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We Are Flying Solo

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

May 14, 2011

Post Game

We have officially completed our first outing at Training Level!  It was our favourite local venue, who hosted a schooling show with a Combined Training option (dressage and stadium only).


(1) WE WON FIRST PLACE. In our division which consisted ROFL. I let the organizer keep the ribbon for later use.

(2) We scored our lowest score on a single dressage movement ever! Yes, that is a big "3" for the right lead canter depart. Or as Solo translated it, the leaping, twisting buck that led to cross canter that led to running trot which finally culminated in a right lead. I figured I better just sit there until he sorted his shit out. The rest of our canter work was equally craptastic. Apparently accidentally feeding Solo two breakfasts was not the best idea.

(3) Solo DEFINITELY knows he is an event horse. After dressage, we met with our saddle fitter to work on dressage saddle. Solo kept gazing wistfully at the cross country field and finally blew a big bucking tantrum during my trial ride because I ALREADY DID DRESSAGE, IT'S TIME FOR JUMPING, DAMMIT. Amazing how he suddenly became totally calm once I started putting the jumping boots on...

(4) 3'3" stadium jumping is not a problem for Solo. He only pulls rails when his pilot forgets to properly ride the jump. 4 penalty points for me.

(5) I need to do two dressage tests at horse trials. While our test had moments of ok-ness (hey, we figured out how to make centerline "relatively straight"), our dressage saddle trial ride AFTER the test was simply awesome, complete with fantastic trot extensions and transitions. Sigh. To do #457: add mini-test to warmup routine.

Overall, I think the CT served its purpose well, pointing out the spots I need to ride better. Solo jumped really well again, which I am beyond thrilled about. I even used the studs since the ground was wet and I know that venue has slippery clay hiding beneath. Lesson: road studs are NOT enough for lots of grass and clay.

Tomorrow: clean things AGAIN. Plan. Maybe write stuff on the calendar and erase it and write different stuff. Fantasize winning blue ribbon in VA and then laugh at hubris. Fantasize completing VA with a qualifying score for Training 3-Day and pat self for realistic goal. Find someone to talk to other than weird self.

May 12, 2011

Schooling For Schooling

Saturday is a local unrecognized CT. Which will also be our first foray into Training Level. My plan was to use it as a perfect prep for Virginia HT next week. It was all falling into place beautifully. I was even excited, EXCITED (probability of that happening: 1 in 10,000,000), about the Training Level Test B that we are to perform in VA; it suited Solo well and made him all supple and bendy.

Until I checked out the details of the class list for this weeks show.

We are doing Training Level Test A.

It's a completely different test with less bending, larger gaps between transitions, and the extended canter on a straightaway. I don't like it. Test B left me with a better horse at the end of it. Test A leaves me a horse who just wants to extend his canter all the way around the whole dang ring. He's really digging this extended gait thing.

We worked through Test A with P the Dressage Wonder Coach last night. I failed to make my brain focus (oooo, shiny!) and both Solo and I had a temper tantrum or two, but I came out with some tips to focus on for Saturday:

-Really use the corners to bend and package the horse, especially right before the extended trot diagonals.

-All the movements are short so even if Solo gets pissed, he'll get to do something different in about five or six strides.

-Make sure the medium walk marches forwards so we get a swinging free walk on the short diagonal.

-Don't let the 15 m circles get too big.

-Prep early for the left lead canter at M.


If I can pull off these six teensy little things, then I'll call it good. Even though it won't be the same test as next weekend, I think it will be some good ring mileage and a chance to also jump a Training stadium course before it really really counts.

The next two days will be Solo holidays so he hits Saturday rested and ready to rock. I make no predictions, but assuming I can get my brain to switch on, I am optimistic about our prospects for a decent go.

April 30, 2011

Why Do We Keep Doing This?

Solo's had the week off while I have been dragging boats through the mud at work.  Even while being attacked by nettles and mosquitoes, I was coasting on a multi-day post-horse-trial high. 

I finally got back in the saddle in today's perfect sunshine and we took to the woods.  Between flushing turkeys and quiet rat snakes, under crying catbirds and bickering redtails, there was plenty of time to breathe and think.

Shouldn't you be annoyed, my brain queried?  You finished LAST, out-competing only those poor souls who had the shoddy luck to get eliminated.

Yeah, I told its annoying whine, but 2/3 of it was a GREAT ride.

I made mistakes.  Big mistakes.  I'm pretty sure anyone watching me thought, oh dear, that poor girl, who let her in?  So by all rights, I should be mad about it, right?

Here's the thing:  I'm still thrilled about it.  And THAT is the reason I love this sport, the reason all my friends are rolling their eyes because I sound like this:  "eventing horse horse eventing eventing eventer horse jump eventing eventing horse evented eventing."

It's because at the end of the day, it's not all about the ribbon.  Although note that I will still squeal like a little girl if I ever win a ribbon.

But what it's all about is my journey with my horse. 

It's all about how exciting that round, powerful jump felt underneath me on Sunday because that jump didn't exist two years ago.

It's all about the lessons in pace and balance I finally managed to digest and apply to my courses.

It's all about seeing myself finally starting to THINK while I am riding.

It's all about my pride watching my red horse grow and develop into an athlete.

It's all about the sheer joy of watching his ears search out and lock onto obstacles, showing me that he knows and loves his job.

That is why I'm not mad.  Because the only person I am competing with is myself.  The only test is whether we can go out there and put in a better performance than we did the time before, whether we can conquer harder tasks with a more developed skillset.

Because when we're out there on course and my center is balanced over Solo's and I can feel the energy from his hind legs finally pushing up into the bridle and I can fly on the arc of his bascule over a broad table, I know exactly what it's all about.   When I can feel that, it doesn't matter if I am first or 20th or 500th.

