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We Are Flying Solo

March 30, 2010

Back To Forward

So much to think about.

The lesson was good.  Although I could just feel Solo's indignation: I already worked hard on Saturday, what the hell is this about??!

Of COURSE, David makes us ride through a gymnastic to start off, after warm up with his obligatory Circles-Of-Making-Eventer79-Pant-And-Solo-Flex-A-Lot. He has some kind of psychic power to detect what you really don't want to do and then he makes you do that. Somewhat unsurprisingly, he quickly detects the source of our problems: I am riding too defensively, staying TOO far back and as a result, I am not moving with Solo over the jumps.

David: "I understand why you are doing what you are doing, but your upper body is saying whoa when you stay that far behind the motion."

Me (in my head): Yes, because I don't want to bloody fall off again.

Me (out loud): Yes, master. (or something like that)

David: "Once he is moving forward, trust him to do it and just support with your leg, but keep your upper body in a more ready, forward position."

Which, of course, worked like a charm.  Ahhh, smooth, lovely jumps -- why do they only happen when David is watching?

So when we start out learning to jump, most of us jump ahead, anticipating the jump too much, especially when we have learned in hunterland. Then we train ourselves to wait. Then we end up behind the motion -- although one of the eventing commandments is "Thou shalt remember that it is always better to be a little bit behind than a little bit ahead." Finding the happy medium is a bit like balancing a fork on the edge of a glass: for me, freaking hard!  Now my brain is going, Ok, stay back but not too far back, you need to be forward enough to go with Solo but not too far forward or else you will jump up his neck.  Yeah, no problem doing that every time on a course of ten fences.  Maybe I will just close my eyes and flap my reins at Solo while squawking, "Jumpy jumpy!"  That might create a higher proportion of successful jumps than my current method of confusing the snot out of myself.

March 28, 2010

The Big E Part II. And Why Exactly I AM Happy About It.

Stadium Jumping
By the time they got around to stadium (yes, they ran the event in classic format with XC second and SJ last), my horsey was exhausted. I was exhausted and had pretty much reached the point where I was just ready to go home. The course was TOUGH. Lines wound everywhere including three jumps on a wavy bending line 5 strides apart and every jump was maxed out, including three HUGE oxers. Note: keep in mind especially jump 8 A and B (9 jump course) -- a two stride combo with a max oxer to a vertical; a challenging question asking you to jump in boldly and wide and then sit back and jump up and out over the vertical.  And yes, this is another year old picture too, of a much more successful day at a BN event.

I watched the first few rounds and it was obvious that ponies were T-I-R-E-D. Rails were dropping all over that max course. When I entered, I could feel that Solo's gas tank was hovering around empty and it was probably not going to be pretty. I need you to do one more thing for me, buddy, I told him, put your heart out there for me, we gotta get around one more time and then we can go home and take a loooooong nap.

The first two jumps on the course were a four rail vertical and then a long rollback to a stone wall with blue rails. I could feel my horse reaching deep just to keep going and I didn't kick, just squeezed and supported and told him Just give me what you got, buddy, I understand you're tired and we're just going to do the best we can. He couldn't quite get his feet up for the second jump and I heard all the rails crash behind me as we pointed towards the big oxer at 3. I knew that dropped us back to at least 6th place and I didn't care about it anymore.

I interject here: one of the things I am learning to love about eventing is that you really ARE competing against yourself. I know many sports say this, but here, it's really true. There are SO many variables and things can change so quickly, that I find myself really and truly measuring our performance solely based on the relationship that Solo and I have which allows me to know what my horse is capable of and then how do we measure up to that. If that makes sense.

And what goes along with this is the question of: how do you know when to stop? I've attended lots of *** and **** events and watched riders pull their horses even mid-XC when they felt that the horse was out of steam or it just wasn't their day. I can't even express how much admiration I have for the riders who make that choice. I wondered: would I have the guts to do that, to make that tough decision and make SURE you act in the best long term interest of your horse, no matter how much you paid to get there??

Turns out, I do. We negotiated the bending line of 4-5-6 and rolled back to a large natural oxer at 7. Remember that combo at 8? Oh and the ginormously wide oxer of 8A is blue too! With Tigger flags (how random). Solo looked but I sat down and said go. He went, but jumped it without much impulsion and went straight up and over and I believe I let out a rather loud squeak. When we landed, I felt immediately that the gas tank had run dry; he just died, but he still looked to the vertical at 8B and moved towards it. I didn't feel like I had enough horse under me to jump out clean and safely though and I did NOT want to climb over it ugly or crash; it was not worth giving my horse a bad experience. So I immediately pulled him out of the line to circle.

Yes, this would count as a penalty. And technically, according to the rules, if it's a combination you have to rejump BOTH elements. But I did not want to ask Solo for that huge oxer again. I just wanted to finish the two jumps left on course safely and make sure my horse was left with the impression that he can DO this and it's not scary.

So I made the decision. I only jumped the vertical at 8B, which eliminated me as soon as I did. But we jumped it clean, rolled back to finish the course at 9 and cantered through the finish flags with a big pat. At which point Solo slammed on the brakes with his nose on the outgate. Love ya, mom, but I am DONE! I laughed, gave him a big hug, and thanked him for his try.

