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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label dressage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dressage. Show all posts

December 22, 2014

The Air Of Heaven…A Horse’s Ears…You Know How It Goes

Uh, no, THIS is my sacred duty, mom...
Yesterday, I rode.  Three simple words, yet in the context of the past year, an extraordinary thing.

The time has been there, & I learned (& even mostly followed!) the #1 rule of farm ownership:  ALWAYS RIDE FIRST.  But there have been so many other energy-sapping things… 

With my favourite weather site promising “abundant sunshine,” yesterday I gathered two red geldings & called Amazing Neighbour Vanessa.  I may have magically draining soil, but Encore is still healing from his ass tear (yes, if you missed the brief mention, my talented horse actually strained his gluteus muscle) & even with studs, I worried about him slipping in our saturated fields. 

In addition, because he cannot have me getting complacent, he has knocked the inside of a front leg AGAIN; we’re keeping an eye (& the magic creme) on that one.  I am grateful a thousand times over for Vanessa’s continued generosity with things like all-weather footing.

Solo's first stud tapping...
Those Familiar Motions

Yesterday, I swept brushes over chestnut backs that were definitely missing some tone, picked mud out of under-used hooves, dripped iodine into soggy frogs (just in case).

Yesterday, I smoothed the velcro on ankle boots, cinched girths on saddles & surcingles, wrestled half-chap zippers over fluffy fleece breeches.

Yesterday, all three of us smiled as we made the brief hack down the fenceline in a bright, swinging walk (although only one of us knew that there was only sandbox torture in store).

Two Horses At The Same Time?  
(honk if you get it...)

Vanessa is all about versatility, keeping horses’ minds & bodies fresh & well-rounded, a philosophy that meshes perfectly with my own.  Hence the handy highline at one end of the arena, where I could tether one beast while I worked the other.  A two-for-one deal:  exercise AND great practice at standing tied while your buddy does things at the other end of the arena, which is possibly more fun than the spot under the line.

Duh, mom, TRAIL BIT!
So it was that yesterday, Solo watched as I suppled Encore under saddle with David’s words in my head: “Let the circles be the gymnastic exercise.” 

Encore responded with tongue-lolling annoyance, because “Mommmm, this is the trail bit, NOT the dressage bit.  How am I supposed to work under these conditions??!”  Like many abusers, I was asking him to work in the harshness of a Myler Comfort Snaffle instead of a HS Duo

*insert eyeroll here* 

Nonetheless, yesterday, my chunky Thoroughbred softened with each change in bend as we worked 10-m figure-eights.  As directed, the focus was “slow is ok, be round across his topline as he heals, we’ll bring forward back later.

Yesterday, his left lead canter was back to feeling like a canter, instead of a washing machine, & he stayed soft & quiet as he hopped over a 12” cavaletti in a steady rhythm.

But he can teach you all about vienna reins!
And Mr. Shiny??

Yesterday, after trading places, Solo managed to swallow his anxiety about the long lines (this is the horse who took four years to trust longeing enough to do it normally) & not  only accept the contact of the outside line, but CANTER on the lines.  It may seem tiny, but this is a huge achievement for him, as I trained him primarily in a round pen for that type of work.  The lines are new to him & he remains suspicious of long ropes around his legs.

Yesterday, I led home two horses after they stretched out tight backs, worked out bored energy, & rediscovered the spring in their step.

And you know what?  I was sore this morning, but I think there was a little something extra in my walk today too.
Can we head back towards this?

September 28, 2014

Drive-By David Lesson Report!

Skinny Oxer 01 19-21 (Small)
Owning it in July
If I haven’t mentioned it yet, I have THE BEST NEIGHBOURS EVER!  Behind me lives a wonderful professional trainer who rode her now-retired Appy at Prelim/1*/CCN in the late 1990's/early 2000's; back when I was still a spectator, eventing was Eventing with a full endurance day, and they ran all the classic events like Radnor & Ledyard & Bromont.  As she has an all-weather arena, jump field, & hosts a variety of clinics & practitioners in addition to her own lessons, I walked over after our last David date (erm, I totally meant to post Encore’s videos for that one) with a big question.

Skipping through some cat-herding to the exciting result: we collected some of her clients & a few of my fellow David-disciples and I was able to have my lesson…IN MY OWN BACKYARD!  In some odd fantasy world with no trailer-packing, no driving, I could just saddle my horse & ride up the fenceline to enjoy my Circle of Death.  The word gratitude doesn’t even describe it, given how much I need good things in my life right now!