There, in that moment, there is no question why we do it.  There is only the doing and the fervent hope that we get the chance to do it again.

April 28, 2011

Long Dazed And Confused At Longleaf: Part III

After sleeping off Saturday's exhaustion, Sunday's task seemed so simple:  jump one little course and then go home.  Easy peasy, right?  Ha!

Back in my magistrate suit I went -- only, no, wait, blessed be all things, jackets were waived!! The heat and humidity climbed and as a result, I was given a reprieve from the silly outfit!

I walked the course early in the morning with C and EHF and watched some Training and Prelim rides. I had it down pat.

Only to discover as the Training divisions ended that the Novice course was completely different. Of course it was.

EHF and I dutifully walked the course again. Bobby Costello was out with that damn cute puppy, so we had to take a break for some petting as well. EHF was drawn in by the puppy eyes...

The time came. Warmup felt good. I concentrated hard on jumping Solo up into the bridle as per David's instructions. Keep the leg on, keep the hand soft, but stay connected to the horse...

We went into the arena and we rode all 8 jumps. It felt fantastic. I rode forward to each jump, kept Solo balanced and focused, and the distances just happened as we rolled along in rhythm. I only wobbled at the combination - Solo wasn't quite in front of my leg, I peeked a little at the first element, which the previous horse had refused, and we got a bit of a bumpy ride there, but it was all clean.

I was STOKED! THAT is how we are supposed to ride! I patted my boy and rode to the exit gate after 8 successful leaps. The ring steward stared at me and would not lower the string.

I glanced around worriedly. Was I supposed to do a trick to get out? Had I forgotten some secret ritual? Then I noticed the time clock.

It was still running.

"Hey, my time is still going!" I told the steward. "Yes, it is," she answered cryptically. I look around some more, standing by the gate in a confused stupor.

"Number 9! Number 9!" I hear some guy muttering from his golf cart.

Pssshhh, I thought, 9 isn't my number, why is that guy so weird??

Finally, I look behind me and damned if there isn't NINE JUMPS ON THE COURSE. "OMG, I am a moron," I groan, as I turn Solo and make a beeline for the last jump, which he clears neatly.

We were just standing by the gate pondering the best approach to the last jump. I swear. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

So we have 347 time faults or so and apparently if you stop and stand there for a while in the middle of your course, you get 4 jumping faults, but I'm still laughing. And the judges are laughing, as I am sure are many of the spectators. Well, at least I can entertain a crowd!  Sadly, this is not captured on video because EHF thought we were done too!!!

In the end, we finished DFL, but I feel good about it. I feel like this was the most educational and most useful of all our horse trial experiences. Despite my pilot errors, my riding was the best and most relaxed it has ever been in competition. Solo's jump rounds were both round and powerful and miles ahead of where we were a year ago.

Bring it, Virginia!

For more action shots, check out the always-beautiful work of Brant Gamma -- she captured some great stills of Solo and although I hardly need more pictures of my horse jumping things, I am sorely tempted by a few of these. Brant and her team always produce gorgeous images; they are not the cheapest but I do my best to support them because they do an exquisite job!

April 27, 2011

Long Daze At Longleaf: Part II

EHF poses with our first XC jump
And then it was me & Solo. Two hearts pounding along with the gallop. Two sets of eyes hunting for the next jump. A hot wind in my ears mixed with the rush of air from Solo's nostrils. The universe ceased to exist except for me & my horse & a galloping track.

I had a plan. I wanted to try to stay close to pace instead of simply letting Solo gallop at HIS pace, which always brings me to the finish line a full minute early.  I knew we had five open gallopy jumps to warm up over until we got to an extremely tough bending line at 6 (feeder)-7 (wide ditch)-8 (rolltop) that I think could more accurately be described as a bent, stretched out coffin (photos below).

Then the rest of the course was simple fly jumps, banks, & ponds that we had all jumped before.  The point of this entire competition was to prepare us for Virginia & our big move-up.  The score didn't matter; what mattered was that Solo & I emerged with a clear idea of what we needed to work on as well as a sense of confidence & preparedness to tackle what was to come.

Jump 6 -- Feeder

Jump 7 -- Ditch; child hazard removed before jumping

Jump 8 -- Rolltop directly following ditch

We ran smoothly together, Solo eagerly seeking out each jump. He took a huge launch at 3, a tall brush fence at the bottom of the hill. It felt like flying. It WAS flying. We clocked along the front field and crossed the steeplechase track to the infield, where our metaphorical -- and soon to be less so -- coffin awaited us. It started well.

I sat down and put my leg and eye on that ditch. Solo cleared it with a teensy bit of room to spare...

If you walk right in front of a camera, yes, I WILL post your saggy britches online.

I was so excited -- we were rocking and the lurking ditch was vanquished!! Yeeeha...shit.

Someone celebrated their ditch victory a little bit too early.  And forgot to RIDE the third jump.  Son of a #@#$@%!!!  And the helmet cam tells no lies -- when I felt Solo waver on our crooked and disorganized approach following the enormous ditch leap, I apparently stared at the jump.  A big Solo no-no.  NEVER STARE AT THE BASE OF YOUR JUMP.  To Solo, that means "it is obviously deadly, do not go here.

We were fine on re-present, but you can't take back those 20 penalties.   This would bump us from the middle of the pack where we were tied for 13th out of about 24 or so, down to 16th.

Important lesson: never celebrate before you cross the finish line and never NEVER lose your focus on course. 

But it was a lesson I was glad to have -- as my courses get bigger and more technical, it's a critical and well-timed reminder that I need to be a thinking rider 100% of the time.  Combinations, related lines, and curves are soon to be a very real part of our competitions and this really drilled home what it will take to come home clean and safe at the next level.

