September Catch Up – France, Marlborough, Plantation, Dallas and the AECs. Phew!

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A lot has happened this month. I had a really awesome vacation in France, but I’ll write a separate blog post about that soon. When I got back, I did a quick lesson with Bear that Monday at Morningside. Unfortunately, they put blue dye in the water jump, and he was quite unnerved about it. We spent some time trotting around in it, but he was very suspicious about putting his feet down.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

I felt good about the rest of the cross-country school and show jump part of the lesson and we headed into Marlborough feeling pretty good. The warm up for dressage was on grass that had just been mowed and he doesn’t have a lot of practice with warming up on it, so combined with the clumps of grass, I don’t think he was as fluid in his movement as he could have been. I still don’t have a good warm up plan for him, other than to not do more than half an hour so I don’t make him a flat tire, but I realized after the fact that I really needed him to be more forward and better bent. I expected he might be more forward since he hadn’t been out in a busy warm up ring in awhile, but that was not the case since it was a bit hot. So, I need to work more on circles and asking for some lengthened, forward steps, which is something we do at home all the time.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo
GRC Photo
GRC Photo

He was a bit excitable in the show jumping warm up. It’s hard because whenever we go to lessons, it’s usually just us, so he hadn’t been in a busy warm up ring for awhile in that situation either. He was certainly jumping well, just being a 5-year-old upon landing and going to the jumps, so I took him away from that area and let him have a good gallop in an open area of the field right before we went in.

The round was more about getting it done than making it look pretty. Since it was in an open area, I think I rode much better, but he thought it was pretty hilarious to swap leads in front of a couple of the jumps. He did get all his leads on landing though, which was a big improvement. Maybe I wasn’t throwing my upper body to the inside?

GRC Photo
GRC Photo
GRC Photo
GRC Photo

We did have the last rail down. I let him get a little flat going up a hill to a max oxer and he ticked it from behind as he was cantering away. We also had some random time faults, but I was more concerned with making good turns and letting him really see the jumps. Otherwise, I was happy with the round. For not having been in the ring since June, I didn’t totally mess it up and he felt like he had scope to spare over the bigger jumps.

I was feeling good for cross-country, but knew I’d need to give him a strong ride since there were a few things he’d never seen before. The first combination at 4ab was a max new wood ramp off a tight turn in the woods, three strides to another ramp. It was more of a training level question and was the thing I was most worried about, but he had no problem with it!

There was a log before the water and when he saw the water, he stopped at the edge. It wasn’t numbered, so it didn’t count against us when I turned him around and asked him to canter in. That actually worked and he broke to trot when he got in, but he was still clearly unnerved from his school at Morningside. He jumped the ramp out good, then did a bank up, two strides to another jump very well. A few more questions later, we came out of the woods into another open field, made a left turn and headed to the bank where he promptly stopped and I fell off, but landed on my feet.

I was honestly not expecting an issue at the bank. He’s been going off them confidently all year. I got back on, but he wasn’t having it, so we were eliminated a few fences from home.

I’m really disappointed about it since he was on track to have a really good finish. I feel like we’ve taken a slight step back, so we’re going to do the beginner novice at MD Horse Trials in October and try to school at Morven or Surefire in the next week to get him through some unfamiliar water and off a few more banks.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

Lisa reminded me that he’s still green, but I’m also worried that issues like these blot his record as I’m trying to sell him. I can only hope people realize he’s still a green OTTB. Yes, some horses his age are going prelim, but he might be one that needs to spend some more time at novice. If I could cross-country school more often that would help, and if I could do an event every other week, that would help us both get in a rhythm, but that was just not to be this year because of travel and the summer heat.

I think it’s more about the process than the actual jumps. He has no problem over the jumps, but when there’s so much going on when he’s on course or in the warm up, that’s where his greenness shows. Lisa watched him stop at the bank at Marlborough and thought he was overwhelmed with the people and the fact that it was a big bank in the middle of nowhere.