The Jumping Dressage Lesson

Despite my plans of improving on our jump performance in July, Encore had only been back in work for two weeks & still lacked hind strength, so I opted to put on the dressage saddle.  I wanted David’s eyes to evaluate my horse once again



Encore Transitions 0 04 43-20 (Small)
Not Hackney trot anymore!
Perhaps the most rewarding part of our initial warmup (aside from the words, “He looks pretty good to me!”) was that the Circle of Death now includes less Death!  Due to my own exhaustion, humid days prior, & a horse who’d been standing around on duct tape for six weeks, much of our schooling had been at the walk & trot.  However, I had focused hard on fine-tuning & brushing the dust off of one concept:  You Will Move Off My Inside Leg & Accept My Outside Rein

Hello, payoff.  Imagine that:  break it down to simple, clear things, teach your horse to respond to individual aids, and *gasp* I didn’t have to work so hard to get a response to my aids!  Erm, some of us are slower learner than others…  *raises hand*



My lessons are so rare, they are incredibly valuable to me.  While forward energy is crucial, David reminds me each time we meet how important it is for this horse to unlock his body & open his topline FIRST.  Encore must be correct & balanced before he is asked to move out, otherwise you end up back at downhill rushing.

Ok, I Couldn't Help Jumping A Little...

I knew his butt would tire soon, but we decided to do some simple jump work at the end, for the sake of my rusty self.  I confess, hearing “keep his poll up & wait with your body” STILL after five years makes me beat my head on the table a little.  Perhaps you can even hear me mumble, “I should get a tattoo of that” in the video, ha.  I have to wonder if David gets tired of saying it…





While Encore was compensating a bit at the end, it was good for both of us to feel some balance & pace again.  Watching the videos, I realize that I lapse into riding him like he is still a green horse!  Although our three years have been rather a roller coaster, I need to remember that I have actually trained him along the way and he now has a skillset of his own.  Fortunately, I have no control issues whatsoever, ahem, none at all…  *shifty eyes*

The Big Takeaway

I do consider Encore a Training horse now, but this reinforced for me yet again how vital it is to stay focused on the core principles – effective aids, consistent rhythm, balance for you & your horse, enforcing & rewarding correctness in your horse – no matter what your level or discipline.  Riding can seem overwhelmingly complicated sometimes, in a world full of books & articles & forums & clinics, which makes me appreciate David’s focus on methodical simplicity even more.  It’s the perfect antidote for my crazy hamster brain.  My horses have no idea how much gratitude they owe that man for that!! 
FenRidgeFHT2013_0812-2847848484-O (Medium)
Chill, mom, I got skillz

September 21, 2014

Riding Solo Makes Me Happy...And A Tiny Bit Frustrated

Partners
Learning to be an effective, thinking rider is awesome.  And it sucks. 

How Does One Come To This Odd Conclusion?

I actually got to ride Solo yesterday, on the most glorious of Carolina fall mornings.  Even as I fed him breakfast, I could feel the palpable restlessness flowing between us.  It was a quiet, echoing chorus of, "let's ride, let's shine, let's be US."

Part of the beauty of eight years of partnership is knowing exactly which of your horse's joints need longer to loosen & the precise schooling exercises required to stretch the tightest muscles.  Every ligament, every sinew in his body is yours because you have spent more than 3,000 days as a team of two become one.

Trademark Solo "forward walk sux" face
Warming Up

After an obligatory Orange Horse protest on the principle of "forward because I say so," leg-yields were followed by shoulders-in followed by haunches-in suppling aging bodies (ahem, we won't say whose) at the walk.  These are vital for Solo's hocks & back before asking him to step forward in trot.

Moving down to our dressage 'arena,' we coaxed his inside hind leg to truly step into my outside hand & kept that QH butt active.  Creating that kinetic energy gives you something to work with, allowing you to create bend & corners & balance.  We are nothing without forward.

As the days cool, it is harder on arthritic joints (let's not name names here either...), so I kept our canter warm-up brief, but correct because I really wanted to take him over a few very small jumps.  It's a fine line, walked by feel, between pushing to strengthen & asking too much; I am always listening carefully to my horse.

Jumpy Jumpy!

We both wandered to catch our breath as I made a brief jump plan.  Perhaps 8 or 10 efforts, with an emphasis on balance & softness for us both.  I included extra care with my lines: he wears his trusty Cavallo Sport boots on his wussy front feet & there were still traces of dew on the grass.