I know you already scrolled through this whole post looking for the helmet cam video, so here it is.  BUT, I'm not thrilled with this one.  Somehow the lens has ended up so you have to tilt your head to the left while watching.  Must fix before next use.  It's a learning curve.  I hate it when things don't cooperate according to the perfect little plan in my head.  Like my entire life.    

Pace goal:  achieved.  I was only about 10 seconds off the optimum time.  Learning goal:  TOTALLY achieved.  Strengths & weaknesses clearly pointed out.  Now it was time to tuck Solo in again & start thinking about the coloured poles that Sunday would bring...

I am now going to sleep off a long field day which included three hours of more winching of boats & trucks in the slickest mud I have ever met on the steepest, most rutted hill I think we have yet managed to find.  After you unwind 40 meters of steel cable for the 4th or 5th time, you're kind of over it.  The next person I meet who says government workers don't do anything is going to get punched in the face.

April 26, 2011

Long Days At Longleaf: Part I

After spending all of today winching trucks up muddy hills at work and then pulling into a hotel standing in the midst of last week's North Carolina tornado carnage, my brain is not quite functional.  My apologies.

I feel confident saying that this weekend was the most educational horse trial I have ever competed in. I feel equally confident saying that I hope to god no one was watching.

After a rainy Friday spent packing and buzzing around picking up last minute items, I loaded up one Solo and one Eminently Helpful Friend (EHF) who, in some enormous lapse in judgement, had agreed to come and crew for us. We managed to pull in to the Carolina Horse Park right at 8:00 pm with just enough light to bed Solo down and drag our tired selves to bed.

I leaped out of bed with a smile when the alarm went off at 4:30 am on Saturday morning, unable to wait one more second for dressage in the sandbox. No, you're right, I cursed and groaned and stumbled blindly about in the dark. I can't believe I do this for 'fun.' I believe EHF contemplated multiple ways to off me and take the truck keys. But we managed to get Solo his breakfast so that I could prep for my horrendous 7:42 dressage ride time.  Because who doesn't look awesome dressed like an 18th century English magistrate?

Because we'd had some struggles with dressage saddle fit this week, I elected to ride in my close contact saddle for all three phases. But I knew Solo's problem went deeper as soon as we got to the foggy mudhole which was the warmup. His jaw was so locked that I couldn't convince him to bend to the left. He felt even underneath me and moved forward well enough, all that was left to do was do the best we could. *sigh* I think I would pass out from shock if we ever got to do a dressage test at a horse trial where Solo and I were relaxed and at our best at the same time. But because one of my promises to this blog is honesty, I'm posting the test anyway.

The judge was far kinder than me and gave us a 37 and called Solo a "neat horse." I actually did NOT ride with my body in death clench while holding my breath for three full minutes, so that's an improvement. But Solo did not go well. I was frustrated for both of us because he is capable of truly lovely movement and I want people to really see him shine. But it was over and done with, so at least we could move on to the fun parts.

Stabling next to us were two Area II Adult Rider friends; R, with his lovely Prelim horse, and C, with her charming Training gelding.  And C always travels with my best event buddy, Russell the Russell, the only terrier I have ever actually loved.  He is so....un-terriery, I want to squeeze him until he pops in a ball of white fur!  It is always nice to be able to share dressage commiseration.  Although both C and R had quite nice tests so I suspect they were just being accomodating...  *suspicious glance*

Besides having heaps of great Adult Riders, Area II is a place where, if you forget to set the parking brake on your truck, you will probably run over a USET-type rider. Over the course of Saturday morning, C introduced me to both Holly Hudspeth and Bobby Costello. Hopefully I managed to keep some semblance of a normal look on my face when conversing with either. I was particularly impressed with Bobby -- he was open, friendly, hilarious, and ever-present through the entire event with cheerfulness oozing out of him, even when he was helping check folks like bleary-eyed me in when we appeared for dressage warmup at oh-dark-thirty Saturday morning.  Oh, and he has the cutest puppy OF ALL TIME.  USEF clearly missed out by passing him over for an eventing team coach, but I have to say, I'm a little bit selfishly glad that we get to keep him.

But then it was afternoon and it was time to gear up for our cross country round. I'd dutifully walked my course and set my watch and visualized my run and charged the helmet cam. Solo was booted and taped and bounced out of the stall -- I swear he knows what the cross country boots feel like! 

We sent EHF off with camera in hand and made our way down the long trail to the warm up, where, after Solo got over being a barn sour Shetland, we set our sights on the startbox.  Our very favourite starter was hard at work keeping everyone on schedule while making sure we all started our courses with a smile.

And it was time. As I pushed record on the helmet cam, little did I know what was in store over the next five and a half minutes. All I heard were my nine favourite words:

5...4...3...2..1...Have a great ride!!

November 9, 2010

Photographic Proof!

Or proofs, should I say.  Yes, the evidence is up!  All your favourite ridiculous faces and moments from Mr. Shiny are displayed, thanks to the handiwork of the always-fantastic Brant Gamma. Thirty-one shots, to be precise, of our stadium and cross country performance at the 2010 Virginia Horse Trials. I may just have to order a digital copy of our trakehner jump. Oh, and the definitive evidence that Solo is Jesus (can you spot it?).

I will take it as a good sign for the future that looking at the cross country pictures, all the Novice jumps look so, well, little...

November 4, 2010

The Anticlimactic Climax

As Friday evening staggered to a close, two things came along that vastly improved my mood.

(1) Margaritas. What's not to love!

(2) I checked the leaderboard.

