Thursday, November 11, 2010

The End of Event Season

Hello everyone!

After the fabulous weekend that was Waredaca, I decided to run the horses at one last outing before retiring for the winter to jumper and dressage shows. I have not had the pleasure of competing at Rubicon for several years (4+), because normally November means things at Wake Forest were in full swing. However what I remember of Rubicon: dressage arenas (yay), a crazy difficult show jumping, and a really great XC track. My memory served me fairly well, because that was exactly what we got.

I entered the event late, so Zoe was the only horse to get in right off the bat. Her dressage has been getting consistent, which is a huge accomplishment for her. Because her flat work needed so much attention, I have not really gotten to address a great deal of her jumping problems. We had one jump school, gridwork, in-between Waredaca and Rubicon and it was not pretty. We had several "discussions" about how to properly jump, aka not launch ourselves over the fences. The problem with Zoe is that she is so athletic and intelligent, that once she goes through an exercise once or figures out a course, she becomes bored and unimpressed. While it would be great to raise the fences to training height, she does not use her hind-end well enough to warrant bigger fences. The problem with jumping green, talented horses too big is that they really don't comprehend how to use their body - and god forbid you get into a situation where you really need the horse to pull through for you (such as getting too close to a solid xc fence, or combination), they have to idea what to do and crash through the fence. So Zoe's jumping is in a bit of a catch-22 now, and unfortunately it showed at Rubicon. Her dressage, again, steadily improved. The ring was running a bit late - information I did not realize - so I was on her quite a bit longer than I would have liked. But Zoe held it together pretty well, and put in a steady test earning - another 36. While I would have liked better from her, the competition in that ring was ridiculous. Many of the novice horses I saw were steady in first level frames...i thought this was NOVICE! It just goes to show you how competitive our area is, and how imperative the dressage phase is these days. The show jumping was ridiculous. Rails were flying everywhere. It was really tough for the younger, inexperienced horses to deal with the hills that were in the middle of the course. In typical Zoe fashion, she started off quite alert and picking up her toes. When we got to fence four (a vertical set right at the edge of the downhill slope), she fumbled over that, then the next fence she didn't quite regain her balance in time. Two more rails came down after that - albeit these were not "green" mistakes, they were symptoms of her being completely unimpressed by the fences. That is one thing we need to work on - giving Zoe a conscience. She was completely unphased on her lackluster performance. After that dismal show jumping, I decided it would be a great learning experience if we went cross country in open fronts. A good wack on a solid fence is a great tool for the green-beans. As per usual, Zoe's cross country was spectacular. We had several not-so-pretty fences, where she deemed my half-halts not necessary. Her performance through the water was nothing less than spectacular. She had one of the best rides through there I had seem all day! After cooling out the little princess, it was time to run back home to see my best friend from elementary/middle school get married! The busy weekend was only getting started...

Thankfully, I received a phone call from the secretary on Friday that there was a spot for Deacon in the training horse division! I really wanted to get Deacon in for a second run since completing his treatment to show that he really is back to being his wonderful self. The bad news...dressage ride at 7:54 am, two hours away. Ick. After my alarm went off at 2:30 am for the second day in a row, I was so relieved this was the last event of the year. Imagine sleeping until 6 on weekends. How lovely! So Deacon warmed up great, a little testy (he does not approve of early mornings) but nevertheless he was steady and consistent as per usual. He went in the ring and put forth a really nice effort - a little rusty, but a good effort. He was 5th after dressage with a 34! Not too shabby! After the fiasco in show jumping the day before I was quite worried. Since Deacon is for sale there are always people watching, or looking at his record so it becomes essential that he put in solid performances. We went into the ring and he gave me a FABULOUS round. So much so that I thought we had done it - the only clean round of the division. But I just didn't get enough of a half-halt in on the last combination and he pulled the top rail of the last fence! Darn-it! Oh well, I couldn't have been happier with my horse, he really gave me everything and managed the terrain quite well! It is so nice to have him back and game for anything! Cross country was really challenging. The course started out nicely with two gallop fences, but it was difficult to get into a rhymn because right off the back you had a sharp right turn, and two fences within 8 strides. Deacon was a bit sticky to those, but with a little smack of encouragement, took off down the hill into the woods after fence 2. Fence three was a skinny right out of the woods that Deacon took in stride, much straighter than the first two. Then came what I thought was the hardest question on course. A sharp right turn to a skinny, open bottomed roll-top type fence, two strides down a large drop, sharp turn right up the hill. I saw my distance 5 strides out, sat up, leg on, and smack of encouragement -- over and down we went. Perfectly done by my baby horse! The rest of the course was beautiful, with the exception of a little bobble at the is called steering Courtney!! He finished the event clean and fast, in a tie for 3rd. Because I didn't know I was tied, i lost the tie and was deemed a 4th place finisher. Regardless, I am so happy that I have my horse back! I wish the season was just getting started for him, he is ready to move back up to prelim tomorrow!

Once again the competition showed me just were my horses are progressing, and where their weaknesses still remain. I can't be disappointed because both horses really gave me their all on XC, which gave me a great big smile for the long drive home. It was really great to get Zoe competitive at this level, because her flatwork and perspective on life have come so far! She still has ways to go, but in three short months, anyone can see the dramatic progress she has made. Just look at the difference in her hind-end!

