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We Are Flying Solo

February 29, 2012

The Photos Are In!

I think I giggled at every single one.  He's just so...earnest!  And he looks so annoyed at the jumps where he didn't get the footwork quite right.  And I think he has more scope than I originally thought!

That is all.

February 27, 2012

It Was A Dark And Windy Night

Well, actually it was a chilly and windy day, but close enough.  I'm short on time, but I'm going to give the rundown of our very, hmm, interesting horse trial on Saturday.

There were some time hiccups and some OMG, the XC course is 47 miles from my trailer and I only have an hour before dressage moments.  But it was the first time this HT has been run, so one expects some speed bumps until the process gets sorted out.  I tried to take deep breaths and everything worked out fine in the end.

Since the HT was situated at a farm where we regularly XC school, I had not bothered to read the direction on the bottom of the omnibus listing.  After all, I've been there heaps of times.  You smell an ominus turn coming in this story, can't you?

Oh yes, I get there, driveway is blocked and sign says go around to the back.  Which means turning the trailer around and going back to a different road and it's a few miles around.  I finally find the correct entrance and it felt so familiar....oh, because we are parking on the Moss Foundation, a massive property where lifehighway and I have ridden many times, as it is managed for longleaf pine habitat and trail riding.  So the XC course IS actually about 47 miles from my trailer.

Uh oh.

I had an hour and a half before my dressage time, so I hiked as quickly as humanly possible to do my course walk.  I was lucky enough to have bribed asked a friend to come help and I must say to her THANK YOU, CINDY, I COULD NOT HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU

I left the trailer at 9:30, leaving her in charge of Encore and told her I planned to be back by 10:00.  At 10:00 I was on jump four of my XC course and I called her and said if I'm not back by 10:10, please tack up my horse.  I actually arrived sweatily (it was hilly!) back to the trailer at 10:20.  My dressage ride time was 10:43 and I still had to put on boots, helmet, gloves, spurs and GET to the dressage ring, which was only 20 miles away, instead of 47.  I was on my horse by 10:32 and I took off at a trot, reins in one hand and eating a Powerbar with the other.  Keep in mind, it was 50 degrees with 15 mph winds.

In brief, we arrived, steward said ring was running 20 minutes late.  After I restrained my from leaping off my horse and hugging her, we warmed up.  Encore was good, I got him round and reaching for the bit and as  supple as I could get in that situation.  My plan was to only walk and trot in warmup so he would not be anticipating the canter in the test.

This was not us.
That was a horrible plan.

He went in the ring and decided to go the confused llama route.  He did not understand the little white chain that made the arena in the grass and he did not understand what his job was supposed to be because it didn't look right.  I think had we been in the other arena (covered with footing) he would have been much better.  At best I would describe the test as....apocalyptic.  You know you're good when you (eventually) halt in the general vicinity of the required location and you salute, then look up to the judge cracking up laughing.

Oh well, I patted him and told him, good try, buddy, but not quite what we were looking for.

Next time, there will be much cantering in warmup to take that edge off!  Note: find a place with a grass dressage arena with chains to practice.

I didn't worry -- I was at the HT primarily for jumping mileage for Encore, so I was satisfied he stayed in the ring and we were on course (approximately).

We then ripped off tack, threw on jumping gear (XC gear too, they were back to back) and Cindy was literally stuffing Powerbar in my mouth as I was buckling my bridle.  Show jumping warmup was small and crowded but Encore warmed up well again, although that wind had him ready to GO!  But he listened when I said whoa and jumped well, so that was good enough.  Result:

You can't really tell, but I am about half in control and Encore is going at a great pace...for Prelim.  I really thought we had that brush box, even though my steering was a wee bit off.  He made it TO the takeoff spot, then did this amazing tango twist around the standard.  We were so close to the jump, I saw top of standard about a foot from my face.  I almost lost it; if my saddle had been slippery, I would have been a goner.  But this situation is why I REQUIRE horses I ride learn the one-rein stop.  Encore's only thought was RUN LIKE THE WIND, AHHHHH!!!!!  I had no stirrups and just kept my body centered and pulled his head right around.  The key was not to rush now, I needed his brain back.  I got my stirrups back, took my time, walked calmly to the edge and resumed our course.

It was then straight to cross country from there.  The course would be a bit of a new challenge.  Designed by Gina Fiore, when I walked it, I felt it the BN course was really a Novice course with some smaller logs thrown in.  There were some challenging questions and use of terrain and I felt fortunate that we had jumped many of the complex jumps before (and my horse remembered).

Want to ride it?  5...4...3...2...1...Have a great ride. 

The circle mid-course where we slowed down was where Encore took a flying leap of the house and I had NO brakes anymore (someone is going to meet Mr. Elevator bit for jumping at competitions, we must balance, my dear).  The next line was a hard right turn and down a steep hill to a suspended log and then a hard 90-degree turn to a bank line.  It was not going to happen at Mach 10 on the forehand without a chance of killing us both.  I pulled his head hard around uphill and he quickly broke to trot.  I said, honey, I need your brain back.  We then went downhill at the trot, picked up a much more balanced canter in front of the log, and pulled off a beautiful turn to our bank.

The last three or so years of eventing have taught me, forget the clock, when you lose your horse's brain, you will get in trouble in a big hurry.  Stop everything you are doing and get him back.  You may get a few penalty points, but they are very low and continuing in a crazed fashion will only end with someone getting hurt.  It is critical in this sport to think on your feet and make quick decisions no matter where you are.  It just good safety practice and good horsemanship -- your horse learns nothing bolting around unbalanced, every moment you are on his back, you are teaching him something, even if you don't mean to.

