Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Beginning of the End

Dante has finally begun walking under saddle! The other night, Stephanie of Graystone Stable in KY got on him for the first time and proceeded to walk him for 45 minutes. According to her, he spent about twenty minutes pretending he had never been ridden, then settled and was fine for the rest of the ride.

This ride marks the beginning of the end of Dante's vacation. For the next couple of weeks, he'll walk under saddle for 30-90 minutes, followed by 10-15 minutes of trotting on the lunge after the shorter rides. Dr. Newton decided to keep him barefoot until after the holidays; as soon as he re-evaluates Dante, we'll add shoes after the first of the year. If all continues to go well (and at this point, there's no reason to believe that it won't), he'll get a new set of shoes in early February. At that point, he'll come home to me in Virginia.

Having a tentative date set for his return to me is a huge relief. I know that if anything goes wrong, that date will be pushed back again. I know most of you are aware that Dante has been living in Kentucky while I'm starting my new life in Virginia. What I haven't been very frank about is how much I miss him, the horse, and not just riding. Since I bought him almost six years ago, I haven't gone without seeing him for more than a couple of weeks. He's been with me through three cross country moves (not counting this latest ones), four relationships (with the fourth still going strong!), and two years worth of vacillating over my future. Not having him with me through this latest upheaval in my life has been a lot harder than I thought it would be.

So it's with a great big sigh of relief that I have a tentative date. And with that date, I can start planning for the show season in 2013. I already had my official USEA schedule worked out, but now that the local farms are putting out their schooling show schedules for winter, I can start penciling in dates for February and March. The vet is on board with my show schedule, provided all continues to go well, and hopefully we'll begin making appearances at dressage schooling shows at the end of February, with our first official USEA event scheduled for Loudoun Hunt at the end of April.

In the meantime, I have the holidays to distract me, and after the New Year, I'll put my nose to the grindstone and find Dante a place to live. At the beginning of January and February, I'll be helping out at Destination Farm's schooling jumper shows. Over MLK weekend, I'll head up to NJ to see my SO. The end of January brings Nicola Wilson to Locochee Farm, and I plan on auditing every second. So my time will be filled, and hopefully time will fly by!

(Dante pretends that he has no idea what is going on. What is that strange saddle thing?)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing

So. Pretty much what the title says.

Not much has been happening on the Comedic Eventing front since I bought the trailer. I haven't seen it since yet, since it's living about an hour away from me and it's not as if I really need to go SEE it.

Dante was doing very well, but had a set back when the farrier rasped his feet too short in mid-October. The farrier had been doing a good job until this point, but suddenly quit/retired without warning to any of his clients shortly after doing Dante. When Dr. Newton came out a couple days later to look at him, he was lame in all four feet with 30% less foot than he had had before.

Le sigh.

In terms of setbacks, it could be worse, really. It's an easy fix, just wait for his foot to grow out. Again.

When Dr. Newton looked at him a few weeks ago, he was 90% back to where he was before. He said at that time we could put shoes on and see how the horse was, or be conservative and wait a couple more weeks. I figured I'd waited this long, might as well let the horse be 100%. He'll be out to look at Dante again on Friday, and hopefully we'll move ahead on shoes.

We updated Dante's FEI passport as well. This is so important to keep updated, even if your horse is currently being a pasture puff. The officials can give you the hairy eyeball if there's a gap in your horse's vaccinations, and possibly eliminate you. We had a scary incident last spring where almost half the kids at the barn were almost retroactively eliminated at an FEI competition after dressage due to a secretarial clerical error on their passports that said the horses had been vaccinated less than seven days before the show. This wasn't the case and they were allowed to complete after much hoopla, but there were a lot of tears and heartbreak before the whole mess was sorted out. Moral of the story, keep your FEI horses religiously updated on their vaccines!

I haven't looked at a single barn yet. Since Dante had a setback, it's likely he won't arrive until late January now. I can't quite bring myself to go look at barns until I know for sure he's coming, or at least until he gets shoes.

I've been running quite a bit, trying to stay in shape. The hills of Middleburg are kicking my butt! It's hard to stay motivated during the week though, when I arrived home and it's already completely dark and cold. I'm looking into buying a P90X or similar program, that I could do inside.

I've been traveling too, went to Vegas for a high school friend's wedding, and up to NJ over Thanksgiving to be with my SO for the holiday. I managed to run my two miles on both occasions!

(The most awesome window display ever in Vegas.)

In October I was lucky enough to score some tickets to the Puissance at the Washington International Horse show. It was quite entertaining to take a subway to get to a horse show, not to mention all the stalls in the middle of the street. This weekend I am excited to witness the Middleburg Christmas Parade, something that apparently can draw over 10,000 people! Thankfully I automatically have parking at my house! So I'm finding ways to fulfill my horsey fix. Hopefully the wait will be over soon.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Getting Mobile (Or, How Hurricane Sandy Messed with My Head)

After a mildly obsessive search that included cross-referenced Excel spreadsheets, daily repetitive searches on the usual websites, and maybe $100 worth of fuel costs, Comedic Eventing is finally mobile!

I liked to joke earlier this year that I may have been the only Advanced Level eventer in the entire country to have neither a truck nor a trailer. Now obviously, that is a completely wild guess, but most people at that level at least have one or the other.

In June, I partially rectified the matter and made the first big purchase of my adult life, obtaining my truck. I was halfway to freedom.

On Saturday, I kissed goodbye to my savings account and bought a 2004 Hawk two horse straight load, one of the brands and models I had been lusting after. It has almost everything I wanted: a rear ramp, dressing room, gooseneck hitch, water tank, fan in the horse area, extra space in the horse area, and above all, a side ramp. (You see, Dante has never quite gotten the hang of backing down a rear ramp with any sort of coordination. Every time I remove him from the trailer backwards, I live in fear of him being an absolute ding-dong and injuring himself somehow. Hence, the side ramp.)

(Look at the shiny! Or rather, the matte aluminum skin...)

As a bonus, there's also a large gate in the center that I can shift between two positions, so I can haul two horses in the rear, with the gate shut and equipment or hay in the front. I can also shift the gate back a couple of feet and haul one horse loose in a box stall configuration in the front and haul equipment and hay in the back. Or I can remove the gate all together if I like, or even remove all of the gates and hardware to form one giant box. (I'll never have to rent another Uhaul trailer for moving ever again!) Another bonus was the ability to plug the trailer into a hookup and get power for two outlets.

So on Saturday, I bought the trailer (name still pending, and yes it needs a name, I name everything), and took it to its temporary parking place out in Poolesville, MD. Then, mindful of the impending inclement weather (Some of you might have heard of Sandy?) I tried to get it insured on Sunday.

Turns out the insurance companies stopped binding all policies on Friday due to the expectation of a hurricane.

Lesson learned. Never, ever make a big purchase that must be outside two days prior to a hurricane arriving. You will spend the entire storm obsessively checking the hourly weather where said purchase is located and hoping that the wind gusts aren't strong enough to knock over any trees and toss them onto your trailer.

Well, you'll be checking obsessively until you lose power, of course.