After Marlborough I went up to Plantation Field for the day to take photos, and this past weekend I went to Texas for the AECs. It was hot, buggy and dusty, as usual, but I did a vacation day in Dallas on Thursday and at least got to see most of the big city sights. It’s definitely a contrast to Paris!

Oh So is feeling good and we’e started jumping little stuff again. I came home to Sam with a giant, painful abscess coming out his hind coronet band that we’re still battling with. What next?…

Stepping It Up With Baby Bear

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A few weeks ago I took Bear to an evening dressage show at Warrenton to do Training 1 and 2 in the dusty ring at the Warrenton Horse Show grounds. It’s been SO dry lately, we are just starving for rain, but despite the dust, the footing was OK for what we were doing.

Our first test was at dusk, and we hadn’t been out in awhile or ridden under the lights, so he was a little distracted in the warm up, but once we got into our work and then went into the ring, he was pretty focused.

His stretchy circle is obviously a work in progress at his age, but overall, the test felt very forward, almost too forward for me, but apparently that was him actually using himself and opening up his stride! I asked the judge at the end of the first test if it was too quick, and she said you can never be too forward, so I took that to heart for the next test.

Our downward transitions from trot to canter are also a work in progress. I just don’t have a feel for riding them correctly all the time, so sometimes he’ll stab the ground with his hind legs a bit, especially if it’s on the longside like in the tests. I find myself wanting to sit up and collect his canter a bit more like I would do with Oh So, but he misinterprets that and usually trots early. I’m trying to find a happy medium between riding them forward enough, but also trying to close my leg and give him the idea of rocking back and slowing his canter a bit.

I need to shorten my reins, it was pretty awful watching myself on video! The halts were pretty good, save for the last one in Test 2 where the tripped a bit, but overall, it was fun to get back out there. I’ve been traveling a lot this summer and then the ground has been so hard, we decided not to compete in August.

We’ve had two people try him so far, but no calls back unfortunately. He was very good for both though, so now I have a better idea of what he thinks of other rides besides me and my dressage trainer, Nicky!

In between people trying him we’ve had some pretty good jump lessons. We bumped the fences up to novice height a couple of weeks ago in a small ring where I had to ride with a bit more pace and he really stepped up to the plate.

Warming up at Warrenton.
Warming up at Warrenton.

On Sunday, we went to Morningside and jumped a bunch of cross-country exercises that had been set up in the ring by Leslie Law, who’d been there earlier in the week for a clinic.

We jumped a small arrowhead bending to a vertical and did a five-stride angled line of a vertical to an oxer.

Then we went on to a faux half coffin of a skinny barrel, bending four strides to a liverpool with a small rail on top, one stride to a vertical. He didn’t even bat an eye!

We finished off with a right corner, five strides to a left corner, a skinny bounce, and the grand finale, a bending line of training level difficulty over two skinny green rolltops that I was freaking out over.

They were pretty big and wide, but he just stepped across them and I felt no difference in his jump. It’s crazy to think about his potential if he barely made an effort over those. I thought for sure he’d peak at them too!

I’m at the point now with him where it’s time to start trusting him. He’s still a baby and might do baby things at times, but 95% of the time, he knows his job and doesn’t care whether I screw something up. We’re entered for our first novice at Marlborough when I get back from my vacation in France, so I’m hoping it’s a soft one!

My dad's artsy interpretation after I failed to up the shutter speed!
My dad’s artsy interpretation after I failed to up the shutter speed!

Oh So has been on and off since I returned from the Pan Ams. His left front is doing well after we injected the digital flexor tendon sheath, but then his right hind all of a sudden had an issue. I got his stifles done and took an X-ray of the right stifle just in case, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. We’re trotting and doing a bit of canter now to let the injections take effect and if he’s still not better, we’ll look at the right hip, which he had injected last year. He’s never been diagnosed with anything back there, but the injection helped last year.

Each day that passes I just lose a little bit more hope that we’ll ever compete again. At this point, I just want him sound for flat work, but I really would like him to be able to jump, for both of our sanity!

