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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

September 9, 2012

A Sneak Peak At A Horse Trial High

Thank you to all of you who sent good juju our way this weekend!!

First off, CONGRATULATIONS to our friend Sue (owner of beautiful farm where we meet David in VA) and her mare, Grace, who finished 3rd in Grace's first Prelim!!!!!  AHHHH!

If you checked the live scores, you might have thought disaster occurred, as our number was, ummmm, not exactly spectacular.  Or even average.  Good thing I am not one of those nutty competitive people or I would have quit several years ago.

But you know what?  It was a fantastic weekend for TFS.  One of the reasons I love eventing is that the judging is relatively objective, but that also means that the judges only see a snapshot of you and your score does not reflect where you are or how far you've come in your journey with your partner.  That is why I ride for me, to find holes in my training, to improve upon my last attempt and of course, to RIDE THE XC COURSE, DUH, WHY DO YOU THINK WE PUT UP WITH ALL THIS OTHER CRAP??!  Ahem.

Why was it so great?  Well, full story with pictures and video (yes, I remembered to actually TURN ON the helmet cam) are on the way after much uploading, but I'll give you a hint:

I got to ride this horse (photos by High Time Photography) --

August 29, 2012

Three Feet Closer To Heaven

My physiology betrayed me as my heart beat faster, watching the ring crew raise the poles to 3'.  Logically, Encore and I have lessoned well at this height and even with Solo, we cleared 3'3", although not without significant effort.

We had already run the 2'6" class at Mach 10, Encore bombing around the course as if everything was simply a coloured speedbump.  Even with his rider getting so hopelessly lost that I had to stop after jump four and stare around at the numbers to figure out what to do next.  On the plus side, it provided both spectators, judge, and rider with a good giggle. 

Note:  do not stand at a jumper show all morning and watch alternating courses back and forth.  You will only confuse yourself.  Be grateful that we have only one course in eventing.

Encore had warmed up well, despite working BY HIMSELF, isolated behind the barn in the dressage arena.  I focused on David's counterbending exercises to supple him and the challenge was like a charm, keeping his mind on his feet, rather than everything else.

I trotted cautiously in when it was my turn to jump our course.  The judge blew the whistle and I barely breathed my aids, expecting Encore to explode back into rocket power.

Then he looked at the first jump, we rebalanced, he found his rhythm, and proceeded to perform a phenomenal display of athleticism -- he never rushed, his jumps were careful and correct, and despite more rider navigational derps requiring last minute swerves, he even jumped diagnoally from the base to keep it between the standards without any fuss at all.  I think everyone heard me yell, "THANK YOU, GOOD SAVE!" over the last skinny -- about 4' wide, which I almost overshot except for Encore's quick and honest effort to do his job properly.

Thrilled is an understatement.  It appears that at 3', he finally comes into his own.  The jumps are big enough to earn a little respect and attention.  And guess what?  If you keep your leg on, EVEN IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR HORSE IS MOVING FAST, and you ride his hind end to the jump with a soft and balanced hand, a good rhythm, and you keep your eyes ahead of you.....IT FREAKING WORKS EVERY TIME.  Wow.  How much money did it cost me before my body finally managed to pull that off?

First rule of Horse Club:  never add up expense of Horse Club.

The single rail we dropped was entirely my fault -- I tried to half halt too close to the fence, causing Encore to tag the rail with his hind feet.  The last three strides in front of the jump belong to him, as David says, and I should have simply added leg and left well enough alone. 

In summary:  THE UNICORN IS A ROCK STAR.  And I can't wait till Five Points....

June 24, 2012

Look Whose HelmetCam I Found??!

Remember how I said back here that I had tried and failed to turn the helmet cam on in mid-course at full TB gallop? 

Well, guess what?

I discovered last night that I didn't fail!

So hang on for the ride, because here are XC jumps 5-15 of Encore's very first Novice completion this spring!

May 7, 2012


Yes, I am lax in my posting.  Field season pulls me away 2-3 days per week and I've been gone every weekend.  I never want to drive again.

I am also a moron because I keep forgetting to turn on my helmet cam.  This weekend, I did remember at jump 3 and made a valiant attempt to turn it on there.  Unfortunately, Encore had just settled into full TB gallop and those jumps just aren't that far apart at that speed; one handing the XC course did not feel like a good idea.

