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....

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