Luckily, for those of us in NoVA, the wind and rain was not too bad, and although there was some damage due to downed trees and power did go out mostly overnight and some on Tuesday, we largely escaped Sandy unscathed. I got the report that my trailer was fine, and I breathed a sigh of relief. And promptly on Wednesday, got the thing insured.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Fairest Hill of All

This past weekend YB and I trekked up to Elkton, MD for the annual Fair Hill. This gave me mixed feelings, as I would have rather been competing this weekend in the two star. However, I felt like I kept the blues at bay quite admirably, mostly through being tired, coffee, great spectating, coffee, crab bisque, and coffee. Oh, and being terrified of getting shanked in the sketchy motel. (At least we didn't stay in the motel where someone was murdered on Monday night...) And instead of using my pen as a tool to convey how the weekend, I created the following video blog.

I also taped a TON of riding. The next five videos include CCI** XC, CCI*** XC, Jogs, CCI** SJ, and CCI*** SJ. Youtube only allowed me 10 min per video, so I had to cut a couple of SJ rounds, but I tried to get much of the top riders.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Second Horse Itch

There comes a time in every rider's life when the eye starts to stray. Often it's during a period of rest or injury for their horse, and the lack of riding is slowly driving them mad. Sometimes it's because the horse is getting up there in years, or isn't quite tackling the course the way they should. Other times, it may simply be because the rider misses the ways of the baby horse.

At this point, many riders are struck with what I like to call the Second Horse Itch.

The pesky Second Horse Itch starts as just a little tickle. It may start at a horse show, when you see a particularly nice Novice horse float across the ground in front of you. It may start at your barn, when a fellow barnmate buys a new one and the excitement spreads around. It can even start in your daydreams, as you race across the Rolex course on a horse you made yourself (in your mind).

That tickle grows slowly, slowly. You might begin surfing the web for horse ads. At first, you search Dream Horse for all the horses worth $50k or more, finding your perfect upper level school master who takes you to the autumnal woods of Fair Hill and the balmy sands of Galway. With your perfect $75K purchase, you head to England to compete with William and Mary, and the Netherlands to joust with Michael Jung and the indomitable Sam. You ride down centerline at the London Olympics, having just performed the test of a lifetime. This dream horse and you are unbeatable.

Reality is an enabler for the Second Horse Itch. Reality brings you back from the horse-saturated landscape of Europe and places you firmly on solid ground. That four star packer is out of reach, financially.

But you can afford a baby.

It doesn't hurt to look, right?

It starts off with the fantasy of importing a phenomenal young three year old. You watch video after video of Irish Sport Horses cantering and free jumping. One or two catch your eye, and you again daydream, this time of pulling a fancy young horse off the trailer, freshly arrived from Ireland, with a moniker to match. You think of hacking the baby through the hills of Virginia, teaching him to be brave and strong. You think of bringing him to schooling shows and training him so carefully that his first debut at a rated show goes perfectly, and the pair of you spend a lifetime going perfectly up the levels.

The you look at the cost of a plane ticket for a horse.

On to square three. The Second Horse Itch needs attention, and at this point you can't help but scratch it.

You think of buying a young warmblood from a breeder in this country, a progeny from Brandenburg's Windstar or Salute the Truth. You drool over Riverman offspring and covet those sired by A Fine Romance. But the bottom line looms.

Inevitably, your mouse hand drags you to the CANTER sites, where you peruse the ranks of young OTTBs. Not all of them are to your liking, or even many, but finding the proverbial diamond in the rough is part of the game. At this point, the Second Horse Itch is a constant, nagging thought.

You find a thoroughbred to fit your criteria, who looks perfect on paper and in the photos. You even have his purchase price in your savings account. The Second Horse Itch compulsively pushes your hand to the phone, ready to call the trainer.

Then you look at your bank account. Work out your finances. Realize that the expensive part of owning horses is not the purchase price, but the upkeep. Sadly, you put the phone down.

But you come back to that photo of the young, OTTB daily. You both dread and can't wait for him to be sold. Finally, the ad goes away, indicating he is no longer available. You think you're free of the longing.

But you're not. There's always another Dream Horse, another import, another fancy youngster, another OTTB.

The Second Horse Itch never truly goes away.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel

(Welcome to Middleburg, home of the Red Horse Tavern.)

Now that I'm finally settled, I've been starting to think about where I'm going to keep Dante when the time comes for him to end his vacation. I'm in the middle of horse heaven, so it shouldn't be too hard, right?

Of course, it's never that easy.

First, let's go ahead and assume that his hooves conform to our schedule and he is ready to compete again next spring. That means I need to bring him up in January after a month at Kesmarc in December to start trot sets, so I can flat in February, and start jumping by March.

Wheee, trot sets in January.

So first I think of all the things I want in a barn:

1) All weather footing and lights in outdoor rings.
2) Indoor or covered, if there are no lights or all weather footing.
3) Good footing in the turnout, and no more than 2 pasture buddies.
4) All day or night turnout, depending on the season and weather.
5) Deeply bedded stalls that are cleaned well.
6) No required lessons with trainer (unless it is a trainer I want to ride with).
7) I can use any vet or farrier (which is not a big deal if I like the barn vet or farrier).
8) Trailer parking (I don't mind paying a small fee for a small trailer, just needs to be available).
9) Within budget! (Which isn't super tight, but the less money I spend on board, the more I can spend on lessons. Or save for shows....)

My plan is to trailer out for lessons twice a week, once for dressage (preferably to an actual dressage instructor) and once for jumping (would love to find a jumper trainer to work with two times a month, and then to an event trainer for a touch of XC and a jump lesson maybe 1x a month.) I definitely want to build up a rapport with an event trainer so that when I go to big events (FEI mostly) I can stable with them and course walk with them, as well as have a flat and SJ warm-up. However, I can't afford the time or money to have Dante on training board with someone like I did in Texas, and I'd like to take advantage of the opportunity to train with specialists.

The situation becomes more complicated with Dante coming in January. I don't really need an indoor, I almost like the idea of riding in all the elements, so Dante gets used to being relaxed in all weathers. I can buy rain covers for my saddles, I can wear old half chaps instead of tall boots, I can oil my tack after getting wet. I won't ride if it's under 20 degrees (I might hack in certain circumstances, but no straining his lungs), but an indoor wouldn't really help that anyways. Obviously, I need all weather footing if it's raining.

Worse comes to worse, many places will allow you to use their indoor for a fee. I could do that once in a while if it's truly bad. However, I do very much need lights. With work, I may need to be riding at 10 pm on a semi-regular basis. I have no problem riding outdoors so long as there are lights and all weather footing.

I do want lessons by February, and seeing as I'm not sure that any of the trainers I would normally lesson with stay up in VA, I might be willing to board with a trainer with an indoor through the winter, then move. But moving is a pain. So we'll see.

Finally, this barn MUST be located within fifteen minutes of Middleburg OR located north of Middleburg no further north than Purcelville. My job will be sending me to work out of Germantown, MD for about a year (maybe more, maybe less), and my route home from work will probably bring me from the north out of Frederick. The commute itself is long enough that I really don't want to have to drive past Middleburg south (unless I am trailering to a lesson) and then return again.

Some things I can sacrifice on. I might be willing to let him have more of a herd if the acreage of turnout is larger. I might be willing to let him live primarily on turnout so long as he is either fed separately or I can ensure he is getting all of his food and none of anyone else's. I will not sacrifice on footing, care, or having either lights/all weather or an indoor. I won't sacrifice on location.

Luckily, Middleburg area suffer almost an overabundance of horse farms. I'm likely to find at least a few facilities that fit my parameters. Many of these farms are private with only a few boarders, and the only way to hear about them is word of mouth. So spread the word, Virginia folk!

