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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label Encore competition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Encore competition. Show all posts

December 18, 2013

Oh Yeah, By The Way, I Did Remember To Turn On The Helmet Cam...

...on the only course I didn't finish, heh.  But I did capture Encore's awesome leaps over 1-4 & his first coffin at 5 (and they named it the "Sunken Road," ahahaha!).  Bonus:  if you crank your speakers up, you get to hear "I always forget my camera has a microphone" dorkiness!  Hey, Bill is my favourite starter of all time & sent Solo & I out of the box throughout our career, I get excited.

December 3, 2013

That Other Horse Trial That We Mostly Did

You may flog me.  It was almost a month ago!  But hey, on the plus side, perhaps I can actually tell the story concisely now (AHAHHAHAHA!).  I sort of vaguely remember what it feels like to ride my horse...

Huge thanks to Cabin Branch Tack Shop for sponsoring!
If you missed it, Encore & I did our last event of the season in early November at the Carolina Horse Park.  Their Cabin Branch Event Series of schooling events has really taken off & I extend a huge thanks to the organizers & course designers, Marc Donovan and Andrea St. Hilaire-Glenn.

Oh yeah, & I moved Encore up to Training level there.

*insert pause for giddiness*

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I did have the same problem I had at FenRidge in October:  our jumping time was 40 minutes after our dressage time.  Sigh.  Serious pitfall of one-day event.  But I resolved to just be as efficient as I could & this time, I was not going to short-change my horse's warmup no matter what.  I certainly couldn't have pulled it all off without the help of once-again awesome crew!

Thank cod I was able drive down the afternoon before to walk the XC course, since I was riding my dressage test at 8:30 in the morning.  I walked it twice before it got dark, decided it looked fun, with great questions, & just right for Encore.  Thank you, Andrea!!!

After a night with good friends & as much sleep time as could be managed, we made our way back to the Park & got ready for dressage.  Warmup was uneventful but not spectacular.  I'd use the same words to describe our test.  Encore got tense at entry & I tried to ride it out but he never let the tension go; his trot work was choppy & tight, but he did give me some canter that I quite liked!  Baby steps.  So our 39 was very fair.

From there it was pretty much a mad dash to change outfits & get back to SJ warmup ASAP.  I was extremely glad I decided to put his studs in before dressage.  It was a bit nervewracking hoping Encore wouldn't step on himself, even though they were only my small road studs, but he was nice enough to keep his feet away from each other & it was a lifesaver.

I kept it short & sweet in the jumping warmup as fitness was my main concern.  He really hadn't been back in work after his feet healed for much more than a month, so I was on high alert for signs of muscle fatigue.  Not that you could tell when he turned into a jump-seeking missile after entering the ring.  His own feet couldn't even keep up.

We did make that crazy time though & only demolished the first one...because I stared at the stupid jump.  Will I never learn?  It was a tight, extremely roll-back-y course that caught us both a bit off guard & Encore has not mastered that technique yet. 

That day I learned I have the most honest, try-ing-est, generous horse ever.  Even though we lost most of our impulsion in the turns & approached some jumps with me squeezing like mad & Encore at nearly a jog, he never ONCE tried to runout, refuse, & he tucked his hoofies up over each one with intense care.  By the second half of the course, he had it figured out!

I was very proud & let him take a long, slow walk to catch his breath before XC.  You can see the pro photos here, thanks to High Time Photography.

After jumping a single wide bench in warmup there, we headed out to the start box in the middle of the steeplechase track.  Encore already had his game face on & practically dragged me to the starter.  The course had a bit of everything & a LOT of terrain, so I was very interested to see what kind of ride I would get.  At the same time, I was prepared to walk off if anything felt off.

I'm very sad the photographers did not capture any of the first four jumps.  They were all single fly jumps, including a table whose width the horse did not see until they were very close & a tall bench, which I personally hate.  Aside from a very small dip, they were all on a pretty level stretch.

I can jump whatevs, mom, no worries
Fly is exactly what Encore did.  He jumped each one perfectly out of stride, rocking himself back before the jump & clearing it like child's play.  It felt amazing.

Then we went downhill to approach the little coffin at 5, which you can see in the photos.  From the elephant at the end of my reins, I gathered that his butt muscles were beginning to tire.  I did an interesting tree-maze-dance to bring him back to a trot & rebalance before turning to the first coffin element.

He peeked, but with encouragement, he jumped through & then we picked our way down the steep hill to the GINORMOUSLY MASSIVE trakehener at 6.  I don't generally have a problem riding them & have never had an issue in competition.  At a schooling, sometimes I forget I'm supposed to use my legs, but on course, I'm generally good.  This thing was big, though.  BIG.

I  kept my eye up, applied all my aids, but Encore skidded to stop.  It didn't feel like a scared stop though, & he's jumped large ones before, it felt like an "wow, that is a really big effort & I'm not sure I've got that much in the tank" stop.  My red flag waved, but I decided to let him have one more try.  We gave it a big, positive ride, but he stopped exactly the same way.

I raised The Hand & walked off.  I was 100% certain he could do the rest of the jumps on the course without a problem; he had already shown me he had the heart & scope & we had previously practiced all the questions & then some.