While sadly, my four jumping faults did NOT evaporate into thin air, I learned that despite a psychotic rider and a stiff back end, the judge was kind enough to grace Solo with a 34.5, which left us tied for 11th place out of about 30.

Ok, maybe this wasn't the worst horse trial ever.

So when Saturday dawned and I carefully arranged all our gear for our cross country run, I actually had a smile on my face. I had walked the course three times. Normally, I only walk once, but this course was VERY hilly, VERY turny, and I wanted to feel 100% confident about not only where I was going, but how I was going to ride there.

Saturday also came with a fun bonus surprise, but I am not revealing it yet, I am just going to let you suffer and wonder until it is ready to unveil. No, it is not a free prospect for me to train. I wish.

When 11:50 am rolled around, we were locked and ready to run. Our warmup jumps felt fantastic. The grass was dry and the sky was blue and my timer was set. The starter nodded his head and said my favourite sentence.

"5...4...3...2...1...have a great ride."

Solo rolled forward and I whispered our startbox launch code: "Go get 'em, buddy!"

Once the course takes over, you stop thinking and you just DO. The first few jumps were simple, positioned on steeply rolling terrain to test your balance. There was a sharp left turn and a downhill takeoff to a set of whiskey barrels. I focused hard, remembering to STAY OFF THE BRIDLE and use shoulders and body to balance Solo back.

He tore across the next series of single jumps and didn't blink at the offset two-stride coops. After jump 11, I remembered the all important half-halt-almost-totally-halt so you can make the tight rollback turn in a shallow, cramped grassy bowl to a low rail at 12. Drop and bank to open table to a bold water combination came next.

I glanced at my watch and we were good on time, but still a bit close to speed faults for comfort. The course had been set at 400 mpm, which is a good open canter, but not an all-out gallop, so I slowed Solo's pace a bit.

18 was the open trakehner at the base of a slope and I mentally heard David's voice telling me to close my leg, just ride forward, keep your eyes up, and don't touch the reins. Then up the hill to the final big brush jump at 19 and we were home free.

We rolled to a stop, double clear with big gasping grins and that was it. Time to pack up our toys and go home.

The end of the weekend saw us tied for a surprising 8th place. Without my choke-rail in stadium, it would have been a 5th. Not to shabby for a couple of goofballs trying to cobble it together on their own. Our team finished in a tidy 6th. No pretty ribbons to take home, but many lessons learned. And a well-earned rest for Solo as this would be his last horse trial of 2010.

However, there was one unexpected development. I found myself thinking about all the challenges of the weekend and realized that they were merely logistical ones. The courses themselves had ridden well and I felt good about them. All at once, I heard these words on my head:

You know, I don't think there was anything they could have thrown at us at this level that we couldn't have tackled with confidence and solved.

My eyes, more than once, had wandered thoughtfully over the Training level cross country jumps. I had walked the Training level stadium course, thinking, you know, we've been jumping stuff this big at home...

I just might be hatching a plan, a scheme that just might involve taking Solo up to Training level during our next season.

Don't tell Solo.

November 3, 2010

Downs And Ups

By the time I made it back to Solo's stall, my blood pressure had well passed healthy levels.  As I surveyed all the gear that needed to be applied to the horse, my eyes rolled and I turned in deperation to my teammate stabled next-door and shamelessly begged for help.  As any good eventer would, she sprang into action without hesitation.

I now had approximately twenty minutes left in which to tack up my horse, redress myself, warm Solo up, and be ready to parade through the coliseum gates. I arranged pad layers and set my jumping saddle on top and whipped off the fleecy cover.


Teammate: "What are you missing??"

"I HAVE NO $#@%! STIRRUPS!" I recalled they were on my dressage saddle, which sat in my trailer at the other end of the complex, well out of range of retrieval in time.

Dear, wonderful teammate: "It's ok, take my dressage stirrups."

Stirrups applied (and leathers rolled like I am six years old since they are long).


It was like a curse. I discovered several other things which sat in the trailer that I could not possibly continue without. Teammate calmly handed over everything we needed to get by and stuffed me up on the horse. Eventers rock, y'all.

Lesson 7: Don't put anything away until the end of the day.

We scurried over to the warmup ring Indy 500 track attached to the coliseum and started to trot around. And by trot around, I mean picking our way through horses cantering in both directions about three deep along the rail around the warmup jumps. People would randomly peel off and weave around to a jump with a warning yell. It was utter chaos and no place for the faint of heart, be it human or equine. Amazingly, even though there was more than one set of rider eyeballs bugging out, the horses calmly went about their jobs with not even a squeal of protest at the close quarters.

At this point, I discovered that not only were the stirrups set at jockey length, they were uneven to boot. So I swept out the gate and in desperation, asked a random couple to hold Solo for me while I fixed the leathers (horse people in a panic seem to have no qualms about harnessing the labour of innocent bystanders).

My state of emotional meltdown must have been written all over me like a billboard as the kind gentlemen readily stepped up and took Solo's head. As I fumbled with the buckles with shaking hands, he gently said, "Relaaax. Take it easy. Remember, sometimes when we try to do things faster, they just take us longer." Bless him, whoever he was. It was enough to get me to draw in a shaky breath or two and get things sorted. I jammed my feet home and with profuse thanks, returned to warmup.

With my brain now focused on riding forward to the jumps, keeping legs and core strong and supporting and the hands soft, we took crossrail, vertical, and oxer on. I could hear David and Becky in my head on each approach, reminding me to keep my shoulders back, leg on, and wait wait wait...