Time to start the search.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Courage to Change

It has been several weeks since I last updated, and I can already state with confidence that it is likely to be several more before I update again. The reason for this is simply that with Dante (temporarily) not in my life other than through text photos and phone calls, I don't really have much to blog about. 

That doesn't mean nothing has changed. I've recently moved to Middleburg, and I mean I am right in town! For the first time in my life, I can walk to shops and cafes. There are four tack shops here! I've currently resisted entering any of them due to lack of funds, but I have stopped in the biggest Dover store I've ever seen, which is conveniently on my way to work. It's a bit easier to not buy things when there's no serious riding to be seen in my near future, and my pony isn't within arm's reach. In any case, I've been busy attempting to sort out my house, find my bearings, and of course watching the Olympics. Conveniently, I start my new career on August 1st, which I didn't plan at all for with the Olympic Eventing in mind, but it works out perfectly. 

Our drive to VA was relatively smooth, barring a few tense minutes in the West Virginia mountains where the trailer was pushing my truck down a few steep grades. Anyone know an alternate route through WV from VA to KY, preferably including an interstate highway? We did stop over in KY, to see S and Dante. I haven't seen S since I ran the 2009 LF CCI* at Midsouth, so it was great fun to have a couple of days to reunite. I'm hoping to entice her out to VA to attend a few horse shows, cross your fingers! She's taking awesome care of Dante, who is fatter than I have ever seen him. The only way to entice him to lift his head from the lush bluegrass was with a carrot. He's not FAT-fat yet, as I've never been able to get him to gain much weight, but definitely looks like a rounder hunter. He gets to go out all night with his friend Fig, an older gelding who apparently bosses Dante around. Dante apparently doesn't really care what Fig tries, just eats nonstop.

(Dante grazes in his Kentucky field as the sun goes down.)

His shoes were also pulled about four days prior to my seeing him. The first day I was there, he was definitely a bit tentative when he walked. We stayed two full days after that and each day he got better. On the morning of the fourth day, you could barely tell he had been sore walking barefoot, although every now and then, he'd stop paying attention and stub his toe on something. Silly pony.

(Dante's bare feet!)

As of then, there wasn't much change in the shape of his hoof, but it had been less than a week so I wouldn't have expected anything yet. Hopefully, we'll see some seriously change within six weeks.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Leaving the Nest

Sometimes, you must change your environment in order to grow as a person.

The past two months have been a huge whirlwind of change for me. I have traveled (both by car and plane) over much of the country for my final senior design project, for job interviews, for horse shows, for weddings. I've graduated from college (for the second time!), landed a job, moved temporarily to San Antonio, and purchased a new (to me) truck. In the next month, I look forward to a final vacation, a cross country drive with a pit stop in KY to visit my horse and watch 'my kids' tackle NAJYRC cross country and show jumping, moving into a place around Middleburg (exact address still pending), and starting my new career.

Change is exhilarating and I can't help but feel like my life as an adult is finally beginning after having been in a holding pattern for the past four years.

However, while moving involves meeting new people and having new experiences, it also involves a lot of good-byes.

I'm exceptionally terrible at saying good-bye. I'm that person who gives an awkward hug and mumbles something about seeing you later. Except of course, everyone knows there is no later.

Some of the hardest good-byes I had to give this time were to the wonderful people at Gold Chip, which has been like a second home for me. I have seen so many kids and young riders go through Gold Chip, but the current group of riders is really something special. There's a camaraderie that I am going to greatly miss. Even our trainer is like a second dad to us all, to the point where I actually almost called my own father 'Mike' the other day. Dante has lived at this barn for more than four years, which is by far the longest he has ever lived in one place, and my trainer has brought us from Novice to Advanced. It will be hard to adjust to a trainer who doesn't know every nuance of our partnership like Mike does.

And yet, as much as I love my barn, I really, really hate Texas summers. I hate Texas summers the way many people hate northern winters. If I have my way, I will never again visit Texas between May and September. I loathe the overbearing, choking heat, and generally huddle inside in the A/C all day, every day. Repeatedly I get told that NoVa still gets hot, but usually the person telling me this has never experienced Texas in mid-summer. I cannot wait to escape this oppressive weather.

Luckily, I landed the job in D.C. and I'm lucky enough to be planning a move to Middleburg, VA. I've purchased a used Dodge Ram 2500 (dubbed Casey Jones) so I can finally look forward to hauling my own horse. (I may have been the only Advanced level eventer with neither a truck nor a trailer.) The commute is going to be a bitch, but with no family and no pets to deal with at home, this is the time of my life to make these kind of sacrifices in order to ride and compete.

Dante is currently on vacation at Graystone Stables in Georgetown, KY. Graystone is owned and run by S, my former college roommate who is the most meticulous horseperson I've ever known. I'm very lucky to be able to trust her with my boy while I put my new life in order. Dante is also being seen by her in-house vet, Dr. Newton of Rood and Riddle, who I absolutely already love. His shoes will be pulled shortly, and hopefully we can create a large change in the shape of his hoof.

(Dante hams it up at Graystone.)

In the meantime, I am both excited and melancholy by turns. Saying good-bye is not an easy thing.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

If You Can't Stand the Heat

Well, summer is here and it's officially time to get out of Texas!

Kind of.

About a billion things have happened in my life since I updated after Greenwood. The biggest thing is that I have graduated and accepted a job in Alexandria, VA near D.C. that will start August 1st. So what does this mean for my riding?

Well first of all, hooray for moving into the heart of Area II. I won't be forced to take a week off for every horse show as I do in Area V, what with all the horse shows in that area. However, I get zero vacation time my first year, so riding is going to go on hiatus for at least six months while I get my bearings.

Normally, this would bum me out. I'm so close to qualifying for the Big Game (which shall not be named and heretofore will always be referred to as the Big Game). Dante and I are so in sync on cross country that I'm in danger of becoming too cocky (my coach keeps my head from swelling too large to fit through doorways though). I think we're about to have a mental breakthrough for both of us for dressage. Area II would also give us a chance to refine our show jumping.

However, Dante has been competing quite steadily since he was five. It's time for a break. It's time for him to have his shoes pulled and allow his poor contracted heels to relax. It's time for him to roll around in the KY bluegrass all day, every day (or night, whichever). It's time for him to be a fat, roly-poly horse.

Dante demonstrates his love for the KY bluegrass as a five year old.

Before that happens, we have one more challenge.

Remember how I said it's time to get out of the oven kitchen Texas? In two days time we will be headed up to Colorado to make our next attempt at a QR in the CCI**. Third time's a charm right? Hard ground thwarted us at Jersey, and pneumonia defeated us at Galway, but here's to hoping our upcoming trip is issue-free. We've got good karma at the CO Horse Park, having run our first successful Training there in 2008 and our first CCI* in 2009, finishing 3rd on our dressage score. I've got a good feeling going, and that's always a confidence builder.

And it won't be as hot in Colorado!

(Seriously, hate the heat with a passion, as does Dante.)

After CO, Dante will get to go live with my old college roommate at Graystone Stable in Georgetown, KY. He'll have his shoes pulled and hopefully will finally defeat his age old foe, thrush. He'll see the farriers at the podiatry center of Rood and Riddle and be subject to the phenomenal eye of Dr. Chris Newton. Hopefully he'll come to VA in mid-winter, after spending some time swimming at Kesmarc to put condition on him before going back to work.