Not so much like this (8 yrs ago!)
I channeled my inner David O. & found a steady rhythm, making sure to keep my shoulders back & my upper body VERY still so I didn't throw him on his forehand.  My legs had to stay wrapped around Solo's ribs to keep his hind feet stepping under & my hands had to stay connected, yet soft.  Repeating the David mantra of "soften in the last three strides, you can't change anything there anyway," I kept my hand in front of me, yet on his neck over AND after the jump, resisting the ever-present instinct to pull back after landing.

Well, for most of them anyway.  Did I mention learning?  Yeah, it's still a process, a long, stumbling process, but a snail's progress is still progress!

When I got it right, we were...THERE.  If Solo believes you won't fight him (I'm not sure why he wouldn't after our long history of, errrr, pulling matches, heh), he will jump & land & canter away like a lovely beast.  He might take 3 or 4 quick steps, but that is where the trust comes in:  I punch my instinct in the face, stay off his back, shove my fists into his neck on landing, & sit up.  My trust is rewarded by his & we just...flow.

Um, So Which Part Of This Was Sucky Exactly?? 

Thanks to Priscilla & David & my clinicians & in no small part, to Encore, I am finally GETTING how to really use my leg, thigh, core, & upper body.  I am GETTING how to ride the horse into the outside rein without sacrificing the forward energy.  I am GETTING how to feel, process, & respond with the correct aids when my horse needs an adjustment.

Creepers gonna creep...
Emphasis on "getting," there are still plenty of intervals of fail!

We hear these things suggested, yelled, repeated, written to us & at us over & over & over throughout our riding lives, but it really isn't until the 10,000th time we feel the links connect & our brain & our muscles finally digest that feeling, that it becomes truly knowing.

I wouldn't call it a lightbulb.  It's more like...a train.  Sparks fly from wheels spinning on the tracks at first, while the locomotive strains to begin moving.  But slowly, the momentum builds as the effort is put in, until, with enough time, you are rolling down the line.

So now I ride Solo & while I revel in how very little rein I need & how responsive he is to my lateral aids & how much FUN he is...I want to go back & do it all over again!  I want the rider I am now to bring along the horse he was when we began, to do it better, to do it smarter.

As if I'd say maybe to Tennant!
That Whole Big Picture Thing

While it's a frustrating tickle in my head, at the same time, he made me & I made him.  We learned from each other (even if it was "ok, never do that again") & I am still proud that we got here in spite of my fumbling about.  What's that saying about a blind hog & acorns?

Besides, I lack a time machine unless The Doctor shows up.  And even though it may have been a bumpy ride, Solo is still the one who carried me here.  It is his wisdom, his quirks, his baggage, his personality, & his heart that continue to teach me, call me out, & remind me that every step counts.  Both the mental & physical ones. 


September 19, 2014

REAL Real People With Real Lives...And Real Riding*

Adjust the focus
We are flooded daily with stories of 20-year-olds winning Grands Prix, of young professionals adding to their eventing records every weekend, of the lucky demographic of adult amateurs in weekly or daily training programs, spending weeks at a time at clinics & competitions.

All of these people that I've met work very hard in the process.  But for the multitudes of us who have not stumbled upon the luck & opportunity to devote that kind of time to our passion, it can be easy to get discouraged.

Don't be.  The trees are merely blocking your overlook of the forest.

Still amazing with a gorgeous partner!
My Neighbour, The Legend

I am going to cheat & share the message I sent to Susan Mcsherry-Jones (no relation, LOL), an old friend & the subject of this gorgeous article (my fingers are tired...).  When I met her, she worked full time at a marketing firm & needed a hand keeping up with her small personal barn.  Not long after, she decided to start her own company & it appears to have blossomed!   I am thrilled that we have been able to reconnect (I guess Facebook isn't ALL ridiculous).

But Susan is a full-time business owner, full-time mom (omg, I can't believe the baby I looked after is 17!!), & a self-made woman who has faced & overcome the challenges we are all familiar with...and continues to every day.  Even more, she is hope for each of us who might feel that even our modest goals are too much to expect.  Never forget that your journey is YOURS; the course may be unpredictable, but no less valid than any other just because it doesn't involve gold medals.



I Command Thee To Watch And...Just...Wow

Maybe I'm biased, but this is possibly the most beautifully shot & edited interview I've ever seen & now I am in tears.   I am SO proud of Susan, who hired me to help her with her farm when I was in high school & home from college, almost 20 yrs ago.

