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We Are Flying Solo

May 2, 2013

Live From South Cackalacky

Full colour 40-pg program:  nothing here is done halfway!
As we call it around here (although we are approximately 45 seconds from the state line shared with North Cackalacky).  Hmmm, it feels so familiar -- oh yes, because I just spent ten days here in March, driving back and forth to Becky Holder's Windhaven Farm, 10 minutes up the highway.

It is officially Day 1 of Southern Eighths' Classic Three Day Event, sponsored by Nikon.  Unique in that it is the only place in the US that offers a version of long format eventing at Beginner Novice, Novice, and Training levels, on a farm built specifically for the purpose, it's a chance to get lost for four days in an eventer's paradise

Of course, for me, it's Day 2 already.  Seeing as I am the Lady The Officials Must Be Nice To In Order To Get Fed, oh, I mean, the "Officals Coordinator" (yeah, that does sound better), I already spent three hours yesterday driving down here and then another chunk of my life I will never get back raiding the Wadesboro (oh, you jewel of the Carolinas...and by jewel I mean not) Walmart.  The latter is particularly painful seeing as I am an adamant Walmart boycotter for ethical reasons (and auditory ones, thanks screaming children in giant echoing warehouse space...and random woman who talks to bananas 0.0).  Let's just say it's a good thing I don't drive a Camry, because providing 200 breakfasts, lunches, drinks, and snacks takes up some space!

I'm officially official!!
Four jam-packed shopping carts (thank you, random Wadesboro citizens who helped me get it all to the truck!) later, I could finally put it all away in my "shed" (imagine a building roughly the size of a city firestation with garage bays big enough for cranes and its own kitchen) and pass out.

This morning, all competing horses must pass their basic arrival veterinary exam and their riders will learn how to present their horse for inspection in preparation from veterans Holly Hudspeth and Lauren O'Brien for the official jog late this afternoon.

Sometimes people ask, "Why should I bother paying an extra entry fee for a lower level long format event if it is just a Novice Horse Trial with a couple trail rides added?"  Yes, someone (not here) has called it trail rides, sigh.

Answer:  Because this is not a Horse Trial, my friends.

MY Rolex, the eventing I grew up watching, was, of course, a long format event (The Only Format) and at a *** level, was the type of event you would only do once or twice a year.  A horse trial was a much smaller, shorter affair you did simply as practice for The Real Thing.  A true three-day event was as much a test of horsemanship, partnership, and the depth of your training and knowledge as it was a competition.

So my response is, yes, the entry fee is higher.  Yet it is an incredible bargain for what you receive.  Does your horse trial include free clinics by professionals on jog-ups, managing time for the interconnected phases of endurance day (2 Roads & Tracks sections, Steeplechase, Cross Country), what your dressage judges are looking for (including demonstration rides), what to do in the ten-minute box, how to ride steeplechase, tips for grooms and crew, and course walks with international level riders and course designers?  Oh yeah, and parties and FOOD?

It appears I am expected to be hospitable.
I didn't think so.  ;-)

I can't put a price or even quantify what I have learned in my four or five years of helping run the Classic Three-Day at Waredaca.  A new schedule arrangement in a different location this weekend with different clinicians will, I am sure, provide even more tidbits to add to my horsemanship toolbox (and as a volunteer, all it costs me is my diesel).  With all that we pour into our horses, to be offered such an opportunity twice a year in two places in the region, when considered in context, is a gift that is a no-brainer in my book and I can participate even though my horses defy my efforts at competing.  Once I finally do get there, though, I bet I'll be the most prepared dang rider in the field, ha!

For now, I'd better turn the breakfast table into a lunch table.  I will be trying to take some pics with my proper-ish camera, but will not be able to upload them till I get home, so if you are lucky, my brain will remember a random, poor-quality cell phone shot or two to keep you entertained!

Till next time, this is eventer79, live from Southern Eighths.  Making sandwiches.  Officially.