That's the plan anyways.

Unfortunately I'll be headed to San Antonio for a month to stay with my parents to save some money for a month, regroup, recover, and then head to VA the end of July. That means I have to stay in the oven for a month longer, but better me than Dante.

So here's to persistence (and cooler weather)!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bigger, Faster, Stronger

It's that time of year again; Dante and I have embarked on CCI** fitness sets!

The thing about fitness sets is that they're very boring here in Texas. We have flat, flat, and more flat land.   Since our show is in Colorado, it is on the side of a mountain. Also, the altitude plays in and becomes a factor. So, Dante needs to be very, very fit.

Officially we are now galloping every five days, something I have never really done before. It has always been a schedule of every seven days, to work in with school and work. However, now I have a few weeks break after graduating, so I am taking advantage of that to gallop every five days as recommended by most top riders. We are also doing trot sets as well.

Our schedule reads trot sets, flat, jump, gallop, day off. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Tomorrow we will embark to the track for the first time this season. Although the Texas weather has actually provided us with a bit of rain and moderate temperatures this spring, the ground has migrated to being just hard enough to leave me feeling uncomfortable about galloping on it, particularly for the long sets that I have to do.

To ramp up Dante's fitness, we have gradually increased our sets from 3 x 5 to 3 x 7 sets. Only in the month of May did I start galloping every five days, and we will do one more 3 x 7 sets and two 3 x 8 sets before Colorado. The trot sets have ramped up from 2 x 15 to 2 x 25 and will up to 2 x 30.

Man, trot sets are boring. Pandora Radio helps.

In any case, the hope is that we will arrive in Colorado fit to fight.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Something I have been working on for a very long time, particularly in dressage, is my mental game. I used to get extremely worked up before dressage, because I just knew it was going to go badly. As a result, it usually did.

Shockingly, this past weekend at Greenwood, my mental game finally came through for dressage. We entered the ring calm and collected after having a wonderful warm up. Our trot work was really lovely, and even the walk was decent. Unfortunately, he then lost his mind a bit in the canter, swapping across the first diagonal and refusing to pick up the correct lead, then swapping on the final canter down center line, then refusing to trot to the final halt. It was relatively atrocious. I can sum that test up with the statement that it was both the best and worst test I have ever done. Still, I was so thrilled with his trot work, that I forgave him for his canter work. He's still playing with his lead changes like they are a new toy. Now I am trying to take that toy away from him, so he forgets about it a little. It's going well at home and in warmup, but apparently not so much in the actual test. We'll work on that. In the end, we were tied for first shockingly, but on our usual low 40s score. I'm positive we would have broken into the 30s if he hadn't melted down in the canter, so hopefully we can pull that together before Colorado.

Cross country, as usual, he was amazing. We were forward and bold to all of the fences, and very much in sync. At first, he was quite on the muscle, and I found myself with rather long distances to the first four fences, as if he were attempting to make the fences larger. He soon settled, and we went along to a comfortable pace.  I wasn't planning on trying for time, so I was pleasantly surprised when our leisurely gallop (at least it felt rather leisurely to me, I never once pushed him) turned out to be the fastest of the division, putting us into first by almost 10 points.

So going into show jumping, I was feeling rather good about have two rails in hand. Unfortunately, my mental game failed me, and I sucked. Again. Just like at Poplar. We had two rails relatively early when I got him a touch deep to a couple of verticals, and then I just bombed going into the triple combination. Almost fell off while Dante climbed through all three fences. It was just all kinds of bad. Then I missed badly going to the final fence as well, so I ended up with six rails. Not exactly a confidence building ride, having two of these awful, non-qualifying rounds before my two star....

My game plan is very much to work on my mental game. Mike is going to set up some jumps in the field for me, so I can feel the difference of jumping in a large space, rather than his very small arena. I thought about attending a schooling jumper show, but unfortunately the only jumper shows around here in the month of May are 'A' rated, and would cost me $300 or more to even get there. I'm not sure I'm ready to shell out that much for a couple of schooling rounds. I've also got a couple of sports psychology books, and I'm going to do some digging in those.

Once again, back to square one.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mixed Bag

Sometimes, you get a mixed bag of results. This weekend was like that.

We made the trek out to Poplar Place last weekend in Georgia to run their Advanced. I knew it would be a tough second Advanced, and I was right. Walking the course on Thursday definitely made my eyes pop out a bit, especially for the modified Weldon's, which was a skinny brush set on an angle with a ditch. Poplar takes their brush fence seriously, with the lowest side of the brush cut at about four and a half feet. The tall side on the left must have been up to about six and a half feet, as you can see in the following photo.

(I'm 5'3'', for reference.)

There were some combinations that I knew would be tough. The first combination was a hanging log, a sharp turn left five strides to a huge left handed corner, and then a sharp turn right five strides to a skinny house. I was a bit nervous about the Weldon's. The cannon combo came up the hill, jump two cannons on a left-handed angle with one stride in between, then downhill with three LONG strides to a left handed corner. It was set perpendicular to a prelim combination that also ended with a corner. (Remember that, it's important later.) We also had a hanging log, one stride to a bank with a huge drop on a steep downhill, to a ditch, then one stride to a wedge. Next up was the infamous Indian Burial Mound, which had been modified to be a true Irish Bank, one stride to a log on top. The final combination that concerned me was a big/long bounce into the main water. There were a few other combinations on course, but these were the ones that looked tough to me.

So basically, most of the course looked tough to me.

I was really excited to get to it, but first we had to get through dressage. I tried yet another warmup technique this time, going for a long trot and canter set in the am of my dressage test, hoping to wear him out. Then I got on about ten minutes before my ride. It didn't really work. Dante started off with trot work that was a bit duller than that of Rocking Horse. He built steam throughout the test, until our final canter work was barely controllable, which was an improvement over Rocking Horse when our canter work at the end was UNcontrollable. So we're back to square one again. The good news is that it doesn't seem to be the environment or the ring that affects him, but rather performing the actual test that works him up. I think that perhaps by running through test after test after test (starting with Novice), I might actually get him used to that and prevent the mental build.

We'll see.

In any case, my trot work didn't score as well, but my canter work scored better, and I ended up with a 43.1, one point improvement over Rocking Horse. We won't have another stab at the Advanced test for a while, but I'm satisfied with the result.

Next up, cross country! It had rained quite a bit on Friday, but since the ground before was so hard, the footing ended up being absolutely perfect. We put in big studs to make sure we didn't slip, but the turf was spongy and non-concussive. We set off across the country and Dante jumped the first four fences great, especially number four, a big hanging table that was probably the largest fence on course. We came to number five, the first corner combination, which had been causing lots of problems already. I really concentrated on turning to the corner before thinking about the final element, and Dante jumped through great. We continued on, jumping the bounce bank in the woods with no problem, before coming to the Weldon's. 

At the Weldon's, Dante decided in the very last stride that the right side of the fence was scary and it would be better to jump the left side instead. The six and a half foot side. Oh yes, there was a large shrub on the landing side on the left too. I have a memory of going up, and up, and up. Dante did brush at least some of it, but he must have cleared at least five and a half feet. Considering that the largest I have ever jumped was four and a half feet, I was a bit in shock. In mid-air, he saw that the shrub interfered with our first stride after landing. His front feet struck the ground, and he twisted hard to the right to avoid the shrub. I grabbed mane and barely stayed atop as he navigated around the shrub and continued gamely on. I love my horse.

