Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Heart of Gold

I would like to start by saying, by the grace of God and the kindness of a lot of people, I have completed my FIRST USEA TRAINING LEVEL HORSE TRIALS!!!!!!!! (x infinity)

But...it could have just as easily gone the other way. Hence why I must credit my horse with the success of our first Training together rather than myself. Yes, I gave him a good ride most of the weekend. But one little mistake COULD have ended our weekend if not for his catlike reflexes and big, big heart.

It was a hellacious weekend, weather-wise. We got down on Thursday to a beautiful, balmy 80 degrees. By Intermediate dressage time on Friday, we were close to floating away (okay, maybe that's a BIT of an exaggeration) and cross-country was moved to Saturday. The big boys (Monkee and Lardy) had good dressage tests that day and even though I was exhausted that night, I had no idea how tough Saturday would be.

Going into details of the difficulty of staying organized when you are solely grooming four horses who are doing cross-country/stadium/dressage all on one day PLUS riding your own horse would be a long, boring spiel that I won't subject you to *wink* Let's just say I've learned a lot about grooming for an event rider in the past year and a half and I'm grateful that I've figured out how to balance everything without panicking. Everyone jumped super, ESPECIALLY Lardy in his first Intermediate (he was definitely the star of the weekend).

I think I've talked about how frustrating my dressage warm-up has been in the past with Pop. I always get on too early and end up running out of (his) energy by the time we enter at A. So this time, I had my 20 minutes planned out perfectly. No rush. Except they were running ahead. Yeah, go figure. After a few minutes of tense, stuck trot/canter in the muddy warm-up my number was called. I could have and SHOULD have deferred until my ride time. However, I was frazzled, exhausted, and forgot to even check my watch, so I trotted over hurriedly, praying that by some miracle he would go into the ring instantly through and forward and perfect.


Well, we had a very stuck test. Not as bad as it could have been, he was willing in his transitions and for the most part was doing as I asked. Of course, being frazzled and focusing on getting him to just soften for just a second (please, Poppers, please), I forgot my test. I tried to just smile at the judge and pick back up where I had left off, but my perfectionist side came out in full force and I just wanted to crawl into the tack stall and throw a pity party. I felt SO dumb. I should have run through my test mentally that morning, I should have been more prepared in my warm-up, I should have had the ability to ride through my issues in the short warm-up I'd had, I should have been like EVERYONE else (funny how your mind can exaggerate things when you're upset) and had a perfect dressage test because my horse is experienced and accomplished and surely I'm just not worthy of him.

This side of me RARELY comes out anymore. I've learned that doing the best you can with what you have that day is the best attitude you can have, because otherwise you're ALWAYS setting yourself up for failure. I've learned to not beat myself up, to learn from every mistake, and to always appreciate the effort my horse has made, even if it's not his best. At home, this attitude is always prevalent. But there's something about being in front of a bunch of accomplished riders and horses that just made me lose my confidence in myself and more than anything, I was just pouting.

Looking back, I shouldn't have let nerves take over. I shouldn't have hurried him. I should have requested a few more minutes until my actual ride time and I should have gone into the ring on a positive note. In the end, I did learn from my mistakes, and I hopefully will improve on them next time. I think the dressage is the toughest portion of the horse trial for a lot of eventers, and I am no exception. It gives me a lot to work on at home, a lot to learn, and lots of goals to accomplish. I feel better about it now. My test comments were constructive and I will study them a lot during the next few weeks. And Pop is none the worse for the wear :)

So our stadium time wasn't until 6 p.m. Yeah. By that point I almost didn't want to bother. Boy, am I glad I did. I had SO much fun. He was fabulous. He NEVER touches a fence. I can bury him, I can take a flyer, I can fall all over his neck and he never misses a beat. We had a great round except for one fence in the double, where I softened my hands too much and he got a bit strung out. We headed back to the barn ready to rock and roll the next afternoon.

First of all, disclaimer. I've never done a drop into water in a competition, never mind TWO drops into water, one of which had a bank out and two strides to a house.