May 1, 2013

Time For Cat Herding

If you have ever helped run a three-day event, you know what I'm talking about.  Yes, I am off to work, because oh my indeed is it work, although most rewarding, the Heart of the Carolinas long format BN/N/T event at the lovely Southern Eighth Farm on the NC/SC border, which you can read about in our Becky diaries. 

I hope to be able to talk about it more later, but if you get a chance to spectate or (please!) volunteer, don't miss it.  You've heard me talk about these events before, when I go up to help with our Area II Adult Rider-run three-day at Waredaca in MD.  We are fighting hard to keep these amazing opportunities alive, so I urge you to take advantage of the incredible efforts put in by some brutally hard-working people to learn about raising the bar of your horsemanship and training to meet the true test that was once the eventing standard.  Clinicians this year include Lauren O'Brien (the other half of our most loved jumping trainer, David, an accomplished top level rider and competitor in her own right!), Holly Hudspeth, upper level course designer Tremaine Cooper, Charlie Plumb, Susan Beebe, Bobby Costello, SJ course designer Marc Donovan, Nat Varcoe-Cocks (of EN infamy - perhaps she'll give us dance lessons!), and more. 

For now, I must go buy 400 lbs of food, so until the other side, stay safe, have a wonderful ride, and if you are in Chesterfield this weekend, say hi!

April 25, 2013

The Becky Diaries: An Afterward

All eyes are turned to my favourite patch of turf right now, a park filled with history in Lexington, KY and an event that continues to change, but still offers the amazing spectacle of horse-human partnerships giving their all in an incredibly difficult test of courage, grace under pressure, and preparation.

Just before lunch today, behind those rolling fencelines, our hero and teacher, Becky, and her workhorse of an OTTB, Can't Fire Me, laid down the gauntlet in the dressage arena and I was lucky enough to watch online as they smoothly cantered into second place, just behind the legendary Andrew Nicholson.  While they are up there, checking and double checking jump gear and legs and footing for the days ahead, I figured it was the perfect time to wrap up my training series with the last few tips from the woman herself.  Turn your sound up!

When watching other jumping lessons, I'd often noticed Becky yelling, "Keep your body between the reins!" at a rider's cantering back.  I'm a very visual person, so the concept seemed obvious enough.  I had no idea that I did not practice it!  Becky demonstrates above in a way that makes it very clear to me why you NEED to separate your eyes from your body.  I have a very hard time with this and I also am mostly unaware of it unless I specifically think about it.  After repeating our jump line while working on this concept, I immediately felt a sharper, more accurate response from Encore too!

I think we've all done it (do it!) -- as we approach a drop, we slow down so the horse has time to read the question and he is not tempted to launch at terminal velocity, leaving an unsuspecting rider on top of the bank wondering if she found a crop or lost her horse.  This often takes some, er, convincing on the rider's part, so the horse's head comes up against the rein as we "discuss" this strategy.  We then arrive at the edge of the drop with an inverted horse who then might put his head down with a snort and skid to q stop to investigate the sudden appearance of a cliff at his feet.

What we should be doing instead is using our body and balance to ask the horse to shift his weight back while we let out the rein several strides early (see above video).  This encourages him to lower his head and neck so he can see the edge and put his body in the right shape to leave the bank rounder and softer and we now have far less of a chance of catching him in the mouth.  Another one that seems obvious, yet takes thought to get done.

Finally, a conundrum I have puzzled for many years.  There is an insistent chant in the horse world that when you first mount, you MUST let your horse walk around, stretch out muscles, and not ask anything of him for X period of time.  But my horse spends 23 (often 24, ha) hours a day walking around, rolling, galloping, stretching in the field he lives in, is the prior statement not better applied to horses who are primarily stalled, standing still?  I've gone back and forth in dressage and schooling warmups and never settled on either side of the fence.  So, after watching her school one of the youngsters, I just asked.