I remember when that indoor was just a fantasy, when one day it became flags in the grass & the first time she had furniture in that little (but always gorgeous) office, as she showed me the layout that would allow her to watch her daughter, my then-babysitting charge, Jacquelyn, while she schooled her dressage horses.


Thank You

Susan, you look amazing & even though I remember your stress then, I always admired you & I knew you would be wildly successful.  Thank you for being one of the strong women who were role models in my life, & for all that you so generously shared with me, that scruffy, horseless girl desperate to be near hooves any way she could.

Even dragging a sled full of manure uphill over ice out the back of the barn was well worth the rich return you gave, whose names were Nick, Flame, Weanie, & Finaud.  You made your farm feel a little like my home, too; I guess that's why those familiar fields put a lump in my throat.  It really doesn't seem all that long ago when I rushed to the best part of my day, my time with your beautiful boys.

This is the view I remember...
I hope I can pass it on even half as well as you did.  Courage is a difficult & exhausting thing; congratulations on your determination & well-deserved harvest of seeds well-sown, as well as the wisdom to sit back & relish those precious moments when you're finally THERE.

*sorry I couldn't think of a genius title, so I just used the same word 27 times, go with it...

August 30, 2014

Free Riding Clinics For You! A TFS Redux.

God spake to me...and I could not look upon his holy face.
Ever wanted to absorb decades of experience like a little fangirl sponge from greats like Jimmy Wofford, Ian Stark, Becky Holder, or Eric Smiley?

Well, aren't you a lucky little fangirl!!  In the spirit of relaxing over the holiday weekend, for those of us who can't access FEI TV (or don't want to), I have collected, in chronological order, our hilarious spectacular performances in front of these phenomenal horse(wo)men & teachers.  I'm sure they felt just as lucky as I did.  *insert sarcasm font*

I also wanted to share with more recent readers some earlier parts of this wild journey.  I'm sure you are spending every free moment catching up on the 500+ posts since August of 2009 (where's that font again?), but in the meantime, I set the time machine in motion.  Encore & I may appear fearless & quasi-competent at times (usually when no one is looking), but those moments are built on the foundation of 1,000 stumbling blocks of trial-and-error that Solo, my un-erringly brave & accidental partner, made with me.

Have no fear, I am unoffended if you point & laugh.  I do (at myself, past AND present).
The only Olympic-quality ride Solo ever got
The Man Who Ruined Changed Solo & I For All Time (or That First Time We Met The XC Grin)
Ian Stark - Summer 2007
(Yes, I was afraid to canter my horse in an arena because he misplaced that gait.  He only had trot & gallop...except on the trail.  I'll let you guess how humbling it is after 20 years of riding, to finally have a horse & be afraid to canter it.  And yes, I did try to make an eventing legend wear my sweaty helmet.  I failed.  Then Solo nearly dumped him.  Thank cod my horse did not gain infamy as The Killer Of Ian Stark.  *horror*)

I Finally Get To Meet God
Jimmy Wofford - Fall 2008
He only whacked my horse on the ass with his baseball cap once...

Becky has not convinced Solo that dressage has merit
We Discover Eventing Mecca & I Become A Bona Fide Stalker (& My Last Clinic With Solo)
Becky Holder - Fall 2010

Ok, he can jump
The Best Christmas Present Ever & Encore's First Proper Clinic (Thanks, Mom!)
Camp Becky Holder - 10 Days of Spring Training, 2013

A Scotsman Started The Fire, An Irishman Throws A New Log In The Flame
Eric Smiley - Summer 2013

Encore's 1st Training course (Fall 2013)
Wander at will & explore the evolution!  Or save it for some rainy day entertainment.  May there be useful lessons YOU can apply next time you swing a leg over.

And not least of all, thank you to my mother, to Jim, to our amazing friend, Beth, and to the victims kind, random people I threw cameras at.  Your support made these experiences possible & each one is a treasure, both in lessons learned & the partnership forged with my horses.  Not only did these incredible teachers raise the bar on my training & riding about 47 holes, but they did so with patience, grace, generosity of spirit, humility, & humour.

For that, I consider myself lucky indeed. 

July 26, 2014

Guest Blogger Returns & So Does The Original Flying Solo!