Our number was called, I rode through the white swinging gate, and then it was just us; one red horse and one determined me alone with ten jumps and the laser eye of the timers. I felt the ripple of a thrill as I heard our names being announced by the voice of eventing, Brian O'Connor. Then everything else disappeared and all I heard was hoofbeats and my own voice in my head: They're just poles. It's only an arena. Ride each jump and keep your eyes locked on target and LET GO OF THE DAMN REINS.

So when I got to the first jump, I completely choked, overrode it, and pulled the top rail.

Lesson 8: Let go of the damn reins.

Then I got mad at myself. And that makes me sit down and ride. I put a supporting leg on to each jump. I carefully remembered and used the tips we'd gotten earlier from an Advanced friend. I waited for the waiting jumps and rode up to the oxers. And the rest of the round was clean and under time, despite a few bobbles along the way.

There were many pats and much praise for Solo and a giant sigh of relief for me. I still had no idea what our score was, only that it had just increased by four. The rest of the day was ours to collapse and recover from this chaos and tomorrow...

Cross country awaited.

November 2, 2010

Dressage Is For Haters

The warmup arena closest to my ring was on a slight slant. I knew as soon as we took our first few trot strides downhill that I should have done the hock injections sooner.

Lesson 5: Always listen to your gut.

Solo wasn't off, but I could feel that he just wasn't as willing to really push from behind and support his weight like he had been doing. Thank you, universe, for making sure that, so far, we never get to compete recognized at 100% capacity.

I worked on suppling and transitions, but perhaps we have been doing the transition thing too much -- Solo anticipated all of the upward transitions and flung his head around in annoyance. I threw my dressage whip in the grass, which improved matters a little. All the while, I boiled with frustration inside. In true adult fashion, I mentally screamed at innocent bystanders: Stop looking at me! I am a psycho.

His dressage work has been beautiful at home. Even 80% of what he has been doing would have been great. But the confines of the stall and the cold snap were too much for Friday morning's Adequan shot to overcome.

A steward trotted down to the ring, loudly looking for 241.

"That's me," I said.

"We have been looking for you!" she called. This girl was about 15 or so.

WTF? Again?? Am I doomed to never actually get a helpful warmup steward who does their job and lines up people on deck???! "I'm sorry," I replied, "but no one is giving us information down here."

"Oh," she says, "there is no steward because this is not an official warmup area."

I look blankly back over my shoulder at where we had been warming up: a harrowed, watered, PREPARED surface with about six or seven horses and riders prepping for their tests. Sure as hell looks like a warmup area to me.

I shake my head and walk up to the ring. I greet the judge and enter after she rings the bell.

We put down our test. It doesn't feel very good. Solo is a bit resistant, especially since the first half of the test tracks left, his weak side. Once we go right, he softens a bit. I try to keep up the energy but he is dead slow in medium walk and breaks to trot several times in anticipation, the bugger. I salute at the end, thank the judge and leave.

I am near tears of frustration and fury, not all of which is completely explainable. There might have been a hormone surge in there somewhere too. But I am so angry that all of our hard work with such positive results seems to disappear as soon as we step in a warm up arena.

As I put Solo back in his stall to rest for a bit before show jumping, I am overwhelmed by hopelessness.

I want to just pack up and go home. I hate this. Why do I do this? This is ridiculous -- I am here by myself, trying to do forty jobs at the same time and I am failing at all of them in this huge place. What is the freaking point?

Lesson 6: Don't skip breakfast. It then means I have low blood sugar, which means that I am crabby, impatient, and moody.

I resolve to go watch a few stadium rounds before I get ready to show jump. I need to calm the heck down. As I settle into the bleachers to watch the first round, I glance at my watch. It is 1:20 pm. I am a five minute walk from my barn and I am supposed to ride my stadium round at 2:02 pm. Like, in 40 minutes.

My head explodes anew and I slam through the auditorium doors in a mad race for stabling.

This is not going well.

November 1, 2010

Virginia Is For (Horse) Lovers

How do I even begin? How do I encapsulate the ride from fury and hopelessness to joy and satisfaction? What can convey such an unexpected experience?

If you've never been to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, I can firmly assure you that you have missed out. I spent three of my undergraduate years there and its smoky vistas and brilliantly coloured hillsides still catch me with their effortless beauty. Nestled in the western foothills on the north side of Lexington (yes, there are two Lexingtons) is the Virginia Horse Center, home of the Virginia Horse Trials for at least the past ten years. Solo and I pulled into the gravel drive on Friday afternoon around one o'clock. I settled him into a stall and walked to the top of the hill near the cross country field and turned around.

Spread behind me were the huge colliseum (on left) with the attached covered warmup (front), SIX stabling barns, each the size of a warehouse lined up behind, with the foothills resting in the background.  Perfectly groomed warmup areas (six or seven of them) hid around every corner.  There were four dressage arenas scattered in a half moon behind this vantage point.  Oh, and inside the colliseum was our stadium course (half of it is pictured at left).  At this point, my jaw unhinged.  I am not really used to riding my jump courses in Madison Square Freaking Garden.  I was a very tiny minnow in a very massive ocean full of sharks.  I slunk back to my horse to hide out.  Only it was a really long slink because this place is HUUUUGE.

Oh, and did I mention that there were about 300 other competitors there for this august event?  So this massive facility is buzzing with duallys, bobcats, trailers, leaping horses, wheelbarrows, golfcarts, motorbikes, people, loudspeakers, vendors, and dumptrucks from about 7:00 each morning until about 8:00 each night.  The ocean is bloody enormous.

My intention had been to camp in the back of my truck, since I have a cap on it. I had a ton of blankets and a heating pad. But when an Area II acquaintence offered the pullout bed in her (very warm) fancy trailer, I grabbed my sleeping bag and never looked back. It was 31 degrees on Friday night and my windshield held 1/2 an inch of ice Saturday morning. I love you, Cindy.

