Sunday, January 30, 2011

Let the Games Begin

I've returned from Florida after completing Rocking Horse Winter I! It was amazing. I finally understand why everyone makes the trek down to Florida to compete during the winter. The weather is beautiful, the skies are blue, the footing is so perfect that Dante ran XC for the first time in his life without any studs.

(A couple of unflagged XC jumps set in a small thicket of Spanish Moss.)

Of course, my weekend began Wednesday afternoon when I arrived at Love Field in Dallas, only to discover my flight had been delayed 40 minutes. This was worrying as I only had 35 minutes to make my connection in New Orleans. Luckily, many people on my flight were headed for Orlando, and so Southwest delayed the flight from New Orleans to Orlando so that we could all make our connection. We ended up making up much of the time in the air, and ended up only 10 minutes behind schedule. I figured, ok, we'll be taking off for Orlando in maybe 45 minutes. Hurrying to my gate, I was dismayed to see that my flight had been delayed...for an hour and a half.

This meant I arrived in Orlando at midnight, and my friend Jessica and I did not arrive back at Rocking Horse until 1:30 am, finally going to sleep at 2 am. I was to jump Dante at 8 am on Thursday, and so ended up getting up at 6:30am because of my unfamiliarity with the facility and trying to find all my stuff before my lesson. Dante felt fantastic during our jump lesson after he spooked at the egrets, the barrels on the ground, and the warm-up crossrail. He had a wonderful canter that felt like a coiled spring.

We then came back and I had a dressage lesson (brief) in the late morning. Dante again felt wonderful after the warm-up, and my confidence for a good dressage test on Friday morning was high. I wasn't necessarily hoping for a high placing, considering I was competing against many 3* horses and 4* riders, and even against my own assistant trainer on her fabulous Slate River (headed for Rolex later this spring) and Buck Davidson on his Ballynoecastle RM. My goal for this show was to compete against my previous tests and to score in the very low 40s or high 30s. Oh, and preferably not be last after dressage. :-)

Jessica and I walked the cross country course later in the day. It was helpful to walk the course with a friend who is currently running Advanced on her horse...she was able to say, 'oh that's not too big' when I felt my eyes were bugging out at the size of the fence. She even provided a long established nickname for the largest jump on the course, a very large table she called the BAT.

(Jessica stands next to the BAT...short for Big A** Table.)

Particularly interesting was the Irish bank, which came right after another particularly large table. After jumping the table, you turned left to the Irish bank, which was large enough that I could barely even see the tops of the flags on the third element while standing on the ground in from of it. In fact, in my photo, you can't see the flags at all. A couple of the other riders were worried about it, but I had the advantage of having ridden the Prelim Irish bank at Pine Hill, which Dante had handled easily.

(The view from the front of the Irish bank. What you can't see are the flags for C on the other side.)

We also had a pretty challenging first corner question with an angled skinny question, three strides to the corner. You could choose to do either to do the left side or the right side, which were identical questions. However, the right side was slightly friendlier. We also had a pretty challenging first water complex, with a hut, one stride to a set of logs mounted to the top of a bank to create a big drop into the water, then four strides through the water to a rolltop. I was incredibly glad we had practiced the drop question a week before at Gold Chip. As a result, I felt excited rather than nervous about the drop. The Intermediate course also had a set of tables with a bending four strides between, a rolltop then run into water, turning to a wedge out of the water, a set of angled skinnies set two strides apart, and a relatively easy coffin near the end.

Friday dawned slightly chilly as I prepared to ride dressage. I was very thankful that I was riding right before Heather and Roe, rather than right after. It's always intimidating to know you are following an excellent test! For the first time, I didn't feel nervous as I circled the ring, and neither did Dante. I think Dante and I easily put in our best Intermediate test to date! We scored a 40.4, which accomplished our goal. Although I was slightly disappointed with the score, I felt better after reading the judges comments (or trying to!). She wanted more angle in our haunches in (which is on our list of things to work on), more uphill medium canter (also on our list), and more uphill downward transitions, specifically the canter to walk and trot to halt (which is something that we began working on last week). I think she really nailed what we need to work on. I also received a 7 on rider position, the first time I have gotten a 7 since competing above Training. I'm very happy that working on my position is paying off. I still have a lot of work to go, but I feel much more correct already than I did before. Dante also received a 7 for freedom and regularity of gaits, which is great because it tells me he was relaxed enough to show off his gaits.