Pop was bouncing all over the place as we went into the start box. Countdown began, I set my watch, and off we went. As each fence approached I actually managed to hear Charlie's words from the course walk. Fence 3 had a very downhill landing, and we hit our close spot PERFECTLY. He was dead on to everything. When we reached fence 11a and b, I realized that even though he had been flying, we were about 30 seconds down on time. I know I shouldn't have worried about it, but it was in the back of my mind and I really wanted to try to make time. He picked it up, but we took a few flyers and by the time we reached the second water combination, and he launched in, I wasn't prepared at ALL for the rebalancing we needed before the "out".


By all means, he should have fallen. Or at the very least, run out at the C element two strides away.

But I picked my head up and clucked, and he picked himself up and popped right over the C element and flew to the final fence.

This is why we choose event horses based on their heart more than anything else. Because a split second decision gone wrong can be the end of your weekend. We need our partners to have the heart and the courage to keep going. To save our butts. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this horse will do everything in his power to keep us from getting hurt or getting in trouble. I trust him completely now. And that is worth more to me than any ribbon, any success on the scoreboard. Because of his heart of gold, I can say that I COMPLETED MY FIRST USEA TRAINING LEVEL HORSE TRIAL.

Thanks, Poppers.

See our other show photos here and feel free to let me know your favorite. I'm going to purchase at least one once my tax refund comes in!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

XC Schooling, Show Pics and Why I Shouldn't Ride When I'm Swamped

Hey guys! We leave for Pine Top tomorrow morning with four horses, including Poppers, so this week has been BUSY to say the least. As I'm now nursing a migraine and upset stomach (probably shouldn't be blogging) I'm ready to just get in the bed and try to get a good night's sleep. But first...

We went XC schooling yesterday and Pop was awesome. He was totally gung-ho and bucked after every jump. His bucks are more like spastic hops, but funny http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifnonetheless. We schooled a ditch and some wahttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifter, including a log 2 strides to a bank down into water, which looked pretty man-eating and terrifying when I was riding to it, but on the video doesn't look nearly as imposing:

He was super and I feel really confident about this weekend. I'm finally learning to trust him. He's going to try no matter what, so I just need to focus on riding my best and making his job easier. I can't believe I'm (God willing) finally going to go Training! At a recognized USEA horse trials!

And professional photos from the pipe opener can be found here. I am THRILLED with my dressage pictures. He looks like he's really going forward! And my position is less hunched and crumpled that in previous photos. Do you guys see an improvement? I just have to remember to ride him the same way this weekend.

So I was literally swamped today, to the point where I don't know if I'll ever actually be DONE tonight. I get stressed very easily especially when I'm tired, and I struggled to fit in a quick ride on Pop this afternoon...and my impatience and anxiety reminded me that I really, really shouldn't ride when I'm like this. Luckily for me, Pop is forgiving, and after a terrible first few minutes we started working together like a team. I was light in my hands, he was light in his jaw, and he was quite a bit "up" today, so I had a horse more like the one he is at shows. I have two days to ride him at the show grounds before our dressage test Saturday so I didn't do a lot with him, about 30 minutes of w/t/c with lots of circles and changes of direction. He wanted to put his hips left today (which is the opposite of usual), mainly because he was spooking at the Pop-killing bush in the corner, so I had to really work at keeping him straight with BOTH reins (good reminder for me) and keeping his jaw soft at all times. He was good.

Time to get back to packing, and hopefully bed is in the near future! Wish us luck this weekend, I will attempt to blog from my phone! :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Happy Saturday!