Lesson 1: If camping in the truck, don't be too damn lazy to go up in the attic and break out the full fledged space heater.

I was up around 7:00 Saturday morning to feed and handwalk Solo. He was already about a month overdue for his hock injections. Since he lives in a pasture 23 hours a day, normally, this is not a huge issue. Since he'd spent the night in a stall, however, I wanted him OUT and moving as much as possible.

I walked back to the campsite (down three huge barns and across a massive parking area) to get my food and video camera and watch some morning rides.

Lesson 2: If you are unfamiliar with the facility and there is any chance it might be the size of, say, a county, bring a damn bike!

We were slated to ride at 12:56 pm. At approximately 12:02 pm, I discovered that in my drug-clouded packing attempts, I had failed to include a shirt and stock tie for dressage show jumping. Shit-fire. In a panic, I ran to the next barn to find Cindy, one of the few people I knew there, praying that against all odds she would be at her horse's stall.

"OMG OMG OMG, I need help!"

Cindy stares at me like I have two heads. "What's wrong with you?"

"I have a clothing crisis!!"

"What kind of crisis?"

"I have no shirt and no stock tie! I was on drugs and I thought they were on the same hanger as my coat and and and..." I wailed in despair.

In veteran Cindy fashion, she calmly said, "Go in my trailer and look in the closet, you will find what you need."

Lesson 3: Do not consume opiates or other consciousness-altering substances while preparing for an important event. This goes hand in hand with

Lesson 4: Keep your horse show crap together. On the same hanger. Always.

I hope I squeaked a thank you as I dashed to my truck (oh yeah, I'd already given up on the walking unless someone figured out a way to clone me), got to the campsite as fast as I dared, shoved on shirt, assembled the stock tie so it appeared that white linen had been vomited in a pile at my throat, pinned it into a ghastly mess, and bolted back to the barns.

Solo, bless his calm and patient heart, waited for me to stuff the bridle over his ears and climb on before making his way out into the sun and back to a warmup ring. As we crunched down the gravel path to the area designated for our division (Novice Rider), I took deep gulps of Blue Ridge air and tried desperately to calm the lightning storm in my skull. Hooves hit harrowed dirt and it was time to warm up for our test and time to see what I had underneath me that day. The next 30 minutes would probably decide, to a large degree, how we would place, if at all, in this humongous machine of a horse trial.

May 31, 2010

And It Only Got Hotter

I confess there may have been skipping. I honestly wasn't sure how our test would score. So when I checked the leaderboard, I was shocked and ecstatic all at once. And there may have been helpless giggling all the way back to the trailer.

We booted up to get ready for jumping. This HT runs stadium first, then XC immediately after you finish your course, which I have grown to like as it makes a perfect XC warmup. But one thing I have learned is that the stadium courses here are always very tough. The course is set on the lumpy side of a slope. Ok, that's fine, we practice on a hill at home. But it's also set on grass in a very small area. And this time, that meant practically every turn was a rollback on a hill to a jump you maybe had two or three strides in front of to get straight.

We really struggled with it; Solo is many things, but catty on a turn is not one of them. He is careful and really tries to keep his toes off the rails, but there wasn't a single jump that gave you a nice, inviting entry line and as a result, we pulled two rails. Eight penalty points, owie. They were all in the same line -- a double combination coming out of a rolling downhill corner with about three strides to an uphill vertical right on the ropes. Add to that it was getting even more humid as the heat cranked up, which really takes it out of poor Solo.

On the plus side, all our work on single fences really paid off -- I kept my eyes firmly on top rails (no more staring at decorations going "oooo, look at the little flowers!") and he handily worked his way through width, colours, Blue Tarps of Doom, and walls without a glance. Next project -- going back to riding more courses at home!

Cross country ran completely uneventfully. There were a few funky jumps and moments. As soon as we finished, I collapsed off my horse in a pile of sweaty wooziness and laid in the shade next to the trailer while our lifesaver friend got Solo some TLC till I could stand up without the field doing crazy heat-spins. But double clear, a bold canter into the water, and a really fun ride at a ditch/ narrow brush combo in the woods! We also finally got to jump the picture frame that I've been wanting to do forever -- wow, it looks so much smaller than it did a year ago!

All in all, we regained some placing with our XC run and finished in a solid 4th place. Not bad considering and I am still thrilled to pieces about the dressage test, especially given the challenging circumstances. We are definitely done horse trialing for the (hot hot HOT) summer. Well, at least until August. But that's a special event. And it's in Maryland. So that doesn't count.

April 22, 2010

It's About Time The Freaking Pictures Arrived!

Cause I know that's what you're thinking, right?  Without further ado...  Pics by mum unless otherwise noted.


 Hooked up and ready to go.

Dressage warmup.

Stride one out of the start box and he's raring to go!

Clearing the log stack at jump #1.  Pic by Pics of You.       Stretching out for the gallop.  Pic by Pics of You.
Soaring over the big table (jump #4) in style.  Pic by Pics of You.

 Jump #7, a rolltop coming out of a sunken road.

 Evidence that we did, in fact, jump that trakhener (jump #8) that I've spent all winter thinking about.  

 Coming out of the two stride combo (jump #10) with flying colours!  Pic by Pics of You.

Making our way 'round stadium.  We got in a little deep on the red one and his hind foot caught the top rail there.  Left by Pics of You, right by mum.

All ridiculous faces courtesy of yours truly.  During dressage, it is me gritting my teeth.  On XC, it is me yelling "GOOD BOY!"  In stadium, it's me staring at the jump trying not to stare at the jump.

April 19, 2010

Sometimes Finishing Is Winning

Sorry, SillyPony, we did not perform show jumping with such brilliant finesse that the judge decided that all the other riders sucked and gave us a giant blue ribbon.   