I know, no cam, what's the point, right?  But we did get some good mileage.

Lesson:  Encore is great in the dressage warmup; I am finally learning what works for him and I had him soft, responsive, supple, and ready to go.  Then we left the warmup ring and entered the dressage arena at A, at which point Encore threw his head up, startled that he was suddenly alone and stared at, and I was unable to unlock his jaw for the next five minutes.  To my aghastment (it's a word now), we still scored a 36.09.  :-o  It felt more like a 45.  But baby needs a lot more mileage so he can get comfy and relax his topline in the arena and we will be hitting the dressage schooling circuit this summer, instead of the schooling HTs I had originally planned.  Not as fun, but cheaper.  The boy already knows how to jump, I'll save those jumps for the fall.

Lesson:  I was starting to figure out a few things in the SJ warmup.  I kept my leg on all the way to the base of the fence and over, hooking a finger through the martingale strap so there was no mouth catching, and we got some LOVELY jumps.  Once we got in the arena though, any place where there were two jumps in a straight line, he charged like a bull and I was left to try to half halt and be soft at the same time.  I think I have at least partially created this problem.  Basically what happens then is I end up trying to hold him to the base of the fence instead galloping through it, which will almost always mean back rails get pulled behind, and I forget all about keeping my leg on.  Hopefully, David will fix us this coming weekend.  If there is a turn or corner to use to balance, we do fine and I can focus and get him back.  A friend was nice enough to catch the rail bowling jumping round on her phone for your entertainment (I would recommend full screening and maxing the resolution)!

Lesson:  Encore is getting more confident on XC, yeah!  And WE JUMPED THE LAST JUMP.  Oh yes, the bright rolltop nemesis was defeated with a holler and a smack.  I don't think I would change a thing about his course.  It was the same funky course as Longleaf, which I still think doesn't work well for Novice horses in several places, but it made my coursewalk much easier.

The point of SCHOOLING horse trial is SCHOOLING and I am very happy with the experience we got.  Encore feels a little more sure of himself each time out and the horse trial itself did its job of showing me where our weak spots were.  So to the drawing board we go, to come back in the fall with a big fat BANG!

April 26, 2012

Your CHP Novice Coursewalk

Team Flying Solo basecamp

Mea culpa for no helmet cam, but I CAN give you a coursewalk, plus a few bonus bits of fun.  So take a deep breath, put yourself in the Carolina sandhills, and gallop out of the start box for your horse's first Novice course.

A simple log pile to get things going.  Then a huge U-turn to...

The ubiquitous CHP cabins.  Run down the hill to...
The BIG brush.  It has wide steps on both sides.  Say hi to our buddy Sue!
Gallop up the hill to the coop.  No visual distractions here.  Focus on your jump.
Run through the tree tunnel to 5 & 6.  Since they are numbered separately, you ARE allowed to circle between them.  But I want to challenge my horse, so we ride straight through.
The course had a nice flow up until 6.  Then it went all wonky.  You galloped down a steep hill and wound through several tree paths and made an odd turn to the table at 7.
Now you immediately rebalance down the hill so your horse is ready for the baby sunken road and rolltop at 8.  Sue is getting tired of being in my pictures.  Too bad!
Down another steep hill to the trakehner.  Encore had never jumped one before so eyes UP, light tap with the go stick and LEAP over and charge up the hill to wind another crazy line to 10.
Sue insists on being the human element for scale.  Now that you have found 10, it's a simple cabin, than a hard left turn.
The water at 11 is a simple run through, keep your eyes on your next jump and don't ogle.  As an aside, this is only HALF of the big water complex at CHP, is it not amazing??
Sue threatens to tackle as you pick your way through the trees at an angle to 12.  Encore knocked a hind leg here, it was an awkward turn and he got an off stride, but he made it work.
Now you get your stirrup back, dodge a few more trees and go down another steepish hill to 13, and immediately balance so...
You can run through the second water at 14.  Don't miss your line because you have charge up the hill to...
15 A & B.  This is a combination so NO circling.  Up the bank, one stride, jump, then a horrible right turn IMMEDIATELY to...
Our not-so-friendly 16.  But it was a terrible line.  You can see the finish flags right behind it.  Sigh.
Then, ostensibly, you have done it!  As I noted earlier, after jump 6, the course notably lost its flow.  For a Novice horse, he should be able to gallop nicely through it in a rhythm and the jumps should come up naturally, as they did with our previous, much beloved course designer, Jeff Kibbie.  But he has moved on, sadly, so it will be interesting to see how things develop.  I will send in my event evaluation to provide some feedback, organizers do value those, so send yours in too!

