Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Trouble with Kissing

I've been remiss in updating because I've had some not very good news about Dante since the AECs.

After our disastrous dressage, I decided to have my vet come check him out. I thought his back might be bothering him. He had some sore back muscles during the summer, which we previously thought was due to his sore heels. Dr. A palpated his spine and Dante was definitely sensitive. So down to the imaging clinic for back x-rays we went.

The final result?

Dante has kissing spine between his 14th/15th and his 15th/16th vertebrae.

Oh, good.

It's not the worst news. I'm glad to know that there was a physical cause of the flipped leads that plummeted our score and that he wasn't just flipping out mentally. Every time I sat deep in the canter to half halt or to encourage him to go forward or even turn, I sat right on the painful vertebrae and caused him to flip. I'm glad to know there is at least a reason.

There's two paths of treatment. The first path is injections, which is the conservative road. This is the path we'll travel first. Both the imaging vet and Dr. A thought injections would be extremely effective and both want to try the conservative approach first.

The second path is surgery. There is a newish surgery that Texas A&M has done on some horses that opens up the spaces between the vertebrae. Ironically, my friend Jessica over at Pye Equestrian has just gone through this surgery with her horse, and the imaging vet raved over her horse's x-rays without even knowing I knew her. However, the vets want to see how effective the injections will be first.

Surgery will probably be in Dante's future regardless. While the injections do seem to be working for now (Dante was injected last week), they might not work forever. Also, they seem very invasive as well as mildly painful for Dante, and have to repeated every six months. The surgery has very good results, is not too expensive, and requires only four months off. Considering I am planning on giving him an eight month hiatus anyways when I graduate while I get my life moved and settle into my career, it seems that would be a good time to do it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

AECs: Redemption and Reflection

Dante certainly lived up to his show name of Divine Comedy this weekend. We had Paradise (cross country), Purgatory (show jumping), and Inferno (dressage).

(Dante before our dressage test fell to pieces. Photo by USEA.)

Inferno: I've already discussed dressage, but I want to add that I now think Dante's back might be bothering him a little bit...not enough to affect his jumping or his dressage when he's relaxed, but enough to affect his dressage when he becomes nervous (and therefore tense). Whenever I tried to use my seat to communicate at the canter during the test was when he flipped behind. I'm having the vet out on Tuesday to determine if that is in fact a problem.

(Dante focused on XC. Photo by USEA.)

Paradise: Cross country morning began quite early, and as I drove into Chatt Hills, the sun was just dawning over the horizon. Dense fog sat heavily on the hills, muting the greens of the grass with morning dew. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and none of the photos I took did it justice. By the time Dante and I had hacked down to cross country warm up, the fog had vanished but the morning dew still persisted a bit. Dante warmed up beautifully; we only ever jump about five fences in warm up. At the box, Dante knew exactly what was up and was quite wild, refusing to stand and backing up impatiently. He left the box with gusto as usual. The first half of the course was slightly wiggly, and a touch behind the leg, as he stared at the strong morning shadows cast by the jumps. The first combo came up quickly, a short run up a steep incline to a hanging log, then a sharp decline bending line to a wedge. I should have had more gallop to go up the hill...he largely lost impulsion and had to jump over the log from a crawl. However, he galloped down very nicely to the wedge. Then, through the water, he was a bit behind my leg and bulging to the left. The combination was a fence, two very short strides to a drop into the water, then five strides to a brush rolltop and another four to a skinny brush rolltop. They were all in a straight line, and Dante definitely bulged his shoulder out to the left before the final element. Luckily, he's as honest and game as the day is long, and as soon as he saw what to jump, he was happy to oblige. Video (borrowed from Eventing Nation) of the water can be seen below, starting at 0:53. We also did two to six to four. The two was short and once in the water I knew we wouldn't be able to get the five, so we waited for the six, then I pushed for the four. We almost didn't make the four thanks to Dante bulging left, but it must have felt worse than it looked.

By the bank complex, we were rocking and rolling. The bank complex was pretty technical, with a hanging log to a large bank off the edge of the hill, then down an incline to two houses on an angle with one stride between. Dante was perfect through that, was great through the coffin, and wonderful through the giant kahunas on a bending line at the end of the course. (On a side note, those kahunas were either bought from the old Maui Jim event or were designed to be identical, and it's always been a bit of a dream of mine to jump them, so that was wonderful for me!) The footing was so amazing and the course was wheeled generously, so we were able to make time. Of course, so were 11 other riders, but that's beside the point. After dressage, we moved up to 19th place.