Just got home from our little schooling CT and although I am exhausted and have a huge headache, I am so happy with how things went today! Pop was so good! I think I feel pretty ready for our first Training HT next weekend. Our dressage warm up was much more spot on today, as far as timing goes, and yet (almost as if to say HA!) the same issue started happening right before we went in the ring. I opted at that point to just post through my test…as fantastic as it feels to sit his beautiful swinging trot when I have it, if I try to sit when he’s leaning on my hands and not going forward it just makes him ten times worse. So..I posted, and carried a whip, and tried to keep riding, riding, riding. Man, every single time I trot into the ring I am like “Oh shoot…this is a lot smaller than I remember.” Everything comes up so fast. Mentally, I tried to be on top of each movement and try to ride every stride, but it still felt rushed to me, and I could feel him hanging on my right rein and put his haunches right…and wasn’t having much success correcting it. An intelligent me would have to remembered to use my outside rein to straighten him a bit, and to encourage more LEFT bend tracking left (oh yeah…you’re not supposed to counterbend to the right IN THE RING….just at home to help you with the haunches. Silly.) But the real me did not, and so even though I felt like his forward button was much improved and our accuracy was better, we got several comments about me using too much right rein (let go, dummy). Alas…our score was much improved from our last test (last test was a 36)…a 25.5! Which, strangely enough, was only putting us in 5th place, but alas.
Our stadium was delayed about 45 minutes so by the time we needed to start warming up, my darling boots had officially cut off the circulation to the foot I broke last summer and when we started jumping I just couldn’t make my leg work. I would generally panic at that moment but I’m learning to trust that this horse is super careful and super game, and I’m not going to die or crash, and everything will be okay. So I headed on in. This was the result:

Comments are welcome. It felt super. He was dead on, he tried his guts out, and it was a BIG training course. Everyone commented that it was bigger than 3’3”…I don’t know if that was true but it did ride a little tougher than the past two courses we’ve done. Nevertheless, we did it! I am so elated. GOOD BOY!
On another note, BooBoo had his (drum roll please) FIRST RIDE BACK today. He was super. A little weak on that right stifle but that’s to be expected, and he was patient and willing and perfect. Video evidence of the perfection:

Thanks for reading…looking forward to your comments! Have a super rest of your Saturday!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mourning as life moves on...

I don't like to get philosophical on here because this blog is about the horses, and not my personal life...but personal tragedies on two levels have greatly affected the last day and a half, and human suffering has been a huge whirlwind subject in my mind. My faith in our Lord is strong, and absolute, but my understanding of losing loved ones (human and animal) is one of those things that trips me up. I can explain a lot of things away, and for the things I can't, my faith keeps my resolve strong...but when it comes to losing those which we love so much, I can't reason, and even my faith seems to waver a bit. Not my faith in God Himself, but my faith in this life, my faith in joy.

I don't want to delve far into this, at all. I just needed to write it down. And the thing is, there ISN'T an answer, or an explanation for why things happen. No one has it. No amount of kind words or inspirational thinking or positive energy can make it "okay", reconcile it in my brain and in my heart.

*sigh* in other news...I had a crummy flat school on the Pop Star today, which is not my ideal prep for our CT tomorrow...but I'm chalking it up to me being exhausted and sore in my back (from my mid morning gallop on Ardy!). Sometimes I just get on and know I won't be on my "A" game. This was one of those days. I just stopped trying to ride through it and took him home...it wasn't his fault and we were getting very frustrated with one another. Poor munchkin. Hopefully I can actually sleep tonight and be a better rider for him tomorrow. I really, really want to improve our dressage score tomorrow. I want a good, forward, light test. I'm carrying a whip with me and using it if I need to.

Keep your fingers crossed for us. I don't care about ribbons, I just want to feel like our excellent work at home is actually being utilized in the ring.

Also...Edward had his first ride on U.S. soil today!

Yay! What a smart little man. I adore him.

Wish us luck tomorrow...I'm hoping to have someone film my test and my SJ round. Have a great Friday night, everyone!
God Bless!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Exciting Happenings

Two VERY exciting things happened between 10 p.m. last night and 12 noon today.

One, Edward arrived!!! He finally got here a little after 10 p.m. and was incredibly calm and sweet unloading and settling in. Got my first real look at him this morning and am infatuated. He is GORGEOUS. And when I jogged him for C, I could barely keep up with his trot (and I have really, really long legs). He ate all his breakfast, got his teeth floated, and went out in the front paddock like a gentleman. I was getting Guppy tacked up for a jump school when I heard hoofbeats. Looked up and there was Edward, looking pleased with himself. Yes, he did jump out of the field. After a momentary panic attack I figured he must have just gotten excited and we tried again. He managed to stay confined for the rest of the day *wink*. He is SUCH a people horse. Always in your pockets, always happy and excited to see you. Can’t wait to get to know him a little better tomorrow. Today was a crazy day schedule wise and I didn’t have much chance to look him over or clean him up at all.