I’m off on an adventure to France this coming week, so look for a blog when I get back! Then it’s full steam ahead with Marlborough, possibly taking photos at Plantation Field, AECs in Texas work trip, possibly shooting at Morven, competing at Maryland, a work trip to Fair Hill, moving myself to Leesburg and horses to Purcellville, and if Bear is still with me, finishing off the season at VA Horse Trials! Whew!

August Catch Up

Sorry for the delay in posting. Things got busy after my last post from Toronto.

Show jumping ended up with a jump-off for the medals and in the end, McLain Ward and Rothchild got the gold. I love that little horse and it’s McLain’s first medal. I somehow knew it would be his weekend when we got there and I’m glad I predicted right! I also got my second COTH cover ever out of it!

I had half a day to tour Toronto, so I went on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour and a boat tour of the islands and to see the skyline. I wish I’d had more time, but I got a great view of the city for next time. I think a vacation of Canada’s biggest cities is now on my bucket list.

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Before I left for Toronto, I had a great gallop/cross-country school with Oh So that Sunday, but by the Wednesday before I left, he felt off. My trainer confirmed my fears when she tried riding him while I was gone and promptly asked my dad to take him to the vet at Morven Park.

He was diagnosed with some stress/wear and tear on his left deep digital flexor tendon sheath, so they injected it. He also flexed off on his right hind, even though he’d had hock injections 10 days before. They elected not to pursue the right hind until I got back.

We gave him two weeks off while I was gone and when I got back I walked him for a week up until Sunday when I tried trotting. He felt pretty good, but on Monday my trainer thought he still felt off, but maybe from the right hind. I rode him again tonight and I felt right hind also. Not bad, but it’s there.

I’m a little unsure right now as to what I should do. I think I’ll probably keep working in more trot work for a week or so, and if it’s not getting better by then, I’ll have to have the right hind checked out.

I think he aggravated the deep digital flexor with the gallop. He’d had a mysterious lameness back in April where we ultrasounded and saw some change in that area, but it was never called an actual injury. We gave him two weeks off, he came sound, and went on to do a dressage show and Waredaca, as well as a couple of gallops and cross-country schools.

I’m starting to believe that this is the beginning of the end for him, unfortunately. We tried so carefully to bring him back from his right front issue and had a few good months before little things kept happening. I’m not sure why he can’t keep it together, other than that he raced until he was 7. He’s the type of horse that seemed like he would go into his 20s, but his body is just not holding up.

It’s really hard for me to accept it because he’ll be my only horse once Bear is sold. If I have to do dressage for the rest of his career, I’d be OK with that, but I don’t want to give up jumping and I really don’t think he wants to either.

I thrive on having goals and achieving those goals through showing and it just doesn’t look like I’ll ever be able to make plans with him again.

I’m trying not to be a Debbie Downer about it all, but with each day that passes, I lose a little more hope.

Lisa posing Bear for his photo shoot.
Lisa posing Bear for his photo shoot.

As for Bear, he had a shoeing change while I was gone and is really feeling great about himself! He’s been quite forward and even a little 5-year-old-ish, which is kind of funny.

We took some glamour shots for his sales ad and he’s officially on the market. We took him to Gordonsdale for a cross-country school on Saturday and had the first person try him. I thought it went well, but’ll see what happens!

I’ve got a fairly quiet August until my vacation in September, then it’s full steam ahead with the AECs, moving myself and my horses and then Fair Hill. I’m hoping to enter Bear in another event for fun, maybe Marlborough in September, but it will depend on how everything goes.

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Crazy wall jump for Pan Am show jumping.
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Pachi the Pan Am mascot.
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Pan Am flame in Toronto.

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A Good Day At Seneca Valley HT

This post is a bit late since I’ve been swamped lately at work and home and just haven’t had the inspiration to sit in front of my computer!