(I hate him a little too, though. Seriously, horse?)

For the record, I did end up trekking back out to that fence later to see if I could find his hoof prints, and sure enough, there they were; two deep solid circles (from his pads) at least two feet to the left of everyone else's tracks, and solidly placed in front of the shrub. 

In any case, we continued on. Unfortunately, we ran into trouble at the cannons. Dante jumped the cannons extremely straight, but immediately after sighted the Prelim corner to the right and headed for it. I corrected his path, but it was too late. There was no way, with the hard wiggle, to make the three long strides to our corner. We got there on three and a half and Dante simply couldn't jump. Circling around, Dante jumped it like a champ on the next approach, but the damage was done. Leslie Law later told my trainer that he thought the two corner combinations were extremely difficult, so that made me feel better at least. I know for sure that Dante could have done the combination on the first try, so in the future, I will make note of other fences he might lock onto instead of our own, and ride accordingly. A photo of the combination in question can be found here.

Next up was the bank/ditch combo, which Dante jumped well. Then we tackled the Indian Burial Mound, which he jumped extremely well. The final bounce into the water, we rode perfectly, although we ended a touch off the canoe on the out and Dante clobbered it a little. I was extremely proud of his bravery jumping into the water. It has taken four years, but he finally has zero hesitation upon entering water. Go Dante!

Dante was a little tired from the hills by the end, but recovered quickly and well. He was back to his annoying self within thirty minutes. The next morning he practically bounced out of his stall, and he felt extremely up during warm up. I knew that as long as I met the fences well, he would jump clear. 

Unfortunately, I did not even remotely hold up my end of the bargain. 

I missed badly at the first fence and that ended up setting the tone for the rest of the course. I rarely get to ride in such a large arena, and I had a bit too much pace. Last year, I never had enough pace, and I've gone a bit the other direction. I also think that Dante is well trained enough now that he is too responsive to the bit, and I'm afraid subconsciously to take a hold and put him between my leg and hand because he'll drop back too much. Instead, I had all leg going out the front and none coming into my hand. Not Dante's fault at all, completely mine. In any case, my round was pretty embarrassing. I missed badly to four jumps, causing him to basically punch through them in varying degrees. I missed a little to a final fence, getting him a bit too deep to a vertical, and he wasn't inclined to help me out anymore, so I had a fifth rail.

So, a mixed bag of results at Poplar. I am extremely proud of him for the way he handled the XC course. We're going to go home and work on accuracy (for the Weldon's), and listening (to make sure he locks onto the right jump). I foresee jumping lots of upright barrels in our future. For show jumping, we'll play with some different bits and jumping out in the field. I have no plans to do a CIC3* until next year, so the fact that we didn't get a QR this weekend is really ok. Right now, I have every intention of simply gaining experience at the Advanced level, and we accomplished that this weekend. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Best Laid Plans

I have now been back in Texas for two weeks, and I think that it is safe to say that I have officially missed winter this year. It has been in the 60s and 70s the entire time I have been back, and I haven't worn more than a hoodie to keep warm. Most days I even shed the long sleeve shirts. The wildflowers are beginning to pop out on the roadside, and the trees are beginning to bloom.

(A tree in the park where I run daily.)

The emergence of flowers usually signals the end of winter for Texas. Sometimes the flowers don't come out until April; that's when we know it might snow in March. But this winter was quite mild even before we left for Florida. In Florida, it was almost hot, and I had to buy some emergency tank-tops before I roasted. Then I come back and it's spring. (I love winter and snow, so completely missing any semblance of winter is throwing me for a loop.)

However, it's truly lovely to go and ride every day. Dante is feeling extremely good. In fact, so good that he feel the urge to spook at every leaf and squirrel. I finally gave in and cut his feed a little, which seems to have calmed him a bit. He's still getting plenty of beet pulp, so he should be able to maintain his weight.

The show schedule keeps changing. Southern Pines is out of the picture, and Poplar is back in. I'll be running Advanced there. As a result, I didn't want to trailer twice to the east coast in three weeks; therefore, the Fork was out as well. Then it seemed my barn had several headed to Ocala CCI** (which we've never gone to), so I started to plan for that. However, that seems to be a non-starter now. 

I had planned to be done by mid-April, as I have to make a four day trip to West Grove, PA for my senior design project the weekend of Rolex, I have a bridal shower to attend the weekend of Holly Hill, and a four day long wedding/my birthday in Austin the weekend of Feather Creek/Chatt Hills in May. I'll be quite busy. I'm also moving back to SA to live with my parents for a few months starting in June before moving up to NJ to start my new career. Now, somewhere in there, I have a feeling I'll be trying to fit in Greenwood and the CO Horse Park CCI**, which is in early June. I think it'll work okay, but I need to talk to Mike and my parents before I get the okay for that.

My life is getting ready for some big changes. This season, almost every show has been up in the air....I think I'm getting some good practice at dealing with uncertainty!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Visual Aids

So the video of Dante and I at Rocking Horse II has now been posted.

Watching it back, I'm absolutely still thrilled with his trot work. The judge generally agreed, giving me largely 6's and 7's, with her main comment being that he needs to be more uphill. She's right, he does. That is still an Intermediate frame and I need to get him to push more from behind and lift his withers more to obtain the Advanced frame. It's mainly a matter of building strength at this point.

The canter work wasn't nearly as bad as it felt. Obviously we picked up the incorrect lead, but I think in all likelihood I only gave him vague cues, and so he just picked a lead. I need to be certain to stick my left leg far back and leave my right firmly at the girth, something I can sometimes be lazy about. And then obviously, I got the flying change instead of walking again and picking up the correct lead. My bad, now I know. (Secretly, I just wanted to show off how awesome Dante's changes are. It was a preview, if you will.)

Obviously, he definitely lost his composure a bit after the medium canter. It didn't look as much as if he were running from me, but he was definitely a touch out of control. I felt as if we were careening around the short side. I think much of it had to do with the fact that I'd barely practiced any medium canter at all the previous two weeks, thinking that he was so confirmed in it that it didn't matter. Mental note to self: must practice medium canters so as to keep Dante bored with them!

All in all, I'm pretty happy with the test. I think we can knock five points off his score by a) pushing him more uphill and b) keeping composure in the trot work!

The stadium speaks for itself. It was awesome.

The cross country video is interesting as I didn't feel it was nearly as smooth as it looked. When running, I felt as if I were chipping in time after time to the galloping fences. In the video, it merely looks as if we are getting right to the base, without it being short. I'm gratified to know my eye wasn't nearly as off as I thought. Apparently I'm just picky about the definition of a perfect spot now!

The video also illustrated just how hard Dante looked at the bank bounce out of water. I definitely felt him suck back but at the time, no one watching seemed to notice and said they didn't see it. However, I can see a definite pause in Dante's demeanor exactly two strides through the water, and it caused us to be pretty far off the bank. I definitely need to keep that in mind, and ride harder through the water if the element out might give Dante pause.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, a photo comparison of Dante as a Beginner Novice horse and as an Advanced horse.