Becky confirmed my suspicions.  PARTICULARLY if a horse lives outside for all of much of his time, he's already moving.  When you get on, it's work time.  You can have a lap to check out distractions if you need it, but after that, we pick up the reins and get to work.  Of course, you still retain your common sense -- your starting work might be in a longer frame or focusing on serpentines or other figures to supple his body, but he is still asked to immediately move forward into the bridle, step under himself, and lift his back.  And asked is the key word.  He is working towards this -- a green horse, an older horse might take longer to get there, but he still has to be trying.

Talented young RJ (Telperion) out for a test flight.
Thus endeth the Becky Diaries of 2013 and one of the richest training experiences of my life.  Becky's graciousness, eye for detail, phenomenal instincts, positive teaching approach, insistence on correctness, and systematic approach to building a horse in both strength and skill all impress me endlessly.  She deserves nothing but success and I hope that this year is her year to shine in the Rolex spotlight.  I will certainly be waiting with bated breath until Teddy clears the last jump in stadium!

I can  honestly say that Becky is probably one of the best, if not the best, instructors I have ever worked with (and that is some stiff competition), both in terms of teaching skill and compatibility with my style of learning and riding.  It was truly a gift and an honour to live and ride with her for those two weeks (although my horse was probably less excited about the Raising of the Bar), thank you, Becky.  Thank you again to everyone I met and watched and learned from, thank you to Amber for coming down and helping, thank you to Encore for showing up for work and trying his hardest every day, and thank you most of all to my mother, who made it possible.

April 21, 2013

W Is For Widiculousness

Encore:  Oooo, look trees!
In the dressage arena that is.

Encore's back was available for warmup and his body felt decent, if a bit stiff from the trailer ride.  His brain...appeared to have blown out somewhere back on Highway 1.

I worked at suppling his body and pushing his inside hind leg underneath him.  I asked for many changes of bend and tried very hard not to hang on my left rein.  Becky swung by on a big, stunning dapple grey going BN who looked ready to do Prelim Test A and she said hi; I tried not spit on myself in mortification because I already knew I was not riding at my best and my horse was spooking at camera shutters and apparently birdwatching, judging by his posture.  I can only hope she was busy riding and did not actually witness my test.  Afterwards, I actually stopped by to ask the secretary, a friend of mine, if she could post my score under a code instead of my name.  Shame.

I was unaware that he was plotting evil.
Trainwreck would be an understatement.  After trotting down centerline, Encore checked out and completely ignored my existence as he studied trees, other horses, dirt, and anything else that seemed remotely interesting.  His rider was not even close to that category.  I had zero response to leg, hand, seat, body, no bend, no push, no.thing.  I hope the judge enjoyed my downward transition to trot where I finally had to yell, "WHOA, DAMMIT!"  She tactfully wrote, "Against hand.  Rider's aids ineffective."  Ya think?  I was not in love with my horse.

I could not let that stand.  I rode back to the field behind our rig and we proceeded to have a lesson in who decides when and how and where things happen.  It took about 30 minutes, but Encore eventually ran out of evasions and realized I was just going to sit there and keep asking, so he gave in and discovered that obedience is easier.  That was when I realized that THAT was the ride I should have given him in warmup.  I'm pretty good at lessons after the fact.

I did my best to let it go, although a set of stripped out stud holes and an ineffective wrench may have led to rage-hurling said wrench across a field.  It wasn't my finest moment, although it did make me feel better for 45 seconds and since I throw like a girl, it didn't go very far; Amber had the grace to not laugh out loud and fetch it later.  Bless her.

A rather more responsive horse warmed up for XC, which was a straightforward course with some good rider balance and steering questions.  The first 3 jumps were also on the steeplechase track, which I have wanted to run on for yearrrrssss.  Oh yes, my racehorse noticed the rail and the marker poles and the oval.