David at Blenheim (Small)
David & Red at Blenheim c. 2000 (via O'Brien Eventing site)
[eventer79:  I remember my very first lesson with David O’Brien, in the spring of 2009.  The scene is so vividly imprinted on my senses because, as I walked Solo into the arena, I was so nervous that my hands were shaking.  I don’t get nervous.  

Strangely, there was something about David’s quiet, friendly patience combined with the mind-boggling fact of this guy who had galloped his Irish TB, Fox In Flight (Red) around Blenheim & Fair Hill International, who I’d watched in the Rolex dressage arena, whose wife, Lauren, I’d photographed and cheered for when Dunrath Alto was eating up the KHP course for breakfast, that intimidated the hell out of me.

How was it that he was not only willing to teach me, but also give me his undivided focus, clarity, & respect for my earnest efforts to convince Solo that his butt was not just for holding his tail on?  

I’m not a “starstruck” kind of person, but that day, that arena entrance became a bridge linking childhood years at Rolex, when I thought that eventing was only for an elite horse & rider, to the discovery as an adult that nobody-me could be ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE.  Ok, not the Rolex people, but a slightly slower & more comically stubborn version.  

I feel lucky indeed to have hitched a ride to a friend’s farm that day.  And I still get ridiculously excited about every opportunity to learn more “David-isms,” although if I’m the one riding, it’s far more likely to be the same one…repeated often.

So I couldn’t wait to drag lead Erica across that bridge.] 
       
Body Demo 0 01 01-08
David: Srsly, stop stalking me!  Erica: IKR!?
Hey, Erica, How Did It Go??

Over the 4th of July weekend, Team Flying Solo took a field trip down to Southern Pines. We hauled in Friday, stayed with some friends at their beautiful property [thank you, Alison!!!], ate by the pool under the eyes of some very sad dogs who clearly never ever get fed, and hit the sack.

The morning dawned unseasonably cool & crisp, thanks to Hurricane Arthur, and I tried to keep my mind occupied on getting Mr. Shiny looking, well, shiny.  Luckily we weren’t sure WHICH of Tanglewood Farm’s 27 beautiful arenas was our rendezvous point, so I had a chance to breathe as we wandered.  Don’t mind us, just a couple clueless poor people, nothing to see here…

The Lesson

After a “getting to know you” chat, David quickly assessed & assigned.  As all warmups should, we were to be first, forward, and second, bending.  Solo showed up ready to play and he felt great; I think we had some really nice moments while David helped finesse my position.  I apologize for anyone who has watches the videos, it’s got to be somewhat annoying to hear “shorten your reins” that many times, haha.  [eventer79: Why do you think we watch videos of lessons?  So we can get the benefits without sweating!  Besides, I’m sure NO ONE else out there EVER rides with their reins too long; I know I never, ever do. *quickly takes down all videos of self riding ever*]


Warming up at the trot.  You’ll see David almost immediately puts Solo on a classic figure-8; this is a fantastic exercise for any warmup because it engages the horse’s mind with the changes of direction and the latter also supples his body more quickly by asking the muscles on both sides to actively stretch and contract at shorter intervals.  The pattern also helps both horse and rider settle into a rhythm, while keeping the human brain & body busy enough with steering to avoid the stiffening & over-riding temptation of a single circle.  May or may not contain a cameo of up & coming Phenomenal Rider/Trainer/All-Around Awesome Person Andrew McConnon schooling the freaking adorable Jack Reacher at 4:19.


Continuing the Circle of Death at the canter.  Yes, I remain a heinous videographer.  I wish I could have gone in the arena, but I had to supervise a certain brown nose-r.  I also remain incapable of remember that the camera’s mic picks up MY STUPID COMMENTARY TOO.  *facepalm*  I would mute it, but the value of David’s teaching trumps my own embarrassment (meh, I’m used to it).

Solo Canter Warmup
I'd say they got moving...
I have to take a minute here to acknowledge what a great instructor David is. He was direct, positive, and never once made me feel like my skill level was beneath being worthy of his time.  It was one of the best lessons I’ve ever had.  [aaand my job here is done, folks :D]

And Then You Jumped Solo?  Really?  Really??  Really??!  [hells, yeah, she did!]

We started out with three ground poles to a small cross rail, just trying to get me to relax going through it.



From there, the second x-rail went up, then finally a small vertical, each with a one-stride placing pole. Solo did his land & root & scoot a few times after the last element, which nearly had me unglued.  My mantra changed from “shoulders back, neck strap” to “you can’t wuss out on David.”   [Now you’re truly a part of the Team; the latter is my strategy…for pretty much every single lesson with him, LOL!]  