(Dante at May-Daze in 2007, where he won his first BN on a score of 26.4)

(Dante at Rocking Horse II in 2012, where he finished fourth at his first Advanced on a score of 44.1)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What Lies Within Us

In late 2006, I made a big decision in my life. After years of riding lesson and sales horses, I finally decided I was in a position to be able to purchase a first horse. I had been riding for ten years at that point, and the concept of having my own horse was almost foreign. My competition career had been limited to Novice or below due to a variety of horses like draft crosses, ponies, and saddlebreds who were physically limited to Novice, and OTTBs who generally were sold before we made it that far. As happy as I was to help develop these horses, I was itching to do more.

I started my horse search in September of 2006, and on January 2, 2007 I wrote a check for a 2002 chestnut thoroughbred gelding named Aiken Pike, hoping he would take me through Preliminary.

Boy, was I wrong.

Dante and I have officially competed from BN through Advanced together as of Saturday.  He has never been competed by another rider. I have never ridden above Novice on another horse.

He jumped so over the shoulder at the Training level that the move up to Prelim was a leap of faith that he needed bigger fences to be impressed.

He did.

Then I thought he would top out at Prelim, thanks to his habit of always tap-tapping the biggest tables on the cross country course. At our first Intermediate, I missed to the third fence, a huge table, and he took off long and just soared over it without a sweat. Dante only ever jumped as big as he needed; he always jumped as big as he needed.

I stopped worrying about scope.

When the horse absolutely ate up the course at Jersey Fresh, my coach and I knew he could run around the Advanced. We waited until winter to move up so we could try to get my CCI** qualifier in the fall, but were thwarted when Dante spiked a 104 fever the day before XC at Galway and were forced to withdraw.

This weekend was one of the best of my life. I had never dreamed that Dante would take me to Advanced, and to be honest, no one else did either. He was the horse no one thought would even do Prelim. Now he just finished on his dressage score at his (and my) first Advanced. What an incredible journey.

Dressage was one of the better tests in recent memory. His trot work really felt lovely, and the judge generally agreed with me, scoring it with 6's and 7's and positive comments. I need to bring his frame up a bit more for Advanced, but otherwise his trot work was fantastic. Unfortunately he became quite wound up in the copious amounts of walk, and we picked up the wrong lead to canter. I made the mistake of fixing it through a lead change instead of walking and cantering again. Our half passes were decent except for the right canter half pass which was haunches trailing a bit. One change was quite good, the other a bit crooked. The medium canter came at the very end, and I basically lost control through it. He ran through my requests to slow down, ran around the short end of the arena, swapped leads before our ten meter circle onto the centerline, swapped back, then swapped again right before the halt.

Obviously, relaxation is still an issue.

However, it was a much better test than it could have been, and I was extremely pleased with his trot work. I did breathe a sigh of relief to see my score was a 44.10, as scores were a bit high at first and I was worried about getting a qualifying thanks to Dante's undesired additions to the test. Luckily, the trot work saved the test.

After our 9 am dressage test, I then had to wait until almost 4 pm to ride stadium. This gave me a chance to watch the Intermediate and Preliminary show jumping, who both had similar courses. The design of the course was quite good, with lots of tight turns with options to go outside or inside certain fences. I got on early enough to watch the first few riders in my division jump, and saw that unless you took at least two inside turns, you would have time penalties. There were three main options for inside turns, only one of which I definitely planned on. I decided to go ahead and do my second choice as well so long as the jump before wasn't a flier.

During warm up, Dante felt absolutely amazing. I moved up to a good distance to a big oxer, and he jumped me out of the saddle. I only jumped about five jumps total before I headed over for my turn. In the ring, it seemed that the chatter died down as I cantered to the start. There had not yet been any clear rounds, although my stable mate Sidney had gotten an extremely cheap rail at the final oxer when her horse barely breathed on it. As I made the turn to the first fence, I took a deep breath and briefly closed my eyes. Opening them, I saw my spot and rode to it.

The rest of the course flowed like water. Every turn I rode according to plan, every line I made the right decision. Every spot simply came to me. I didn't try to push Dante into any frame, and let him be between the fences. He rewarded me with fabulous jumps at every fence. Halfway through the course, I noticed how hushed the audience had become. It seemed that I could hear every whisper of Dante's hooves through the air.

Over the final fence, I could hear Dante ever so slightly brush the rail. As I landed, I held my breath, listening for the rail to fall. There was a moment of silence, and then there was a great cheer from the crowd as Dante and I delivered the first clear round of the day. It was the kind of round that brought tears to my eyes because it was so perfect. As I exited the ring, the first thing I see is my coach with a huge grin on his face and his hand up to give me a high five. I exclaimed, "That was freaking awesome!" and gave him the high five. I knew without asking there was nothing about that round that could have made it better.

I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day.

So many people came up to me to tell me how lovely my round was that I lost count. I was so unbelievably proud of my horse, but I was also incredibly proud of myself, which is a rare occurrence. I usually think of something that could have been better, or know there was one fence where he saved my ass. That show jumping round was the culmination of a five year partnership, where we each delivered perfectly. On that round, we moved from 20th to 8th.

I was so happy about that round, that I almost forgot to be nervous for cross country the next day. I was much less worried about the XC, simply because that is Dante's forte. He is so dominant in that phase, and to be honest, I expected nothing less than a clear round.

Of course Dante delivered.

The course was quite technical, but extremely fair, with nice striding everywhere. He was a little surprised at the Weldon's Wall appearing at the third fence, but jumped it with encouragement. At the double corners, which came sixth, he was quite green, wiggling heavily through the middle. I knew he would jump it though, and guided him accordingly. At the angles and the coffin he was fantastic. The turning tables were a mistake on my part. I uncharacteristically forgot that his stride lengthens quite a lot outside the ring, and rode the turning tables on the inside track, getting there on three and three quarters of a stride. Dante packed a tight one in to make the four and I apologized to him for my doubt. He jumped the trakehner great, and then we headed to the first water which was a hanging log, six strides to a log drop in, four across to a bank out and bounce to a large brush.

Knowing Dante's habit of backing off to water and taking an extra peek, I rode him solidly forward after the log, determined to make the six and not allow him to chip in for the seven. Apparently he no longer looks at water, as we did it in a forward five, landing closer to the bank than I thought we would. Halfway through the water, I felt him hesitate upon seeing the bounce, which ended up putting us off the bank a bit. Dante knew what to do though, and took off while I basically grabbed mane, jumping the bounce like it was nothing.

(Dante leaps over the log to the first water.)

The next big question was the sunken road, a bounce down to a one stride, up and then two strides to a wedge slightly offset. I basically aimed Dante at the wedge from the beginning and then held on as he navigated the question. I was pretty much exactly on my minute markers, and I could feel him tiring slightly at the fifth. He jumped through the second water well, but I could feel his jump form lacking as we jumped the out. Luckily there were only two more easy fences, so we cruised to the finish. I checked my watch and was happy to find it reading 5:52, which was optimum time. I knew I had started it slightly late, so thought I came in one or two seconds over time.

The humidity was pretty oppressive, and Dante didn't really start to recover until I began hosing him off. Luckily, he recovered quite quickly after that, which is his typical reaction to humidity. I began icing him, and checking the results.

When I later discovered I had finished fourth, I was ecstatic. I was a little surprised to see that they calculated my time as 5:05 though. I knew there was no way I was that close. The TD later ended up coming to my coach to ask about the time, but he knew I hadn't been anywhere near that. The TD discovered a math mistake and found that my time was actually 5:53, exactly what I had guessed. Still, I had to continuously fend off comments about my incorrect time, including doing some damage control on Eventing Nation and the Chronicle Forums.