But it was long & it was hilly & my game, VERY professional worker-bee of a horse told me loud & clear that his muscles were not up to it.  I may have been able to stuff him over the trakehener & continue, but to what end?  I really did not want to meet the EMT's that day, nor did I want to scare or possibly injure my horse.  They don't call me Safety Nazi for nothing.

Big picture:  I thought it was a great place to end his year.  We weren't able to meet the conditioning demands in the time we had, but that is easy to fix & a good winter project.  The skills are there, now we just finesse.  If I ever have any money to compete again!

So we'll spend our cold months in the woods, trotting up & down hills & enjoying the trails, after both our bodies & brains get a good break.  I don't know if we'll get to run any horse trials next year or not, but I still get to spend the winter with my TRAINING horse & that is, as longtime readers know, a pretty big damn deal.

November 11, 2013

That Other Long Event Story Before Yesterday's Long Event Story

Oh no, you don't get yesterday's story before you get the lead-in story!  I will tell you that for those of you who don't check our FB page (you don't have to be a FB member) that Sunday at CHP, nothing bad happened, I was proud of my pony, and I retired on XC simply for safety, because I knew he was tired.

Awesome, fit Solo through the trademark FenRidge lattice in 2010.
In mid-October, as you know, I took Encore over to our much beloved FenRidge Farm for what I later learned is the last horse trial that will be hosted there!  While that makes me very sad, I can only express an enormous thanks for all that Patricia has done there, as I certainly know all too well how much work and time and stress and money and people it takes to pull these things off, even at a schooling level.  I competed Solo in their first horse trial ever and those events have been unbeatable for bringing a horse along the lower levels.  I do hope that we will continue to be able to school there and I believe she will still be doing her dressage and CT shows.

I entered Encore in the T/N division, which means that you ride Training Level dressage and stadium and finish with a Novice XC course.  It makes a nice stairstep so the horses don't get everything thrown at them at once.  I also know that Patricia loves to make a tough, twisty stadium course (which I love and is always at the perfect level of challenge!), so Encore would have plenty to take in.

I may have bought the CD just for this portrait.  Now everyone knows he's #1. 
In addition, we had the challenge of about an hour between dressage and stadium in which I'd have to change tack, walk my XC course, put in studs, and warm up.  Uh huh.  There is no measure for the amount of gratitude I have that Awesome Crewer, B was there to help!!!!  All Encore photos thanks to High Time Photography!  Early morning light is tough.

His dressage warmup was lovely.  When ARE they going to start doing that judged warmup, LOL?  But I was overambitious for our 8:28 am ride time (we were #1, literally, I kept that bridle tag, hee) and he was ready to go twenty minutes early.   No problem, I'll just walk him around and stretch.  The steward informed me in a while that the judge was about ready, so I figured one more lap and then we'd trot around the outside of the arena.  Then the whistle blew.

First mistake:  I panicked, gathered up my horse, did one quick trot circle outside of A with Encore saying, "Wait, what??  Are we doing the trotty thing again?  Weren't we done?  Which part am I supposed to do now?" and I entered.  Should have trotted around the outside anyway...

Note:  on all our videos, they are shot in HD.  You can force YouTube to play them that way by clicking the little gear icon on the bottom right of the video and picking your resolution of choice.  If you use Firefox, they also have an awesome little add-on which pushes all YouTube videos to HD automatically when they open.

Yes, that is someone apparently clicker training in the background.  I always see something new!  Despite the "pop quiz," Encore was obedient and tried hard.  I was not so good at that!  I never did get him in front of my leg and there was this argument between my brain and my body:

I tried, mom.  I had my moments.
Brain: MORON, let go of his face and GO!

Body:  meh.

Brain:  LET GO!!

Body:  Nah, I'll just stay all tense in my arms, it's what I do, man.

Argh!!  Despite all of that nonsense, Encore walked out with a 36.6 on his first Training test ever that, erm, we may never have practiced in full.  The judge did not penalize him for tripping at the end of his "lengthened" right lead canter in the corner, gave him an 8 on his medium walk (WOOT!), and a 7 on his second trot lengthening (yeah, we don't really have lengthenings yet, but I don't worry about it, dressage is always a project) with a "good effort!"  I even (thank you, ever-so-generous and helpful COTH critique crew!) managed to bump my rider score up a point from our CT a month earlier!

Stretchy circle efforts!
This, my friends, is a lateral canter.  He is very good at stepping under himself without truly engaging!
No probs, mom, blue matches my outfit anyway.
B was able to hand walk Encore while I walked XC and then retacked and studded my horse for both jumping phases.  I am glad that I know that land well -- it had rained most of the week and there is a fair amount of clay out there, so it gets slick in a hurry.  We had a beautiful day to ride on and Patricia works hard to make the footing the best it can be, but mud is mud.  So Encore got to wear his big mud studs (I'm not taking any chances with Sir Slips-A-Lot-When-Excited-About-Jumps) for the first time ever, which takes some getting used to.  Which left us with about 60 seconds of jump warmup time.  Awesome.

Second mistake:  I should have put my foot down and refused to go in the ring until we were a bit readier.  Not that it would have been very long since there were only three people in our division, but still.  We were able to do two warm up jumps while Encore got used to the soccer cleats.  The rest is all OTTB heart and try.  And yes, this silly rider needs to get her leg strength back -- we both lost muscle during the Hoof Bruise Debacle.

