Monday, April 12, 2010

The Fork...Playing with the Big Boys

What a weekend! The Fork always promises to be an exciting weekend, filled with top-notch competitors and freakishly amazing XC courses. For DGE the weekend started on Thursday, where I skipped classes (without an ounce of guilt), packed up, and drove an hour over to Norwood. Unfortunately my perfect planning was thwarted by the lack of grain in the barn's feed room, so I had to wait an extra couple of hours while the barn owner was out getting grain for the entire barn. So much for getting there early. I pulled into the Fork around 7 pm, threw tack on the boys and got quick mini-lessons on the boys (practically in the dark). Oh well, it was better than nothing.

Dressage day dawned bright, early, and HOT HOT HOT. And when I say HOT i mean 90 degrees in April hot. Deacon was up first with a dressage time around 1 pm. He warmed up GREAT...his trot work was really great and he was incredibly obedient. Unfortunately he was peaked to go into the ring about 15 minutes before our actual the time i went down centerline Deacon was DONE. We went for our first halt at"x" and...hi-ho silver. "Quite an exciting entrance" was the judge's comment. Unfortunately the rest of the test was off-and-on amazing...moments of greatness around moments where I wanted to jump into a pool and hide. Sigh. Next time.

I was really excited for Willy's dressage test - he was been putting in some beautiful work lately and I couldn't wait to show it off. But there was a twist (like always). The intermediate dressage had the longest walk known to man - and it happens to be the same way as XC ( you actually walk past xc) and since we have been here before Willy was VERY excited about doing xc first - complete with nervous poops and lunges into the air. When i finally got down to the dressage arena, it took every second of warmup just to get Willy to half-way listen to my aids. Our test was only halfway decent, accurate but very tense...can you say tight pony back? We received a not-so-great score, leaving us in 12th place for the night.

Saturday was cross-country day for Willy. The course was BIG, technical, and looked to be a great prep for Jersey. Willy shot out of the box like a little fireball, and never looked back. We were the last combination on course so I had the advantage of seeing just where the trouble spots were. The first water combination was causing a lot of trouble, but the pony jumped it perfectly. The announcer, Brian O'Connor kept commenting how smooth our round was - and how "you can't help but feel sentiment for this pair" (commenting on his show name "Wil'Ya Love Me"). We have it all on camera... it was a run that was just perfect. Willy never put a foot wrong, was an eager beaver to every fence, and .... FAST! We acquired only 2.4 time penalties, jumping from 12th to 5th. Willy's show jumping round on Sunday was also phenomenal. He jumped absolutely beautifully, but we had an unlucky rail...which kept us from moving to 2nd place. With the rail we ended up in 4th...not too shabby, but we definitely have our work cut out for us.

Deacon show jumped on Saturday. He was jumping absolutely great in warm-up, so I was ready to attack the very technical course. Rails were flying everywhere, and the two riders before us went off course...not a good thing to have happen! We went in the ring, and I committed the cardinal sin...rode completely backwards to the 3rd fence..down. To the 7th fence...down. Finally i remembered to use my legs and relax my elbows...and he jumped the rest of the course beautifully, having a green-bean moment in the triple - another rail down. Certainly not our best performance, but it was a growing experience... changing the round midway is a difficult task, and we accomplished that. Now we need to practice our half-halts and go forward to the fences.

The cross country was really big and technical for preliminary. The course started with fence 2 and 3 as maxed out tables...not much time to get a good gallop established. Deacon really surprised me this weekend. He galloped out of the box and really attacked these fences. We missed our distance to both max tables, and i just looked up, kept my leg on, and baby Deacon made it work. Not beautiful, but successful. This great momentum continued until the first water. I was really concerned about the "B" element...a skinny turtle out of the water. I got all up in his business, trying to establish a forward, bouncy canter (as planned) but forgot to say "jump" over the "A" element. Deacon very nicely came to a stop, turned his head and looked at me saying, "I don't understand you mom, but I did what you asked me." Darn. We came around again and he jumped the combination with ease. The rest of the course was great! Corners, drops, ditches, no problem! I was most concerned with the second water...a big drop in, 7 strides to a goose...all right next to the spectator tent. Deacon didn't hesitate for a second...did a huge leap into the water, almost sent me flying, and stayed completely straight as I pulled myself back into the saddle, and popped right over the goose. He got lots of carrots and cookies for that save! Despite our "opps" moments, I really feel Deacon is ready to tackle the CCI* at Virginia. We will be working really hard to increase his level of fitness and earn that final qualifying score.

DGE will be heading to Longleaf with one horse (Deacon) in the preliminary, then both horses will be running at MCTA. After MCTA, Willy and I head up to Jersey Fresh! Until then, I have a LOT of homework to catch up with!