Here he is in the field. Doesn’t he have the most adorable face?

The OTHER exciting thing (perhaps even MORE exciting than Edward) is that Booboo went back to work today! I lunged him for about 20 minutes and not only was he moving beautifully but we didn’t hear any noises that would suggest his tieback surgery was unsuccessful. He is SUCH a fancy boy…he has so much talent and I truly hope we’re over the speed bumps and now his career can actually get going. Wait ‘til people see what this boy can do!

Short lunging video:

C rode Pop today and he was quite good. I trotted him yesterday and he was wild, which translated into willing forwardness (nice break for my legs!).I concentrated on keeping his walk marching during our warm-up hack, and when we got to the field he was ready to go to work. I did lots of trot, a bit of leg yield in each direction, some 10 meter circles (moving the haunches out when tracking right and counter-bending a bit when tracking left), did a bunch of walk/canter transitions (concentrating on being soft on my right rein), and then stood up and let him gallop a little bit (to remember what it feels like). Then he stretched in the trot and walked home briskly but quietly. It was a good little workout for both of us…and my new helmet was amazing. NO HEADACHE.

Also a picture of my beautiful Monkee from today:

That’s all the “big” news in my neck of the woods…Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pine Top Wrap Up

Finally home safe and sound! I love going on the road but nothing beats coming home to my kitties. The first thing I did after unloading the horses was go see BooBoo and snuggle w his cute self. :)

It was a good day, despite waking up to a 16 degree windchill. We all bundled up as much as possible and headed down to the barn. The times were delayed by 1 1/2 hours because of the ice in the water jumps, but finally it was Monkee's turn. He warmed up super and then we went through our usual coaxing to get him into the start box. He has a fear of start boxes and it's very difficult to get him in one...so he left the box a few seconds late but boy did he make up for it. He flew around the course, jumping every fence like it was in the hunter ring. And man, what a gallop he has! He flew home with only a handful of time penalties and wasnt even breathing hard. He grabbed a chunk of his hoof but was otherwise perfectly unscathed and happy as a clam.

Ardy had a fabulous round and is absolutely ready for his move up to Intermediate in 2 weeks! He's such an exciting horse to have in the barn...everything is so easy for him. He's like a big fat pony in the barn, which makes it even more unbelievable the amount of ability he has.

So it was a good day and a great event overall. A positive outing for both boys before the season starts to really get going. :-D

I'm completely wiped out and headed for my warm bed, but had such a fun weekend! Wish me luck dealing w the bitter cold tomorrow! God Bless!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Pine Top Day 1 update!

Well, technically day 2 since we arrived yesterday. The boys traveled great and I managed to drive the motor home with no issues! It was actually pretty fun. Both the boys had a flat school and several hand walks yesterday and seemed to settle in fine. The crew had a super time eating out at Mexican and we returned to the camper happy but exhausted. Despite our 5:40 am wake up time, Lizzie and I were pumped at 1 am when she got the call that her new horse had arrived safely from Ireland! Can't wait to meet him or our new guy, who may be home as early as tomorrow night!

So the day started early and thanks to Lizzie's help, I had plenty of time to longe Monkee and braid him before Ardy's test. Both boys could have had better tests but since it's the first event of the year, we'll take it. They both show jumped like absolute superstars though, so I'm proud of them.

We just finished walking the xc for tomorrow and after catching a few glimpses of the Training fences that Pop and I will be jumping in two weeks, I feel like I might be a wreck I know he'll be fine but man, they didn't used to be that big, did they?!? I'm such a chicken!

Hoping for an early bedtime tonight and relief from this brutal wind! Hoping the boys have good runs tomorrow! Have a great Saturday!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Final Jump Schools and YAY NEW HELMET!

First of all....YAY NEW HELMET!

I've been wearing my trusty Charles Owen J3 for 2 years now, and while I love it and think it's the best cross-country helmet EVER, it gives me horrible headaches and forehead creases when I wear it with my hair up in a hairnet...which I do every single time I ride. I've been dealing with it but had asked for a new helmet for Christmas. Long story short, it arrived today!!!!! My amazing family bought me a CO Gr8 helmet in Midnight/Midnight (dark dark blue) and it is like a pillow on my happy little head! I am so excited...I feel like putting it on and going riding right now...except it's dark out and everyone has been ridden today. It's coming with me to Pine Top just in the rare occasion that I get to hack one of the boys...I am SO excited and so grateful to have it!