Both rails were my fault.  I did not have my leg on yet at the first jump.  The second was a result of my not getting a big enough half halt and rebalance coming down off the mound.  I also circled purposefully before the third jump, a big oxer on a sharp bending line of about 3-4 strides, because Encore was unbalanced and rushy on landing and it was going to be a bad approach with a potential crash.  I want good experiences!!!!
A big, focused effort over that third oxer. 
I am particularly proud of the mound jump.  It's a really great rider question that is used there often.  She sets a narrower vertical on top of that mound and for Training, the standards are moved apart so the pole is barrreely resting on the edge of the cup.  If you touch it, it will fall.  The question asks if you can keep your horse's hind end impulsion engaged while the uphill tries to suck it away.  I have learned a lot from that mound and we did it!!
Don't touch my hoofies, weird flower thing!
Another important focus, especially on this tight, twisty course, was making sure my horse's poll was UP (with leg on, yeah, sometimes I forget I have legs) in front of the jump, so he had the correct balance and didn't hurl his shoulders at it.  David is always reminding us of this and I wish I'd had the helmet cam turned on for this course, as you'd hear me before every jump saying, "Poll up, poll UP!"
Video cap (JJ Abrams style) of POLL UP as we prepare for the flower jump above.
Then it was a Novice XC course, that had some fun new elements added.  Typically, I forgot to turn my helmet cam on until after jump 6 (but hey, I remembered it yesterday before the start box!!) and somehow the lens alignment got knocked out of whack so just tilt your head left.  And I swear, I do not stare down at jumps, I just had the camera angled too far down.  Sigh.  Doug Payne, how do you do it????

I apologize if you have quality issues here.  I have some software that has communication issues with other software that has issues with YouTube, they need to work that crap out.  The clicky clack is just the plastic safety clip on the camera hitting my helmet.

I'm sad I missed 4-5-6.  You galloped down a little trail in the woods, hopped over a deeeep square ditch with water running through, took four to five strides to a big pile of branches, then three to four to a fallen tree which had propped itself way up in the air.  FUN!
5...4...3...2...1...Have a great ride!
I did take it very slow (you hear "whoa" a lot, heh).  There were some squishy spots and my goal was to school and prep to go full-on Training at CHP in November.  I never understood when pros said, oh, I'm not going for time, we're just going to jump and whatever...until now.  So we had plenty of time faults, but excellent jumping despite some rider baboon moments (throwing self at horse's ears = no).

Apple stand table second from last.
Last jump on course and oh so fitting...
Encore was a wonderful pony, stepped up to the plate even with 10 seconds of warning and, clever little brain spinning like mad, got it all done and then some.  He definitely has learned his job, the only thing I have to do is make sure he locks on to the RIGHT fences (How about this one, mom?  No?  That one!  No?  Oooo, this one?  Ohhhh, that one, ok!!) but this is a good problem.

We had a beautiful (albeit with its stressfull time crunch moments) day, a great, safe learning school, and both Encore and I felt confident and ready to tackle what Training had in store for us.  A huuuuge thanks to B, we couldn't have done it without you, and of course THANK YOU, THANK YOU, to Patricia and all the crew and volunteers not only for this event, but for each one.  I have a lot of wonderful memories (ok, and some crazy ones!) and large parts of both my horses' careers that are captioned "FenRidge Farm."  I hope we will get to make more!

A great finish for any day.

November 7, 2013

Buy It! Sell It! Ride It! Show It! Oh Yeah...SHOW UP AT WORK!

That's the TL;DR version of my life right now!

I want to tell our FenRidge T/N (Training dressage and stadium/Novice XC) horse trial story, but have not yet had time to type it out.  There are a few sneak preview videos on our Facebook and YouTube pages but it was a crazy day so I have more fun pictures and stories.  Hey, maybe I will post them sometime...

The farmhouse is...almost a house!

Well, almost....
It still needs the front porch.  And the rest of the shutters.  And the foundation finish (will match roof).  And gutters.  But you know, it has a roof and you can walk inside!  And I have to say, I am REALLY impressed by the quality of foundation and structural work (hey, I'm a science geek and an engineer's kid, I notice).  One of, if not the, top priorities of this whole building is for it to be structurally sound and stay there a long time without me having to do anything or think about it.  So thank you so far, Carolina Custom Homes (especially for the hurricane straps!) for going the extra mile on the things that matter (I don't give a crap what colour the ceiling is), with an extra shout-out to Susan for being the most awesome, patient, kind rep of all time.

Ummm, yes, porch definitely needed!  I am 5'9" (and as you can see, always the fashionista, don't be jelly) and standing on my tippy-toes in that picture.  Access denied...

But it's coming together.  I ordered a run-in shed (ok, fine, it's a carport, but that's what the horses live in now, I think it's a Carolina thing) once I found a company who met my high bar -- it had to be engineer-certified with 12-gauge heavy duty galvanized steel and wind-rated over 100 mph.  Hey, I am serious about things staying put and only buying them once!  The super-helpful folks at HorseGuard are sending me some bipolar fencing tape to line the previously-existing wire.

Oh, did I mention that I will never be able to compete or travel or eat ever again?

Working on selling my current house in town, but we have had showings in the first week, so please send us good karma (I scrubbed the baseboard behind the toilet, dammit, people, what more do you want?).