Keep Kicking!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Blonde Moments

Southern Pines II

Southern Pines is undoubtedly a destination event in North Carolina. The courses have always been very demanding, the competition fierce, and the hospitality very much representing southern comfort. My original plan was to arrive Thursday afternoon and have two flat lessons from coach. Of course homework/class obligations prevented this from happening so I arrived at the horse park in the early afternoon on Friday.

Deacon was the first to go of the day. We are really working on improving our collection, steadiness, and obedience. Like many warmbloods, Deacon likes to have several seconds to contemplate the correct response to my aids...which can make transitions late and 10-meter circles egg-shaped. At home his work is steadily improving (without any outside help), but it is always a challenge to duplicate this work in the arena. I was very pleased with his performance, his trot work was excellent. Very smooth and supple, a vast improvement from Full Gallop. The canter work was obedient though not as remarkable as it could be...especially when compared to the other horses in open preliminary. Regardless I was incredibly pleased with his work! :) For Deacon, show jumping was on Saturday. It was a really tough course... BIG fences and interesting distances. The course required a positive, forward ride...and we delivered! Deacon jumped a beautiful clean round. We definitely have the "forward" part, now we have to conquer the forward with balance/half halting/finesse. Details, right? The cross country course was not up to the typical "Southern Pines" standards...attributed to the change in course designers. It was a great course and rode very smooth, but not many technical elements or max tables. Despite the lack of max fences, there were several "potential problems" on course. The first was a downhill turn to a sunken road, the second a turning combination through the barn, and finally the water combination. The pressure has been on Deacon and I as we need one more qualification to officially enter the CCI* at Virginia. Of course we had no problems at preliminary until i noticed we needed four not three clean runs. Anyway, the pressure was on for a clean clean clean clean round. We started the course great, Deacon was jumping boldly and confidently over much so that I took what I shall call a "blonde moment" at the sunken road... I mean, the horse was going reason to ride all-out towards it? WRONG. Deacon very nicely came to a halt in front of the combination, wondering what on earth I was doing up there. Pilot error to the maximum! I came around again, somewhat bewildered that i had a spot, upset at myself that I allowed this to happen...all the while not thinking about the combination --- so we had a second stop. I decided to attempt the fence a third time, figuring that the rest of the course would be a great growing experience for us - if I could just ride over this small jump. With a cowboy-type method, we finished the combination and flew over the rest of the course, answering all the questions with ease and experience well beyond my baby horse's resume. Despite my pilot errors, I could not help but smile as we crossed the finish line. Sometimes half the battle is changing things mid-way. If you have a not-so-wonderful round, or a problem... the hardest part (in my opinion) is to change the momentum. Well, we managed to do that! It is too bad that the end result is on Deacon's resume...too bad we cannot put an asterisk saying "rider locked hands, spaced out, and took leg off so the horse listened and stopped very gentlemanly."

Willy started out the weekend with a respectable dressage test. Nothing fancy, nothing horrible. We had a bit of a panic moment, when we realized that I had memorized the wrong intermediate test... two rides out. So scratch warming up, I stood next to the ring and memorized the test patterns, and somehow pulled it off! I have been getting steadily closer to relaxation in Willy's back...and it was noticeable in his canter work. Now to just translate that into his trot day! Cross country was just odd. The course was very straight forward filled with gallop fences and one incredibly technical turning combination - the first question of the course. I saw the direct route immediately, confident that the pony and I could easily pull off the technical turn. To validate my decision I asked both Sharon White and Holly Hepp how they were jumping the combination...both were taking the direct route. As Willy and I galloped confidently to the combination, we took a huge jump over the A element, and both of us focused in on the advanced corner straight ahead rather than the intermediate "B" and "C" elements 90 degrees to our right. 20 penalty points right there. A reality check. The rest of the course rode smoothly and fairly easily, although I was kicking myself (again) for my blunder. A BEAUTIFUL, nearly perfect (and coach doesn't say that often) show jumping round on Sunday placed us in 13th.

While Southern Pines was not the ideal event, it really was a learning experience. Coach reminded me of several key habits I need to break: (1) Blonde moments... I need to walk XC courses at least twice, really walking myself through each and every stride. Knowing exactly what I should be doing (2) Micro-Managing. I like to be in charge of everything - from bathing to braiding to tacking up. The same is true for my riding. I like to find all the distances and determine everything. This control freak syndrome needs to stop. I have to allow my horses to think for themselves and answer the course's questions with my supportive aids (3) Elastic elbows. I have a tendency to lock my elbows in place, which in turn locks my horse's shoulders and back. DUH! These three elements are so easily correctable on paper, and even in reviewing my rider... but darn are they hard to fix when remembering everything else in the middle of a course! It gives me plenty to practice before the Fork....