And just for fun, Indian Smurf made some new friends:

Our VERY favourite starter, Bill -- you can often find him at CHP and several of our area schooling trials.  He always makes you laugh and relax before you set off and was recently featured in EventingUSA magazine for his awesomeness!
Our TD and friend, Cindy (who is also our national Adult Rider coordinator) and her apprentice TD, Tim, enjoying the shade of the golf cart and having a smurfy good time!

April 22, 2012

Sometimes Disappointment Is A Good Ending

That was one of the reasons I have always loved Audrey Hepburn's classic Roman Holiday:  there is no perfect bow and there is no closure except goodbye.  Life doesn't wrap itself up in a nice, neat little package where everyone always ends up exactly where they wanted to be in the first place.

But before we go there, I will give you the answer you've all been waiting for, the question that has held you captive since Tuesday's Hoof Quiz:  half of you are right and half of you are wrong.

Hoof A has a robust, heavy wall and a sole that is concave, thick, and hard as a rock.  The frog is giant and the heels are strong.  There's a teensy bit of a thrushy crack, always a project.  Hoof B is narrower, with a sole that is almost flat, has little callous and jerks back dramatically in response to contact with the tiniest bit of gravel.  The middle of the frog got thrushy (grrrr) from a muddy pasture.

So who was right?  *drumroll*  A = Encore and B = Solo.  So Val, Amy, Beka Burke, Abbie, Lyndsey and RiderWriter got it right!

This has taught me the huge role that genetics play in hoof quality and integrity.  That old saw that OTTB's have crappy, shelly feet?  Well, buy one with good feet and you won't have that problem.  My QH has wussy, cracky feet that need constant attention despite six years of me obsessing over them. 

As for that little horse trial we went to...

Overall things went smoothly.  Although, there was this one time, in middle of downtown Raleigh where I clenched the steering wheel and yelled a string of very bad words, realizing in the complete chaos that was my Friday that I had remembered everything....except feed for my horse.  Fortunately, there's a lovely feed store in Southern Pines which is open for Saturday morning panic shopping runs.

Encore is a very smart horse.  As soon as he unloaded, you could see the lightbulb go on as he remembered the Horse Park and he knew what he was supposed to do in each section we rode into.  He warmed up for dressage rather well, but I still have not completely figured out what he needs.  More canter?  No canter?  More suppling?  A different rider?  I know I slipped into an old habit and tensed up as we rode in the ring.  As a result, he never relaxed and rode up into the contact, and we ended up with a mediocre score of 41.

The judge was fair and accurate and I am sure that our results were a mix of greenness and Encore just having a week and a half off due to injury.  We had ONE dressage ride in the last two weeks. 

Cross country followed and you can hate me because I forgot to turn on the helmet cam.  I'm going to start writing it on my arm.  I will post a virtual course walk when I get the pictures organized.

Now that we were running Novice, I was finally able to let Encore run a little.  Wow, does he have a powerful gallop.  It took everything in me to slow down and balance enough for the fences.  But he was bold and solid -- baby sunken road, water, trakehner, bank, combination, HUGE brush -- he gave it an excellent run and responded to everything I asked immediately.

Until Jump 16.  Three strides from the finish line.  The last jump on course.  It was a simple rolltop, although a bit narrow, and newly built out of light, treated lumber.  I knew it was a steering question and it came off an odd turn, as the whole second half of the course lacked flow in its design.  But I aimed for the middle and closed my leg.

See, the smurf has no problem with it.
Encore is a very quick and athletic horse, as I'd already learned in Februrary.  He slipped out to the left at the last second.  I was stunned.  We had already done all the hard stuff!

Then I made the mistakes that did us in.  I simply rode at it again, thinking he would just jump it the second time.  He didn't.  Then I did the same thing the third time with, unsurprisingly, the same result and that was our endgame.