And to top it all off, because I was bored, you know, and had soooo much free time, Encore and I will be competing at the Carolina Horse Park's schooling trials.  I had already paid for the entry so we have to go now!  Our dressage time is at 9:30 am on Sunday, so I am very glad we are able to go down Saturday afternoon and stay with an awesome friend.  We should be done jumping both in the ring and XC by 10:45 (choked laughter of time panic), so at least we can come home and pass out?

Ride times here.  A big thanks to organizer and SJ course designer Marc Donovan, XC course designer Andrea St. Hilaire-Glenn, and secretary Suda McNeill for the hard work putting it all together.

Look, you can even stalk us real-time! Live scoring to make sure your friends (and me) stay in proper vertical order!  Thanks, EventEntries!

Oh and by the way, we are entered at Training Level...

October 20, 2013

So Many Updates, So Little Time!

I have more fantastic videos from our XC lesson with David to work through with you, really great material!

Encore is staying sound and getting stronger.

Solo is feeling spunky despite his continuing efforts to remove skin from his legs.

Ground is being broken for the new farmhouse this week!

So proud of my brave, but very tired poneh!
Oh and should I mention that Encore did his first Training-Novice HT today (Training dressage and SJ, Novice XC)?  He is finally on his way and I think he is going to be a HECK of a Training horse.  I am sure glad I decided to put mud studs in, but I guess it went ok....  Hee.  Most of our penalties were because I rode very conservatively over the footing so we were quite slow in SJ and XC.  My goal was good schooling and the last thing I wanted was another slip and injury or both of us wiping out on wet clay.

And a big TFS shout out and thanks to the folks who came up and said hi, shared their treats with my sweet, honest boy, and offered such kind remarks on my big sexy CANTER horse!  We always love meeting new folks and sharing hugs with old friends.  We also can't wait to review the many great shots captured by our friends at High Time Photography!

Last, but not at all the least, to Patricia Roberts at FenRidge Farm for once again putting together a fun and new XC course and a challenging SJ course on a lovely day in a safe and well-organized environment.  We love you so much, Patricia!!!


September 30, 2013

Back In The...Show Ring!

Fitness, thbpitness.  Eh, I think it's naptime anyway.
It was really sort of a ridiculous decision.

Encore came sound last Friday, bruises healed and body restored, a little over a week before the CT we completed yesterday.  In some form of horse-show-withdrawal frenzy, I scribbled his name onto entry forms and shoved them through the mail slot without much consideration of details.

Just little things, like, oh, test preparation (we haven't taken a dressage lesson since the beginning of July), or the fact that Encore hadn't seen coloured jump poles in three months, or the teeny issue that his rider was just as winded and out of shape as he was.

Lucky for us, his TB magic meant that with a concerted effort to ride/long line/hot walk him every day until the show, he regained more than adequate condition to perform two phases on a lovely fall day.  His rider had a generous crew who kept a bottle of gatorade and a granola bar close at hand so there were no dramatic fainting episodes and only a little gasping for breath.

Suzpension iz hard.
Leading up to the competition, Sunday-Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday became long line-dressage-jump-hot walker-long line-dressage-hack.  I was baffled to discover that Thursday and Friday's trot/canter transitions had become flying bucks akin to a Lippizaner's greatest triumph.  Until it occurred to me that after what amounted to six weeks off for foot healing, Junior Pony was probably a bit sore after being thrown back into schooling every day.  They weren't long or particularly demanding sessions, but certainly awoke slumbering muscles in his hiney!  Hence Friday and Saturday's liberal application of Sore No More and a slow walking hack through woods and fields on Saturday to stretch and relax mind and body.  Hey, it worked.  Sorry, dressage judge, no entertainment for you!

Tip:  Sore No More contains witch hazel (which you can also buy on its own by the jug at the drug store).  Wait until the horse's body cools down completely and then begin rubbing it into the muscles.  Any areas where there are knots, tension, or heat will cause the liquid to foam up a little as you gently rub it in, indicating a sore spot.  You can then massage that spot some more or identify stretches or alternative techniques to relax and rest those a
Enter Working Cute.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little stunned that this all paid off.  We've not exactly had a run of amazing luck over the past two years and I'd just spent way more time and money getting my horse sound once again than I would have liked.  BUT IT WORKED.

In warmup, I focused on riding correctly and accurately and made sure to leave enough time before my test to do a little trot work next to the actual show arena so he could relax there (I've always rushed that part too  much in the past).  While he did sometimes get looky and tight in his neck and jaw in the arena, especially his corners, he was pretty obedient, there was NO acrobatic bucking, and that entering centerline felt really damn good (and nailed us an 8!!!!).  All of the judge's comments were spot on and helpful, encouraging us to work on creating more jump and straightness in the canter (oh lady, if only you knew how awesome it was that we HAVE a sound canter on both leads), and better bend where it is called for (definitely agreed!).

But he is finding that suspension!!!
He earned himself a SECOND 8 on his first medium walk and 7's on both impulsion and submission (o.m.g. we finally have some submission) in his collective marks.  I could not be prouder and I admit to squeaking with startled glee when the leaderboard whispered that Encore had nailed a 34.8.  With only one week of schooling, my earnest kiddo was only one point away from Solo's best score of all time.