In summary, a crazy day, but very educational for horse and rider.  I learned what young-OTTB-on-a-windy-day feels like.  We achieved our goal of good jumping miles, even the runout taught me something (aim for the middle of the jump, doofus).  We kept the rails up and were completely clear XC.

I've already painted one of our brush boxes at home bright white (yesterday) and Encore will be jumping it until he's sick of it.  Southern Pines HT is in two weeks and I know what I need to work on, so I better get busy getting busy!

February 24, 2012

Whether We Are Ready Or Not!

The night before a horse trial is always a tense one -- did I pack both girths? Is my armband where I think it is?  Did I remember to make a post-dressage snack for Encore?  Are both cameras charged?

Tomorrow's forecast in SoPines is clear and sunny, although windy and since the hosting farm is in the sandhills, footing should be nice -- although you always have to keep an eye on those pine needle patches, they can slip!  If I have any lucky at all, that sun will shine on Encore making his 2012 eventing debut.  He completed one horse trial last year at the Maiden level, so I'll start him at Beginner Novice this spring to build his confidence and begin to teach him the little routines of horse trial day.

But what will make or break our ride tomorrow won't be weather or footing or gear -- it will be whether I have the patience and calm to warm him up correctly.  The KEY is getting the horse supple.  You don't have to do x number of 20 metre circles or 5 perfect leg yields or a set number of gaits in each direction.  You need to produce a supple and attentive horse using whatever means are most effective to get him there

For Encore, this means bend, change the bend, bend back, counter bend, change bend again, leg yield on a spiral, bend again -- all the while my goal is to work him softer in the jaw and balanced beneath my seat.  If I can acheive that, then I will have succeeded. 

We'll be all over the warmup ring -- it's not about staying on the rail or using a common routine, it's about loosening and suppling my horse so he is round and on the aids when it is time for us to go in the ring.  It doesn't matter how we get there as long as we arrive.

I'll trot my horse down centerline at 10:43 am tomorrow and as we turn right to begin our test, everyone will know whether or not I've achieved my goal and that moment of truth will set the tone for the rest of our day.

February 21, 2012

My Precious Is Wounded

It burnsss ussssss....

No, it's not the horse.  But I still love her.

It was a stupid stoplight thing.  We were sitting in line, the light turned green and the guy in front of me went go - NOSTOP and slammed on his brakes.  You just can't stop 7,000 lbs of truck in 1 second so we went bump.  Fortunately, the universe had a little pity and it was another 3/4 ton truck (damn Dodge didn't dodge!!).  I hate to think how long I would have been stuck there had we eaten the back end of a dang Civic, even at all of the 3 mph or so I was moving.

His truck sat a little higher than mine and had a 4-way hitch on it, so it was not damaged at all (whew!).  He looked a bit worried when he got out and saw I was a girl -- perhaps he feared histrionics?  But I was wearing my wildlife agency uniform jacket and I saw him look at that and appear relieved that I may not dissolve into tears and scream.  We ascertained that both parties were fine, we looked at my bumper, I said, "Meh, I don't care about dents, that's what BUMPers are for," we shook hands, we went about our business.

Actually, the only thought I had getting out of my truck was, OMG, PLEASE DON'T HAVE BENT MY SPECIAL SOLO PLATE!!!  But it was unscathed and I could breathe again.

The dents truly don't bother me, it's just the gaps on the side where the whole bumper is twisted down.  On the plus side, the Precious now does fit in as a true NC truck.  Eventually, I suppose I will go junkyard diving, we have a good one nearby, but it's hardly an essential part.  I crawled under when I got to work and nothing on the front end is bent, tranny cooler is fine, and all is well.

But next time you see the Flying Solo rig, it will just have a bit more...character.

February 15, 2012

Time To Be Ready

The entries are sent in.  The checks are signed.  The Coggins papers are emailed to the appropriate people.  After a single outing at Maiden last fall (during which he thought the XC course was the best present he'd ever gotten in his life), Encore will make his spring debut at Beginner Novice in February and again in March.

I am very tempted to bump him up to Novice in March.  I have taken an informal poll among fellow horse people.  David says if he goes perfectly in February and it's all easy, go for it.  My friend, and my gut, say give him two BN's to build his confidence.

The February event (in two weeks!!!) is at a gorgeous farm in Vass where we school XC regularly, so I know the facility and I know the jumps.  I have not seen the stadium jumps but am well at home in the XC field.  I have no concerns whatsoever.  Dressage may be a bit messy, but I don't care -- I'm there for the horsey mileage and the sooner we can kiss BN goodbye, the better!

But it's complicated.  

Solo competing at CHP at Novice in 2010.  Photo by Pics of You.
Because the March event is at the Carolina Horse Park (CHP), my favourite place to event, but traditionally the courses are maxed out on XC -- that is the jumps are at the maximum heights and sometimes widths for the level.  The show jumping courses are designed to be ridden forward and confident and usually have at least one funky turn.  There is a new XC course designer for the lower levels this year (sniff, I LOVED Jeff Kibbie's courses), so I'm not sure what their approach will be.  Regardless, I hesitate to use this as a move up event as Encore has never been to CHP before and it is big, professional, and the last thing I want to do is overface him.  I want him to believe he is invincible.

So the likely plan is that he will remain entered in the Open Beginner Novice in March (it just doesn't feel sportsmanlike to enter Beginner Novice Rider when I have ridden at Training level, even if I didn't complete the event) and I will move him up to Novice at my very favourite event, Longleaf Pines Horse Trial, also at CHP, in April.

Of course, because I have long since learned my plans are made only to be derailed, I am not telling Encore any of this and I am confident something insane will happen between now and then.

Do you have big spring plans?  Training goals you are shooting for?  Trail mileage you want to rack up?  Dust you want to knock off?  Do share!  I am tired of sad, I WANT HAPPY!