What I didn't do is get proactive fast enough.  The second time, I should have switched the crop to my left hand, dug that left spur in and used a right opening rein to close the doorway he found.

But as I walked back to the barn and commenced the "Saturday Pack of Shame" of those who get eliminated on the first day, I wasn't entirely unhappy.

I was unhappy with my failure to get the riding job done, yes.  But when we were warming up for XC, I had noticed that while Encore jumped the XC jump very well, he rushed the stadium fences, getting flat, hard, and fast in the last three strides.  I didn't like it and I am fairly certain that it is a training issue that I have caused.  I have some ideas, but I need some video or sharp eyes on the ground to solve it. 

But it needs to be worked out and I did not want to run him around the stadium course like that, as that could potentially make a problem much worse and become a negative experience for us both.  As a result, I was thinking of withdrawing after XC and going home to up our show jumping game.

In the end, the choice was made for me.  So while I have a bit of wounded pride for an E on Encore's record (it doesn't stand for "excellent," folks), when I take a step back and look at the big picture and what is best for Encore's career, I see that we achieved experience in the dressage arena, got both our leads and were fairly accurate, and had a great schooling run around a Novice XC course for jumps 1-15 on a horse who was at his second real horse trial and his first go at Novice.

The experience matters.
Like Gregory Peck, I didn't get the princess completion I wanted in the end, but I got an invaluable experience for my horse and I feel comfortable knowing that our show jumping round (in the rain) today could very well have not been what it should.

And that is what makes eventing a challenge and a long game if you want to build an eventer who is confident in his rider and knows how to get his job done.  It's not all clean rounds and sunshine, but it's the hard decisions and how fast you can roll with the punches that sort the wheat from the chaff.

March 20, 2012

Horses Make Life Suck Less

SprinklerBandit wrote this in the last posts' comments and I had to steal it because it was hilarious, yet so apt.  I cannot think of a better way to lead in to the Tales of Day Two.

After leaving Carolina Horse Park, we followed a long and complicated set of directions which ended up at a place I had been before -- only now I actually knew what it was!  It was our fellow Adult Rider Alison's farm, where Encore, mum, and I were graciously allowed to spend the night.

I was a bit concerned about Encore because he was going to have to stay in this horrible pasture overnight, but he seemed to decide he could make do with the conditions.

Just awful, isn't it?
There, I also discovered the cutest pony of all time.  Don't argue with me, because there can be no comparison.
Meet Ponytail.  100% purebred Pony.
Yes, yes, she seems all innocence and preciousness, but I got the eerie sense that Ponytail KNOWS things, that she merely allowed the humans to think they were running the show.  I caught her, for just a moment, during breakfast, watching us with superior expression.

Heh.  Those humans.  They think they're soooo smart...
Ponytail and her mini horse companion (minion?), whose name I missed.
The minions wonder why I am not preparing pony breakfast immediately.
After a lovely night, it was time to load up and head back to CHP!
Whoa.  Mom.  Check it -- shrunken hairy horses.  What's up with that?  And why do we look like blueberries?
It was hard to leave such an idyllic retreat, but we had a hot date with a XC course that I couldn't wait to run.

Fun while you wait:  put Russell the russell in my bicycle basket.  How can you not??!
He always rides around on his mom's scooter, I think he secretly liked my awesome milk crate...
Our time came though and we took the long hike back to the start box and warm up area.  As I let Encore trot out the kinks, I realized he was actually TIRED from the day before.  This horse never gets tired -- maybe I wouldn't have to do a wrestling match to avoid speed penalties after all!  He immediately locked on to the warm up jumps, took them all beautifully, and we were ready to go.  I already posted the helmet cam here, so I'll leave you with a few snapshots of a course that was fun, inviting, and as I always feel at the finish flags, far too short -- I want that feeling to last forever! 

Check out his new muscle-butt!
Sigh.  Really, mum, this is the hardest you can come up with? 
Yay, galloping, NOW you're talking!
Wait, what?  Gallop slow?  Why do you ruin everything!?
And then it was over.  But I was thrilled with my horse; he'd run double clear XC and the only problem we had was that the jumps were so small, he barrelled right up to them!  Had I not missed my turn in SJ, he would have jumped clean (he is quite careful and hates knocking rails) and we would have finished on our dressage score -- putting us in 5th place in OPEN Beginner Novice in a division of 18 at his very first recognized horse trial.  Just knowing that was enough for me!  Even with the real results (rider error included), he finished 11th, middle of the pack, and had a healthy row of zeros across the most important phase (XC) and came in just 18 seconds under optimum time, so we were pretty close to smack on the pace.  Not bad for an ex-racehorse who just got back under saddle late last summer. 