Sure, I be dressage poneh, whatevs.
We've got the step, just need the jump!

We then had somewhere around 2.5 minutes to change tack and be ready to jump.  I confess, I wasn't thrilled about the horses not getting much of a break between the two, but it did mean that your jumping warmup merely required hopping over something a few times to get them thinking forward and over and you were good to go.  And that he was -- as soon as we entered the competition ring, a firecracker lit up underneath me.  Encore hadn't tackled a course in three months either and he fairly vibrated with excitement.  The whistle blew and we were off.

I sendz telepathik Cuna-thankz youz!
The detail-oriented among you might notice something different in our jumping outfit.  In a gesture of amazing generosity, the wonderful SprinklerBandit we all know and love from her adventures with the mighty Cuna and the new protege, Courage, sent us an incredible gift while she was sorting out her tack collection.  I found it on my porch after work last week, definitely one of the best ways to end my day in recent memory!

So in honour of the badass-ness of the Cuna/SB mastery of mad skillz, Encore very proudly wore (and I had long coveted) the gorgeous chocolate and powder blue Five Star Tack breastplate (which is just as exquisite in real life as I imagined) originally sported by Cuna during his reign of glory.  Encore must have absorbed some magic from the Cuna-dust in the elastic because we put in the first double-clear stadium round I can remember in a long time.  He was bold, he was rock-steady, and he galloped through the finish flags begging for more.  Oh, and his mom tried really hard to ride properly and WAIT for him.  It helps, really.

Thank you, Aimee and Cuna, we will strive to live up its legacy!!!

2'11"??  Heck, I'll take 3'11", mom, bring it!!!

The elegant beadwork of his Topline Leather browband just sets off that classy TB profile!
We went home a tired bunch, but oh-so-pleasantly-surprised with our fluttering white reward. My spirits are buoyed indeed for next week's cross country lesson with David and then...HORSE TRIAL.

Good pony.  Cute pony.  Honest pony.  At the moment, sound pony!  Who could ask for more?

April 21, 2013

W Is For Widiculousness

Encore:  Oooo, look trees!
In the dressage arena that is.

Encore's back was available for warmup and his body felt decent, if a bit stiff from the trailer ride.  His brain...appeared to have blown out somewhere back on Highway 1.

I worked at suppling his body and pushing his inside hind leg underneath him.  I asked for many changes of bend and tried very hard not to hang on my left rein.  Becky swung by on a big, stunning dapple grey going BN who looked ready to do Prelim Test A and she said hi; I tried not spit on myself in mortification because I already knew I was not riding at my best and my horse was spooking at camera shutters and apparently birdwatching, judging by his posture.  I can only hope she was busy riding and did not actually witness my test.  Afterwards, I actually stopped by to ask the secretary, a friend of mine, if she could post my score under a code instead of my name.  Shame.

I was unaware that he was plotting evil.
Trainwreck would be an understatement.  After trotting down centerline, Encore checked out and completely ignored my existence as he studied trees, other horses, dirt, and anything else that seemed remotely interesting.  His rider was not even close to that category.  I had zero response to leg, hand, seat, body, no bend, no push, no.thing.  I hope the judge enjoyed my downward transition to trot where I finally had to yell, "WHOA, DAMMIT!"  She tactfully wrote, "Against hand.  Rider's aids ineffective."  Ya think?  I was not in love with my horse.

I could not let that stand.  I rode back to the field behind our rig and we proceeded to have a lesson in who decides when and how and where things happen.  It took about 30 minutes, but Encore eventually ran out of evasions and realized I was just going to sit there and keep asking, so he gave in and discovered that obedience is easier.  That was when I realized that THAT was the ride I should have given him in warmup.  I'm pretty good at lessons after the fact.

I did my best to let it go, although a set of stripped out stud holes and an ineffective wrench may have led to rage-hurling said wrench across a field.  It wasn't my finest moment, although it did make me feel better for 45 seconds and since I throw like a girl, it didn't go very far; Amber had the grace to not laugh out loud and fetch it later.  Bless her.

A rather more responsive horse warmed up for XC, which was a straightforward course with some good rider balance and steering questions.  The first 3 jumps were also on the steeplechase track, which I have wanted to run on for yearrrrssss.  Oh yes, my racehorse noticed the rail and the marker poles and the oval.

Beautiful track, I finally got to run on you...
I did not put on the helmet cam, my apologies.  Time was short and I wanted to focus on my horse; additionally, post-course walk, I knew there would not be anything new or dramatic to see.  Mea culpa.  Although you might have been entertained when Encore teleported sideways when someone opened their car door (perhaps he just left his brain at home?) and I barely clung on with one calf muscle. 

Oh, and car lady, it's fine to open your door, my horse usually has no issues with that on non-idiot days and you did nothing wrong, but when someone almost gets dumped (on their already trashed leg) as you do, it's common courtesy to apologize and at least ask if they are ok instead of squawking, "OMG!"  Just sayin'.

We made it to about jump 7 or 8 when I could feel my horse was developing some muscle-tiredness behind.  He was jumping very well, boldly and honestly, but between jumps, I had a cinder block at the end of my reins.  Today I feel like I was dragged behind a truck!

