A Rolex Hangover

This year I finally had the opportunity to dip my toe into the ocean that is the Rolex 3 day event at the Kentucky Horse Park and attend the XC day. Originally, we didn’t buy tickets because I was somehow under the impression that it was the same weekend as the tasting for my wedding. Thanks to an ad in COTH. I realized the day after the early-bird special pricing that it was, in fact, the weekend after. HOORAY! We bought tickets that night as both an early and a late birthday present for me!

I AM SO GLAD WE DID!


There is a huge difference between watching Rolex on TV and being there in person. Having a horse gallop past you at full speed towards a jump that you can’t even see over is awe-inspiring and thrilling. Even the fiance had to admit it was a pretty cool sport to spectate at.

There was A LOT of walking involved. Between wanting to check out all the things for sale, getting food, and wanting to see as many of the jumps as possible, we walked a lot. The first thing we did because we got there so early was check out the shops set up. I visited a friend of mine I haven’t seen in YEARS at the Bit of Britain tent, which I think is part of the magic of Rolex. It’s like a pilgrimage for eventers. I ended up getting an ariat sun shirt, an ariat long sleeved quarter zip, an US Eventing polo, and a Rolex 3 Day baseball cap.


However, there were a lot of things that made me go all grabby hands:

  • Dublin Pinnacle boots in black – I have seen pictures of these boots everywhere. I briefly considered getting them, but the pictures made them look clunky and the price point made me question how well they were made. Seeing them in person changed that. They were absolutely lovely. The laces up the side give them a close fitting feel that again, I really just wasn’t expecting. Definitely adding these to the list!
  • Saddles – I wish I could put one brand in here that I was like YES THAT ONE, but I can’t. I have seen a lot of French saddles, and I have owned both a Voltaire and a Devoucoux. As a result, I also know that they would never fit a horse built like May. I currently ride in an Albion, which is… ok. It puts me in a bit of a chair seat and the leather is a bit slicker than I would like, but the big blocks give it a secure feel. It mostly fits May, and it was in my budget after I bought her. All good things. However, the fit to her could be better and the fit to me could be MUCH better. I was really drawn to three saddle brands for the trees they offer that could solve my problems: Black Country, County, and Bliss of London. Trying to make an appointment with a local saddle fitter to discuss the Albion and possible other alternatives before calling out a brand-specific rep. Anyone have experiences with these brands?
  • Horses – seriously, how can you not watch riders gallop over massive fences with huge smiles on their faces without wanted a chance to ride on of these awesome athletes? Then I realize that I am not the kind of athlete the riders are, and I am quite satisfied with Miss May.


We didn’t bring chairs because I didn’t want to haul them around all day. So at around 11:30AM, we got lunch and headed into the stadium to sit down and watch on the big screen. About 10 minutes later, the skies opened up, but because of where we were sitting, we stayed nice and dry.

After lunch, we headed down to the head of the lake. We got a decent spot to watch, and we got to check seeing a person fall off in the water off our list. We stayed just past 1PM to see Kim Severson, Clark Montgomery, and (of course) Michael Jung ride through the head of the lake. Both Kim and Clark looked so solid through the water, and we were crushed to hear the difficulties they had later on course. Thanks to USEF offering free video clips over the rest of the weekend – I got to see the rest of their rides. It really is an education to see these people ride.


After Michael Jung, we packed up and headed home. Overall, we spent about 5 hours at the horse park and my head was absolutely spinning. The next day I wasn’t able to watch the show jumping, but I was repeatedly updating the live scores on my phone. (and providing the poor fiance with constant updated and facts and figures) Overall, Michael Jung proved that a good mare is worth her weight in gold.

I was also heartened to see the 18yo Mr. Medicott winning the US title and that almost all of the horses in the top 5 were in their teens (Rocana is 12). I guess I shouldn’t be questioning if I should let my 12(ish) year old horse stay at the lower levels. A sound horse is a sound horse, and the longer I am around horses, the more I learn that young does not equal sound and old does not equal lame.

Speaking of May – I rode her this weekend, and she is just barely foot sore. The more time she spent in the forgiving arena footing, the more comfortable she felt. Still taking it easy, but it was nice to be able to put a somewhat normal flat ride on her!