Almost two weeks ago, I took Bear to Seneca Valley HT to do the beginner novice. It was super hot and I had later ride times, but somehow I survived. We did minimal dressage warm up and the test itself I felt wasn’t our best–maybe a bit hurried in trot, but we scored a 31 to be 10th in a big open division.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

Show jumping was on grass in a nice, big area, so I was able to have a bit more pace. Bear was just fine over everything and stayed very focused, but I was a bit inconsistent and took a couple of long ones and a couple of short ones. We ended up having fence two down which was in a related line. I just held the contact in my hand a bit too long as he took off and didn’t soften, so he had the front rail down of the oxer.

The fences I did get right were quite nice though, including the in and out and a bending line on the right lead from 5 to 6 and a five stride from 7 to 8.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

On the walk over to cross-country, I was feeling a bit weak from the heat–not sick or faint, just weak. I tend to avoid competing in the summer because when that happens, I feel I’m not as effective as I could be and I don’t want to let me horse down. I rallied as we circled the box and cantered a few circles as they counted us down. I think doing that works better for Bear since we can have a good, forward canter going to the first fence. With Oh So, it’s more about keeping him calm and just walking.

I have to say, nearly every fence was perfect on cross-country. It was a nice course that had us galloping the first half and then doing three fences in the woods. One was a light to dark question going into the woods and he backed off into my leg just the right amount. The other two fences in the woods were around somewhat sharp turns and he did those probably the best of all.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

He did come back to trot for the water, but he wasn’t hesitant about it and I was able to canter out.

We finished in 9th place, just out of the ribbons. I think it was a good learning course for him and I feel like he could go do novice tomorrow–it’s just me and the show jumping that needs work!

Great Meadow XC day
Great Meadow XC day

I had Oh So entered at Surefire the following weekend, but they changed the schedule on me and I had to work the new Great Meadow event nearby, so I scratched. It’s too darn hot anyways. We’ve been having an absolute heat wave lately and I’m so over it!

Last weekend was definitely crazy as I covered Great Meadow on Friday until late, went cross-country schooling at Seneca with Oh So on Saturday early, went back to Great Meadow on Saturday night, then went back the next morning. There were crazy storms on Saturday at Great Meadow and I was stuck in the press tent with a few other journalists when a mini tornado or microburst hit. It was one of the more terrifying experiences I’ve had with lightning, rain, wind and tornado warnings. It cleared for an hour and I got a beautiful shot of a double rainbow, then they evacuated the place and more rain hit as I drove home.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

Here’s a video of Oh So schooling at Seneca. We did some training stuff at the end that’s not on there. He was great and I was pretty on point over the novice stuff. I felt like we really got our groove back, but I needed a bit more pace at the training fences.

I also had a lovely time at Bromont in Quebec, Canada three weeks ago. I had to remember a bit of my French, but it’s definitely become one of my favorite events. Next up is my big trip to the Pan Ams in July!

Oh So’s Back In Business!

2015-05-31 17.53.21 The stars aligned and Oh So and I finally got to an event together, our first in 22 months! We did the novice at Waredaca, and unfortunately it was super hot, but somehow I survived!

The warm up was on grass and quite firm, so I only trotted and cantered for about five minutes then kept walking until they called me over to the ring with 10 minutes to go. That was really helpful since we could work on footing and near the ring. He tightened up a bit but I kept telling myself to relax and we ended up with one of the quietest and most obedient tests of his career! I thought for sure he’d be tense because of the simplicity of the novice test, and I did keep his tempo slower than what the judge wanted, but it kept the peace and we ended up with a 24.4. Whoa! The judge actually

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

complimented us at the end and recognized him. She asked if he was my prelim horse and I told her about his injury and she asked if I ever did intermediate. It was nice to see someone recognized him after his long absence.

We had several 8s, an 8.5 on his right trot circle, an 8 on his gaits and 7s on the rest of the collectives. As we walked back to the barn, he saw the show jumping and realized what was next, so that was exciting! I barely had time to untack before I had to be over at show jumping. I jumped a few in warm up and in we went! I picked to fence 3, but otherwise, it was a nice, smooth round on my part and I felt quite confident, which was a nice feeling considering show jumping is my toughest phase. He was slightly fussy in between some of the longer lines, but not bad. We got all of our leads except to the last fence, which looked a bit rough.