It was good mileage for him though.  Encore was excellent over a log two strides from the first big water and really showed off our improved "down" skills off a big drop.  The following jump was the baby sunken road, so the ground dropped sharply behind a log pile fence and he is still leery of leaping when he cannot see the landing.  He did stop in front of it, but I insisted and he climbed over (it wasn't very big) without taking a step backwards (GOOD BOY!) so we were able to finish with no penalties except for two seconds of time.  Which was a result of my having to pulley-rein him in a circle mid-course and make him trot down a very steep hill so we would not roll down it instead.  :\

As we crossed between the finish flags, I knew I had a tired horse and I felt in a couple of lead swaps that he had developed some butt soreness.  It was not a difficult decision to just withdraw, call it a day, and head home.  There was nothing to be gained by staying overnight and jumping a flat, ugly stadium course -- that kind of mileage I can do without, thank you. 

In the end, it was not a total loss.  We were pushing our timeline between his back injections and the event, so I am not surprised his muscles tired early.  I hope that a few more weeks of slow, steady work on some hills and the lines will bring him back to solid.

Sure I caaan be round, but...oh look, pony!
There were good lessons:  I need to push harder in warmup, take more time, and bloody well RIDE, no matter what anyone else is doing.  Encore got in a much needed XC run and handily answered all questions, with only one minor hiccup.  So my entry fee was not wasted and hey, even with all that, we still weren't last!

I will employ some Advil and enjoy an unexpected Sunday break crammed between two weeks of work travel and fish rodeos.  Encore can rest and we will resume our work at a slower pace later in the week.

To come:  the promised unveiling of a surprise at the event.  Better pictures need to be procured to do justice to said surprise.  Trust me, you will be filled with want. 

Last but not at all least:  THANK YOU, Amber, for being an expert team crew despite my dressage tantrums (I did not eat or drink enough, bad bad event blood sugar rule breaking!) and stud struggles.  You are truly awesome and I am so so so grateful to have had your help!

October 7, 2012

The Horseman's Decision

Dr. Bob warned me on Tuesday that Encore would be sore for a while following a rather large chiropractic adjustment and recommended that I keep him on bute for the rest of the week.  I asked if he would be ok to do the horse trial and he didn't say no.  But I saw a look that I knew and I wondered.  Looking back, I think he made a gamble and because he knows me, hoped it would work.

I schooled Encore lightly on Thursday, some walk/trot lateral and stretching work and a few crossrails.  He felt great.

We trailered to the Horse Park on Friday and settled in for the night.  I wanted to hack him that evening, but ran out of time and daylight and we had to settle for a walk.
Carolina dawn.
 The Moment of Weakness

Dressage warmup was ugly.  Encore was unfocused.  I regretted not making the time to at least longe him the day before.  He had no bend, ignored my leg except to leap forward from every application.  He was stiff, cranky, and anticipatory.  40 minutes of work brought some improvement and I thought we might squeak through.

We didn't.  He turned like a motorcycle, ignored every aide, had no bend in either direction, stiffened and braced whether I was soft or not, and generally brought me near to tears by the end.  Which is almost impossible.  I made a promise on this blog that I would be open about the whole process, that I would not create some kind of false Facebook life where only the good is shared.  So yes, there is a video.  A sad, sad video.  Erm, at least I am getting better at sitting up straight?  And yes, yes he is violently allergic to the rail and wanders drunkenly down the long side like a lost cow. 

I slumped in despair when we left the arena.  Arriving back at our stall, where we were next door to our friend Sue and her magical, wonderful homebred, Rocky The Amazing Horse, I finally said it out loud:  "This just makes me want to give up.  I want to pack up my trailer right now and go home."

The Rally

I didn't.  I took a deep, shaky breath and took a long look at my horse.  I gave him a snack and a drink and thought hard.  He is a worker bee, he does not generally just behave like an asshole because he can.  Gearing up for stadium jumping (it was a one day HT), I decided to feel every step and carefully evaluate what was going on beneath me.

He jumped five or six warmup fences well, moving up when I asked and mostly maintaining a rhythm.  But he leaned hard on the left rein and his left lead canter was a bit flat.  We started our course and after jump 1 when he hit the ground running, the pieces began to form a clearer picture.

He ran at the jumps and about halfway through, started pulling rails behind.  There were only 9 fences so it ended quickly and as we walked out, the answer was clear:  his left hip was still sore, despite the bute and he needed more time.  Apparently a few jumps was ok.  15 was too many.

The Big Decision 

We began our walk over to XC, my first thought being, "Well, we might as well finish."  Then I paused.  Why?  There was nothing to gain -- the course was EXACTLY the same as the once we jumped at 5 Points, there were no new challenges.  I hadn't checked our dressage score, but I've gotten fairly accurate in my assessments and it certainly was not competitive and we'd just pulled at least 3 rails.  I knew my horse was sore and there was nothing to be gained by running him up and down hills for 4 minutes, knowing he would jump flat, chip in, and generally try his best while being physically compromised.  That would just be stupid.

So I walked over to the steward (who was very kind and sympathetic, thank you), calmly informed her we were withdrawing because my horse was sore, and returned the barn to pack up.