Purgatory: Show jumping was a bit of a mix of the good and the ok. Dante felt slightly tired and was tapping the fences in warm up. This wasn't really surprising to me, because he's only been back in work for a month and has only had two gallops. I hadn't originally planned on going for time, but with the footing being so amazing and the footing at Greenwood in two weeks likely to be EXTREMELY hard, I felt it was better to put forth a run here, and go conservatively at Greenwood. So a touch tired for show jumping made a lot of sense. Dante was still jumping well, but didn't quite have the sharp edge he needs to cover for any of my mistakes.

In the end, we had two rails. One was mine completely. We swung around to the second fence which was a large, airy vertical with no ground line, one of my least favorite types of jump. Sure enough, I picked a bit to the base and got him slightly buried (not as bad as I have done in the past, at least!) with not much power. I don't feel he had much of a chance there, and sure enough, he tapped the front rail hard enough to have it down. Then, coming through the triple, he had too much power coming to the third element, a big square oxer. I half halted, which was the right idea, but I didn't half halt enough. He came to it slightly deep and had it up front again. He maybe could have helped me out a bit there, but like I said, he was tired and unable to cover for my mistakes today. I was really proud of how accurate I was overall though, as that is something I struggled with all last spring.

After the show was over, I realized how lucky I was to experience the AECs. Although I didn't come home even with a ribbon, let alone any prizes, I loved experiencing the high level of sponsorship the AECs enjoy. I can't wait to come back in the future.

Finally, flying back on 9/11 gave me a completely different perspective of the weekend. I was 15 on 9/11; I remember sitting in my world history class and watching the towers fall on national television. I remember the shock and horror that permeated everyone's actions, and the fervent patriotism that abounded for days afterward. I'm now 25 and although I have reflected seriously on each 9/11 in the past nine years, the tenth anniversary of this date has caused me to reflect upon my own life and how far I have come. So much has changed in the past ten years, and I can't imagine where my life will be when the twentieth anniversary comes around. On a day like this, I am so proud to be an American, so thankful for everything that has happened to me, and above all so thankful to just be alive. I can't help but think that among all those who perished that day, at least a few must have had a beloved horse whose owner never came home. So today I will hug my horse, thank him for being in my life, and give him a carrot for all those horse owners who didn't get to come home to their horses.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

AECs: No Good, Very Bad Day

Well, that's not what we wanted. Not at all.

This isn't going to be long because I've got to get up early tomorrow for cross country. So bear with me, guys.

Dante had been moving fabulously all week. We went for a hack and light school this morning. Fabulous. We warmed up. Fabulous. We got into the holding ring. Slightly tense, but still extremely rideable. We got over to the arena. Super tense, but still rideable. We got into the ring, and he held it together for most of the trot work, giving me the best lateral work he's done by far. Usually, lateral work is his cryptonite and everything else is better. Well, not today. Lateral work was great, but the second medium, he just lost all concentration. Tried to canter through the entire thing, couldn't even get him to trot normally. Halt was tense and anticipating the rein back. Walk (which is our other weakness) was the worst it's ever been. Canter is usually awesome on this horse, but today it was the worst. He was so distracted by everyone sitting on the hill. Swapped behind every time I used my seat. I use my seat a lot. I'd blame the double bridle, but he never once reacted to my hand. I think it was the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, that's not a good excuse. If he's going to be an upper level horse, he needs to learn to deal.

To be fair, he had several factors working against him. The weather dropped from 105 for him on Saturday to 70 today. So he's feeling good, regardless. He hasn't shown in four months, which is actually a big factor. He's often a bit of a nut the first show back. And of course, the ring was quite atmospheric, with a steep hill on each side where lots of people were sitting.

Still a major disappointment. And quite frankly an embarrassment. We are NOT that bad, and we DO belong here. We should be getting mid-30s scores every time out, not hoping to get qualifying scores. We should definitely NOT be scoring 53!

Some dressage exposure is needed, and but quick. Honestly, even just getting out of the same setting we always school dressage in would be helpful. It doesn't have to be a dressage show, or even a ring, it just needs to be a setting he hasn't seen, and he needs to behave and relax immediately rather than ten minutes after he's been there. We get maybe 30 seconds to circle a ring...he needs to learn to relax in that amount of time.

I know he can do it.