David stops us and breaks down body elements critical to riding out the line:  for me the take-home message was to think not about slowing Solo down but rather bringing his front end & balance up.


Fine-tuning the exercise.

They Did It!


We finally made it through the grid quietly & confidently!

And Then…

…the magic happened.  [I love lightbulb moments!]

The last exercise David had us do was to simply ride a circle with a single jump on it.  [eventer79 was devastated by being unable to capture this on video, but she had to get on her horse]  We started at the trot, then brought it up to the canter.  I sort of wish we had started with this, though perhaps if I hadn’t gotten to it at this point of the lesson, it wouldn’t have been such an epiphany [see evil footnote].  The grid work seemed to bring out my clingy, panicked side, & I white-knuckled through it, but with this exercise I was able to establish a rhythm & just…ride it.  All of a sudden, it was like “OH! You mean, shorten my reins. And sit up. And put a monster half halt on going around the turn & then let go.

Solo's Final Gymnastic Jump
Balance getting better!
Untitled 0 01 30-30
No worries, minion, I got ur butt.
I get it! I was nearly in tears cooling down.  [I confess I couldn’t keep the grin off my face when, approximately every two minutes, all the way home, Erica would turn to me and yell, “I DID IT!”  Epic Moments In Life.  I kid you not, her FB update that day:  "So, uh, when I said we moved to NC because of the job market & cost of living?  I lied.  I moved to NC so I could trailer down to Southern Pines & take amazing jumping lessons with 4-star eventers."  *insert moar grinning*]

We’ve naturally now got tons of homework to do & reviewing the footage reveals that it’s pretty much all mine.  [it’s always us, sigh]  But that, folks, is how Erica found her jumping position and how Solo has resumed his flying.
Erica Flying Solo Edits
There's no feeling like it -- welcome to the Flight!

Footnote Revealing Pre-Existing Evil Plot

[eventer79:  I must now reveal my cruel strategery.  Solo has always been rush-y going through gymnastics because they are very hard for him.  Even low, slow ones, ask a horse to shift his weight back to his hocks and use his back, both weak points for my boy, so he worries.  These very tiny ones don’t hurt him, but he does have a Lifetime Exemption from bounces and most other gymnastic exercises.  I know David’s system and I knew Erica would find these unsettling, and now I am going to admit I did it on purpose.

Want To Go Faster
Letz go faster!! However, note perfect rider balance here!
I’m no stranger to “speed” anxiety and I used to be drop-dead terrified of downhill jumps.  To this day, I won’t get on a bolter due to an accident when I was about 9.  I STILL get a tweak sometimes.  But Solo was the horse who taught me about trust.  It’s not an overnight process & it’s ok to be afraid, but I know he will always be safe.  I also unfailingly install an emergency brake on my horses, heh.  I would NEVER say, “Just get over it,” but I saw in that lesson the perfect opportunity for Erica to experience that critical first step.

I believe in always setting a horse & rider up for success; the best possible environment for this moment, for Erica & Solo, was in a clearly enclosed arena with level, perfect footing under the instruction of David’s calm, methodical, & positive expertise.  He is a teacher who brings out the best in you because, as he matter-of-factly directs you to “go do this thing that makes your eyes bug out,” the systematic manner in which he has prepared you and his quick reassurance of everything you did right make up the parachute which always lands you safely on “holy shit, I DID IT!”

You can’t build anything without a solid foundation block & you can’t place the block without careful site prep.  There’s a method in most of my madness – sometimes it even works.  ;P  I AM SO PROUD OF BOTH ERICA & SOLO & I HOPE THEIR JOURNEY CONTINUES!]

Head Profile Solo (Small) Untitled 0 00 28-21
And THANK YOU, Erica, for the wonderful gift of seeing this look of joy & proud bad-assery back on Solo’s face.  That puts tears in MY eyes.

May 2, 2014

So Many...The Things...Fingers Too Tired...Three-Day Fatigue

Organizer/my neighbour/superwoman Cindy Deporter briefs riders
Is it just me or do these get longer and longer every year?  Wait, it might have something to do with me getting older and older every year...  Nonetheless, as I build experience, I get to test my eye, surrounded by backup experts for questions.  I had the distinct pleasure of spending most of today scribing for our wonderful Pam Weidemann, who manned the Troll Booth at C.  She and our NC buddy, Amanda Miller-Atkins, at B, made a fantastic judging team, sharp, consistent, and fair.  Result:  a great score spread, yet three very competitive divisions (T3DE, N3DE, & BN3DE).