Lisa kept telling me all day that we were there for fun and schooling so I think that helped me. He knew the start box when he saw it and he settled right in to the first three galloping fences. The jumps were tiny and he was laughing at that them, but I definitely needed it. I haven’t jumped much cross-country above beginner novice since his injury. In fact, we haven’t actually had a cross-country school over novice sized fences since last August at Loudoun before he tweaked his hip. We jumped a few small fences at Morningside in April before Loudoun, then he tweaked his leg in the field and I took him to Gordonsdale last weekend and he lost a front shoe in the first five minutes of trot! So I was definitely rusty.

I rode terribly to a bending line at 4 and 5 and I picked to a couple of small ones, but once we got to the half coffin, I told myself to cut it out and the rest was smooth sailing. He was kind of lining up some of the bigger fences, especially at the water, so I had to disappoint him.

He finished up in third place, on a tie with the second placed person, but I didn’t know that when I went out, and they were closer to the optimum time. We also ended up winning the TIP award for novice.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

He cooled off very quickly and settled right down to nap while he iced. I’ve waited a really long time for this moment and while I felt a little unprepared and I wasn’t perfect, I knew he would take care of me.

Those who know me know how much Oh So has meant to me over the last eight years–he’s my best friend and partner in crime and I’m so happy he’s back doing what we both love. I had the vet out on Monday to do some mesotherapy on his back and she watched him go and said his right front looked good.

I poulticed him on Monday and his legs were as tight as I’ve ever seen them on Tuesday morning and I rode him this evening and he felt back to his normal self. He does feel a bit weaker from behind than he used to be, so I think I  need to focus on our hill work and maybe work on some more lateral exercises on the flat like walk to canter and haunches in to get him to sit a bit more. I felt it most when I collected him to do the bank down on cross-country.

Bear and I have been going through a learning curve on the flat, so I decided to scratch him from Waredaca, hence the reason Oh So went instead. I’ve lost a bit on confidence in my abilities for some reason and I’m having trouble with the feeling of getting him off his shoulder and really, truly bending around my inside leg and going forward. It’s purely my inexperience with his quiet way of going compared to Oh So and I’m frustrated with myself for not being able to fix it.

He’s at a point now where I can push him a little more on the flat and not treat him like such a baby and it’s a lesson I’m slowly learning. He’s entered at Seneca and Oh So will go to Surefire…fingers crossed! I’m headed to Bromont in Quebec for the weekend and I’m super excited to cover it for COTH. It should be perfect weather.

Bear and lucky having a chat.
Bear and lucky having a chat.

First show of the season!

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I was finally able to make it out to my first show of the season with Bear at Morningside last Saturday.

It was quite windy, but he settled right in when we got to the show. The warmup on the polo field was pretty sucky so we had to warm up on the track and in the tiny little warm up ring, which always bothers me, but he seemed just fine with it.

The person ahead of us scratched, so we were able to warm up near our ring on good footing. The test itself was pretty good for the first time out. He was a bit spooky near the judge’s stand because there was a tarp flapping on the side of the hut. He took exception to that during his right lead canter circle at C, but the judge was quite kind and gave us a 25.3, with a 9 on our final centerline!

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I think the biggest thing to think of in the tests with him is to push him into the corners and really “show off” of those circles since it’s such a simple test. Our free walk and the transition to medium walk then trot needs some work and his final halt was square but not quite round and soft, so we’ll be working on those things before Loudoun. In watching myself, I’m still too active and trying to “push him along”. My heel was drawn up a bit and I was tipped forward in some photos, so I’ll be working on keeping a longer leg and a taller, more upright body position.

We went out on the hill after and had a short cross-country school. I’ll be taking him for a jump lesson tomorrow since my plans with Oh So have now changed.