Beautiful track, I finally got to run on you...
I did not put on the helmet cam, my apologies.  Time was short and I wanted to focus on my horse; additionally, post-course walk, I knew there would not be anything new or dramatic to see.  Mea culpa.  Although you might have been entertained when Encore teleported sideways when someone opened their car door (perhaps he just left his brain at home?) and I barely clung on with one calf muscle. 

Oh, and car lady, it's fine to open your door, my horse usually has no issues with that on non-idiot days and you did nothing wrong, but when someone almost gets dumped (on their already trashed leg) as you do, it's common courtesy to apologize and at least ask if they are ok instead of squawking, "OMG!"  Just sayin'.

We made it to about jump 7 or 8 when I could feel my horse was developing some muscle-tiredness behind.  He was jumping very well, boldly and honestly, but between jumps, I had a cinder block at the end of my reins.  Today I feel like I was dragged behind a truck!

It was good mileage for him though.  Encore was excellent over a log two strides from the first big water and really showed off our improved "down" skills off a big drop.  The following jump was the baby sunken road, so the ground dropped sharply behind a log pile fence and he is still leery of leaping when he cannot see the landing.  He did stop in front of it, but I insisted and he climbed over (it wasn't very big) without taking a step backwards (GOOD BOY!) so we were able to finish with no penalties except for two seconds of time.  Which was a result of my having to pulley-rein him in a circle mid-course and make him trot down a very steep hill so we would not roll down it instead.  :\

As we crossed between the finish flags, I knew I had a tired horse and I felt in a couple of lead swaps that he had developed some butt soreness.  It was not a difficult decision to just withdraw, call it a day, and head home.  There was nothing to be gained by staying overnight and jumping a flat, ugly stadium course -- that kind of mileage I can do without, thank you. 

In the end, it was not a total loss.  We were pushing our timeline between his back injections and the event, so I am not surprised his muscles tired early.  I hope that a few more weeks of slow, steady work on some hills and the lines will bring him back to solid.

Sure I caaan be round, but...oh look, pony!
There were good lessons:  I need to push harder in warmup, take more time, and bloody well RIDE, no matter what anyone else is doing.  Encore got in a much needed XC run and handily answered all questions, with only one minor hiccup.  So my entry fee was not wasted and hey, even with all that, we still weren't last!

I will employ some Advil and enjoy an unexpected Sunday break crammed between two weeks of work travel and fish rodeos.  Encore can rest and we will resume our work at a slower pace later in the week.

To come:  the promised unveiling of a surprise at the event.  Better pictures need to be procured to do justice to said surprise.  Trust me, you will be filled with want. 

Last but not at all least:  THANK YOU, Amber, for being an expert team crew despite my dressage tantrums (I did not eat or drink enough, bad bad event blood sugar rule breaking!) and stud struggles.  You are truly awesome and I am so so so grateful to have had your help!

April 19, 2013

Just Keep It Clean

That is my goal for this weekend, as Encore and I head out to compete at Longleaf Pines Horse Trials.  It may be our only recognized horse trials this year; medical bills and other things demand my meager resources.  But Longleaf has always been my favourite, for some reason, so I entered it anyway.

Do this plz.
With the generous help of the Amazing Amber and lodging thanks to the Awesome Alison, we will be attempting  to make centerline resemble something straight-ish as I remember to breathe and Encore banishes all thoughts of llamas at 1:09 pm on Saturday.  After our mandatory sandbox prancing pattern, we'll shed our drab accoutrements and gear up for the start box at 3:46 pm.  Stadium jumping will be Sunday in reverse order of placing.

I also have a very cool surprise to show you -- it shall be making its unveiling tomorrow!

Everyone's ride times and an approximate show jumping schedule can be found here.  I know I will be keeping on eye on Becky and RJ (Telperion) in Training!

You can follow us (although if I have a giant brain absentia incident, just pretend you didn't...) on the live scores here.

Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in...butterfly!