Bear’s First Show!

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I was up bright and early at 5am on Saturday to take Bear to his first combined test at Sandstone Farm. We entered the first timers division, which is Intro Test A and 18″ jumps.

Lisa and I decided it would be best to do the lower fences, even though he’s jumping 2′ to 2’6″ now at home. He tends to get distracted, so he could at least trot over everything if needed!

We were the first trailer there, but people slowly trickled in, which was an ideal situation. I didn’t want to get there in the middle of the day and drop him into “chaos” so to speak.

He had a look around, neighed a few times, then wanted to eat grass, so that was a good start. We hand walked around a bit, then I got on about an hour before my test. When Lisa got there, we did a little warmup, but it was on grass and the dew made it a bit slippery, so  we mostly stayed in trot, but got a little canter going up the hill because it definitely helps his trot after.

We were allowed to trot around the outside of the ring before the show started and since we were the first ones in, it was good to be able to do that. In our warmup, Lisa talked about making sure to keep a solid connection from my leg to hand so he stayed focused on me. She also reminded me to watch his floppy donkey ears to make sure they were relaxed!

He lost focus, as expected, a few times when a trailer came rattling up the driveway or when there were dogs barking in the distance, but he really didn’t seem to mind the other horses milling about, which was surprising since we mostly ride alone at home and in lessons off property.

Luckily the warm up was pretty quite when we went, about 2 other horses, so it was the perfect introduction.

The test itself felt pretty close to what we get at home and once he trotted up centerline, he seemed to settle right in. It’s a pretty anti-climactic test, with two trot circles and a diagonal, but we made it through! We got straight 6s on everything except for the final centerline and the “Geometry” score in the collectives where we got 7s.

I can’t be too picky for his first show, but I was hoping for more 7s. I know his gait scores are never going to be as high as Oh So’s, but he certainly had submission and I thought everything looked fairly steady.

The judged remarked that his rhythm and connection was a bit inconsistent, which is normal for a 4-year-old, so I guess that’s where we lost the points on each movement. Oh well, we stayed in the ring and he wasn’t nervous or tense like Oh So can be, so that’s all I can ask for!

The jumps were kind of pathetically small, but that wasn’t the point for the first time out. The warm up was again a bit slippery, so we just did a few jumps and went in. I was really pleased with his confidence once we got on course and in a rhythm. For going in cold-turkey over some brightly colored jumps, he was a star. I got a little stiff in my body, as I do in show jumping, so I didn’t ride as effectively as I could have and we missed some of our leads when I threw my upper body a bit.

We went back in for an unplanned second round to try to fix those mistakes, but it was sort of the same type of round. Oh well. More practice for both of us!

I was really happy that once he was in the ring, he let the outside distractions go. I know it won’t be like that every time, but for the first time, I’d say it was a pretty big accomplishment. I was also really excited to be back showing again. The last time I trotted down centerline was in July. Even though I don’t like those horse show jitters the night before and on the way to the venue, I missed it!

It was pretty funny when we tried to load him to go home. He didn’t want to leave!

We’re going to try another CT in two weeks at Hunt Club Farm and maybe play around on their cross-country course afterwards.

I’m finally allowed to do a bit more with Oh So, so we’ve taken a few excitable walks outside the ring and down the driveway and I tried trot poles for the first time yesterday. Yeah…that didn’t happen! I had three set up 9 feet apart and we bounced through them about three times before I quit for the day.

Today I did one trot set, then immediately did the poles while he was still relaxed and he was fine through them. We’re also allowed to start doing one minute of canter this week, so today I did about one long and one short side. He was a fire-breathing dragon, but I was just laughing and smiling the whole time. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt his canter and I was happy to even have 30 seconds of it. Coming back to trot was interesting as we had a pretty nice collected canter for several strides!

A Quick Bear Update

On this horrible, rainy afternoon when I was supposed to be taking Bear to his first cross-country schooling, I’m stuck inside instead. When will this horrible weather ever end?

Lisa and I found an indoor to go to today instead but when I brought Bear in to get ready, he’d pulled a shoe in the insane mud we have. Ahhh! I want to scream.

I’m itching to get out of the ring and to start taking Bear to some shows, and I feel so behind at this point.

OK, rant over. I was able to get to a lesson on Friday at an indoor and he was quite good. We bumped up the fences to close to beginner novice height and he had no problems.

I had my dad video a flat lesson last week and a jump school I did at home, so here’s a short video.

I’m off to The Fork this week, and I’m hoping it will be drier!