He never stopped, he never gave up, and he tried with everything he had to get around that extremely tough course so I can be nothing but happy with him. I hauled him home, gave him his dinner and turned him out with his buddy feeling nothing but pride for his willingness to tackle the new challenges. As much as I hated seeing the big E by my name on the leaderboard, I realized what all those other folks who had retired on course already knew: the E has no power when you have made the decision to take care of your partner and make sure HE leaves the showgrounds with nothing but successful efforts under his belt.

So, homework!

Dressage: MEGA IMPULSION NEEDED. Especially at the trot -- we need energy, energy, energy and energy!

Cross country: We won't need to school before Longleaf, but I will just need to make sure that, as we did yesterday, we start off the course riding aggressively and I keep Solo in front of my leg to the jumps. We need FITNESS. Trot sets (boooring, yuck) here we come.

Stadium: We need more FITNESS! And we also need to learn how to jump max oxers. The verticals rode fine, despite the crashing down of one, that was just hanging tired pony legs. We will meet up with David O. tomorrow night to work on this after Solo gets two days to hang out and nap in the pasture.

The Big E. And I Am Happy About It?

I'm going to break the sad news up front: I have no pictures. It is an unfortunate consequence of having no crew.

But whew, what an eventful day it was indeed! Where do I even start? I will attempt to make it as concise as possible! We hauled in to the lovely Thoroughbred Training Center on Friday night and I kicked my chicken biscuit wrappers out of the way to convert the back of my truck into redneck camping paradise. It's amazing what an air mattress and a pile of blankets can do...

Early Saturday morning I crawled out to layers of ice on all the windows, but Solo was cozy and warm in his lovely old barn, having vacuumed up every scrap of hay, ready to start the day.

Wow, we had a tough judge! I was thrilled to pieces by our test -- Solo stayed soft and round for pretty much the entirety, aside from a few looky moments where he wanted to check out who was watching him. His canter transitions were, OMG AWESOME as he reached down onto the bit and stepped over his back; I have discovered the absolute key is me staying uber-soft on the rein during the transition. His circles were round and bendy and perfectly circley.  There's a random Solo dressage pic there on the left from last year just so you have something to look at.

We ended up with a 38.3, which I was pretty happy with, although the judge was pretty hard on some things, including 5's for our opening trots, ouch! Seemed pretty harsh just because we lacked impulsion, but oh well, every judge is different. She did give us 7's for our canter work, which is a nice change and left very nice comments at the bottom. We stood solidly in the middle of the pack in sixth place at this point.

Cross Country
The course was nice and gallopy and open, which is why I chose this event as a prep for our big recognized deal next month. However, during warmup, my ass kindly reminded me that my tailbone was still bruised from last weekend and every time I sat down to push it went OWWWWWW! Yay. Overall, it went well, although some of the jumps backed Solo off and I'd like him even more in front of my leg next time. Most things were very straightforward fly jumps, with only a few exceptions: there was a skinny, tall log between two trees, which makes a rather persuasive accuracy question if you would like to keep your face. The ditch was BIG and you had to weave around a corner and another jump just to get to it. Solo gave it booger-eyes, but he jumped it as I closed my leg and gave him plenty of rein. There was a BIG drop off a bank, but it rode really well and we stayed in balance and did not lose any momentum. The water was a simple run through and my cheater horse trotted, given he was pretty tired by the time we got there, at the end of the course.  There's another random XC pic for you from HT's past...

With a double clear finish (no jump penalties, no time penalties, thanks to us hauling ass up the last hill after glancing at my watch), we had now moved up to third! Yay! And ahh, pressure! One more phase to go, one very challenging stadium course to conquer. Could we pull it off after galloping such a long (19 jumps!) and hilly cross country course??

March 26, 2010

Moment Of Truth

Keep your fingers, toes, and hooves crossed -- we are loading up today and heading out. Tomorrow will be our very first Novice Horse Trial. I hope to maintain proper vertical order and forward motion at all times!

March 24, 2010

In Which Panties May Need To Be Changed

The last post was titled "Ups and Downs," not just because of the mountains because the day had a lot of ups...and a big down!

As we got back to camp, horses and riders both tired and hungry, I tied Solo to the back of lifeshighway's trailer after I untacked him for a few minutes so I could use the bathroom and change.  I returned a few minutes later to untie him.

And as I walked around the back of the trailer I heard a loud noise and saw my horse at the end of his rope, rearing and plunging as the entire 7' rear trailer door flipped end over end through the air.

This horse is going to kill me just by taking decades off my life at a time.

Yes, the metal door was detached from the trailer and flipped in the air to land phwaat on the ground.  What does one do when you see a situation like this?  Which, as we know with horses, may appear to occur in slow motion but actually occurs wham! in the course of about ten seconds.  Pretty much you stare for about a second with eyes like saucers and heart motionless as a cinder in your chest thinking Oh my mother-f@cking-god-of-all-things-unholy and then you go to your horse.

I approached Solo slowly as his adrenaline gradually diminished and I unclipped him, as he trembled with every muscle popped out at once. At which point he stopped shaking, sighed, and dropped his head to graze. Completely (thank you all powers that be) unhurt and holding no grudge against trailers for the unwarranted attack.

All I can figure out is that he somehow managed to pull his rope out and get it hooked under the edge of the door that I mistakenly thought was latched. He then threw up his head, freaked himself out, and lifted the entire door off the hinges with his short, muscly neck in about one second.

I have now aged roughly 7.62 years. The thought of what COULD have happened makes me throw up in my mouth a little. My horse appears to suffer no ill effects whatsoever. I think I even heard him giggle softly as he continued grazing.