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2016 – A Review

There are few years I can think of that have had a larger impact on my life than 2016. Maybe 1990 🙂

The year started off fairly slow with January consisting of trail rides, bareback rides, and a trip to the fiance’s hometown in Kansas. However, maybe January was just the perfect synopsis of the rest of the year – a big of downtown surrounded by the farthest trip West I have ever gone.

trail.jpg

February got a bit more exciting. I got engaged on the 3rd… in the barn of course! Then, not even two weeks later, I participated in a clinic with Marilyn Payne… by far the biggest name I have ever ridden with. And I proceeded to fall off, and then actually start riding.

March saw us start to get serious about the upcoming season. Jumps got bigger and I started this blog! We also had our first cross country schooling of the year, where May was a touch wild but completely game. My confidence wasn’t as strong as it could have been, but I had recovered quite a bit from falling off in front of Marilyn.

April consisted of my birthday and my (and May’s) first Beginner Novice horse trial! We completed with a rail and a stop at the water on XC, but after having to convince our trainer to let us try it, I couldn’t have been happier with the result.

Early May marked one year with May, and I still can’t believe how far we’ve come! The end of May marked a new goal with our (both of our) first recognized horse trial! We were second after Dressage and clear XC, but added penalties in stadium to land us 7th out of 10. It was a lesson in humility where I worked on my ability to leave my mistakes behind. The very next week, we got another opportunity, as we ran BN at a schooling horse trial. While the jumps were significantly smaller, I was very proud of my ability to just. keep. riding. We got our best Dressage score of the year (which was perhaps a bit generous) and ended up third. Best of all, our team took home first place and some prizes!

June allowed things to slow down a bit, as my trainer was now nearing the birth of her first child. However, we did get to participate in a clinic with Meg Kepferle. May put on her sassy pants for that one, but I am still happy with how we performed. It definitely put a few extra tools in our toolbox!

We spent our Fourth of July on the longest trail ride we have ever taken! We also got amazing engagement photos taken by Tav Images Photography!

August opened up hot and we spent some time on our Dressage work before getting back to jumping! However some uncharacteristic unevenness behind made us decide that it was time to call out the vet and get some hock injections.

September was very slow as May recovered and my fiance and I faced some life changing decisions, but, by the end of the month. I was able to share the news. We were moving to Kentucky! Early in October, we officially moved. By the end of the month, we were able to have our first jumping lesson, where I jumped more than I had since our first clinic with Meg.

In early November, I found a new job and was able to start putting money back into the pony piggy-bank. Then in December, we had our first Dressage lesson with the new trainer.

It was a crazy year full of new experiences and adventures. Looking back at it all is a bit exhausting, so I am so happy with how far we have come… both in and out of the ring. Here’s to an even better 2017!

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!

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 ~

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!

First BN Horse Trial

Do you ever have one of those rides where, just as you begin to swing your leg off the saddle, you realize that this is why you participate in this insane sport? Yeah, that’s basically how the show went.

Let’s back up a bit though. I had the second Dressage time of the day; however since this was an evening show, that made my Dressage time 3:06PM. When we arrive at the show at 1PM, the office wasn’t open yet. As a result, my trainer took me and my friend (also doing BN) to walk our cross country course. It was the first time at this level for both of us, but the course looked reasonable. There was a non-optional water obstacle, and a raised log at the top of a very steep hill, and of course the biggest jump on the whole course was the first one. Overall – it looked doable but definitely a step up from what we had been previously.

The secretary stand opened just as we finished our course walk, so we headed in and picked up our numbers. Our group that was doing the 2’ – 2’3” was now out walking their XC course, so we picked up their pinnies and packets as well. Then, it was time to walk the stadium course.

My friend is a lovely, experienced rider, with a 16.2 thoroughbred with an average to above-average stride length. As a result, she did this lovely thing called walking strides. All the strides were between 5 and 7 strides. About… sort of… Some of them were set with off strides, and there was a bending line that could’ve been ridden off of multiple tracks. I listened to her discussing the striding, but I discussed more my game-plan. I wanted to make sure I kept my right leg on through the turns to the left turns to red diagonal line and the yellow jump on the far side of the ring. I wanted  to keep a forward rhythm that set May up well for the XC round after and gave her plenty of opportunity to jump from the forward stride.