I had a lovely jump school in the ring at Morningside on Sunday morning with Lisa and we went out on the hill to do a slow canter, Oh So’s first of the year. The footing wasn’t the best at some fences, so we literally jumped two jumps, the coffin and a small log into the water.

He had Monday off and was fooling around in the mud on Tuesday according to my mom. When I went to ride, he was most definitely off and I had the vet scheduled to come for chiropractic work, but we ended up doing a lameness exam instead. Sigh.

We isolated it to the left front and blocked it. He got better after we had blocked the lower fetlock/suspensory area and then ultrasounded. Thankfully there was nothing obvious on the ultrasound so we determined he probably tweaked his leg in the field. He’ll have a few days off and I’ll watch him go and decide what to do.

Unfortunately, I had planned on doing a combined test at Morningside this weekend, which will now not happen. I’m keeping my entry to Loudoun for now since we’re 10 days out and I’m hopeful, but really discouraged about the whole situation. I wish I had a real answer as to what it was, but now it’s a wait and see. Will I ever get to go to an event again?

He feels about as good as he’s ever been and his hind end feels really good too, so now I just cross my fingers and wait. And never speak out loud about any competition plans ever again.

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Plugging Away

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The snow finally melted, but not before it made my life a hassle when I tried to get down to Florida for the Red Hills Horse Trials.

After driving through the snow to the Richmond airport, my flight was promptly canceled and I made the decision to drive to the Charlotte airport since there were no flights out of any area airports the next day.

Five hours later, I got a hotel, slept and was on a plane the next day to Tallahassee and at the show by lunchtime. Whew!

It was a lovely event marred only by the sad death of Kyle Carter’s horse, Conahy’s Courage. I don’t have anything else to add to the conversation that’s been swirling since it happened, except that it happened at a pretty simple fence and just seemed like a freak accident, not anything involving course design, speed or experience.

Here’s a link to my coverage.

Once I got back, it was full steam ahead with both boys. Oh So has been feeling really good from behind–back to his normal self since before his hip injury, so now I feel like we can press on and finally get to an event!

The footing is drying out so I’m planning on getting him out on some hills to really strengthen his hind end before we do anything. I’m looking at a combined test in April to get going and then maybe his first event late April or in May.

On the flat, he’s been getting more consistent about his work, meaning he doesn’t always get tense, which has sort of always been him. I’ve found I can ask for a lateral movement or a change in gait or pace and he’s tolerating it and I’m not “losing him” and spending the rest of the ride getting him quiet again.

For awhile, I thought he might never be the same after having so much time off, but he’s coming around. He is getting a bit strong in my hand as the ride goes on though, so I’m trying to make sure he listens to my half halts and that I don’t get tense in my arms trying to hold him. I think that’s the last piece that needs to be polished after his time off, so to speak.

Bear has been going well but I’ve had to modify our plans since we haven’t been able to school cross-country because of the weather. I’m hoping to take him to an unrecognized event in April if we can get a couple of schools in.

I had a conversation with Lisa last week about starting to treat him like an adult and not so much a baby anymore, which means he must move off my leg when I ask, he needs to start moving away from the jumps quicker and he needs to start learning to shorten and lengthen his canter stride. We worked on that in our lesson last week by asking him to shorten his stride across the short side of the indoor ring to a vertical with ground rails on either side, similar to what we did a few weeks ago.

I played around with it in my flat lesson the other day too, but he misinterpreted my aid to mean trot instead of shorten, so that’s something I’ll be working on in the next few weeks.

Here’s a video of both boys this last week. In the flat session with Bear, Nicky and I worked on leg yielding on a straight line in canter to get him to sit a bit from behind and not canter wide behind. He seemed to get it and now we’ll start working more on some counter canter loops.

Oh So’s lesson shows his warmup, which was nice and quiet. We worked on leg yielding to warm him up and keeping a little more inside flexion in trot and canter and the leg yields to make sure he stayed soft.