Not only that, but we have SIXTY entries for the three-day, NOT including the Horse Trial horses.  Rock on, long format, and thank you riders, clincians, judges, volunteers, and sponsors for your support!!  And of course to Southern Eighths Farm and owner, Brad Turley, for sharing this amazing facility with us little people!  You can see about 1/3rd of the indoor in the picture above -- it's ok, I guess...

Today's Training leaderboard:  I didn't see them all, but Andrew McConnon, a young pro who rides multiple CANTER Mid-Atlantic horses as well as others, but in a lovely test on a CMA mare who has only been in training for 9 months and only with him for six months!!  This makes me feel rather inadequate...if I hadn't stalked him down in stabling and discovered you couldn't meet a nicer guy, wow!  And a gorgeous soft rider.   
The Novice leaderboard:  Bonnie Mosser (another NC local, woot!) put in a BEAUTIFUL (yes, I actually scribed that word on one of her canter movements) test, I've never written that many 8's and 9's in my life and they were all well-deserved!  And a special thanks to Bonnie, who always makes an effort to not only enter, but bring students and friends in support of the Three-Days!!  Our friend, Nobie Cannon, met during my dedicated Becky-stalking last April, also did a phenomenal job with her sales horse, a lovely chestnut TB.  I think Pam and I both fell in love as well with 'Beyond the Limit,' a darling little grey Appendix who rather resembled a Welsh pony!
Yes, we have Beginner Novice too!  Hey, Jen, we had our token Haffie -- also adorably named after a bear and he lived up to his name indeed:  "Whinney The Pooh."  He certainly curiously watched everything outside of the ring and paid little attention to his rider...somewhat like an orange Appendix I know, sigh.
  
Part of the core team:  Cindy introduces (L-R):   dressage judges Pam (who is also President of the Ground Jury) and Amanda, TD Gammon Castellevi, and awesome vets, Dr. Debbie & co!


CD extraordinaire & eventer Tremaine Cooper:  "Don't approach your steeplechase jump with zombie hands!"
David, our faithful announcer, lurks in his den perched above the dressage arena

Ok, I don't think I have ever seen a horse who is entirely white...with a brown neck.  Talk about optical illusion!
Amanda cackles with what can only be an evil dressage judge scheme inside the Troll Booth at B

And a sneak peek -- chainsaw artist, Randy Boni, has been hard at work when we were gone.  More to come!!
Tomorrow: I learn a new job!  Rather frighteningly (although not for those who know me well - I am excellent in a crisis), I will be Radio Control for Phases A, B, & C (Steeplechase and both Roads & Tracks).  I'm very excited, although I'm sure it will take some practice before I can live up to my teacher and Queen of XC Control, JJ Johnson.

Until then, I shall be passed out until the best part: Endurance Day!!  May everyone cross the finish flags of D safely, with a huge grin and a hug for their generous partners!

January 4, 2014

A Little Video Of Solo And I Playing Bareback In The Winter



I didn't feel like getting the tack out so, I just looped the lead rope around and hopped on.  Sorry, I was so excited about the new indoor I finally completed at the new farm, I forgot my helmet!




HAHAHAHHA!

In all seriousness, though, Satchmo is and always will be an amazing horse and his partnership with Isabell has that rare quality which surpasses talent and skill and training and resides in the realm of heart and magic.  Enjoy.

December 24, 2013

Behind The Scenes With The Scribe

Honestly, I am soooo not a holiday person, so I will let the pros take care of that, as far as seasonal posts.  But I have been storing a little gift for you, regardless!

Tools of the trade
You all know that I am a huge demander advocate of volunteering (DO IT! PS, it doesn't have to be a weekend, call your organizer today!), not only would our sport be impossible without it, but it's fun even for non-riders and incredibly educational at so many levels.  Kudos to Seema over at The Florida Chronicles for starting this thread recently on COTH about everyone's volunteering plans for the year -- a great idea and call to action, as well as a fun way to network!!

I've chronicled my efforts to support the long format 3DE's at Waredaca and Southern Eighths with everything I have; not only do I believe in the format as the eventing I grew up with, I also watch, every year, as it works its magic, teaching horses and riders things they didn't even know they didn't know.