At that point, we started getting ready for Dressage. I opted to ride all three phases in my Albion jumping saddle. It fits May well and I am comfortable in it. This event had set Dressage times, but open windows for Stadium and XC. I knew I could get through Dressage and Stadium fairly quickly, and I wanted May to have a short break before XC. Fitness is a fun game when you have a draft cross.

Our warm up for Dressage wasn’t stellar. I had forgotten my big soft-touch spurs at the barn, so I was using my very small, barely a nub spurs. As a result, we didn’t have the typical lateral movement that I know May can do, and nagging her with my leg only made her tense. Great. Since our lateral work wasn’t great, she kept popping her shoulder in on me going to the left and picking up the wrong lead. Also great. However, she was being calm and consistent and pleasant, so I figured I would just ride the test as accurately as possible without offending her.

The ring was above the schooling ring, next to the XC warm up, and overlooking some trees. May doesn’t care about any of these things. May cares about getting through Dressage so that we can jump some stuff. Our geometry left something to be desired. This was mostly caused by my inability to move May off of my leg in any kind of meaningful way. We got both canter leads, although the right was significantly better than the left. Our free walk was not behind the bit, like it was last time we performed a test at a show, but it was slow with short steps. We then trotted down center line. We had a good turn in. I checked our positioning, asked for walk, and May halted square. This horse pretty much never halts square, so that was super exciting. She stood while I saluted, and I thanked the judge and left.





Overall, I felt the test was a touch conservative, but it was consistent and clean. My trainer was also happy with it. I refused to find out my score before show jumping. I didn’t want to know where I stood. I just wanted to continue to enjoy the day.

The window of opportunity for Stadium ended up getting pushed back a bit, so May and I just wandered around the warmup area. We put her boots on and took some pictures and just hung out. May refuses to drink the water at shows because she thinks it’s poison, so I wanted to make sure she was cooled out without actually letting her stand around to be ready for stadium.

Finally, it was time for my stadium warm up. I jumped one tiny vertical, then jumped a 2’3” oxer. I couldn’t find a spot, but May was forward and game. I asked if I could have it raised another couple of holes, but my trainer told me I should save my jumps. I wanted to argue. Every part of me wanted to insist that I needed to jump more jumps in order to go into the ring, but I didn’t. Confidence comes from doing things slightly outside your comfort zone. My horse was warmed up, and my trainer was right. She didn’t need to jump more stuff, so there was no reason to keep jumping her.

I went into the stadium round with only my fiance and Emily (from my last blog post!) watching. My trainer had three other horses to work with in the warm up ring, and it’s not like she could really help us anyway. I went in and picked up a canter. This canter:

Yes it was big. And it was forward. But come hell or high water, I was not going to mess with it. That was our pace. It wasn’t a scambly bad pace, but it was forward. And you know what? She rewarded me by jumping the first jump like this:


My lovely fiance got a video of the course, which was promptly sent to my trainer once it was uploaded. We got a rail. We missed a lot of spots. But it was forward and by the end, I could tell May was more confident than when we had first stepped into the ring. Below is the video. Overall – I am happy with how I rode. Would it have been better with a professional on board? Sure. Did I learn a lot about May and me? Definitely. It was green, but it was a positive experience.


 

May and I wandered back to the trailer with my fiance. He is a great pony holder. Boots got changed, I put my vest on, saddle pad got changed, and I promptly forgot my breastplate. Oh well. May was offered more water, but again she didn’t drink. (Any suggestions on how to get a horse to drink water at a horse show?) Once she seemed fully recovered from show jumping, I hopped back on, and headed out to XC. There was a big hill in the warm up area for cross country, so I just had her work up and down that a few times to get warmed up again.

I seriously considered schooling a few more jumps. She had like 45 minutes off, so she must need to school more jumps. I decided against it. She would either be brave to the first jump, or not. Jumping plain sticks in the warm up field would not make a difference. So I put on my big girl panties and turned to go to the start gate. My trainer, who was watching another Dressage test, called out to me to make sure I was ok. I gave her a thumbs up. She then told me to use my stick as my friend had some squirreliness to the first jump. I held it up to show I heard her, and I walked up to the start gate.

