I was a little nervous heading into the Seneca Valley Pony Club Horse Trials this weekend. We moved back up to prelim and I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy course.
I’ve had a few decent jump lessons leading up to the event, so I was feeling alright, but certainly not brimming with confidence.
We’ve had a lot of rain the last week and Seneca is fairly flat, which leads to some wet spots. Since I last competed there last spring, they’ve moved the dressage in an effort to be further away from the cross-country, thus eliminating the banks on the cross-country for the time being. I’ve always been lucky that he hasn’t been too bothered by having the cross-country in sight of the dressage, but it looks like in the fall they’ll have some nicely graded grass rings away from all of the activity.
The dressage warmup was soft, but not bad. I’m not sure why I got on an hour ahead of my test, because he really didn’t need it. There was quite a hack to the warmup, but it didn’t take me as long as I thought it would.
So I was stuck with trying to hold him together with lots of short bursts of work, then walk breaks. Thankfully, he really didn’t seem to mind. The bugs were bothering him a bit, so he was shaking his head occasionally, but we had a pretty decent, no drama warmup.
As I started trotting around the ring, I had an “Oh shit” moment when I realized the footing was a lot worse. I tried to stay down near the A end until the judge rang the bell, but unfortunately the footing in the ring was just as bad. He was a little lazy off my leg out of the first halt, so we lost a point there, and I thought he made a good effort in the lengthened trot, but we only got a 6 for it. He did lose some rhythm after X because of some particularly sucky footing on the diagonal.
We’ve been really schooling the leg yields at home, but I can never quite get the scores I want on them. We got 6s on both, mostly because he took a few steps to get going sideways. His canter work got all 8s, and his lengthenings could have been better if we hadn’t gotten bogged down in the footing.
He shook his head in the free walk and lost the rhythm and was a little tight going back into trot again. Overall, I think he was really paying attention and was very workmanlike in the test, which is all I can ask for when the footing is tough. He didn’t shorten his gait or get choppy like a lot of horses did. We ended up with a 31 for fourth place in a division full of professionals.
When Lisa and I walked the cross-country, I started to get a little queasy. There were 7 tables, most of them max height and width and shared with the intermediate.
My show jumping warmup was actually alright. I tried not to touch him and we had a few nice jumps. The footing was a little tacky, so we didn’t do a ton.
I liked where they had the show jumping, which was on a pretty flat surface where the dressage used to be. The course didn’t seem to be totally max, which I think made it the perfect course for me to try to get my confidence back up. The first fence I asked for a bit of a long one, but then we got in a pretty good forward rhythm. That was definitely the theme of the course.
I almost took back too much to the triple bar, but I caught myself doing it and let him go. In my photos and videos, I realize I need to learn to ride show jumping fences and release more with my arm since I think I’m inhibiting his head and neck too much. I look much more comfortable on cross-country with a following hand in my photos.
We had one rail down in the middle of the triple combination. He just caught it on the way up because I didn’t sit up enough after the A element. Overall though, it was one of the best rounds we’ve done and it was a relief to get through it confidently.
Lisa told me to ride forward on cross-country because of the footing. In the mud, you simply can’t take back, and I think that really helped me mentally. The first fence was a little long and ugly, but after that, we got in a good rhythm. The fourth fence was huge, and I could feel him scoping it out as we were in the air over it.
5ab was an extremely angled brush in the fence line, four strides to a table. The other option was to jump to the left side and make a bending line. Apparently a lot of people took the left side and had trouble to the table, but when Lisa and I walked it, there was never any question to what the best line was. I think I could have gone a little further out, but he locked on once we got closer and it rode well.
He was slightly backed off to the half coffin in the shadows, but did it well, then I had to sit down and ride forward to a skinny log going into the woods. I would have liked to have landed better in my heels as we went down into the woods though.
We had a trakehner shared with the intermediate in the woods and the footing was kind of wet, but they’d put down some bluestone to help. He jumped boldly over that and we were on to another max table.
After angling the big table in the woods, we were meant to jump up a bank and over a ramp, but the footing was so bad that they took out the bank up, so I kind of had to pull him over to the left to canter up the side of the bank to get to the ramp. After that, the footing got really deep on the way up the hill to a giant picnic table.
We met that right out of stride and had to do a sharp right turn down to an easy angled set of coops.
After another giant brush table, we jumped a coop, three strides over a small log drop into water and then out over a triple brush, which we don’t do very often. He locked right on and sailed over it.
The last combination was another option of the left or right side, and we chose the right side, four strides to a corner.
We were about 10 seconds over time, which was one of the fastest times of our division, but I honestly didn’t even look at my watch once. I was more concerned about a forward, positive ride.
We ended up with 4 time penalties to finish in fourth place, and we were the top amateurs in the division, which was pretty cool. Of course, afterwards, Lisa told me it was one of the hardest courses we’d done. She likes to downplay everything when we walk so I don’t get nervous. It’s a sneaky, but effective tactic!
She said she thought our show jumping would be the indicator as to how cross-country would go and she was glad I rode forward and knew we’d be fine.
I’m really proud of my horse for powering through the tough going when it was causing a lot of other horses problems. He felt slightly tired towards the end because of the footing (think 90% capacity instead of 100%) and he really tried. We hit every fence almost perfectly and I was pretty happy with my riding, which is hardly ever the case.
I’m glad we proved to ourselves and others that we are competent at this level and I’m hoping to leave my bad memories of Fair Hill in the dust. Lisa left me a very uplifting message on Saturday night, saying that I have to go into this looking at the glass half full, not half empty, because in Oh So’s mind, his glass is overflowing.
On a sad note, my officemate and friend Megan has left COTH for other opportunities and I’m feeling a little lonely today without her here. She was a great confidante and sounding board, and although it’s going to be sad not to spend 8 hours a day every day with her, I’m wishing her luck at the Paint Horse Journal in Texas.
I also wanted to note that my blog is featured on Outside The Horse Box, a website devoted to eventers. Check them out for more great eventing blogs!