After dressage, I got ready for show jumping. When we walked the course, we found that almost every fence had a related distance....a long one. Dante has a twelve foot stride, but these were walking with more of a thirteen foot stride, except for the triple combination. Dante warmed up well, but he was spooking initially at the warm-up fences, and he didn't have the coiled stride that we'd had the day before. I really need to work to find a way to translate that coiled stride from lessons into the show ring. Anyways, we went into the ring, and I thought that we had a big enough stride. The very first line was the first fence then six bending, slightly forward strides to a vertical then four very forward strides to another vertical. Unfortunately, I did not have a large enough stride for the very first distance and we got there in six and a half and he punched through the rail. Somehow he then put five strides in and managed to get over the second vertical, and I figured out stride needed, so we jumped the rest of the course clear. However, it felt a bit strung out and flat, so I'm thinking now about ways to translate that coiled stride to the show ring, as I stated before.

(Look at those blue skies!)

After show jumping, I checked out the crepe vendor and the photo booth, finding a great stadium course. Jessica and I walked the cross country course for a third time then watched some Prelim show jumping.

I woke up on Saturday extremely nervous. I hadn't ridden cross country in almost nine months, since early May at Greenwood. This course was definitely bigger and more technical than any Intermediate I had ridden before (at Greenwood and Holly Hill), and I was wondering if maybe I should have entered the IP instead. I hadn't wanted to do that though, because many people told me Ocala was REALLY big and technical, so I felt I needed another Intermediate before tackling Ocala. I knew my horse was ready and could handle it; Dante is a cross country machine. I was wondering if I was mentally ready.

Deciding that I needed to stop thinking so hard about it and to just do it, I spent the morning watching some Training show jumping and trying to keep my mind off my ride later. I must have succeeded, as before I knew it, I was in the warm up and Dante was perfect. A few minutes later I was in the start box and off we went.

Dante was a total rock star, as usual. I needn't have worried. The course rode amazingly well. Don't get me wrong, we had a couple of tight spots and at least one spot that I would ride completely differently if I rode it again. I'll start with the bad so I can end with the good

The bad: We almost missed the third jump completely. It was set off a sharp right turn after a decent gallop and Dante was very focused on galloping in a straight line. After we relearned turning on that turn, he was pretty good about it the rest of the course.

The corner complex was tricky to read. It was the first real question in the course, the adrenaline wasn't pumping as much yet. Jessica had warned me after her ride that the horses had a slightly hard time reading the first part, the angled skinny. Sure enough, Dante felt hesitant there, although he jumped it fine. Not sure what I could do differently there, but I was happy that he jumped it despite not being sure.

I gave Dante a very bad ride at the second water complex. I was confident that he would be confident since he'd already been through the first water, it was a much easier than the first in, and it was a small rolltop. However, he was backing up the entire way to the rolltop and ended up practically crawling over it. I should have given him a confident, strong ride up to it and instead I sat there and hoped he would figure it out. In retrospect, I think he was backing because he always backs up at water, there was a sharp line where the new neon grass began about a stride before the rolltop, and I think he may have been slightly shell shocked from the first water and wondering if he was going to have that big drop again. Next time, don't stop riding!

The good: The attitude Dante came roaring out of the start box with. He was armed and ready for this course, and he tackled it like a champ.

All of the giant tables that Dante leaped over as if they were nothing. This included the mushroom table before the Irish bank, the several staircases on course, the skinny table near the end, and most notably the BAT. I found good strides to all of them too, which I was happy with. I have a great memory of making the turn t the BAT and knowing instantly that I had a good stride, good pace and impulsion, and then the feeling of the giant leap Dante gave me over it. It was amazing.

The ease with which Dante tackled the Irish bank. Irish banks are something the rider can't really help much with, other than getting a good stride to the base. They pretty much have to sit tight while the horse figures it out. Dante had jumped the one at Pine Hill, but this one was much more intimidating. My spot was maybe very slightly longer than I would have preferred, but Dante had no problem figuring out the question.

The ride I gave Dante through the first water complex and the way he responded. We came around to the first part and he back off slightly, his usual response to the sight of water. I rode him forward over the first element, and rode him forward through the one stride, tapping him once behind my leg and he took the one stride beautifully and dropped nicely into the water. Mike had warned me that the complex was riding slightly sticky, with a lot of horses chipping in, so I think it was great to have a good ride there.