Did I mention this was only my third horse trial? And only my second place doing one? And my first Beginner Novice? And the second time May and I have jumped XC jumps this year? None of this was running through my head as the countdown started… because that wouldn’t have been helpful at all. Finally it was “3…2…1 Have a great ride!” and we were off. Below are the first two fences.

Going to the first fence, she thought about falling behind my leg. I tapped her with my stick and she got SUPER offended. Oh well, don’t fall behind my leg then. She jumped the first one fine, and then over jumped the second one like this:

We then went into the woods, jumping a coop in there. Coming out of the woods, we jumped this house:

Then it was a 90 degree left turn (our nemesis) to the water. We never really got the turn and we never really got straight and we had a refusal. Oh well. I straightened out and put my leg on and had no issues on the re approach. In our division, we were one of four with a refusal at the water. Then we picked up the canter again. We passed my friend, who had just finished her course, so she got a wave as I just let May gallop along. There was no time involved for this schooling show, so I let May do what felt comfortable for her. It wasn’t scambly or nervous, just forward, so I went with it. We jumped a raised log, then had a start right turn to a steep hill going down. The hill immediately came back up to a small raised log. This was definitely an obstacle May had never seen before, but I shift my weight back at the top of the hill, kept my leg on, and kept a following hand so she could look at it. She did, and we got a cool picture to show for it:


There were two more raised logs in the little valley that we sailed right over. Then there was a huge hill going up before the last two jumps. My trainer had recommended I really encourage her to gallop there to keep her from dying out on me. So I asked her to gallop and Oh Man did she comply! Here’s the thing about Draft Crosses (especially Draft/QH crosses) when they actually engage their large booties, they are so very powerful. May carried us up that entire hill, and I actually had to ask her to come back to me before the last two fences. My lovely fiance ran across the cross country field to capture the end of the round. And yes, that is me breathlessly telling her to whoa at the end of the course. She still had plenty of gas in the tank, and I have to tell you, these fences looked tiny by the end of the course.

At the end of the day, we ended up 6th. We were tied for first after our Dressage score (which is super exciting to me) but our greenness in Stadium and XC cost us 24 points. Overall, I am super happy with how it ended up. We both had an awesome time, and I felt like we accomplished our goals.


Speaking of goals, below is my goal recap:

  1. Finish with a Number not a Letter: Did this! We ended up with a final score of 54.3. A great benchmark for the rest of the season!
  2. Do Not Use Negative Self-Talk: I didn’t say anything negative about myself at all. I was proud of my rides and positive in my abilities.
  3. Focus on Relaxation and Rhythm: Needs more forward was written more than once on my Dressage score, but it was consistent and fluid. Overall, we scored our best score yet of 30.3, and received a comment about us being a lovely pair!
  4. Enjoy It: Did this. I was completely wired and on a high for several hours after the competition ended. Luckily, my fiance really just enjoys seeing me happy, so he listed to me recap my rides practically on loop the whole way home.

 

Things not on the list (but I decided to discuss anyway).

  1. A Certain Dressage Score: Again, we got our best Dressage score ever, even without having the best ride we could have. I would like to end up in the 20s this year, but the focus is definitely going to be on the jumping in the near future.
  2. Clean Jumping Rounds: We got one rail, and we had a refusal at the water. I am not heartbroken about either of these things (or even really bothered by them), but they are things I would like to improve.
  3. Make My Trainer Proud: I think I did this. My trainer and I had a bit of a disagreement about this show. I wanted to go right to BN, and she wanted me to get my feet wet at the 2’ – 2’3” level. To give some reference, we had a ton of rails in Show Jumping at our last starter level HT in October. In February, we went to a clinic, participated in the BN section, and I fell off. We did OK at our XC schooling last month, but I only got to jump one or two full sized BN fences. After the show though, we both agreed at the end that BN was the right move for this show.
  4. Win: We did win the Dressage! That makes me super proud. May is not the fanciest horse. She isn’t a big, flashy warmblood, so it was really cool to see all of our hard work pay off. The jumping stuff with come with hard work and experience. Then, we will worry about winning events.