Look…No Hands! Straightforward Cross-Country Book Review

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I came across several eventing books while working at the National Sporting Library and Eric Smiley’s Look…No Hands! Straightforward Cross-Country was one that caught my eye, mostly because of that cover!

Published in the U.K by The Pony Club, the book was released in 2009, so it’s not too old. It’s available for about $17.00 on Amazon.com and I would say it’s worth it.

It’s short, at 112 pages, but I really enjoyed the conversational text. I felt like I was attending a clinic and Smiley was laying out his points in different ways with simple and easy-to-remember lists, key words and bullet points.

Smiley lays out his approach to cross-country riding, which I totally agree with–clear, fair and consistent. Clear communication between horse and rider and teacher and rider, asking fair questions of the rider and the horse, and making sure the question is consistent  every time it’s asked of the rider and the horse.

Smiley addresses both the rider and the instructor throughout the text, explaining how to ride each exercise and how to explain it to a student, which was kind of an interesting approach.

The beginning of the book features a chapter on how we learn, with both the conscious and subconscious mind, and how the horse learns, via conditioned reflexes. The next chapters explain the rider’s aids, position and balance with color photos showing proper position and explaining common faults.

Smiley briefly describes why the flatwork and dressage phase is connected to the jumping phases of eventing and lays out several trot and canter pole exercises before moving on to the phases and mechanics of horses and riders jumping.

He moves on to the basics of jumping outside, including the judgement of speed, riding a good line and riding up and downhill. The remaining chapters include advice on how to ride and teach a horse and rider to jump different kinds of cross-country fences and exercises in the ring to simulate cross-country fences.

I think this is a unique little book, full of useful advice and exercises for cross-country riding that addresses both teacher and student to create confident, happy horses and riders.

A week of sunshine and good news!

Goodbye Miami!
Goodbye Miami!

I’m getting back into the groove at home after spending 8 days in Welington, Fla. covering the Global Dressage Forum North America and the Wellington Nations Cup CDIO***.

We had a mini-Snowmageddon the day before I left and for a minute I thought my flight on Valentine’s day might be delayed, but Dulles miraculously cleared a foot of snow from the runway and my plane was perfectly on time!

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Lucky wanted to come to Florida with me!

I flew into Miami, which I’ve never done and will never do again. The traffic on I-95 was horrendous and the airport is gigantic. The line for security when I flew home was over an hour wait, hot and sweaty and my gate was a mile walk.

GDFNA
GDFNA

But, other than travel woes, I really enjoyed my second trip to Florida this year. The first weekend was devoted to the GDFNA, a two-day forum featuring a ton of top riders, trainers and “masters” of dressage at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center. The amount of people was unfortunately a lot less than last year, and I feel like if the lowered the cost of the ticket prices (about $300), they might get more people to come. Either way, it was a lot of fun to see how different teachers ended up focusing on the basics, whether they were working with young horses or Grand Prix horses. I was really impressed with Canadian Olympian Christilot Boylen’s demonstration, as well as Conrad Schumacher’s clarity when laying out exercises and Sweden’s Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven’s riding. You can check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my online coverage which includes photos.

Palm Beach
Palm Beach

I had two days before the Nations Cup started on Wednesday, so I worked on my story at a kind of sketchy La Quinta Inn in West Palm Beach and took a few drives around the city and crossed the bridge over to Palm Beach to see how the rich and famous live.

Did you know that the average yacht in Palm Beach costs $35 million and that most of the United States’ billionaires live there during this time of year?

I did a quick drive by the Flagler Museum, the beach and Worth Ave and only wished I could have spent some time on the beach!

City Place shopping area in West Palm Beach
City Place shopping area in West Palm Beach

The Nations Cup went from Wednesday through Friday and it was quite hot, at 85 and humid. The press were treated really well with great seats at the end of the VIP tent, free food and drinks and rides on a golf cart to our cars!

I haven’t seen upper level dressage in person for quite a while and have only covered it once in person for COTH, so I enjoyed taking photos and watching the freestyles on Friday night under the nights. I also loved checking out the European-inspired fashion, especially the blingy brow bands, custom saddles and boots and crazy shadbellies. I even saw a woman wearing pink breeches with glittery grey full seats! That may have been a bit too far…

You can check out all of my stories and photos here.

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I was really inspired (and a little envious) to get back to work with my horses, which brings me to the good news.

On the Wednesday before I left, my vet came out to check Oh So. We jogged him in a straight line and on a circle in hand and then ultra sounded him. She said his leg looked very good and that there was only a small spot of irregularity towards the outside of the accessory ligament, so we got permission to start trotting.