I also have to say: THANK YOU, MUM, FOR BEING A GREAT CREW! She brought us water, snapped pictures and carried bell boots around for us this weekend and the company and assistance were invaluable. It is SO MUCH WORK doing an HT by yourself, just having an extra pair of hands is truly priceless!

Saturday night, still rolling from our XC high, we packed up and chugged up the road to A's house, a friend of a friend who graciously offered Solo a stall for the night. But not JUST a stall. A beautiful abode in a picturesque barn over which the house was built. The back of the stall opened directly into a private pasture all for Solo.

Funny story: I poured Solo his grain and as he began to munch, I worked on tying the back door of the stall open so he could choose to go in or out at his whim. As soon as I had it wedged open, Solo turns his head and looks and immediately stops eating and walks out the door. He stops, surveys his pasture, turns and looks over his shoulder at the door, then looks at pasture again, then turns around and marches back through the door. He then looks back at the door again and snorts as if to say, Now that is freakin' SWEET!!! All three of us watching died laughing.

Sunday morning dawned a gorgeous 70 degrees and Solo walked boldly out of his stall moving great. His back muscle was still tight, but it had lost its angry heat, so it got its morning massage and we loaded up to go.

The stadium course rode really well, despite what I thought were two terrifying bending lines. They turned out to flow quite smoothly and we even conquered the tough oxer-two-stride-vertical combination at the end. Tired Solo toes caught one rail on a skinny vertical we weren't quite forward enough to and thus ended up too deep at, but that's ok.

All in all, for a horse with a pulled muscle, I'd say my big red boy did pretty damn well and he jumped beautifully for me. He just couldn't carry himself for the dressage arena, but whaddya do? We finished in 18th place out of 30 horses, which gives me great hope for when Mr. Shiny Pants is back to 100%.  I consider our first recognized horse trial a success!

And I also want to send a shout out to the Carolina Horse Park and their new lower level course designer, Jeff Kibbie. He did a FANTASTIC job putting together a XC course that was not maxed out (thank you!!!!) at every jump, flowed perfectly, presented a variety of jump types and questions in a way that the horse could think about and tackle each with confidence. I don't who did the stadium course, but they also did an excellent job.

I'm going to make a separate post for photos because I confess that there may have been some photogasmic purchasing activity, plus mum's great shots.  So here is a teaser, shot by Pics Of You, of Solo looking classy coming out of the second bending line in stadium jumping.  Again with that stupid stock tie...

April 17, 2010

Short Show Update

Day 1: If you looked at the live scoring, you can see we stand in a whopping 20th place.  Dressage was bad, I think much to do with that sore muscle.  I didn't push Solo on it so the whole half of the test tracking left is pretty ugly.  Tracking right, he put in a decent canter & I let him be.  Hence our very nasty 44.7.  And since Novice is where heaps of adult riders park & spend the rest of their life because Training scares them, it's VERY competitive.

Solo was quite willing to go forward though, so I figured I'd let him have a go at XC & he could decide what he wanted to do. Well, as soon as I rode out to the warmup field, he perked up & soared over the warmup jumps beautifully.

Then he saw the start box & I think his tail actually caught on fire. Optimum time was 5:18. We finished in like 4:39. He was flying. And jumping really well, so we'll give stadium a go tomorrow morning & if he says no, we'll walk off with no regrets -- the XC course was a GREAT ride & he willingly took in stride the trakhener, big bank, jump out of the water, wide brush & a tall bench. Hooray, Solo!

Here's a sneak preview of us all prettified for dressage, just to whet your appetite.  And yes, I did tie the stupid stock tie!

November 24, 2009

Gallop and GO!

The report! We survived! We did not get eliminated! IT DID NOT RAIN ON US!!!!!

There you go.

Ok, ok, the story:

We (we traveled with two barn mates) made it down to CHP about 3:00 on Saturday so we could check everything out, school the horses and settle in. I had never been before, so when we pulled up to the stabling, I was staring in awe because it is a GORGEOUS facility in every way with beautiful permanent stabling complete with matted, lighted 12 foot stalls (believe me, this is NOT the norm) in lovely shedrows right next to the competition arenas. After a short ride (in which Solo mostly behaved himself), we put the horses up and went to walk the XC course in the rapidly fading light.

Hay! Wait for meeeeee!

Ok, so what actually happened is we walked the XC course in the DARK. Note for future events: not so helpful really. Blundering about in the dark woods, squinting vainly for flags in the dusk and trying to make out the shapes of jumps among the pine trees does not give one a stellar sense of where to go the next day. Much laughing and tripping was involved.

After an overpriced Thai dinner (I'm sorry, I tried, but I still hate Thai food, blargh) leaving much to be desired, we crashed out at our also overpriced hotel (thank you Southern Pines for marking everything up -- it's the home of some big golf tournament) which had no shampoo and a crappy breakfast. Thank heavens for the miracle of Bojangles biscuits, yum.

Even though Solo and I didn't go dressage till 11:24 am on Sunday, our BO rode Novice at 8:30. Which meant we had to all get up at the ass-crack of dawn to get to the showgrounds.

Sunrise, ugh
Even my camera is blurry eyed at sunrise -- the devil's hour (I may have a SLIGHT soul-rending hatred for mornings).

We helped BO get ready and complete her phases, then it was time to warm Solo up for the Big D. As usual, warmup was just fine. Then we entered the arena. At which point Solo decided the other horses, the trees, the people, the cars, pretty much anything other than ME were suddenly fascinating and worthy of capturing his entire attention. Which led to me riding much of the test muttering, "Pay the F@!$ attention!!!" There were a few good moments, but I was mostly frustrated. Our friend crittergirl has the video evidence so perhaps if you harrass her, we can post it. The dressage judges that day (below) were no less than Lauren O'Brien (exhibit A left at Rolex with her partner Dunrath Alto) and Will Faudree (exhibit B also at Rolex with the lovely Antigua).

