Monday, April 25, 2011

Success Is 90% Perspiration....

Dante and I definitely put out some perspiration this past weekend at Holly Hill. After dropping into the fifties in Dallas early in the week, we were definitely a bit wilted in the 90 degree temperatures in Louisiana. It was intensely gorgeous all weekend, with blue skies and fluffy clouds, and while it was hot, breezes kept it from being unbearable. I broke out the shorts after my rides, attempting to get rid of the completely white legs that we riders always seem to have.

(The trailer leaves Gold Chip.)

We left Gold Chip around noon where is was about 55 degrees and drizzling. I arrived at Holly Hill at four. Dante arrived around five and I got on to have a pre-competition dressage ride. Dante was a little stiff on the grass at first, but he loosened up and I got some good work out of him. He felt very relaxed, which was great, even walking to and from the arena where he often gets excited. I'm hoping this will carry over to Jersey.

The next day, we had dressage at 1:30. It was quite warm, and while Dante seemed largely unaffected, it definitely made me tired quicker. I often have a hard time transitioning to the heat (needing water, Gatorade, feeling woozy) when it turns to summer, and well, Texas surprisingly hasn't made the transition yet this year. I was definitely tired after a few minutes of sitting trot, when at home I had been able to do a full 30-45 minutes no problem. The black coat doesn't help!

I was much happier with our dressage test here than at Poplar. Dante was very relaxed, although he did get a little tense when he became scared of the photographer (who was simply sitting mildly close to the ring). Really Dante? It's a MAN. A sitting man. You see those all the time! Definitely is a facepalm moment. Luckily, I had time to circle (although he promptly spooked at the photographer AGAIN), and he mostly relaxed again before going in the ring.

I was pretty pleased with Dante's test for the most part. I completely botched the second medium trot by asking Dante out of the corner instead of waiting until he was straight, and he broke pretty badly. We also jigged in the extended walk. However, I thought our walk to canter transitions were very good, and I managed to get a real medium walk before picking up our first canter, which I'm proud of because he usually jigs there. He did anticipate the medium canters, but he didn't grab the bit and listened when I asked for him to come back, so I felt they were good. Our halts were pretty square apparently. I can feel up front, but not behind yet, so I have to rely on witnesses. Overall, I felt it was a much better test, and definitely more relaxed, although he did get a bit tense at the very end of the test. I felt that the test was going to score under forty, so I was happy.

Well, it didn't. However, only two horses placed under forty. Everyone else was in the forties. We were in a three way tie for sixth after dressage with a 44.6. Everyone was very much upset about the scores being so high, but I couldn't get myself worked up about it except to feel bad for my barnmate who got a 50.4. According to all those watching, she really didn't deserve that score, and even though she made some mistakes, it also should have been a qualifying score. But since all of the other scores were jacked up high, she very much got the short end of the stick. Mike thought the scores were about six to eight points too high, which is quite a lot!

I walked cross country later on Friday afternoon and discovered it was exactly the same as last year when I moved up. While I was initially disappointed, I was glad to have a second crack at those stupid stumps! There's a line that's made up of a big tree stump, then three strides bending left to a large narrow log with a deceivingly large drop on the back side. Last year, Jessica and I actually schooled this question right before Poplar and Dante was fabulous through them. At the event, our first Intermediate, I didn't quite get Dante back enough from the gallop before hand, got him a little deep to the stump, and he couldn't quite get his legs out of the way in time. He hung a leg and we almost ate it on the backside so we had to circle before the B element. So this year I was happy to have another attempt.