The legendary CHP steeplechase infield would not see this Thoroughbred's hoofprints today.
Disheartening?  Absolutely.  A hard choice?  Not really, because I strive to always put my horse first.  Frustrating?  Well, considering my day would have been better spent drinking and setting $300 on fire, yes, I'd say so.  Six hours of driving and we had neither learned nor developed a thing.

The Aftermath

I knew someday it was a choice I would have to make -- looking out for my horse in the long term vs. the short term gratification of completing an event.  It was a choice I will never forgive myself for not making for Solo and it cost us both a great deal.  It was the indisputably right choice to make for Encore yesterday.  I was also encouraged that people in stabling near us that I didn't even know expressed their support and good wishes for our choice and our future when we made it back.

I don't think there is any real damage done; I will talk to Dr. Bob on Monday and assess.  The only real stressor is that we have four weeks and I'm already $400 in to the VA Horse Trials in November.  A part of me wants to just give up, scratch, move the surgery up and be done with it.  This fall season was supposed to be fun, the last good thing I had to look forward to for a long time.  Since 5 Points, it has not been fun.

Because I think it all traces back to that point (ha, see what I did there):  Encore was going very well and had an excellent dressage test.  But he had two big slips on XC on the hard ground and even then, I felt something that I couldn't identify and he jumped poorly on Sunday.  Now I am just upset with myself for not figuring out the problem sooner -- a tweaked up back that just needed a reset and some time, which I attempted to do too close to a competition because I was too slow.

But I am stubborn.  Perhaps stupidly so.  But I'm not giving up just yet; I never thought for a second any of this would be easy.

As of this past Wednesday, he is tapped for studs and wore them on Saturday, so we shall have no more slipping.  Hopefully, all he needs is a bit more time for his hip to settle and rest and he will be back to good.  Did you hear that, big, young, thing?  Get good, I need you!

Oh, we'll be back.  The dream will not die that easily.

September 26, 2012

Encore Goes Training!

Only without extended trot.

I can see your face now:  o.o

That's what mine looked like on Saturday too.  To be fair, one never does know what you'll get with a schooling horse trial, but I have been to a number of excellent ones in our area and never gave it a second thought.  This particular trial had its inaugural run this spring; the farm owner is lovely, gracious, generous woman, who allows us to school on her her amazing XC facilities and enjoy her gorgeous farm.  There were some hiccups (and 30 mph wind!) in what was Encore's first BN HT, not unanticipated given that this was their first go at putting it on.  I sent some email feedback on points that I LOVED and points that I thought could be improved to make for a smoother experience.  So I decided to give it another chance.


Our dressage test was once again a llama parade on downhill grass (Encore has not quite mastered the balanced AND round AND go down a hill thing yet).  Even though our score was slightly better than the one we received at Five Points, I was very unhappy with the test and my horse was tense and unhappy in the "arena."

The rather humbling downside of going to a schooling event in Southern Pines is that half or more of your division is probably made up of people who have, at one time or another, ridden around Rolex, or train 8 horses a day.  The horse before you and the horse after you will very likely perform a soft and lovely dressage exhibition that doesn't even have a whiff of llama hovering in the smallest corner.  You are certainly left with no false impressions as to how you stack up in the wide eventing world!!!!

Ride times were again so close together that you'd have to be a marathon runner to walk your courses and get back in time for your jump times, because locales were far apart.  Fortunately, I keep my bike in the back of my truck during eventing season; it helped some, but I was exhausted already when I finished the course walk and got on to jump.

The stadium warmup was.....uncontrolled chaos in a very small space.  Encore cantered around very nicely and jumped well, but at once point, we slid to a halt as the path in front of us was completely blocked by two horses leaping and spinning and we had no where to go.  My horse watched with much curiosity, like what is up with that???

The course itself had walked okay, but was taking down riders left and right with refusals and missed lines, many at the first fence.  I closed my leg to it and told Encore it was over or through and he did it all!  The lines were very twisty and difficult, especially for a green horse and we pulled the last rail, a big oxer off of a bending lines of 4 or 5 strides.  But I was proud of him for being in the half of the division that survived it and making 9 out of 10 challenging fences clean jumping efforts

Side note:  Even though we've been at this for a year now, because of my job and travel, much of Encore's training is still rough around the edges, so he still remains quite green about some things in comparison to a horse who is ridden and in training every day.  Finesse will come with time, but one of the hardest parts of being a working adult amateur is FINDING (usually MAKING) that time.  I almost feel as if I am letting him down a bit because he has enormous ability and I should be presenting it better -- I know that he doesn't know that, but I do.  And since I won't be able to ride after November for quite some time, we are out there, rough edges and all, while I still can.

Cross country  was definitely a tough course if you didn't have an honest, bold, and steerable horse.  Lucky me!  There was even a mini Stockholm slide (watch for fence 11, a small log with a drop slide behind it) that Encore was sure had no ground on the other side.  Fortunately, stumbling/walking over a  jump still counts as "jumping."  It was very different from any course I have ridden with several new challenges, so I really enjoyed it -- I could tell Encore was getting a bit tired, we did this whole event in 3 hours (0.0) but he jumped well to the end....and then fell asleep in his water bucket.  You can watch the helmet cam, but I advise you to tilt your left ear about 45 degrees to your left shoulder -- we had so little time to get ready for jumping, I just slapped it on the helmet, so the horizon is, well, unconventional.