Unfortunately, it’s only in 30 second increments, which Oh So thinks is unacceptable. His first few trots have felt pretty awful and he’s quite off from behind, but Nicky rode him while I was gone and both she and the vet agree that he’ll get better as he starts using his hind end again. He hasn’t really trotted since August!

He felt better last night, which was his fifth time trotting since the vet came, but he’s so excitable and tense that he’s not helping the situation by trying to run off. Ah well, it will hopefully get better in the next couple of weeks as we add more trotting.

Bear had his fourth birthday yesterday. Nicky rode him a couple of times when I was gone and said he was very good. She worked a bit on bending and walk-trot transitions. We had a good lesson on Monday night and started to work a little more on his canter and the transitions into and out of it. He has more trouble bending left and I tend to try to “hold” him to the outside of the circle with my outside rein, so we worked on just softly flexing my inside hand inwards and using my inside leg to push him out, which worked well. I had a couple of really nice circles in my ride tonight.

Hopefully this weekend we can get out to a jump lesson!

MD HT II – Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

Well, I survived the heat at the Maryland Horse Trials II, but didn’t turn in the performance I’d hoped for. Oh So was fairly calm for our dressage warmup but perhaps not as supple as he could have been in his back in the trot work. We did test A, which is much simpler, especially compared to the two second level tests we did on Thursday, but he stayed pretty focused. We got an 8 on our canter lengthening and sevens on both leg yields. We also got an 8 on our change of lead through trot, and ended up in second place after dressage with a 31.8, just a fraction of a point out of the lead.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

I wasn’t able to get a show jumping school in after my vacation because a gallop and cross-country school took precedence, and silly me thought we’d be fine. Not. He was little careless in my jump school at home on Tuesday and although our warmup at the show was fine, he proceeded to take down the first fence on course, which rattled us both (to be fair, it was a vertical and was coming down a lot apparently).

We got a little close to fence 3, a skinny, and he didn’t forgive me for it, so he had the back rail of the oxer at 4a down, then randomly had a vertical down at 6. He jumped the triple combination beautifully and proved to me that he does know how to jump, but then I’m not sure what happened as we came around to a simple liverpool vertical. He asked for a bit of a long one and he added a stride, thus throwing me up on his neck. Thank goodness he still jumped, but we had that one down and I had to regain my stirrup, which cost us 3 time penalties on our way to the last, which he also had down.

I’m a little bit at a loss except to say that I was out of practice and we both got upset after the first fence down. I think he got offended after fence 3 and was really backed off after that. Lisa and I talked about it and she said we never really got into a rhythm and that he decided to peek at the liverpool, which he’s never done.

The cross-country was meant to be a “move-up course”, but I never take any prelim

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

course lightly. The jumps in the combinations weren’t all max height, but almost all of them were angled, which luckily he does very well.

There was a cabin to a left-handed corner that I thought we could have done a little bit smoother, but he was honest to it. The water jump was just a cabin at the lip of it, then a bending line to a cabin out, so not too much there. At that point, which was fence 13, I was starting to feel a little like I did at Seneca. I was a little weak and my position was starting to soften a bit. He jumped the giant cordwood table beautifully and GRC got a great photo, but I look terrible with my lower leg. They also got a great photo at the table afterwards, but again, I look inexcusably awful.

After the table was a log down into a canyon, then out over a roll-top, which we haven’t seen too often. He jumped that well and popped over the last two fences to finish easily inside the time, and I wasn’t even trying for it! We ended up in eighth place.

So, I was pleased with 2 of the phases, but yet again, we embarrassed ourselves in show jumping. He’s turning into a heartbreaker I think. How is it that we can have a nice round like we did at Seneca, then a round like this one?

I feel like the dressage is pretty confirmed now and he’s very reliable cross-country. There’s not much he hasn’t seen at this point.

1C RJC13-0325063Until our next event in September, I’m planning on trying the Dr. Bristol again for jumping to see if I have enough control. I think the Pelhem is fine, but in certain instances, it does more harm then good if I don’t follow him completely with my hand. I’m planning on doing the CDCTA August schooling dressage show in Warrenton and I’m going to try to get to some jumper shows or do some jumper rounds at Morningside. I’m also thinking of trying a lesson with a jumper trainer or maybe trying Stephen Bradley again and asking him if he could sit on him for me and give me an assessment.

Tomorrow I’m off to Young Rider’s Championships to cover it for COTH, just in time for the massive heat wave we’re having. It will still be hot in Kentucky, but not as bad as here.