Cross country on Saturday was fabulous. Dante was very jazzed up in warm up. We were in the startbox and the starter said "5...4....3...2...1...HOLD!" Poor Dante was soooo confused, he was ready to leap forward and instead I forced him out the side of the box. I'm very glad they had caught me before letting me go though. We waited while they rebuilt the fence that had caused the fall (both rider and horse were fine by the way), jumped a warm up fence, and then were let out on course. Dante was excellent, but he was very confused as to why I wasn't letting him gallop at his pace (FAST) between the fences. I basically kept him on the same pace as I would have on my approach to the fence. He tackled the entire course with gusto, including the stumps. The most interesting jump we had was definitely the Weldon's Wall. Normally Dante jumps the Weldon's the same as any other fence. The one at Holly Hill is right off a sharp turn, immediately after that big drop from the stumps. It's hard to get the right gallopy pace coming up to the Weldon's. Dante started backing off a bit, and I got an off spot to the fence, so I thought he was going to chip, since that's what most horses do with Weldon's Walls. So I sat back and prepared for the chip. And Dante took off, and cleared the whole damn thing, untrimmed brush and all. I almost fell off on the back side, I was so surprised. I'm sure he was like "Hello, are you awake up there?!?" Luckily, the rest of the course we were totally in sync, and though slow, it was an intentional slow, as I'm saving his big run for Jersey. We came in exactly thirty seconds slow, on a course that is notoriously very tight on time (i.e. no one ever makes it).

I iced him twice and tried to walk him, but he was much more interested in grazing than walking. Then he proceeded to spook hard several times at one of the vendor's tents, so I knew he had tons of energy later. I think putting him on beet pulp was a great idea. His weight is up, his energy up, and he's not ridiculously spooky. Mostly. He has a redhead moment every now and then, but most fit horses do! I actually like that, as it shows he's still full of energy after cross country.

(Dante looking super shiny and completely uninterested in posing.)

(Gold Chip gathering between Heather's trailer and the Fletchers' Big Bertha.)

The next morning we show jumped early in the morning. I've got to say I love many things about Holly Hill. The tiny stadium ring is not one of them. Even Mike's ring is bigger, and I think Mike has a pretty small ring. The stadium courses always seem a bit wonky to me too, but I think much of that is because of the tiny ring. I would LOVE to see them make a change and put the Sunday show jumping in the large grass ring that they use for dressage on Friday and Saturday. Greenwood does this, and it works great. The problem I find with the tiny ring is that it's hard to make tight turn after tight turn to these jumps with no let up and no chance to find the correct pace before the jump. For instance, we started with a line across the diagonal, tight turn right to an oxer on the end of the arena, tight turn right to an oxer on the beginning of the next long side, bending right six strides to a one stride double across the diagonal, rollback left to a vertical on the opposite diagonal, bending line to a liverpool, around the short end (which might as well be a rollback), a triple combination across the diagonal and bending right six strides to a skinny (which buried you in the corner), sharp right turn to an oxer on the end, and then another right turn to a final oxer on the other long side.

So yeah, a LOT of tight turns. And Dante was a wild man in the ring. He was fabulous in warm up, but the warm up was a lot bigger. In the ring, I just couldn't see my distance every time, and missed quite badly, burying us on both oxers at the ends of the rings, the vertical off the rollback, and missed mildly coming into the triple combination. Of course, Dante jumps out of his skin and saves us each time, but has a rail by brushing the first of the triple combination. I was initially very concerned about how not well I rode, but the more I thought about it, the more I think it was a product of the tiny ring. Obviously I need to get better, but I think I need to make a mental adjustment in my riding if the ring is small. Dante needs a good pace to jump Intermediate show jumps, and I need to make sure he maintains that pace through the turns in these small rings, as well doesn't cut corners. Luckily Jersey will be show jumping in a large ring, and I believe I will be much better in there. The course did prove to be tough, as only one horse (one of the most careful jumpers of the group) jumped clear.

We finished up fourth, which I was pretty pleased with, considering we went so slow and had a rail. I wouldn't have finished higher than fourth without the rail, but would have finished first with no time on cross country.

In any case, I really think we did some good practice at Holly Hill this weekend. My goals for this week is to basically maintain what we have. Mike and Heather will both be at Rolex all week, so I'm on my own. I plan on riding mostly in the afternoon to get us (especially me) used to some heat. I'm easing off the lateral work to make sure he maintains his soundness through the next three weeks. We've had some monster thunderstorms yesterday and today, so I have hopes that the field will be good to gallop on Sunday. If not, we'll go to the track.

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