At the 2013 Waredaca T/N3DE, I had 4,327 jobs (LOL, this is what happens when you become part of core staff - and if you even whisper that you might not make it, you must live in fear of a posse hunting you down in the night) over the weekend, but on dressage day, my main assignment this year was score running.  It was nice to change up, as the past couple of years I have stewarded the warm up ring, which I enjoy, but variety is the spice of life!

First rule of volunteering:  expect the unexpected!  Due to a mis-communication and my getting peoples' names confused (which is about as difficult for me as inhaling), one of the dressage judges was missing a scribe after lunch.  I don't get to scribe all that often, but I love it and have shared it before (well, the learning part, it balances out the OMG, USE FEWER WORDS BEFORE I HAVE AN ANXIETY ATTACK FOR FEAR OF MISSING SOMETHING part).  And no problem, we had another awesome person who could run scores until another scribe was found.

Settling into the passenger seat (hey, it's freaking windy in that arena and Waredaca has it's own special weather system of wet/cold/hang on to loose papers), I was doubly excited because the judge was someone I knew when he was often a TD at our competitions and now holds his FEI card.  So I already knew he had a very experienced eye both as an official and trainer.

He didn't let me down.

We all have heard the 10,001 urban myths, rumours, theories, stoutly professed convictions, and rant about the wholly subjective nature of dressage judging, "good" judges, "bad" judges, how to improve scores, what is most important...need I go on?

Now that I have had the opportunitiy to help run these events and spend time conversing with some of the top event judges in our region (and country), as well as those moving through the program, I have realized how massive the committment of time, money, energy, more money, and education it takes to earn that title.  And yep, there are bad ones out there, but most are working very hard to make split second decisions about a pair in motion according to a long list of standards.

Due to this experience and my own extremely nerdy extensive study of, well, things that have the word "horse" in them, I know when I'm sitting next to a good one.  And I know when I'm sitting next to a great one.  And while there is not a lot of time to watch the horses, once you know the test, even with the occasional peek, you start to see a pattern; in other words, there are certain words and phrases that you wish you had a rubber stamp for.

Those, my friends, with a painfully long buildup, are my gift to you, as you putter about in the winter looking for bits and pieces of projects which undoubtedly includes "how to hate the dressage ring less."  You will probably read them and think, "well, duh!" but I honestly wrote each of these many times, all or in part, on almost every test. 

From an excellent, correct dressage judge to you:  The Most Frequent Ways To Screw Up Or Improve Your Dressage Tests -

  • GET THE DAMN POLL UP.  Do we have your attention?  LOL.  But seriously, it doesn't matter how arch-y your horse's neck is or how well you've mastered that fake frame without a true connection to his hind end or how much you paid for that fancy trot -- the judge knows the difference.  The poll still needs to be the highest point, with a fluid, steady connection through the horse's topline to his hind legs.
  • On that vein, make sure you keep pushing your horse forward so his poll STAYS up in the corners and turns.
  • Transitions are important:  the most important qualities are balance and forwardness, even in downward transitions.
  • Keep your forward in every. single. step.  This is critical in movements like the stretchy circle or the free walk; just teaching your horse to shove his nose to his ankles when you drop the rein is not good enough.  He must march forward with his nose poking out (Encore gets dinged on this one, he loves to admire his own ankles).
  • Be straight.  Yeah, yeah, but how much do you REALLY hold yourself and your horse to a higher bar?  Don't let the haunches fall in at the canter, don't lose the shoulder in a leg yield or a bend, really ride his whole body.  
  • On extended gaits, you should definitely go for the gold at trot and canter, but know your partner:  a conservative, but balanced and correct lengthening will score better than a quick and unbalanced attempt that breaks to canter.  Also be very critical in the quality of your lengthenings.  Start small at home, but start CORRECTLY.  Your rhythm should not change, but then stride should increase in both length and lift of the horse's body.
  • Common tattletale signs of lost connection that you will be penalized for:  (a) head nodding, indicating the horse is leaning on the inside leg or rein, (b) hanging on the inside rein, losing the outside shoulder, my personal favourite, and (c) the horse tripping behind due to lack of impulsion.
  • Common myths that really need to go away:  (a) it's not a nazi camp, if a ring panel blows down or a dog runs into the ring or whatever, and your horse spooks, a good judge will not penalize you and (b) they REALLY DON'T NOTICE OR GIVE A CRAP about your hair or your horsie's hair as long as they can see the crestline of the neck and things are clean.  Really.

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.