Deacon was the most fun I have had on XC in a while. I was able to forget the pressures of having to have a clear round, and just enjoyed the experience with my horse, a horse I produced from his first competition. Having him be such an eager-beaver on XC and so honest in show jumping really emphasize to me how much this horse must have been hurting this past year. It was such a blow to my riding that I was not able to get Deacon around a course for so long, I was beginning to think there was some huge gap in my riding style. But the horse I had this past weekend showed me just what a great job I did bringing him along, correctly and slowly. There is a part of me that hopes he will not find a new home, so I can take him to a one-star this spring.

Anyway, Deacon and Zoe will be joining Willy in a semi-vacation for the week, then back to work. We will be at the Green Spring Hounds jumper show at Shawan Downs or some extra show jumping practice. Willy is coming back into work this week as well, because I was able to schedule a dressage lesson with Scott Hassler for Nov. 24th - and we have to start learning how to do changes on demand for the Advanced tests! I think Willy will be much happier to have a job again, maybe he will even let me catch him!

Until next post!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Raise Your Glass!

As the eventing season comes to a close and things are slowing down, I have precious moments of downtime where I can reflect on the past year. What I accomplished, and where I came up short. This year was a turning point for me, both riding wise and in my life out of the saddle.

My initial goals this year were to complete a CCI** and successfully complete some advanced level horse trials with Willy, while campaigning Deacon at the preliminary/CCI* level. Unfortunately with injuries and minor setbacks I was only able to achieve some of these tremendous feats, but I am still overflowing with pride for my boys.

Willy became a very competitive intermediate horse. Since I am no longer able to compete in young rider divisions, we really had to step up our game to be competitive in the open divisions against the country's best riders and horses. With the help of new trainers Scott Hassler (Hassler Dressage) and Colleen Rutledge we have produced scored consistently in the mid 30s. Another positive - intermediate doesn't look so big anymore! Even on a pony! Willy and I have consistently had very smooth cross country and show jumping rounds, and we are ready for more. While Fair Hill was a bust for the goal of completing a CCI**, we did cross the finish line on cross country day. And our mistakes were mine - which can be fixed! I let the words "Fair Hill" intimidate me along with the mental setback of hearing of my old coach Sharon White falling right as I entered warmup. Hearing of a horrible fall for a veteran rider such as Sharon, made me question my own qualifications. Thankfully it looks like Sharon is recovering well.

While Fair Hill did not end as I would have liked, I have to focus on the perfect weekend that was Plantation CIC** where Willy placed 5th! He had his best dressage score to date in an FEI competition, 58.4, jumped clean and fast cross country, and clean in show jumping on Sunday. It was quite a surreal weekend, I had several long-time friends come and watch Willy and I on cross country day which made the experience all that more enjoyable. So as Willy goes into his month of trail riding and hacking (until Thanksgiving) I am still in disbelief on how far this little pony has come. We had numerous top placings at Intermediate, a top 5 finish at an FEI competition, a 6-page article in Chronicle of the Horse, winning the 2009 USEF McKenna trophy, achieving my HA rating, and overcoming yet another injury.

The hopes for Willy over the winter are to continue working on his flatwork with Scott, getting him ready for his Advanced level debut at the Pine Top Advanced HT in February! We haven't solidified plans for which FEI events we will run, at this point it is one day at a time. We will also continue to take lessons with Jimmy Wofford, and hoping to add the likes of Kim Severson and Sally Cousins in that mix as well.

Poor Deacon. While I thought our problems would be solved with corrective shoeing, it turns out that Deacon tested off the charts positive for lymes! Poor thing! We finally began treating him in September, and just recently he competed in the Waredaca Horse Trials at Training Level and WON! We got to the event with very little warmup time - just enough to canter to warmup and trot around the dressage ring twice - and in we went! He gave me a workmanlike test, if not a WOW test - it was consistent, not fancy like he should be. Regardless he was 5th after dressage (can't complain there) in the open training division, and gave me a fabulous XC run. Sadly we were held for 35 minutes inbetween fences 5AB (the swale) and 6 (the drop). He was such a good boy, i just dropped my reins and kept walking him in a circle, and after our mini-break, he came right back to work over a very tough course! It was really really great to have my old horse back, I haven't had a XC run like that on Deacon since March! I don't think he will be able to get into Rubicon, so I think he will end on Waredaca and continue training through the winter (since he had so much time off during the summer). If he does not sell this winter, it is back up to prelim when the Aiken circuit comes around! And plans are to run a CIC* then a CCI*.

My horse in training, Zoe, has come such a long way in just two short months. She is one of the most difficult horses I have ever ridden, but she is also one of the most talented. She like to curl and brace her neck in a seahorse frame, instead of reaching down to the contact. With each day she is getting more and more consistent in her flatwork...but boy has it been a trying couple of months! Her jumping form is quite good, although she really did not understand how to use her hindend properly, and was just relying on her athletic ability to coast over fences. By making her slow things down to a trot, she has learned the invaluable lesson of rocking back and pushing at the base of fences. She will still have an awkward jump every now and again, but on the whole she really is coming around. But the best thing about this horse is taking her XC. She is fabulous and quite fearless, almost to a fault. She is ready for training level xc, but her flatwork and show jumping need to be solidifed so she will end the season at novice at Rubicon...but coming off of a 3rd place finish at Waredaca! Not too shabby! Her dressage scores have become consistently in the low to mid 30s! We are making progress!

Well it is getting on 10:30, and I haven't gotten on any horses more news will be coming soon!