Because of the complexity of questions asked and the rideability the jump courses demanded, I did leave feeling as if we had just completed a Training Level HT with slightly smaller jumps.  I'm not sure how I feel about it.  On one hand, yes, I am proud of Encore for finishing it!  On the other though, this fall was meant to be confidence-building mileage -- and I'm not sure bombing around sharp turns in showjumping is quite that.  I also don't really enjoy having to dash around the entire time like a headless chicken.   Efficient is great, but give me a chance to sit and eat my WHOLE granola bar at least and for my horse to get a snack and a drink, since we don't ALL travel with staff.

Again, the farm and owner are wonderful and it is a big, generous thing to open your land and private property so other riders can use the facilities you have built and I am always grateful for that.  I am a bit sad that it appears my feedback fell on deaf ears, but I am not an organizer (HUGE job) so there may be limitations of which I am not aware.

We all also have choices of where we go to compete and this has taught me that not all are the same and not every event will have the same expectations of your horse, even though you are the same level.  There were definitely lessons learned both positive and negative, so now we move forward to our next event, back at CHP, where I DO know what to expect and what is expected of me. 

September 11, 2012

Horse Trials = Ridiculously Expensive Lessons In Horsemanship

Edited to add:  there appear to be some photo sizing issues in Firefox.  When viewed in IE or Chrome, they appear normal to me.  All photos have been uploaded at the smaller size, I don't know what's up with that.  Sorry, working on it.  Oh, Firefox, you disappoint me so, I have loved you long time... If you click on the pictures, you can see them at normal human size (as opposed to ginormous).

And nothing makes you feel like your HT experience was complete like sitting on the curb at AutoZone on your way home, waiting for a clerk to come bring you a new truck battery (my back was not in the mood to be lifting batteries).  Ends up, he took too long, so I stole his tools and did it myself.

It started well though and I'm going to try to keep the story short and instead, crash your browser with media.  Because I'm nice like that.  All photos by High Time Photography, thank you!

Dressage:  Wow, I had a heck of a horse.  For the first time EVER, Encore was completely rideable in the ring.  He was (mostly) soft, he did not anticipate and only had a few tense moments.  He canter was sheer loveliness to sit on.  The judge nailed him hard on almost every movement because he is still a bit counterbent quite often.  I have ridden under her before and knew she was tough, she never liked Solo's work much either.  But as I said before, she doesn't know his journey and she doesn't know what he was like even a week ago, or last Wednesday, when I spent a marathon NO MORE ANTICIPATORY BULLSHIT session that about killed my knee but apparently worked! So me = completely stoked with his test.





Where are my cute points?

Cross Country:  Here, he started to feel the hurt.  Because HE WOULD NOT DRINK ALL DAY.  It was hot and humid and the little bugger would just not slurp any water.  He galloped his heart out and went double clear, but he was getting tired.  The footing was also hard and slick (never experienced that at CHP, would never have dreamed of needing studs there for Novice!) and he lost his hind feet out from under him a couple times, so he jumped around just feeling a bit greener than he is.  Oh, and the last jump on course?  His nemesis which he defeated this past spring.  Ha!  I cooled him off and we went "home" to our wonderful friend's farm where I hoped he would tank up overnight.










HELMET CAM I REMEMBERED TO TURN ON!  It was supposed to upload to YouTube too.  Crappy software fail.  I'm not thrilled with this one and I'm not sure why it appears we are riding in an earthquake while being pounded by hail, but perhaps you should take some Dramamine first...

I am making this a link for now, because the sizing all wrong and this whole post seems to have imploded blogger. So, CLICK HERE FOR HELMET CAM VID!

The ever-super Sue's perspective:

Stadium:  Sunday woke us up with cool, beautiful air that smelled the way a fall horse trial should.  After jump-starting the rig, sigh, Encore and I went back to the horse park and I expected a clean jump round.  Expected.  When we got to warmup, I found out that my horse had not taken full advantage of his pasture and trough Saturday night and felt a bit tired.  I warmed him up and he was jumping clean, so I let him hang out till it was time to go.  My plan was just to gallop him down the side of the arena to the start flags and just keep my leg on to keep him moving over the fences.

CHP had other plans.  They had apparently had a group meeting and voted to use all their shallowest jump cups.  The hollow "thunk" of rails in sand had been a common sound all day.  So while Encore jumped double clear with the first 2/3 of his body, his tired back toes tapped a rail.  Or five.  I couldn't be upset with him, really, and I have a call in to David to see if he will help me analyze if there is anything we could have done differently.  But Encore never gave up and never hesitated, so his heart was there.  Naturally, once he walked back to the trailer, he drank two buckets of water.  *eyeroll*

But he looked pretty...


It looked bigger, mom!


A little focus fail, but he looked too cute to pass it up.

The round:

In the end, I wouldn't have changed a thing and I already have a solution for the water issue -- I think the water in my container was just stale and I did not think like a horse and fill his bucket from the park hose until Sunday.  Sigh.  Nonetheless, I am very happy with his performance and overjoyed with his dressage transformation (I hope it sticks) and very much look forward to our next competition, a schooling trial on the 22nd.

This weekend though, we will hit the mountains, build some butt muscles, drink some beer, and be judged by no one but a few arrogant grey squirrels.  Who says Thoroughbreds can't do it all?