It's time to rock it tomorrow, and show everyone that we aren't out of our league, and that we just had a bad day.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

AECs: Crossing the T's

Today was an early morning for me, even though I didn't wake up early. The GCS crew was up late last night, as the horses made it in around 11:30 pm. It was great to see everyone team together to get the horses unloaded, fed, and watered in a timely fashion. We offloaded necessary equipment and feed in an assembly line manner while a few others tag-teamed carrying water buckets from the spigot on the other side of the barn. This is why I love eventers; when the going gets tough, we get going! Everyone pitched in and got the horses settled in record time. So even though I didn't make it to the barn until 8:45 (bearing a dozen bagels, ice for the ice chest, and water for all), it still felt early thanks to only a few hours of sleep. Although apparently one should not buy bagels from America's Favorite Doughtnut shop...

After arriving at the barn, I decided Dante needed to go on a walk. However, before I could parade him in front of the entire 'eventing nation,' I had to take care of his tail. For those of you who don't know Dante, his tail is a shavings magnet, and is very difficult to comb. After fifteen minutes of meticulous combing, it finally was shavings-free so we went for a walk. And by walk, I mean cavort on two legs while dragging me here and there. To be fair, the horse went from 100 degrees to 60 in 48 hours. I don't blame him for feeling good. Very good. Extremely good.

Well, I can blame him a little.

Eventually he settled down and started grazing. We then went on a hack among the gorgeous Georgia pines in our jump tack. I haven't been on trails since we lived in Maryland, and I quickly remembered why I used to love hacking so much. After the hack, we took a short spin around the warm up, just establishing calm and relaxed. While he was nervous at first, he relaxed into his work very well.

Then came lunch, which I was very excited for because I had already seen that 'the smoothie lady' was here! I enjoyed a wonderful fresh fruit mango smoothie while watching riders of all level taking advantage of the schooling ring. Really, what in life is better than watching lovely horses work while drinking a mango smoothie?

(Mango smoothie, om nom nom...)

See? You can't think of anything else better either!

In the afternoon, I rode Dante again, this time in the dressage saddle and double bridle. He was an absolute dream, and even gave me some extremely uphill medium trot for the first time, something we struggle with a lot. If he goes tomorrow like he did today, I'll be extremely happy.

After a course walk (which I'll post pictures of and discuss tomorrow), we went for another walk during which Dante was very well behaved. As a reward he got a very long graze with his friend Kobe, who taught him how to eat dirt. (Thanks, Kobe.)

Tomorrow I'll be buying doughnuts, ice and my favorite McDonald's breakfast (maple + fruit oatmeal, yum!). I don't ride until mid-afternoon (2:17!) so he'll get a ride in the morning in jump tack, once again working on calm and relaxed. Hopefully, tomorrow we will put forth our best dressage test yet.

Cheers to a positive outlook, a beautiful venue, and a happy, fit thoroughbred!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

AECs: Championship Bound

(The hills from whence Chatt Hills gained its name.)

Currently, I'm sitting in a hotel in the middle of heaven. Did I say heaven? I mean Fairburn, GA, where it is a whopping 63 degrees outside, overcast and drizzling. For those of you bad at math, that's 40+ degrees less than what we've been suffering through in Texas for the past two months. To be fair, the weather has finally broken in Texas, but only yesterday.

The flight this morning was relatively painless, other than a few bumps of turbulence. Of course, everyone jumps up and pulls their suitcases out of the overhead compartments the moment the plane is stopped, which is always amusing. I often want to ask them why they are in such a hurry to stand around and wait. Sounds like a HJ show to me. Me, I'm happy enough to stay seated in the 22nd row until the 20th row has filed out.

Then, my GPS on my lovely Droid thought it would be fun to take a detour around the seedier side of Atlanta. Always fun to see new places! Ponies are arriving later tonight. I've already heard via FB (ah, the wonders of the communication era) that there was an incident with a blown-out tire, a grass median, and the skillful slaloming (yes, that's a word) of a huge rig between several light poles. Luckily, by all accounts all horses/humans/dogs are perfectly fine, so that's a relief. These cross-country trailering rides can be so stressful!

As a result, the ponies have an ETA of 11 pm instead of 8pm, so I trekked out to the show grounds to scope out the stabling situation. After playing the stable shuffle with the Gold Chip horses as Heather relayed her wishes over the phone, I got to work putting shavings in the stalls of the eight horses on the rig. Now the ponies will have nice, thick shavings to look forward to.

I have to mention that I was very much impressed by the Chattahoochie Hills facility. The main barn, of course, is absolutely stunning as you first get past the forest. Then, as you round the gravel road, brilliantly green rolling hills sprawl before you, dotted with cross country jumps. It is stunning, as I said, and the photos I took barely do it justice. It is not inconceivable at all to imagine Chatt Hills hosting a top class four star one day.