The two large tables with the turning four strides between the tables. Slowed down from the gallop a few strides before the first table, jumped center to center with a perfect four strides.

The coffin rode well. Got a slightly short stride to the first element, but Dante handled it, jumped the ditch and made a nice turning three strides to the last skinny. Didn't really expect anything different because Dante has always handled coffins like a champ, but still, good to do it well once again.

Dante's fitness level was higher than I thought. I hadn't done any fitness work with him except a couple of 6 min slow gallops the Saturday before, so I had planned to let him pick his own pace. Well, that chosen pace was fast and try as I could, I couldn't really get him to slow down except before the fences. Smart horse. So we ended up only 8 seconds slow, which was the third fastest time in my division. I was worried about him cooling down, but he cooled down pretty quickly. All of this is good, as he will only get fitter now. I think I can go for time at Ocala.

In the end, I finished in 7th place. If I had finished on my dressage score, I would have been 3rd. I'm very thrilled with how this weekend went. :-)

I've added a couple pictures of Dante and I from this weekend on the gallery on my website. Probably won't update until after Ocala though, because the only thing I have going in the meantime is school and working out. Gotta keep in shape somehow without the pony here!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Road Goes Ever On...And On And On.

The great trek to Florida has begun!

Well, for Dante at least. Unfortunately, I am still stuck in Denton until Wednesday afternoon, due to having to attend labs and classes this week. Lovely.

This past week has been kind of crazy thanks to the weather. Originally, we were supposed to spend Monday through Thursday jumping and doing dressage, then leave for Holly Hill on Saturday and school XC on Sunday. This is what Gold Chip has done for the past two years, and it works nicely, as it cuts four hours out of the trek to Florida.

Unfortunately, the weather did not want to cooperate. While the weather was nice and beautiful on Tuesday and Wednesday, on Thursday the cold front came through and temperatures once again dropped to freezing overnight. We ended up riding dressage on Thursday (and it was cold thanks to the bitingly freezing wind!) and jumping on Friday. I had asked Mike if we could have a jump set on top of his little bank so that we could practice jumping over a jump with a big drop into the water. I haven't done any of these ever, and I have a feeling that we're going to be doing quite a few at Intermediate. Mike agreed, and so all of us practiced over the rolltop drop into the water, which turned out to be quite fun! I actually am excited to ride them now! However, before we could jump on Friday, Mike had to take the tractor to the water complex because the water was refusing to melt after freezing on Thursday! In any case, Dante was NOT a fan of the frigid water and showed his displeasure by bucking every time we exited the water.

We ended up canceling our trip to Holly Hill because they had gotten five inches of rain the previous weekend and then some more rain during the week. So instead, Mike and Heather left today from Texas with the horses. Dante rode in Heather's trailer because he behaves better in a slant load; this meant that he left at 5 am and will lay over in Tallahassee, FL before getting to Rocking Horse on Monday! I'll take off for Orlando Wednesday afternoon and get there at 10:15pm. So excited. Let the games begin!

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's Getting Hairy In Here...

One of the first things on my to do list after I returned to Dallas was giving Dante his yearly clip job...a task neither of us enjoys. Luckily, he is a good boy for it so I don't have to drug him or even scold him very much. Unluckily, the weather turned from mid 60s to mid 20s and 30s just before I returned. You can see how unused to cold weather north Texas is, the local movie theater forgot to turn off their fountain!

So bathing and clipping Dante had to wait a few days until Saturday, when the weather started to break. In the meantime, Dante and I passed the time with a few jump lessons, mostly to get me back in the groove. Heather and Mike have been jumping him while I was gone, so he's going very well, but I haven't really jumped since October, when we diagnosed his injury. So, I'm a bit rusty, but by the end of the third jump lesson, I was finally getting my eye back.

Saturday was a busy day for us. We began the day by having a dressage clinic with Jean Moyer, who comes to Gold Chip once a year to tune us up for Florida. I think it's great to have her, because she only sees us yearly, she can really give us a good idea of how much progress we've made. Dante is feeling great and I got a couple of really good leg yields out of him at the end. We're taking it lightly with the lateral work because of his SI injury, but I feel confident that I can start to get some really nice tests out of him. Jean also had lots of advice for keeping my shoulders back and chin up, which I think will be very helpful.