Okay, still can't wipe the smile off my face. I am so blessed to finally have all my show clothes! I have my helmet, my beautiful navy soft-shell show coat, shirts and stock tie, breeches and my gorgeous dress boots. So ready to get back out there now!

On to other (probably more interesting) things...the boys had their last jump school before we leave for Pine Top tomorrow morning.

Ardy (17.1hh ISH gelding, running Prelim this weekend:)

Monkee (17 hh TB gelding, running Prelim this weekend:)

And WOW, did I have a great jump school on Pop today! Our tough lesson yesterday really carried over. He was TAKING me to the fences and all I had to do was show him where to go. What a great feeling! Funny, C was right...flatwork really does affect your jumping *wink wink*

Wish us luck this weekend...it should be a fun first USEA event for us and if I survive driving the motor home I will consider it a success. God Bless!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Light Bulb Lesson

If only I could be writing as I ride. During each ride I have I compose little blogs in my head, noting everything my trainer tells me, everything my horse does, every aid I give..and then I dismount and promptly forget to write it all down. By the time I remember, it’s a day later and seems irrelevant in light of the latest ride…and the cycle repeats. So today as I was composing a blog during my flat lesson, I decided I WOULD remember to write it down…so here goes.

On my solo rides I’ve been having trouble getting Pop to soften and let go of the right rein. This is something we’ve worked on extensively, as he has a tendency to go with his hips to the right, thus not activating his right hind, which equals a horse who leans on the bridle. Riding him has really helped me to see that the hind end MUST be doing its job in order for the front end to accept contact. If he’s not going forward and using himself, he’s heavy in my hands. If he’s activated behind and really letting go in his back, he’s beautifully light and balanced. So we’ve practiced hundreds (no, thousands) of canter/halt transitions, trot/halt transitions, walk/trot transitions, and lots of rein-back too…to make him more responsive to my leg and letting go in his jaw. We’ve done leg yields, we’ve done shoulder-ins, we’ve counterbended, we’ve practicing moving the haunches out on a circle….and yet I was still having issues with that right rein. Complaining to C about it yesterday, I explained that he just felt like he wouldn’t let go, no matter what I did, how much I moved the haunches, how much I felt like I was flexible in my elbows. So he agreed to ride him (he usually does get on him once a week) and of course Pop was fabulous. Ever want to be humbled? Ride with someone who was short listed for the Olympics.

So today I started by trying a different saddle. As I explained in my last post, my Kieffer wasn’t doing my already preciously-huntery position any favors, and I slide around in it a lot. So I opted for C’s beautiful brown Devocoux monoflap dressage saddle, with a big more thigh block (but not much) and a slightly deeper seat. Then I mounted and headed for the arena, asking for a good walk right off the bat. I asked him to move his haunches right, then left, all the while keeping him forward and soft in my hands. C came out and we picked up a trot, and he stayed soft to the left with a slight counterbend to the right (to contradict the fact he likes to put his haunches right), but when we changed direction and started baby leg yields he got stiff in his jaw and hanging on that right rein. Then the light bulbs started coming on…


Ohh…you mean I’m part of the problem? Go figure *blushes*. With that in mind, remembering to not hold the rein longer than a second and to keep his haunches completely straight, as well as practicing transitions and even transitions within the trot and canter, we ended up having a super lesson. By the end our halt/canter transitions were dead on and he stayed soft in my hands. We still had some issues with haunches going right, especially in medium canter down the longside, but on the whole it was much better. I feel like this was a big issue we’ve been having, especially at shows…when I go in the ring, he gets tough and resistant in my hands, and I spend the whole time arguing with his mouth instead of riding my test. Now that I realize what *I* have to do to help the problem, and have lots of tools (transitions, changes of pace, rein back, shoulder in, haunches in, leg yield), I feel a little better about tackling our next test.

