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!