At the end of the weekend, I felt that this show could not have better highlighted the incredible partnership that Dante and I have. We've been together for five years and we've taken every first step together. I can't wait to see what the next ten years brings.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Awakening of Butterflies

The past few weeks in Florida have simply flown by. I have spent as much time simply learning and watching as possible.

The week after Rocking Horse was a bit frustrating, riding wise. Dante seemed to become even spookier on grounds and the Wednesday after Rocking Horse I, we had one of our worst dressage schoolings in recent memory. He got spooky, I lost my temper, and we became one big ball of frustration. We couldn't canter, couldn't trot, couldn't do anything. You know it's bad when your trainer suggests that maybe you ride again in the afternoon, after the pair of us had both calmed down. Originally I had planned to go watch the High Performance training sessions, but I agreed with Mike and stayed on the farm. Went for a run, took a shower, cleared my head. Later that day, I got back on Dante, this time in the double bridle, went for a hack twice around the field, and managed a quiet, simple dressage school that was greatly improved.

(The view of the lake I see from my run.)

On Thursday, we jumped, then Jessica Pye and I headed out to watch the training sessions, her for the second time and me for the first. It was wonderful to watch Captain Mark Phillips, who really is a great trainer. He insists on perfection on a simple twenty meter circle before he allows you to begin the more advanced movements. One thing I really took from his lessons was to always, always, always ensure your horse is coming through from behind. We watched Heather Morris ride Slate River, Becky Holder ride Can't Fire Me, Buck Davidson ride Absolute Liberty, MLM ride RF Rovano Rex, and then got to see Buck Davidson jump The Apprentice, who has a HELL of a jump!

Friday Dante and I braved dressage again, beginning in the double bridle and switching to the snaffle after warming up. We were much calmer and patient and were much improved. I really concentrated on pushing Dante through with every single step, which meant I was using much more leg than I usually do. It seemed to work, especially at the walk which is by far our toughest gait. I was undecided at that point whether I would use the snaffle or double for the test. After the lessons, Jess and I headed out one more time to Meredyth South, this time watching Heather Morris and First Mark and then MLM and RF Rovano Rex on the flat.

On Saturday, most of GCS had jump/XC lessons, but I chose instead to enter the Rocking Horse schooling show, for both dressage and SJ. Dante and I performed the Advanced A test twice for the judge, first in the double and second in the snaffle. I didn't do any trot work before going into the ring, as I did at RH1 and he was a bit surprised at the first lengthening which occurs right away. He stayed calm throughout the test though, and in the double I was able to give him more rein during the extended walk while maintaining control. I also informed the judge that I would be doing my changes late, and waited until we were along the side of the ring instead of doing them across the diagonal. We scored a 35.3 in the double (add 5-10 points for a recognized show!). In the snaffle, I felt I had less control, particularly over the walk and the canter. At the very end, Dante grabbed the bit hard during the medium canter, so I brought him back to collected canter and then sent him forward again, this time with an improved attitude. He also ran down the final centerline, so I realized I needed to work on that. We scored a 39.4 on the second test. It was really great to get in the ring twice, as well as practicing our test.

Later that afternoon, I rode Dante in the 3'9'' jumper class and the 3'11'' class. The course was almost the same as the show from the weekend before. It was quite hot, and Dante was definitely getting tired. I was also trying very hard to put him in a frame between the fences, and he was not thrilled about that. When we get into the jumper ring, it often feels as if he isn't paying any attention to me, which is why I was trying to get him to use his body between the fences. However, on this day it felt like a disaster, and I became very frustrated again. He would barely listen at all to me, and then we fought so hard with each other that I would completely miss my spot. Mike and Jessica told me that he looked between my leg and hand most of the time and the only time it didn't was because my reins were too long, which is not at all how it felt. Obviously there was a giant disconnect with what I was feeling and with what everyone else was seeing. Mike felt I was trying to micromanage Dante and control him too much, but I felt as if I had absolutely no control at all to begin with and was trying to wrestle at least a little bit of say from Dante.

Needless to say, I was once again very frustrated.

However, on Sunday Mike sent us all to watch the Grand Prix at HITS. Wow, this was a big help. I was able to see how almost none of the jumpers cared about where their horses' heads were, so long as they met the jump correctly. I realized that I was possibly trying to squeeze Dante into a box that he just wasn't going to fit in. He's never going to be a Grand Prix horse (let's face it, not many of our eventers are!) and tops out around 4'6'' in all likelihood. While that's enough scope to compete in eventers at the highest level, it's obviously not in jumpers. Therefore I need to realize Advanced is a bit like a Grand Prix for Dante, and let him go how he needs to in order to be able to jump his best. It may not be picture perfect between the jumps, but just like the Grand Prix horses, it will help him be picture perfect over the fences.

(Grand Prix at HITS Ocala.)

Monday we went to Universal Orlando, which was the bomb. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, don't you know. And when Gold Chip plays, we play hard. 

The past week went by quickly, until most of GCS headed to the Florida Horse Park for Ocala II. The Advanced horses going to RH2 stayed behind to do fitness on our own. We went out to watch and support our crew on Friday and Saturday, and in particular got to see our JYOP crew be particularly successful, with Tori winning and Claire placing third. Ellie also successfully competed her two horses at Prelim for the first time, so we were extremely proud of her as well. It was great to see Lynne's face after her First Mark won an OI division over Mr. Medicott with Heather aboard as well. 

Now we're headed into the final stretch and I can feel the butterflies in my stomach start to awaken. I'm practicing my mental game for dressage, running every day, and prepping myself for our first Advanced. When doing gallop fences out in the field yesterday morning, I got a first peek at some of the new Advanced fences, including both waters, and it looks fantastic and fun. I'm the first to admit that I've been a bit bored at Intermediate this fall (although CCI**'s still are a blast), so it's a bit exciting to be getting that nervous feeling in my stomach again. I'm ready to ride hard and kick on!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dusting off the Cobwebs

The first show of the season has come and gone. Dante and I competed at Rocking Horse this past weekend, and adequately got all the bugs out of our systems before the big move-up. Rocking Horse always runs a tight ship in terms of show organization, which is great. I love nothing more than efficiency and organization. Shocking, I know.

The week leading up to RH1 was hot, hot, hot (not compared to Texas summers, but come on, it's January!). I am a complete wuss when it comes to heat and will complain about it as soon as I start sweating. Between the heat and the humidity, I was sweating a lot. I realize that everyone comes to Florida to escape the winter, but I just want to be able to wear long sleeves or a sweatshirt. It came as a huge relief when the 'cold front' arrived in Altoona, bringing lots and lots of rain on Friday.

As a result, Dante and I got very, very wet during our test. It was a chilly rain as well, and Dante was pretty tight as a result. However, I'm not really sure whether he was tight because of the cold rain, or because it was dressage. In any case, I was extremely happy with how well he listened to me despite his tenseness and I thought we put forth a very accurate, decently performed test. We did break in the first medium trot pretty badly simply because Dante wanted more and more trot, even as I asked him to maintain what he already had. Eventually he broke about halfway down the diagonal. However, the rest of the test was pretty mistake free.