 

First XC Schooling of 2016

I try to set achievable goals before every significant riding event (i.e. a show, clinic, off property schooling, etc). For me this does two things: First, it gives me something to concentrate on other than any nerves that pop up. It doesn’t 100% eliminate my nerves, but it’s good to have concrete things to focus on. It also gives me a realistic benchmark with which to evaluate how things went. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I can easily become disappointed when things do not go according to plan. Unfortunately, this happens even when I have a ride that was a huge improvement for me and my horse. 
So, before we went out for our first cross country schooling of the season, I set a few easy goals. May, while usually really well behaved, had only been off the property once since October, and I fell off. (One day I’ll post about that story.) As a result, I wanted to make sure my goals were simple and achievable. Here’s how it went!

 
1. Make Sure My Horse Leaves Feeling Confident

May decided to take this one into her own hands and change it to “Make all the Thoroughbreds Look Boring”. The first jump that we all jumped was a 2’ log with a fairly flat and straight forward approach. One of the other girls, a good friend of mine, went first with her 6yo, OTTB. This horse is super fancy, amazingly athletic, and loooooves cross country. And she stopped at the log. I wish I could say that my nerves didn’t kick into high gear seeing someone else get a stop, but they totally did. They did make it over and after that had pretty smooth sailing over the rest of the day. 
However, then it was my turn. I turned to the log and closed my leg. May took a huge leap over that log and celebrated with some “bucking” on the other side. (I am not sure May knows how to buck. She just puts her head down low and tries to get her butt off the ground. She’s only done this twice and only when she thinks something is super exciting).
After that, May pretty much just wanted to run and jump. At one point, she even ran away with me, as fast as her corgi legs can take her. Of course, I am the worst person when I get run away with because I just start laughing too hard to ride effectively. By the end of the day, you couldn’t have convinced May that she was not the most athletic horse on the field. May gets the A here. I steered, she jumped. 

  
2. Keep Riding Even When Nervous

I have gotten into this horrible habit of getting nervous and just kind of blacking out. It was a habit I originally picked up when I was much younger, and I thought I had gotten over it. Apparently not. 
However, I did succeed in this. After an easy warm up over some of the starter fences, we turned towards some of the BN fences. This one was 3 boulders with two logs running across them forming a bit of a square oxer with fillers. It was a downhill approach to a very looky fence. Bless my trainer, because it took me a solid 7 minutes to figure out my approach to it, pick up a canter, and actually jump it. However, when I started coming towards it, and May thought out exited stage left, I kept my left leg on, sat up tall, and pushed her over it. It wasn’t the most beautiful jump we had all day, but I made it happen. 
May thought about running around one more fence on the course, this super wide Coupe, but as long I steered, we jumped. Giving this one an A!

  

  
3. Not Using the Words “Nervous” or “Scary” and Eliminate Negative Self Talk

So I slipped on this one once, but just once! I read somewhere that changing your language helps change how you perceive challenges. I am not sure if this is true, but I will admit that my negative self talk has become a serious problem. I am not the world’s best rider, but I am completely competent to achieve the goals I am setting out to do right now. (aka Beginner Novice)
Even though I slipped up a bit, it was a huge improvement over the constant negative talk that has somehow overtaken my lessons. So I am giving myself a B on this one. (now to decide if that counts as negative self talk)

  
4. Put the Skills I Learned In the Ring To Use In The Field

About an hour and a half into cross country schooling, I felt like a failure at this one. Sure we were jumping everything, but I wasn’t able to get an effective half halt or truly rebalance May off of her forehand for more than the last two or three strides before a fence. Anyone who rides a draft cross should understand my struggles here. When they get rolling, it typically is a downhill kind of roll. 
However, my trainer kept encouraging me to rock my weight back and half halt one rein at a time. To keep my leg on to encourage her to give laterally. And suddenly, at the last three or four fences, I had my hunter-like eventer back. We loped over the last jumps in a solid rhythm and were able to hold that rhythm uphill and downhill. Overall, super happy. This gets an A. 

  
Needless to say, at the end of the day I was on cloud 9. I think I told my poor fiance every detail at least twice. I am beginning to think he comes to these things just so that he doesn’t have to hear about them later! We’re hoping to get one more cross country school in at a bigger venue before our first show, and our debut at BN, on April 22nd.