I also have to remember to SIT UP. My shoulders love to curl. As soon as I tip forward, so does Pop, and he’s on his forehand hanging on my hands again. I have to remember to always ride his shoulders UP which will also help him have a longer stride. I’ve learned that if a horse is on their forehand, their stride cannot come out of the shoulders and forward. You have to open up their shoulders and bring them up in front of you to achieve full length of stride. And on a horse who has a smaller stride, like Pop, this is very important; especially in the stadium ring, with lots of related distances.

It looks like we will be attempting another Training CT next weekend at the Horse Park, which will be great practice before Pine Top the following weekend. I can’t WAIT to go cross-country again! I was watching some of the Novice XC video on Eventing Nation last night and I am ready to rock on!

Hope you all are having a wonderful Hump Day! God Bless!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Good stuff, good stuff...

Wow, it's been a whirlwind lately! We hosted a clinic last weekend here at the farm (with C teaching, of course)...the first clinic since I've been here, and I was nervous about all the scheduling and making sure everyone was happy. After the last group on Saturday, I wanted to dance a happy dance right there in the ring. Everything was PERFECT! We had so many amazing volunteers who were willing to sacrifice their entire day to provide lunch, help ride our horses, and check people in. We had so many great people who brought their horses and who were polite, full of smiles and excited to be there. And of course C faithfully taught each and every group even after being in the ring for 6 straight hours, with kindness and enthusiasm. We met so many great people and I got a chance to watch some really good sessions. I felt like C improved every single horse from the first day to the second, and we even had two people sign up for regular lessons. Very excited and relieved it went well!

Of course, the horses still had to be ridden, and after all the planning and spending Thursday at the hospital with my boyfriend who was having surgery, I was exhausted and just wanting to get them all ridden and put away. Naturally, I ended up having the BEST ride on Pop on Saturday. Maybe one of the best flat sessions we have had so far. He spooked at something while we were warming up in the walk and I got after him, and all of a sudden I had this amazing, willing, soft and forward horse underneath me! We had so much fun...we did a lot of work on our medium canter and it was the best work we've done so far. :)

I also got to meet Brena from the famous Flying Solo Blog (check it out here).

She was so much fun and we had a great time at dinner that night chatting about horses and people and life. Her OTTB gelding Encore is absolutely adorable and was the perfect guest. I've been reading Brena's blog since....2009? (Katie introduced me to it!) and am so excited to finally get to meet her! Looking forward to seeing her and Encore in a few weeks when they come to the schooling HT down the road. Yay!

Finally uploaded this video of Pop's and my stadium round at the Pipe Opener a few weeks ago. This was at Training level and I truly feel like this is the best round we've had so far. Sorry for the quality; my computer isn't fond of the video camera, but my phone agreed to help out.

Whew, if you still have eyes after watching that (I recommend making it full screen)....feel free to leave any comments about what you see that we could work on! Or any improvements you see...I was really proud of the forward pace we kept throughout and it's amazing how easily the distances come when you have a good canter.

I've also made the *heartbreaking* decision to sell my dressage saddle. Yes, the beautiful brown Kieffer Wein i found on Ebay and bought for Aidyn, which miraculously fit BOTH of us and has served me beautifully for a few years now. My dream saddle. One of my most prized possessions. I've recently seen in photos and felt when I ride that it's not helping my position in the least. The flap is flat (no knee roll and no thigh block) and is just a tiny bit too small for my knee...I lean forward in it, and I really struggle with my leg position in this saddle. Alas...and it DOES break my heart...but I'm putting it up for sale, and going to be on the lookout for a decently priced jumping saddle (preferably monoflap)..it makes more sense at this point to have the jump saddle as opposed to the dressage saddle, since I can do dressage in my jump saddle if I have to but can't do the opposite...and I can ride in C's saddles as long as I need to so there's no hurry. So while I may shed a tear or a few hundred when Smythe Jared (yes, I name my tack) leaves me....all good things must come to an end.

Our new Irish pony gets here Friday!!!!!!!! (go ahead, squeal, you know you want to)...only I won't be here because I'm going down to Pine Top with Ardy and Monkee. And driving the motor home. Yes...I am. So prayers are needed. I'm a bad enough driver without having to drive a house down the interstate.

God Bless, and hope everyone had a great Monday!