I was very proud of two things in my test. The first was how consistent in the bridle Dante has become, both during extensions and lateral work. The second was my thought process, which I have been specifically practicing. I have never had a very good mental game, and tend to freeze up quite a bit in the dressage ring. I have started mentally running through my test and deciding what I will be thinking at during each moving, and practicing my thought process. It absolutely helped me. After Dante broke in his first medium, instead of dwelling on it, I immediately moved onto thinking about bending through the turn. It truly worked, and I look forward to further developing my mental game.

We scored a 43.6, which is a touch higher than I was hoping for, but they seemed to be rewarding relaxation quite a bit, and Dante was definitely tense. I hope that in the coming weeks, he will being relaxing at Rocking Horse, and that for the Advanced it will basically be a test at home.

Show jumping is still a work in progress. I thought the course was very nice. Last year there seemed to be lots of lines with huge striding, but this year there was only one line with a large step. Dante was nice and spring in warm up with a quality canter, but the instant we stepped into the ring, his head went straight up and he stopped listening. I managed to wrestle him into a quality canter about a third of the time during our course, but the rest was a bit of a battle, resulting in misses on my part and rail rubs on his. It's the hole in our training that we discovered at Greenwood. We've been working on it in lessons, and have made progress (or I wouldn't have been able to get a quality canter at all), but obviously he needs to learn that this lesson applies to shows as well as lessons. Hopefully, a few jumper classes at Rocking Horse next Saturday will help continue his education.

We did still finish with a double clear, our first at this level. Quite exciting! However we played jump by braille quite a bit and hit one fence particularly hard, but it stayed in the cups. I'd like to rely on something other than luck for my clear rounds, thank you very much.

Saturday dawned bright and beautiful. I am very seldom nervous anymore for cross country, because Dante is simply so good at it. I'm sure I'll be nervous in a couple of weeks at the Advanced, but this Intermediate was on the soft side to begin with. After tackling the course at Jersey, not much at this level intimidates me anymore! We had a couple of tough corner questions at the very beginning, but other than that it seemed sailing.

It did end up to be cake for Dante, but I was having one of those days where I was either seeing long or short spots all day long! Argh. I missed badly to a couple fences at the beginning (including the in to the toughest corner combo) and was gapping or putting Dante right to the base at several others. My eye finally kicked in for good at fence 15 and I didn't miss again after that. I'm confident that all the rust is knocked off now, and have to keep telling myself that I haven't actually had a run since late September! Dante was an absolute star, taking everything in stride and leaving when I asked him to, whether it be long or short. He never looked once at anything (which he often does at the beginning of the season), and took a bounce bank combo and the water with absolute confidence. He is so wonderful to ride cross country, and I came off the course with a giant grin on my face.

(Dante jumps happily into the water.)

(Of course, he did refuse to slow down between fences for the first half of the course, despite my intention to simply cruise around. Although he slows down and sets up for the fences, there is not much I can do to contain his enthusiasm for galloping between until the edge comes off. So we only came in fourteen seconds over time despite my intention of coming in around thirty over time.)

All in all, it was a great, educational outing that knocked off the rust from our skills this year. Next up is a schooling show here at Rocking Horse next Saturday, where Dante will be practicing the Advanced test A and B, and jumping in the 3'9'' and 3'11'' jumper rounds. Perfect practice makes perfect!

Monday, January 23, 2012


We have arrived in sunny Altoona! The nineteen hour drive was uneventful for me and Raphael, my trusty red Jeep. I arrived yesterday afternoon and proceeded to set up my hotel room the way I like it. I may not be a princess type, but I definitely don't sleep well with crappy bedding! So a comforter, a sheet, and two pillows made the trip with me, along with plenty of other necessities.

This morning, I woke up and went for a jog around a neighborhood bordering a lake right next to my motel. It was a lovely view while running, and made the mile (yes, only a mile!) go by very quickly. I'm hoping to make the morning run a habit before heading down to Rocking Horse.

Rocking Horse is only a five minute drive, which is lovely because I spend twenty minutes at least commuting at home. Twenty minutes isn't a long commute, but five minutes is really going to spoil me!

One thing I do not love is the weather. Ironically, I am one of the few people who love the cold and winter. Obviously, we come to Florida to escape the cold! So the fact that it is hitting eighty every day doesn't really thrill me. However, this is where the shows are, and so this is where we are.  (And yes, one day I would love to go to Aiken instead of Ocala, but it's not been in the cards yet.)

The four of us already there then proceeded to attempt to jury rig a ladder to hang up a tack hook in our tack stall. I truly wish someone had video taped it, as it quickly devolved into the old gem "how many eventers does it take to hang a tack hook?.." Unfortunately, we never did get it hung, so we are still unsure how many it actually takes! (My guess is two and an actual ladder....)

Mike's rig pulled into RH around eleven, and we quickly got to work pulling off trunks, tack, and of course twelve horses! Dante gets immediately put in his stall with his door shut after he gets off the trailer. He tends to be very on a mission, and its much better for him to unwind in his stall for ten minutes than to barge around the grounds. He also immediately sucked down his entire water bucket, then made slurping sounds until I obligingly refilled it.

(Dante surveys his new surroundings during his turnout time.)

By five o'clock, the horses had all had turnout, the stalls were all setup, the tack was hung, the turnout and lesson schedules were made, and the trainers were fed. Tomorrow, the real work starts! Show season begins Friday...

Friday, January 6, 2012

Details, Details

It's been all quiet on the Texan front lately, which is why I haven't blogged much. The holidays were spent quietly with family, while I traversed across Texas from Dallas to San Antonio to Dallas to Austin to Dallas. I'm relieved to be done driving for a few weeks, but of course in late January I will be driving my trust Jeep Raphael down to Altoona.

So now I join the plethora of other blogs detailing their migration south. This will be the first (and likely only) year that I get to stay in the south with my horse. In my final semester this spring, I have only one class to contest with, and it has no classes, homework, lectures, or tests. Lucky me! I really couldn't have arranged it better. Of course, logistically, this is the toughest trip for me. I'm having to think about laundromats, bedding, even whether I need to bring a loufa, as well as what I'll need for Dante. Trying to combine my regular tack trunk and show tack trunk has occupied my thoughts for many a driving hour.

Don't let anyone fool you, I love organizing things. I'm thoroughly enjoying myself.

Dante had his winter clip on December 29 and is now a lovely shade of ?????. (That means no one can really pin down what color he is now, but I think it's closest to dun. Definitely not red though.) His dressage has been stellar lately and our jumping is starting to come together as well as we hit our stride in our schedule after the holidays.

This past Sunday we went out to Greenwood for an XC school and knocked some rust off. Dante had one learning moment over the weird sunken road thing they have there (Greenwood goers, you know exactly what I'm talking about), but went through without any problems the second time. I've never jumped through the sunken part in competition, always done the corner trakehner which is generally considered more difficult anyways, because I knew Dante might have an issue with the sunken road option. The sunken part is very brushy, angled each way, and is next to a pond, so I have a strong feeling Dante wasn't sure if it was a water jump or a ditch or what. In any case, I was fully prepared for his confusion and I also know he has no problem with sunken roads in general. I also had a brain fart moment on the bounce banks up, but Dante was a star there and everywhere else.

(Dante jumps a prelim corner during XC schooling at Greenwood.)

Next weekend is a two day Jean Moyer clinic, where I desperately need some advice on Dante's walk. Then I'll head to Florida on the 21st and the ponies will follow on the 22nd.

Currently, we're entered for Intermediate at Rocking I and then Advanced at Rocking II! Bring on the big leagues, baby.