Friday, August 9, 2013

Destination Millbrook

Last week marked a number of firsts for me for a show. It was the first time I took legitimate vacation days from work. It was the first time I was trailering my horse more than a couple of hours with my rig. It was the first time I had stabled overnight without being part of Gold Chip. It was the first time I was getting coaching from Stephen Bradley. Hell, it was the first time I'd stabled since Colorado in June 2012.

It was awesome.

Amanda and I set out ridiculously early on Thursday morning. It rained the entire drive, then cleared an hour before we arrived, then began again as we were unpacking the trailer. We sat in the truck for maybe 45 minutes to wait out the pouring storm, then mustered up the gumption to ride later. I'm testing out different methods and my new thing is to not overkill the dressage. As Dante has gotten worse and worse in the ring, my previous method was to flat him more and more and more. Now, I'm into the opposite. I don't even like to ride in my dressage saddle and bridle the day before the test. We ride in our cross country bridle (which he absolutely loves on the flat) and jump saddle and go on a hack, with some light trot and canter tacked on at the end. For warm-up, I walk for 20 minutes, then spend 12-15 minutes working on throughness and transitions. There's not a whole lot too it, but we try to work on focus and quality.

Apparently, it is working. Best dressage test at Advanced yet, and probably one of our best tests ever, period.


I walked cross country three times, so that I would make sure not to skip a fence, or jump the wrong one, or anything of that variety. The course looked great to me; tougher than our first Advanced at Rocking Horse, but softer than Poplar's Advanced. That was made me quake in my boots. Millbrook had a challenging but fair course, and I didn't feel too nervous about any particular combination. I headed out of the start box confident, but wary of being too cocky.

My faith was well placed, as Dante tackled the course with major aplomb. At first, I was disappointed with the large number of time penalties I had come home with; I was hoping to come home with around 10 penalties, not 20. However, once the results for the full division came in, I saw how tough the course had ridden. There were a large number of stops, retirements, and eliminations, and not one person came home within the time. In fact, only six riders even had single digit time penalties. For a green pair, to come home clean with around 10 more time penalties than the leaders was a great accomplishment.

(Dante galloping around the turn. Photo by Abbie Golden of Eventing Nation.)

I jogged Dante Saturday night on the extremely hard gravel road and he was sound as a dollar. He has been extremely sound ever since he had time off, but as always, I am extraordinarily paranoid. I shouldn't have worried, he was great.

On Sunday, we had to wait, and wait until I got to go. Amanda was lucky enough to be early and jumped a fantastic round; she and Toby had a phenomenal go this weekend as well. As the hours ticked on, and the spectator crowd grew, my stomach started churning. I calmed down a bit in warm-up....until Dante seemed very behind the leg. I was worried he was tired; in reality, I believe that the tiny warm-up ring with many horses was backing him off. I starting revving him up and up so that he wouldn't chip in once we were in the ring.

I got in the ring and galloped forward, something I used to do last year. But revving him up and then galloping forward was a bit much. I found long spots to the first two fences and concentrated on keeping him forward through the rollback to the vertical at three. After the long spots, I needed a half halt more than a kick, and had the rail when Dante jumped flat at three. Finally, after three I half halted and started getting the jumps I wanted. 

I then got the really long spot again to the triple bar and didn't half halt down the line to the vertical. And shockingly, had the vertical down. Lather, rinse, repeat. I pulled myself together for most of the rest of the course, the only other mistake happening when I got yet another long spot off of a roll back to a large square vertical. Again, half halt!

Still, even though I cracked a little under the pressure, I am thrilled with the way Dante was jumping. And in the end, I really made the same mistake of not half halting multiple times. Time to get my half halt on.

Thirty minutes after I got off Dante, it started to pour just as we started loading up the trailer. We got the horses loaded, changed our clothes, hopped into the truck, and just then, the rain stopped. So much fun.

At this point, we are now onwards and upwards to the Plantation CIC3*!