work lately has been focused on fitness, I have also worked on not leaning. This means a lot of time at the canter, some time in half-seat, and some time even leaning to the inside on purpose. Over-exaggerating the correction typically helps me adjust to the new muscle memory of what feels “normal”.

 

Monday night was our first real jumping lesson since our show in April. We had done some Dressage work and some grids, but hadn’t actually focused on a course since the show. During grid work last week, we worked on me sitting deep, keeping my leg on, and keeping May’s weight off the forehand. Overall, it was a pretty good success:

A post shared by Emily (@may_as_well_event) on

 

This week, we took that same idea and built it into a course. May was awesome. I was able to open and close her stride without her getting quick or falling on her forehand. She even tried a bit of a lead change! For most people, this is not an exciting achievement. The jumps are small, our rhythm and lines aren’t perfect, and I am still trying to shrivel up on myself. For us, however, this was the first time we were able to jump around a course without getting strung out and unbalanced for almost the entire course. When we did get unbalance, it only took a couple of strides to get it back.

 

Riding isn’t about achieving perfection – it’s about pursuing it!

 

Coming up the rest of the Spring, we have some fun things coming up:

May 22 – Recognized BN Horse Trial at Kent School

May 29 – Schooling BN Horse Trial at Burgundy Hollow

June 25 – 26 – N Level Clinic with Meg Kepferle at Sarah Stinneford Equestrian

One Year – Reflection

One year ago today, I drove with my trainer out to PA, and I traded my very handsome, 16.2, papered AQHA gelding for a 15.2, draft cross mare of undetermined breeding and pretty much unknown age. I wish I could say I never doubted myself for the decision, but I will admit, there was a lot of doubt in the first few weeks. Especially when I first put her in the stall, and this was the best picture I could get of her:

 

Our first ride looked a bit like this. My saddle didn’t really fit her, and she found my leg on her sides super offensive:

There are very few pictures from our first lessons together, as it was literally us attempting to steer in a circle. We did jump that first lesson, practically sideways through a gymnastic, but May showed off how honest and game she is!


We did go play around at a show in the area. May was a touch confused, and we got a lot of stares from the fancy warmblood people. I was over the moon though:

Our first time through a gymnastic, she bobbed and weaved. Our first show, we did a 2′ combined test. We scored somewhere in the high 40s (eventing scores) but had a very positive day. I ended up first… out of two.

Our first XC schooling was easy, but I was terrified. We barely jumped anything, and I apparently had an affinity for jumping up her neck.



We did a modified event for our next show… and I almost fell off in front of Marilyn Payne (see instagram below!). Our Dressage score barely improved.

https://instagram.com/p/6paAZAnsnr/

Then we started to hit our stride. We did a full horse trial at the Starter (2’3″) level and had an absolute blast. I am not sure where we finished, but I made it into the mid-30s with my Dressage score. The next show was less successful. Dressage and XC was great, but we seriously struggled in the Stadium. I am fairly certain we took down 4 rails… I continued to jump up her neck.

Over the winter, we put a lot of work into our Dressage, but we also did fun stuff – like bareback.

In February, we went to a clinic with Marilyn Payne. I actually did fall off that time… for the first time in nearly 4 years and gave my fiance the worst Valentines Day gift by scaring him like that. (I also learned to stop jumping up her neck). 
I got my big girl panties back, and started schooling BN sized XC fences:


(Just kidding… still jumping up her neck)

But didn’t get a whole lot of practice before our first full BN horse trial. We rocked it anyway:

It wasn’t a flawless year. I am sure a pro could’ve gotten her to BN a lot faster than I have and her basics would probably be more solid (instead of still a work in progress), but we have had a lot of fun getting here!