After the clinic, Dante had a bath, the vet came and injected his hocks, I organized my trunk for Florida, and then we clipped. And clipped. And clipped. We were both thrilled when I was finally finished. Of course, I went out yesterday and saw him, and there's still a few spots I need to go back over. Oh, well.

Next week, we'll have another couple of jump lessons, a couple of dressage lessons, and then on Saturday, the entire envoy will leave for Holly Hill en route to Florida. I'll go to Holly Hill on Saturday, school on Sunday, and drive back to Dallas for classes next week. The next week, Florida starts!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lemons v Lemonade

Well, I am officially back in Dallas, after a couple of days delay, first due to hanging out with friends in Austin, and then due to a few inches of snow in Dallas on Sunday. Now, I went to college in Kentucky and a few inches of snow is hardly a reason not to drive- except in Texas. It's not the weather, it's all of the native Texas drivers who think they CAN'T drive in snow. They make some dumb decisions and they make them very suddenly. And they also drive very, very slowly.

Needless to say, I spent an extra day in Austin, no harm, no foul. I wasn't planning on riding Dante until Tuesday anyways. Of course, I am also now sick. Hooray! I thought the worst was yesterday, but unfortunately, I am spiking a fever tonight. Oh well, I'm going out tomorrow to brave the 36 degree weather regardless because the vet is going to clear Dante for lateral work at 2 tomorrow. So I might as well throw in a nice jump lesson at noon anyways, so I (hopefully) don't have a rusty eye when FL comes.

I did get a nice homecoming with several packages I had ordered that arrived over the holidays. A new Back on Track mesh sheet for Dante and a new CO J3 for me, with a new helmet cover! My parents always know exactly what to get me for Christmas, horse stuff! My current J3 is several years old, and with all of the safety consciousness out there, I decided it was time to replace the old one.

I haven't written any goals down, but I've been sick, allergy ridden (allergic to San Antonio), and busy doing family and friend activities. This week, the goals begin.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


As 2011 begins, I find myself in the recurring position of trying to decide on a New Year's resolution that is attainable and measurable. This, I'm sure, is a familiar feeling for most people on 1/1 of every year. While 2009 was a great year for me, 2010 certainly could have been better. However, a successful move up to Intermediate is nothing to sneeze at, and my overall competitive goal for 2010 was satisfied by this move up. Due to weather and soundness issues, I could not compete at either of the two fall 2010 shows I originally entered, but I am blessed with having a sound, competitive horse ready to play in the new year.

For the first time, Dante will make the trek to Florida and I will have a chance to play with the big boys (and girls!) at the upper levels. In the past, I have been limited from performing my (and Dante's) best at dressage, both physically and mentally. Physically, because I was never properly taught dressage foundations in the first place, instead trying to piece it together based on what I saw and was told. Mentally, because as soon as I was asked to ride before a dressage judge I would tense up, causing Dante to become nervous, and ultimately creating a big ball of equine and human nerves that inevitably resulted in bad scores. I know we are capable of putting in top five dressage tests consistently, if I could just overcome my shortcomings.

To aid in the physical department, my assistant coach and I began from the beginning, doing lunge lessons with no reins or stirrups, stretching down from my hips and up through the shoulder blades. This portion of my retraining is under way and we will only get better as I gain strength and become comfortable with the new position.

It was primarily in the mental game that I needed to improve. Before, I always stated that since I was an amateur, I was not concerned about the dressage score, so if it was okay if it was bad so long as it was qualifying. Unfortunately, this thinking confirmed I was bad before I even tried, so of course I got bad dressage scores. I have never had any doubt of Dante's and my cross country ability, so we have never had true issues in that phase. That thinking needs to transfer over to dressage. Without confidence in myself and my horse in our ability to perform during dressage, I have no chance of being competitive.

To aid in my understanding of sports psychology, I began reading "Mind Gym: An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence" by Gary Mack and David Casstevens. This book has truly helped me begin to feel confident that we will be able to go to Florida and be competitive despite riding against the professionals.

While reading, a resolution began to form. In 2011, I will set and write down weekly goals. These goals should be specific in nature, and preferably able to be measured numerically. For instance "Do 20 crunches per day" is better than "Improve ab strength" or "Exercise abs." For riding, I will write "Execute ten correct left handed turns through corners per dressage ride" or "Ride two correct shoulder-ins to the right per dressage ride." I will write these goals down weekly and evaluate whether or not I completed these goals. In this way, I will become confident that I have prepared correctly and will be eager to show the dressage judges just what we are capable of.