A quick trip south

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I headed south on Friday morning for a quick trip to the Rocking Horse Winter II horse trials to cover the cross-country for COTH. The flight down was non-eventful, but I knew I was in for an interesting time when the car rental guy and the lady sitting next to me on the plane, who had lived in Orlando for much of her life, had never heard of Altoona, Fla.

After about a dozen toll booths, I got onto a four lane highway through, from what I understand, is typical Florida- lots of retirement communities and trailer parks. I did drive through some cute, small towns and didn’t see one horse, until all of a sudden, boom. A photo-1horse trial.

The farm itself was not that fancy, but the cross-country course was awesome. It was located in the Ocala National Forest, where the soil was quite sandy and the terrain was very flat. They were able to make some nice man-made mounds and banks though. I eyed the prelim course and thought it seemed a little stiff compared to an early season course in Area 2. There was one stride to a pretty big drop into water and a couple of pretty severe angled combinations.

858335_10100864363944677_406375108_oAfter walking the cross-country course, I went to watch a little bit of prelim show jumping. It helped to get me a little bit more in the mood for my competition season by being able to watch from the ground.

The drive to my hotel was beautiful, basically going around a big lake and through a neighborhood with pretty willow and palm trees.

Saturday I started out shooting the intermediate, which seemed to ride pretty well. In the advanced, Buck Davidson had 6 rides, so I kind of guessed I’d be interviewing him. He ended up winning two divisions, so I caught up with him at his trailer. He was quite candid talking about his top horse, Ballynoe Castle RM, and I was really pleased to hear him talk about how much the horse meant to him. I even asked him if he remembered Sam, and he did, which was kind of cool.

This trip really represented why I like my job. If it was up to me, I’d be shooting cross-photocountry all day! I feel like I was able to get better interviews by speaking with people in person, so I was really pleased with how my online coverage came out because I tried something a little different.

The trip home was fairly uneventful, save for a kid throwing up in the seat behind me on the plane (gag) and I got home at about 1am. Since I seem to not be able to sleep in, I woke up at 6:30am and had to immediately get going to a lesson in Middleburg. Nicky had ridden Oh So while I was gone and said she had a nice ride on him. For our jumping lesson, we went to an indoor and Lisa actually set the jumps up, which made it tough, but forced me to ride forward and not pick. We did a serpentine over three verticals across the middle of the ring, and a canter bounce, bending line to a vertical, around to an oxer off a short turn. He was really good and actually listened to the snaffle pelham. I think I ride better when I’m exhausted!

On Monday night, I had a flat lesson with Nicky and we worked on a few of the second level movements in preparation for a schooling show on Sunday. We’ve been getting some really nice canter/walk transitions, but I’ve been making them too easy by doing them on a circle, so now I’m struggling a little bit with doing them on a short diagonal like they come in DSC_5582the test.

Tomorrow I’m taking Oh So for some conditioning work then doing a jump lesson with Lisa, so I think he’ll enjoy being able to let loose a bit. We’re planning on a cross-country school next weekend and this weekend, I’m going car shopping for something with better gas mileage. I’m leaning towards a used Prius, because I have exactly $0 to spend over what they’ll give me for my car, so hopefully I’ll find something.

Morningside Jumper Rounds

I took Oh So to Morningside on Sunday for a couple of practice jumping rounds. It was a pretty frigid weekend, but I think we were both happy to get out and not have to do a dressage test for once! I rode the first round as it was laid out and took one circle in between a related distance because it was either a short five or a long six. For my second round, I made up a course, which ended up meandering a little bit, but he didn’t seem to notice the difference.

We were both pretty relaxed and he was jumping well. We had one rail down in the first round because we got a bit long, but after that, he was waiting for me and stayed focused. I wish we could do this every weekend, but the jumper shows around us barely fill at 3’6″ and go until after dark. It’s hard to get motivated when it’s dark and freezing!

New book reviews

I wrote these book reviews for USEA before I got the job at The Chronicle. I had planned on doing a couple of books each month, and I’d like to continue to do so here if I can find the time and motivation to do it!

For now, check out these books.

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Now that spring has sprung in many parts of the country, it’s time to dust off the cobwebs, get out cross-country schooling and polish your position before kicking off the competition season. A good book can help you along the way to your riding goals and reading is the perfect way to spend a long drive to a competition or a few hours in front of your horse’s stall at an overnight event.

As a former assistant librarian at the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, Va., I’ve seen just about every equine book you can imagine, so I’ve come up with a list of books I think will benefit every eventer, no matter your skill level.