I can't wait to see what happens a month from now...

March 19, 2012

A House Divided

It is hard when great joy and soul-wrenching grief co-exist in your heart.  On one hand, a person I love deeply is gravely ill and it will be some time before a resolution is reached or even in view.  I am a fixer; I like to repair people, problems, jump standards...but here, there is nothing I can do.  I am helpless to fix what is so much bigger than either of us.  I can wish that I was a doctor, or perhaps even better, a wizard, so I could wave a wand, cast a spell, and dismiss the dark cloud overhead.  As it is, the only things I can do are love deeply every single day, treasure each shared word and rare moment, and give all the emotional and moral support I have in me plus a little bit more.  But that love and support never falters nor wavers, even though I cannot be as close as I would, given my choice.  One day at a time has become my mantra. 

At the same time, in the same emotional space, there is great joy for the unexpected gift that a young horse brings to the same battered heart.  He cannot take the pain away, but what he does offer me is a bright spot in each day, a kind face that always makes me smile, that I can lose myself in for a period of time in the evenings, a balm for the open wounds and a therapy for a mind in turmoil.

Each one abates the other, in small pieces.

Yes, in a roundabout way, you are getting your event report.

It was a gift of a weekend when I towed that bright-eyed young thing into the organized chaos of the Carolina Horse Park on a Trial weekend.  Warm, blue, with perfect sandhills footing, the stage was set and we were even lucky enough to have the Amazing Mum with us to capture pictures and help with the endless tasks of shifting things about that events inevitably involve.  Some say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll let them tell the story instead.

Please feel free to admire and comment on my cuteness at any time, thank you.
Quiiiit, I'm not a stinking barbie!

I is workin' on my mohawk.  Check it.
Correct leads!  Both ways!  No starting gate leap!
All 10's, right??!  Look how cute I was!!
He was actually quite obedient.  If he didn't have a rider handicap of an oaf hanging on the right rein who would instead just let him flow through the bridle, he would have done very well indeed.  There were some lovely trot moments across the diagonal and his rider is slowwwwly learning to sit up straight.  All in all, a quite respectable 38.6, not bad for his first recognized show where I ran out of time in warm up and didn't even get to canter.

Encore, of course, thought he was done after what he felt was a brilliant performance.  To say he was surprised when the jumping saddle went on is an understatement.   So his ears were swiveling twelve ways at once when we got to warm up, leaving me concerned that he would be a bit wild over the jumps.

Arrrrrrggh!  I am ready to jump sweet jumps!!!
Er...your jumps do not impress me.

Ok, fine, I suppose I'll put some effort into it.
Then it was time to breach the ingate and start the show.  The first 2/3 of the course were like a dream.  I kept the rhythm, I re-balanced him, I softened my hand and closed my leg in front of the jump, letting him find each jump and arc over it perfectly.

It didn't last.  You see, they had opened the course for walking while I was doing my dressage test.  I hopped straight off when I finished and went into walk my stadium course.  I knew the course in my head and I had walked up to jump 7 when they kicked me out of the ring to put it back in play.  It became our epic fail.

I watched the riders before me, but apparently not closely enough.  Jumps 6 and 7 were a line down the far wall, then you made a sweeping rollback to 8.  I missed the turn.  My eyes frantically searched for the numbers and found it, but we had already passed our line.  I sat back and did a desperate, frantic detour and Encore gamely dug in and we found our way back to the jump.  Flustered, I lost my focus, and we pulled rails at both 9 and 10 and our detour cost us 8 time penalites as well.  But the fault was entirely mine and I still patted Encore for a job well and bravely done.

But can you ask for better engagement than that?  As I apparently attempt to climb to his ears?
It was time to pack up and go.  We had a sleepover date for the night at a friend's farm.  Who also owns the cutest pony you have ever seen.  But you'll have to wait for the next post to see the evidence.