Perhaps Lauren was feeling kind because I pay her husband for jump lessons, but something magical happened. My goal has been to get our next dressage score down to a 35. Lauren in her infinite good humour, sent us off with a 36.5 and a "well ridden!" I think I love her.

The torture was over and it was on to stadium! My focus was (a) keep Solo FORWARD, (b) keep that landing gear extended for every jump, (c) sit back and wait for every jump.

And it felt really good! Looking at the video, I'd like him more up in front of my leg with more impulsion (it sure FELT faster than that!) but aside from a few stutters, things flowed well!

We went immediately from stadium over to XC and I trotted up to the start box. And I think Solo is starting to figure out what a start box means -- as soon as he saw it, I felt his energy level and excitement ramp up! He is learning to be an event horse! The starter counted us down and we were off.

The point of this event for us going in was to see if we were ready to move up to Novice. So I didn't set my watch and I let Solo GALLOP. And IT FELT AWESOME. I have not schooled him XC like I should so the jump approaches backed him off a little, but I sat down and closed my leg and he went well. For some reason, he decided he was not going to canter through the two water complexes that day, which was a bit odd for him. But I was ok with the trot and as soon as his feet hit dry land on the other side (because there was a jump right after), I yelled, "GIT!" and he GITTED!

Amazingly, we didn't get hit with speed penalties. And when I pulled him up after the finish, he was prancing and snorting and all kinds of adrenaline, I think we both were chortling with glee!

So we finished on our dressage score, which due to Lauren's extreme score generosity (someone in our division got a 19!) put us in 9th place out of 17. I was very satisfied with our ride and we had answered our primary question going in.


November 8, 2009

A Very Rainy Day

Fresh off our big win, I decided to enter a new local HT to get some more mileage for Solo and I. The competition was a new one, just built at a nearby farm and it only included Maiden and BN, so I expected the courses to be pretty small, but I try to take advantage of every opportunity to present Solo with new obstacles.

Sometimes, we all make errors in judgement.

This was just about a week or so ago, so November, chilly rain, cold wind. Oh yeah, I said rain AND wind. But we eventers are a hardy bunch and never let a silly thing like weather take rides away from us!

Solo got off the trailer transformed into a hot, blowing Thoroughbred. As soon as I got on, he jigged around, blowing and staring at every conceivable object in the parking pasture. The rain had tapered off to a drizzle, but it was still cold and wet -- I was actually wearing rain pants over my breeches and counting on the equisuede seat of my saddle to keep me from sliding right off.

I could see no warmup in sight and the secretary's table was way down by the barn, farther than I was willing to walk in the rain. I saw a dressage arena set up in the grass across the road. Well, all right then -- I warmed up in the parking area and Solo eventually decided to join me mentally. I kept an eye on the arena. It was a bit puzzling. There was no judge in sight, no one else was warming up that I could see. But as my time approached, I made my way over to the arena. At which point, a staff member yelled at me that I was wanted at the dressage arena because my time was NOW.

But I'm at the dressage arena?

No, the arena is down the road around the corner.

Oh, sorry, I didn't see any signs.

There are signs everywhere, go down there! (There were NOT any signs for the arena)

So I rode down the road. Apparently everyone else was in on this little secret as they were already warming up and ready to go at the OTHER dressage arena. D'oh. Solo was also NOW intent on prancing around like a giraffe, staring to and calling at all the other horses in the pastures around us. So I rode a hot, red, stiff, jumpy TB down centerline.

A random dressage pic, sorry I have no pics from that day, I was hiding from rain!

His trot work wasn't bad, I was quite happy actually. Then as soon as I asked for canter, he flipped his nose in the air like an Arabian and threw a little fit, then hurled himself into canter.

End result -- 7's on trot work and collective gaits, yay! 5's for canter work, not-so-yay. Overall, a 40.5 which given Solo's said mental status, I would take. And the fact that cold rain was pouring in my face during the whole test.

Mgmt had decided to run the HT in a classic format, so XC was next. But they hadn't gotten enough staff to run more than two disciplines at once. So I sat in the truck for two hours staring grimly out the windshield while Solo munched hay in the trailer.

The XC course itself was very small, but well-built, with lovely jumps. Unfortunately, they'd set the pace at 300 mpm, which is really too slow for any attempt at even fake XC -- even trotting 1/3 of the course, we ended up with 7 speed penalities for going too fast, but I did not want Solo get too slow or engage in any backwards riding. The POINT of XC is to teach a horse to be forward and bold to jumps and a time that slow is rather counterproductive, as lower levels are supposed to teach a horse and rider in preparation for upper levels. So I was more than happy to take my penalties, rather than discourage my horse from doing what his is supposed to do!

A nice random pic -- oh I wish it had been that sunny that day!

Stadium was very small too, but again, lovely jumps and good footing (it had been a bit slick on XC, although the rain had stopped). Solo had also apparently stepped in a puddle of glue, as his feet seemed stuck to the ground. As I told him on course, "Buddy! We're doin' it, but we're doin' it UGLY!" But the poles stayed up and we put in a clear round.

With our speed penalties and canter tantrums, it put us in 3rd place, but I was fine with that -- overall, I don't think we gained anything from it, which I regretted a bit, as it was just too small to be a challenge for Solo. However, it did at least give me a chance to see where we were with our dressage and emphasize that the canter is DEFINITELY our next project!!