Here are my favorite picks for the amateur eventer.

50 5-Minute Fixes to Improve Your Riding

By Wendy Murdoch
Trafalgar Square Books (2010)

Wendy Murdoch has authored several books on riding pain-free and using the mind/body connection between horses and riders. Her latest book targets common rider problems and gives simple solutions to fix them. It focuses on using simple exercises to create new, good habits, and offers easy-to-follow solutions with photos. Amateur riders tend to have to make the most of their limited time in the saddle, so five-minute fixes are perfect.

Murdoch starts the book with her guidelines to learning. Amateur riders tend to have to make the most of their limited time in the saddle, so she suggests giving yourself a moment to focus on a new task, doing that task slowly, and not trying too hard. A rider must remember to have fun, because often the harder you try to fix something, the worse it gets.

The exercises in the book are divided into sections based on different parts of the body; head and neck, chest and upper back, pelvis and lower back, arms, legs, wrists and hands, and ankles and feet. At the beginning of each section, Murdoch explains the importance of that body part as it pertains to riding. A checklist at the beginning of each exercise can help you quickly decide if it’s a problem you have.

Each numbered exercise explains physically why it might benefit you (for example, you have trouble sitting the trot because you might feel stiff in your hip joints and stiff hip joints are often caused by the position of the pelvis and lower back) and clearly explains how to do the exercise and what to remember as you’re performing it (“Take one hand and feel your back. Is it hollow, rounded, or flattened?”). Step-by-step photos make it easy to understand.

Some of the exercises require simple equipment such as an elastic exercise band, an excess stirrup leather or a wooden dowel, and most are meant to be performed on the horse. If you’re new to eventing, be sure to read exercise 42, which explains how to bridge your reins, a must-have skill for any eventer!

Photographing and “Videoing” Horses Explained

By Charles Mann
Trafalgar Square Books (2006)

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Photos can help you critique your position, your horse’s form, capture a memorable competition or be a form of expression. Basic knowledge of photography and videography is a helpful skill to an amateur so you never miss that special moment. If you’re ever asked to shoot a few photos of your friend at a cross-country schooling, make a sales ad or show someone how to video your dressage test, it’s helpful to know even basic camera functions and composition.

Charles Mann, an internationally renowned equine photographer, explains it all in his book. He gives advice on the best camera to buy for every budget (hint: not a point-and-shoot) and explains general camera functions in clear, understandable language. Photos throughout the book demonstrate slow and fast shutter speeds, depth of field, hard and soft light and white balance. A chapter on lenses and focusing is particularly useful for those just starting out. Knowing where and how to focus is an important step to capturing the peak of the action.

Planning the perfect place for a portrait or sales ad is covered in depth, including recommendations for getting those perfectly pricked ears and capturing candids.

Two chapters on editing, storage and management of images cover basic Photoshop techniques that can improve your photos after you’ve taken them. Cropping, color balance, printing and resizing are all covered. A useful chapter on 25 common photo problems can easily help you fix issues like back lighting, unwanted blur or red eye.

If you’re thinking of turning pro or trying to sell your images, the chapter with advice on copyright, contracts and insurance is a good first step.

The last third of the book is dedicated to video, sales and promotion. Charles gives advice on the right camera, tripod and editing software and how to set up a shot. Perhaps the most useful part of the book for amateur photographers is the final chapter, which gives advice on conformation shots, head shots, gaits and movement, and ideal shots for different disciplines.

Riding For the Rest of Us

By Jessica Jahiel
Howell Book House (1996)

Although this book is slightly dated, author Jessica Jahiel’s advice still rings true today to the adult rider who has less time than she might want for her horse and maybe less money, but still wants to learn and succeed. The book is also aimed at those who may have come to riding later in life and discusses the advantages (including a long attention span, self-consciousness, body awareness) and disadvantages (including physical, emotional and mental fear) that come with maturity.

A chapter on reasons for riding asks the reader why they ride. Jessica looks at motivations, expectations and goal setting. She also covers general rider fitness, which is important to any adult rider, especially one who starts later in life.

A good instructor is important to every rider, no matter their age, and Jessica gives a checklist of things to look for when searching for an instructor, as well as what to expect during lessons.

While the majority of the book is dedicated to adults just starting to ride, it can also serve as a reintroduction to horses or a reevaluation for many adult amateurs. For many, the fun of riding can be found in improving the communication with your horse and striving to refine your skills, and Riding For the Rest of Us offers sound advice to adults of every level who are trying to achieve that.